Over the past several weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with a form of fiction I’ve never tried before: the novella. If you don’t already know, a novella runs between 20,000 and 40,000 words, and can be read in a couple of sittings. It’s like a longish short story for writers who suck at keeping short stories short (aka me).
Writers usually avoid novellas because publishers typically don’t want them. Not because there isn’t a market for them, but because they’re not as cost-effective for the publisher as a full-length novel. And as we all know, at the end of the day publishing is a business.
But with the advent of self-publishing and the digital age, the publishing world is changing. Writers can now bypass traditional publishing houses and publish novellas themselves inexpensively in the form of e-books. This means we can now target that market of readers who enjoy novellas that we couldn’t reach before.
And that’s pretty cool, especially since novellas are growing in popularity. Still not convinced? Read on to learn the benefits of writing a novella, and maybe you’ll even decide to write one yourself!
1. Explore New Ideas
If you’re like me, you probably have quite a few ideas for stories. I currently have a running list of around 20-something ideas I’m itching to explore. But alas, as much as it pains me to admit, I know I will only be able to write so many novels in my lifetime.
So what’s a writer to do? One option would be to turn some of those ideas into short stories. But again, if you’re like me you probably suck at writing them. There’s just so much to explore, and not enough time or page space in a short story. Novellas, on the other hand, allow you to go more in-depth with plot and characters without committing to a full-length novel.
This is great if you need to get an idea out of your system, or need take a break from a series and write something different between installments. You could also write a novella between drafts of a novel. Have an idea that’s too long to be a short story but too short to be a novel? Instead of throwing it away, turn it into a novella.
Not only do novellas take less time to write and allow you to get some plot bunnies out of your head, but they also give your readers something to snack on while waiting for your next novel. Sounds like a win to me!
2. Expand on Your Novel
One great use for novellas is to expand on your novel or series. Maybe there’s a character whose story you want to explore further, or maybe you want to write a prequel about what takes place before the novel. Or, maybe you want to write a story set in the fantasy world you created but follow a different set of characters than your novel.
There are a lot of fun options you could explore! Plus, your readers will love it. Fans of your novel or series will enjoy being able to delve deeper into their favorite characters or explore other parts of your fantasy world. A novella will allow those who don’t wish to leave your story to linger a little longer even after they’ve finished your novel.
3. Build a Readership
Novellas can be a great way to build your readership. You could self-publish a novella (or several) before publishing your novel. Putting your work out there will help you find readers who will love your stuff–and you! If they enjoy your novella they’ll likely become interested in what you write next.
Besides building interest in your work in general, you can also use novellas to build interest around a specific novel. For example, consider writing a novella that’s a prequel to your novel or is set in the same world if you’re writing a fantasy. This will help you find readers who will be interested in your novel before it’s even published!
Additionally, after your novel is published you could continue to use that novella as a way to gain new readers by offering it for free. If readers get hooked on your free novella, they’ll likely buy your novel!
4. Create an Additional Stream of Income
One of the sad truths about being an author is that it’s hard to make a living writing fiction, though it certainly isn’t impossible. More and more now, authors are choosing to self-publish novellas (or even novels) after being traditionally published.
Well, not only is an author’s advance split into two or three installments that could be spread out over a period of time as long as a year, but after publication an author only receives a royalty check twice a year. Not to mention, after your book is published it must earn back its advance before you start receiving royalties. Which means it’ll be a while before you see that first royalty check.
Talk about a sporadic paycheck.
Self-publishing means you have control over when and how often you decide to publish. And with a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you receive a monthly royalty check which means a steadier income. You’ll also get a bigger cut of the profits versus what you’ll receive from a traditional publisher.
Of course, to build a decent income stream off of novellas you’ll need to write a handful. But considering they take less time to write than a novel, it’s not such a bad strategy. You’ll be able to put work out faster, and the more stories you get out there the more opportunities you have to attract readers. Novellas offer an additional income stream while growing your audience, which means more buyers for your future books.
5. Appeal to Busy Readers
If you haven’t already noticed, people nowadays lead busy lives and have short attention spans. Most people would rather invest a couple hours into watching a movie than days or weeks reading a book.
Also, since it seems every book is now part of a series, this means an even bigger investment of time. A reader might be reluctant to make that kind of commitment. If they don’t have time to read one book, how are they going to read three, or five, or eight? And no one likes to be left hanging on a story.
Novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan said in an article in The New Yorker that, “To sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie.” There are plenty of people out there (including myself) who love to read but struggle to find the time, yet most of us can squeeze in a movie here or there.
Novellas are a perfect option for busy readers because they can be finished in one or two sittings and have a little more meat to them than a short story. This allows reader to enjoy a great story without having to make a huge time commitment–just like watching a movie.
So, have I convinced you to try writing a novella of your own? I’ll confess, I’m having quite a bit of fun writing mine. It’s a murder mystery which is something I’ve never written before, and it’s nice to be able to explore a new genre and idea without committing a year or longer to writing a full-length novel.
I do plan to self-publish this novella, and I hope I’ll be able to share it with you soon! Until then, have you read or written any novellas yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations–pop them into the comments below!