Thoughts on Novellas

There has been some talk about novellas lately, mainly how they are a good fit for sword and sorcery.  Check out one such conversation over at Fletcher Vredenburgh’s site.

But that’s not really where I want to go. I had a conversation on Twitter this morning that started out about how to find markets. No, that’s not where I’m going either, but feel free to make any suggestions you have about markets in the comments.  I want to discuss how best to sell novellas.

My natural length to write seems to be novelette and novella length. Mark Finn made a throwaway comment on one of the last panels I attended at Armadillocon, and the basic framework of a story popped into my head.  I came back and immediately started on it. In just over 2 weeks I was finished.  The first draft came in at 21.5k words.  The thing pretty much wrote itself.  I’ve let it sit, not only to put some distance between me and the story before I start editing, but classes have started.  The two weeks before and after classes start tend to be pretty hectic, with extra headaches this year I’m legally prohibited from discussing.  (I’m not kidding. Can you say FERPA?  I knew you could.) I’m hoping to do a cleanup pass this weekend and send it to a beta reader while launching into my next, which will be a hard science horror story.

One of the things about this morning’s conversation, aside from an agreement that we need to write shorter, was the lamentation made by more than one person that most markets want shorter pieces.

This didn’t so much get me thinking as it brought some thoughts to the surface that have been rattling around looking for a hole in my head through which to escape.

I wrote a sword and planet novel for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. It needs a lot of work before it’s ready to see the light of day, but I wrote a novella set in that world earlier this summer. I’ve got at least two WIPs that will be novelette or novella length, along with a few other pieces sitting on my hard drive.

I’m thinking about self-pubbing these since most of them are longer than what I’ve seen in guidelines for most markets they would be suitable for.  The question is what is the best way to go about this?

Do I publish each one separately?  If so, how do I determine price?  Anything less than $2.99 on Amazon gets a much smaller cut of the sale price, so I’m reluctant to price below that amount.  On the other hand, I want readers to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

Should I bundle some or all of them together?  The one just completed is a stand-alone that I don’t think needs a sequel. So is one of the WIPs. The other is part of a series, an installment of which has seen print in StoryHack Issue 0.  I have several completed entries in this series of varying length, so a collection of them isn’t out of the question.

What does the market want?  Would you rather read a collection of novelettes and novellas (with maybe a short story or two) where the stories have no connection to each other?  Is the better approach to collect stories in a series or common setting?  Does it even matter?  Befuddled minds want to know.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Novellas

  1. Matthew

    My natural length seems to be a short story.

    Gene Wolfe and Lucius Shepard did some of their best works in the novella length. It seems to allow more characterization without the story being too padded. A lot of novels these days are to padded.

    1. Keith West Post author

      You’re right about novels today being padded. I heard Neil Gaiman complain about this over 15 years ago at a convention.

  2. Woelf Dietrich

    I’ve had a rough time the last couple of months and only recently jumped back into writing. My knowledge might be somewhat stunted. However, my understanding is that for shorter pieces it could work to publish it as a single but then you need to make sure the prospective readers know what he is paying for. I have had complaints about people wanting to read longer pieces and I suspect the market for short fiction is a small but stable one. I have no statistics to back this up. Only hearsay and observation.

    Creating a collection of shorts is never a bad idea but I’d suggest that you publish your singles anyway and also compile them into a collection. I mean, why not?

    One negative I can think of, that requires consideration, is that of costs involved in publishing singles. Editing costs and cover art specifically. It gets expensive if you try to get creative for every single you try to publish and that alone might suggest it might not be such good business decision.

    As for the general ways of self-publishing, I follow the blog I’m linking to below. David does a lot for indie writers and his research is flawless. And by chance, there is a free course available that he found to be above board and thus recommend:

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks, Woelf. I’m familiar with David Gaughran and reviewed one of his early works. I wasn’t aware of the course, though. Definitely gonna check it out. Cover art has been one of the main reasons I’ve not been more aggressive in pursuing self-publishing. I want good cover art that reflects the story (or one of the stories in the case of a collection). By good, I mean something that doesn’t look Photoshopped or like a child drew it. I’ve gone back and forth between collections and individual shorts. I lean more towards collections. For one, it’s easier to justify a price of $2.99 or higher. Another is I get really annoyed when I’m scrolling through an author’s works on Amazon, and I have to hunt to find novels or collections among all the short stories. I don’t want to be that guy.

  3. H.P.

    I’ve been reading a lot of old sword and sorcery lately, and I still read a fair amount of contemporary fantasy. The sweet spot for sword and sorcery really seems to be those slim paperback novels from the 60s and 70s. Contemporary traditionally published fantasy, on the other hand, leans heavily toward doorstoppers. I just don’t think you can make a 700 page sword and sorcery book and have it work and still be sword and sorcery. If you’re going to write that thing, self-publishing seems very attractive because traditional publishing just isn’t doing it.

    You’ll pay $4 for one of those slim paperbacks at the used bookstore–why wouldn’t you pay $4 for a e-book of the same length? If the stories are shorter than that, maybe they should be bundled.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Good point. I have no problem paying $4 for a short novel or a collection. I also realize I’m not most people, and some of my spending decisions aren’t the ones most people would make. Still, for S&S the shorter length is the better fit IMNSHO. One thing I’ve considered that I neglected to mention in the original post was the idea of putting in an afterward discussing what prompted me to write the story and maybe a bonus short story or two.

      I agree with you completely about modern publishing. My opinion (others may differ) is that I’m at the point in my writing where I need an editor to catch the small things I miss. I think most of the time I can construct a basic story that’s at least readable if not good (again, others may see things differently). As Woelf pointed out below, editing is not cheap, which is why I’m trying to submit to traditional markets first. Success has been mixed so far, but at least there has been success. See the next post for an example.

  4. Paul McNamee

    I haven’t given too much thought past the writing phase. But, knowing that I am slower on output than I want, I am considering self-pub more lately. Not because I can’t make the cut through normal channels but just impatience. I’d like to get my stuff out there to be read – especially by friends who’ve encouraged me to keep at it.

    If I can steadily increase my output, I’ll probably try both traditional channels and put out some shorter works as self-pub.

    That’s today anyway. Next week I might be more or less ambitious than the current moment 😉

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’m going to pursue both, at least for short stories. The trouble is most of my ideas need a little more room to be developed than short stories allow, which tends to put me past the word length for a lot of traditional markets.

      Novels I’m probably going to self-pub. Too many clauses in today’s publishing contracts that I won’t agree to.

  5. Craig Rullman

    I love the novella length, and collections of novellas–usually see three at a time in one binding. Have many and have a hard time resisting when my favorite authors offer them up.

    1. Keith West Post author

      That’s my preference as well, Craig. Three or four novellas in a single volume is like crack to me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *