3 Reasons You Should Consider Writing a Novella Right Now

3 Reasons You Should Consider Writing a Novella Right Now

When I first took to creative writing, all I ever heard about writing a novella was how I shouldn’t. Houses won’t publish them. Agents don’t represent them. All of this caused me to think it was because readers won’t read them. I know the first two are correct. The third point? Not so much.

Publishers have typically stayed away from novellas for economic reasons. Not that the novellas wouldn’t sell, but they tended to be less cost efficient. This is why agents avoid them. But there is a market out there for them, as well as an affordable means of putting them into print. Here are three reasons you should consider writing a novella right now.

1. You Can Self-Publish Your Novella

Not too long ago, you couldn’t be published unless you had an agent who could get you a book deal with one of the Big Six. No more! We have ventured into the brave new world of self-publishing. It used to bear the stigma of people who weren’t good enough to get published by conventional means. That might have been true once, but now self-publishing is the serviceable first option for many writers.

Many different companies will print and distribute what you write. They each have their own ups and downs. Choosing the right option depends on what you are looking for, but what you need is probably out there. Research what’s available and make the right choice for you.

If you decide to try the self-publishing route, you won’t have to worry about a publisher or an agent scolding you for writing a novella. Write what you want and make it as long (or shot) as you want. (I’ve read more than a few traditionally published books that were too long.) Some writers pad their word count to vault their manuscripts out of the novella range, but in so doing weaken their story. Most novellas I’ve read are cleaner manuscripts because the writer left out all of that literary Hamburger Helper.

2. E-Readers Like Shorter Reads

The e-book and corresponding e-reader boom has not only made it easier to be read once you’re published, but has actually given an edge to novella writers.

Readers of e-books tend to favor quick reads. Not to say you’ll never find someone pouring over Anna Karenina or Finnegan’s Wake on their e-device, but the trend leans toward shorter texts. If you self-publish a novella, you can make it available as an e-book. This means you set the price. Paperbacks have some overhead in printing, but with e-books you’re just selling electrons. The upside is there is nothing but profit in the sale.

So now if you wish, you can start writing that novella without fear. No agents or publishers to get in your way. Make it as long or as short as you wish. Just make sure it is well written.

3. Novellas Have Always Been Popular

Novellas have always been around. That’s publishing’s little secret. They just haven’t always been called novellas. Sometimes they’re just called novels, despite their diminutive word counts. And I’ve read some short stories, such as Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” that were longer than typical short stories. And then there were those actually bold enough to claim the novella moniker, like Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

A few Novembers ago I was getting ready for another NaNoWriMo attempt. I sat down on November 1st and wrote over 2,000 words. On November 2nd, I had to admit this story didn’t have 50,000 words in it. So I abandoned my project and started another for which I already had on outline completed. I hit 50,000 words a few days before Thanksgiving.

But I never forgot that abandoned tale. I took it up again and worked on it without a worry for word count. Thirty-six thousand words later it was finished. After a good scrub, that manuscript became the novella Firmament. It made me think of other novel projects I had abandoned for reasons of length. With the world of self-publishing and e-books, I don’t have to fear my industry being doomed as scriptura non grata just because of the size.

No matter what you write, put aside notions of word count, and just write. Writing a novella can be a wonderful experience for telling awesome stories that may otherwise have been abandoned.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever considered writing a novella? Why or why not?

3 Reasons You Should Consider Writing a Novella Right Now

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About Neal Abbott | @NealAbbott

Along with the recently released novel Bloodhound, Neal Abbott is the author of three non-fiction books: The Gatsby Reader, Think Like a Writer, and My Plans for World Domination. Neal has also authored four novels Siciliana, Drover, Prince, and Pietas. These will be launched throughout the rest of the year. He is the content editor for the creative writing blog A Word Fitly Spoken.

Comments

  1. Loved the reasons you stated. They were what I was just thinking last night while looking at a what I have planned for the rest of the year.
    I’m writing a NA series and had planned for 8-9 full length novels, but the more I think about it, several of the “in between” novels could definitely be done in a novella style. I’ll already have set up the people and place and even some of the personal issues in the first novels and I can just get into the nitty gritty of the story without providing too much background. Does this sound reasonable? Plus, I think offering those shorter stories keeps your reading population involved and wanting more…right? And I’m only indie digital, so I could offer for free, if I decided to.

  2. This is a great post. It’s hard to believe novellas ever dropped to “less-than” status in the eyes of publishers, and even writers.

    I think of classics such as Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS and Stevenson’s THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, and I wonder what the literary world might be like had stories such as those never been published simply because they were novellas.

    • Sara,

      You hit on the secret. They’ve always been out there, so it’s odd publishers would ever be so against the name of novella but not the substance of a novella.

    • J.B. McAfee says:

      Well I don’t exactly think writers look at it “less than,” could be that their initial story started out as a novella but inflates into a full blown novel. I myself love reading and writing novellas.

  3. Thank you for the post, Neal. I personally enjoy novellas – I’m actually having one published in the next few months – and think they’re a great way to use those ideas that just aren’t quite grand-scale enough for a full novel! I’ve got probably a dozen other ideas knocking about in the back of my head that I may write as novellas one day. We’ll see! But I think it’s far better to know when to end your work, then try to pad the words to make it longer just so it can be called a novel. 😉

  4. I’m already on the self-publishing path and have thought about this. Another use for the novella is to test the waters for a longer work or series. Say I have an idea to write a post-apocalyptic amish zombie romance. I can write a novella and see how that flies. If it goes gangbusters, now I’m willing to commit the time (which is, I’m told, money) to a longer work and\or series.

  5. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Neal!

  6. Hi Neil, a very interesting article, thank you. I’ve been thinking of publishing a novella. What would you say the minimum word count would be? At what point, in your opinion, does a long short story cross over into a novella?

    • Charles,

      Good question. Opinions may vary, but I tend to think short stories are less than 10k words and novels would be more than 50k. Novellas would be in that 10k-50k range. But then again, well written fiction is nothing more than that regardless of word count. You can write a great story 25k wc and call it a novel or call it a short story and you wouldn’t be the first to do either.

  7. Ty Briggs says:

    I have a novella brewing in the back of my head. I’m just putting it off until I finish the current draft of another project. I have some momentum and I know that if I set it aside for a few weeks or months, I might never go back to it.

    There’s an old saying about only taking on one thing at a time. I believe it’s “One thing at a time”.

    • Ty,

      I think you can “one at a time” it and multitask different projects. I have written one manuscript while editing another and outlining a third. I have to do that or I lose the juice of my other ideas.

  8. Great piece, Neal!

    I actually just published my first novella last month, and am finishing up writing my third before I go back to polish up the second novella for sending to my editor and then to publish it. 🙂 I can tell I’m more of a novel writer–my current novella has ballooned to 52K, and I’m thinking of labeling it a novelette. :p But they’re fun stories, featuring the same main characters, and will lead into three novels, so all part of a series. I’ve started seeing a lot of authors I read write novellas to go between their bigger novels–Alex Hughes, Craig Johnson, I think even Kathy Reichs has done a couple. So there’s definitely a market out there for them.

  9. Steve Mathisen says:

    This is both interesting and encouraging. I have always written shorter fiction and have had a lot of trouble coming up with novel length plot ideas. Also, a number of my friends write in this shorter format for self publishing and they do it successfully.
    A traditionally published author (Kathy Reichs) has also released a novella and it billing it as a prequel to her upcoming novel.
    That is an interesting fact all on its own.
    Thanks to you, Neal and to KM for this excellent piece.

  10. I’ve always thought novellas would sell. I love reading them. I have a Novella that I had no idea what to do with while I query other mss. I wrote it with my two sons in mind, since they both read as little as they can get away with.
    The story was inspired by my 13year old. He wanted me to write a sort of adventure story and liked the early idea. And then it went to a dark place.
    This idea of self-publishing it was like a Eureka moment. I never thought to do this. It’s a YA for boys, written w a 15yo male POV. I’ve always felt boys would enjoy novella length books. Now to find an editor for it. Thanks, KM!

  11. My apologies, I mean Neal. Thanks for the idea!

  12. Debra E. Marvin says:

    but gosh, after a novella, a book at double or triple the length feels V E R Y L O N G!

    great advice. I’d recommend it for learning brevity and writing a tighter story if nothing else…

  13. I am so glad you wrote about this today. I’d forgotten about novellas. If my short-story gets any longer, at least I’ll know what to do with it.

    Thanks Neall and Katie!

  14. Really great food-for-thought, K.M. My honest answer of why I haven’t pursued noveallas is because NYC wasn’t publishing them (from unknowns). But, indie publishing has changed the entire literary world, and I’m beginning to think of some tossed-aside books that might fit perfectly. Thanks!

  15. Barbara Rae Robinson says:

    My one published book is a novella. Harlequin bought it back in 1992 for their Stolen Moments pilot project. They bought twelve novellas and published them in late 1993 and March 1994. And abandoned the project without giving it a chance. I don’t own the copyright for the book because it was considered work for hire. But the book is still out there. Amazon had 35 copies last time I looked. Starting at one penny plus shipping. I was thinking about doing another novella, just for the fun of it. Thanks for making me think of this again.

    Barb

  16. I’m actually writing a novella at the moment to contribute to an anthology. I’m liking it. I think novellas might be my thing. They’re more manageable than novels.

    • Adam,

      I agree that novellas can be easier to manage. It doesn’t keep me from trying novels, which I have more of, but a short fiction doesn’t make me cringe like it once did.

  17. The reason I write novellas is an unconventional reason, just like my plotting. With a novella, because your having to juggle between the intimacy of a shorter narrative (stories that are within the same city, instead of crossing kingdoms), yet is less so than a short story you almost have to experiment with your plot structure.

    I wrote my first novella, a middle grade novel, that’s no longer than a long chapter book, thinking it was going to be a short story, but gradually became several interconnected short stories with a big event at the middle. Then the rest is history, it was scrapped and now I’m plotting my next novella.:P

    No, writing novellas are not easy.

  18. Cool! I have an idea for a novella that I was seriously researching and plotting for awhile until some months back when I started to get too busy to even think about it much. I still want to write it, but right now the burning passion is gone. Now I’m trying to get it back so I can finish the outlining and start writing it. I haven’t read a lot of novellas that I thought were good, but from a writing standpoint, the thought of a book that is more concise than a novel, but longer than a short story appeals to me. I think there is certainly potential in one.

    • P.S.

      I’d start on it again and the passion will return. And I don’t know what your reading preferences are, but I’d take a look at some of the Russians. Notes From The Underground, The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisivich are good examples. But I must admit that I am partial to Russian literature.

  19. Thanks for the motivation. Are the books translated into English, but written by Russian authors? If so I’ll check them out sometime.

  20. I love how indie publishing has opened up so many new doors, including novellas. I’ve heard of authors writing novellas in different pov’s from their full-length novels. Such a cool idea!

    Last night I watched “Legends of the Fall” again. At the end I was curious to see “based on the novella by…” I had no idea it was based not on a full-length novel, but on a novella.

    • Julie,

      Yes, self-pub has made possibilities available for so many people. I know serial fiction is also popular now. I guess someone could release a full novel in novella-length serials. Yet another possibility made by self-pub.

  21. Jean LeBlanc says:

    I want my story, at whatever length, to sell. I wonder what information is available about how readers select… i.e., do they look for, consider or even notice word count? In a bookstore, you feel the heft, but for an e-book? What do you know about buyer choices and book length?

    • Jean,

      Novellas and shorter fiction is very popular with e-readers. You can include the term “novella” on the title page (as I did with Firmament , which I called on the title page “a neal abbott novella”). You can indicate a shorter length by including a more affordable price for the e-book.

  22. Good to know. I guess it was a dumb question, but I just wanted to make sure and I was too lazy to search the titles. Thanks!

  23. Yup! Doing this with my ≤a href=”http://www.eduardosuastegui.com/shadow-7-tracking-jane-series-chapter-1-preview/”>Tracking Jane series. Each “episode” is about 40K words long, definitely in novella territory, each featuring a concise arc while supporting a wider arc. Two in the final edit stage, one brewing, and a fourth in concept. I’m pretty jazzed about how it will work in the eBook format.

  24. I’m working on a novella right now and am loving the experience. It’s going to be part of an anthology. This is something that probably never would have gotten off the ground if not for e-readers.

    • I agree, Carol. In many ways, it’s the best time to be a writer (even though I still fantasize about talking books with Men and Fitz over at Gertrude Stein’s home)

  25. I’m doing novellas with my Chronicles of Aria Prime series. It lets me crank out each volume (I’m calling them episodes) much quicker than a full length novel.

  26. This is a great article. It’s very encouraging! The first book I wrote and published, “Promises We Keep”, was novel length. Then I wrote a novella, but I haven’t published it yet. And now I’m writing another story that I thought was going to be a novella, but I really can’t decide how long it will be yet. I really like the idea of novellas. And the more I write, the more I realize that it’s important to get a good story, no matter the word count. So, now I just focus on writing the story, and when it’s done, it’s done. I don’t let word count dictate how to tell a story.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found this encouraging. That’s why I do it. And I love your attitude about quality writing over word count. It’ll pay off for you, I’m sure. See ya on the best-seller list!

  27. Annette Taylor says:

    I ‘ve an idea for a story and the novella is the right fit for it. Also I can’t seem to write a novel no matter how hard I try. Twenty thousand word is as far as I can get.

  28. Hi Neal. Great advice about novella. I tell you I’ve queried over 300 small pubs and agents. More pubs than agents. Let me tell you that I had a few hopefuls, but they fizzled out for my first novella. More rejections than anything. I don’t fit under one label. I’m a cross-genre author. My novella is a very diverse mix of mini stories in free verse format and short stories. I’ve been feeling so discouraged lately. Your article is really pushing me to go self pub. Scared about though bc I have no clue who will be the best editor for my work and the most affordable. Thank you for article. It gives me a spark of hope…

  29. Natalie Norment says:

    Honestly, I haven’t written anything yet. But I have thought many times about the idea of writing novellas instead of novels. To be fair, it would be best to write novellas for the rest of my life so I won’t have a nervous breakdown for trying to write a novel. Don’t get me wrong, I do like reading novels, but sometimes it’s hard to continue especially when you don’t know the middle of the story. And that’s why I’ll be submitting my future novellas to Ai Press, a webstore that belongs to a good friend of mine. I thought about self-publishing but I decided to try Ai Press. Besides, most of my stories are both straight and gay. Sometimes there’s a lesbian story, but it hasn’t stuck with me due to the idea that I might become a lesbian. And I really want to date a guy instead. Not that I think being a lesbian is bad, it’s just that I have someone in my heart even though he lives in California. Thank you so much for bringing this article up. I will definitely write novellas for now on. Especially since I have plans to write only interracial gay and straight novellas.

  30. Trenton Ward says:

    I’ve actually just started doing research on writing novellas as opposed to writing novels. I’m glad I found this page, because now I know that I can actually do something with writing a novella. I’ve had this idea stuck in my head for a few days now, but I could never figure out how to make it long enough to be considered a novel. Now that I think about it, there’s probably no reasonable way I could do that. Well, I couldn’t do it while keeping the reader’s attention and interest, anyways. But, aside from that point, you made some really interesting comments! I especially thought that #3 was important, because a lot of people, including myself, have never actually thought about how popular a novella would be when compared to a novel. Now that I have, it’s nice to know that they are both very popular! Now that I know that I can actually do something with a novella, I think it would be a great idea to get some of my ideas down in a novella format. Thanks for the help and information!

  31. R.D. McAllister says:

    I had a story just pour out, but it is way too short to be a novel, but too long to be a short story. And since it’s very much a stand alone, I don’t want to make it a serial and i don’t think it would an fit into an anthology. I shelved it and returned several times, trying to decide if there was any way to lengthen it without padding it with extra, unneeded fluff. There’s not.
    Thank you for your article, it makes me realize there isn’t anything wrong with a self contained novella.
    Now to publish!

  32. Natalie Norment says:

    I’ve been thinking about writing novels for a long time. There was a time when I thought about writing novellas, but I thought my ideas in my head were too long.

    I did rent some novellas from the library before but I didn’t read them because I was being a hoarder with too many library books. Plus I tried to search for a book entitled How To Write A Novella on Amazon but nothing came up. There are novellas in the library library, I think it revolves around bestselling authors though. I’m not too sure. Amazon sells many novellas, however.

    I might as well try to write short versions of stories as short stories and novellas.

  33. Very informative post. I apologize about being very late to the party, but this was the post that kept popping up when I tried to find out if there are any agents who take novellas. (I haven’t found any.)

    Are there any negative ramifications of self-publishing a novella? I have one I wrote that I think is the best thing I’ve written, but I hesitate to self-publish it because I’m worried low sales prices may end up scaring away potential agents/publishers from future books. Is this something I should worry about? Is there less stigma in the industry when it comes to a self-published novella versus a self-published novel?

    • Super question. From what I can tell, the publishing industry stays away from novellas because they think they are not cost effective. So a self-published novella would seem to them the same as a self-published novel, a self-published work of fiction. I would go for it and try your best to market it. I hope only good things for you and your writing, and thanks for commenting.

  34. Richard Caruana says:

    Thanks you for this encouraging article. I set out to write a short story, partly as an exercise in brevity, but mostly to take a work all the way to publication. My brevity skills obviously still need some work, as my short story has now turned into a 15k+ novella.
    After several edits, I have accomplished more toward expanding the word count, as opposed to reducing it to the intended short story. This truly concerned me. I have poured several months into ensuring that it is a genuine work that is well written, and I am just now setting out to have the work critiqued for further editing. Though I believe the work will be invaluable as an exercise, published or not, my goal all along was to obtain my first ever publishing credits. I concerned over having written the project right out of publication range.
    This article gives me new hope that my efforts have not been vain. As I move toward my own personal deadline of having a self-edited rough draft complete by year’s end, I have renewed hope that all the hours spent will have a chance at seeing some form of publication after all.

  35. Thank you so much for this. I love writing…and don’t enjoy writing long novels. You comment “Hamburger Helper” is perfect. I read lengthy novels and I think how they could have cut the book in half if they had left out all the obvious fillers, hero’s rambling thoughts, details on the tree outside the window….

    I am now inspired to allow myself to write those novellas and believe that there is a market after all.

  36. I’m looking into possibly starting a fiction wing for a Christian publisher where short books are a part of their vision, so I’m wondering, for Neal and anybody else out there… Have you encountered any Christians who already have novellas or want to write them, and looking for a publisher? Or maybe you are one? Any thoughts that could be helpful to me as I’m looking at sources and markets for shorter Christian fiction? Thanks!

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