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The Growing Popularity of Novellas


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

If you're like me, you may not have read many novellas in your life. In fact, for a long time I didn't even really know what a novella was.

Over the years, I've learned that a novella is simply a short novel, usually about a quarter of the size of a full length book. It contains all the same elements as a novel–well-drawn characters, interesting plot, love interest (if you're writing romance), and internal character growth. But . . . obviously, the story is much less complicated and moves fairly quickly.

With the advent of ebooks, the publishing industry has been experimenting a lot to discover what works in this new age. And of course that means authors and publishers have experimented with novellas–particularly e-novellas which are available for e-readers but usually not in print.

While e-novellas go through the same editing, cover design, and formatting process as full length novels, the shorter word count obviously cuts back on some of the time and cost involved in the process. So does the fact that the e-novella doesn't have to be printed, sent out to distributors, put in buyer catalogs, etc.

In addition to the fact that novellas are quicker to write and produce, publishers and authors are also seeing some other benefits to e-novellas:

1. Novellas can act as a marketing tool. 

Authors and publishers have quickly realized that one of the best promotional/marketing tools is to offer a book at a discounted price (or perhaps even for free) as a means of attracting attention to the author's other books. Readers see the discounted or free book, read it, then (hopefully) fall in love with the writer and go on to purchase her other books.

While writers may balk at discounting or giving away full length novels that require considerable time and effort, we're more apt to consider putting a novella up for sale. We realize that in the short term, the sale can give us more exposure and sometimes move us up into best-seller ranks.

My publisher has been experimenting with giving away novellas as a way to kick off a series. For example, I just had an e-novella, Out of the Storm, release that introduces my new historical romance lighthouse series. The first full-length novel, Love Unexpected, comes out Dec. 1, but the free novella just released as a way to introduce readers to the series and get them excited about the first book.


2. Novellas help build a backlist.

This has clearly become an age when having multiple books for sale works to an author's advantage. Not too many years ago, once books were out-of-print or no longer on a bookstore shelf, the books basically died (sometimes a quick death!).

But now, those previously published books (also known as a backlist) are continuously available for readers online. Once a reader finishes a current release, they're able to go to any online bookstore, to the author's website, or to Goodreads and easily view and purchase the rest of the author's books.

The ease and availability of past books means that having a multitude of books works to an author's advantage. Readers talk about and continue to promote our older books which in turn helps current books. In a sense, the book promotion becomes cyclical.

Since newer authors don't have a large backlist, novellas can become one way to help build a strong author presence a little faster and that backlist then helps continue to promote current books.

3. Novellas appeal to the busy modern reader.  

The shorter length and the subsequently lower price, make novellas an easy buy.

Let's face it. The modern readers' attention is growing shorter especially since so many things are competing for their limited time. That means readers are more hesitant to pay $10-$15 on a new book that they might not have time to actually read.

But readers are more willing to pay a couple of bucks. If they end up not having the time or end up not liking the author, then they don't feel they've "blown" their money. Thus the shorter, inexpensive book offers an appeal that can put novellas at an advantage over longer more expensive books.

What do you think? Have you read any novellas lately? Do you like or dislike them?

If you haven't read a novella yet, I invite you to try mine, Out of the Storm. It's FREE! See what you think, then come back and let me know. Links to download the ebook: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com






20 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post Jody. I've been tossing around the novella idea. No, I've never read one either. Yours might be the first! :)

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    1. Hi Anne, Glad the post got you thinking! And I'll cross my fingers that you'll like my novella! :-) Btw, it was really nice to finally meet you at ACFW!

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  2. I am reading Out of the Storm (Henry is currently tied up!). :) I love it and can't wait for the rest of the lighthouse books. Like you, I wasn't very familiar with novellas until the recent surge. My first two contracts are novellas, and I currently am working on three more novella ideas. From a writer's perspective, they are easier to write, and definitely less time consuming. Since mine are being published in a collection, they will be printed in a book, as well as offered as eBooks. My publisher is producing many novella collections, which tells me they are growing in popularity.

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    1. Hi Gabrielle, You're at one of my favorite parts! (Besides that kiss in the lighthouse tower, of course!). You have some wonderful ideas for novellas! I hope that you'll be able to build a series off of your novellas. They sound so interesting!

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  3. The major publishers use novellas to build an audience for their lesser known writers. These anthologies contain one major name author, maybe a second-tier author, and an newer author or two. The antho sells very because of the major name, the other authors build audience, and often are then able to have "New York Times bestseller" added to the cover of their next book.

    Food for thought for self-pubbed promotion.

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    1. Great point, Marilynn! I've seen novella anthologies done too, and it can benefit the "newer" author to be paired with a bestseller. I've seen some indie authors do this too. I'm not sure how well it works if there isn't at least one "bigger" name on the collection. But it might be worth a try.

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  4. I bought your novella. I haven't read many novellas, but I enjoy them. You've got me thinking about some options for myself, too.

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    1. Glad the post got you thinking! :-) And thanks for downloading my novella! Hope you enjoy!

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  5. YAY! I just downloaded yours and I can't wait to read it.

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  6. I'm working on my first novella (although I've done two short prequels to drum up early interest in the book that followed). I tend to write long, so this is a challenge for me. I'm following the KISS concept (keep it simple, stupid). These can be very profitable, although mine will probably run more than 1/4 of a book (I'm gunning for 125 pages). Wish me luck!

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  7. I've considered getting into publishing some shorter fiction, mainly e-serials framed in a similar manner to television show seasons. I find it much easier to write in a series format than standalones, and shorter, more frequent, releases allow some interesting options.

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  8. Both of my two published works are novellas and while the biggest complaint from readers is "I want more!", I also get a lot of "it's short but it's a really quick, fun read" or "It's perfect for a lazy afternoon's read". It's not a huge investment of time or money, but the return on that investment is still worth it if the book was enjoyable! Personally, I also like reading novellas because I feel I can get through more stories and discover more writers than slogging through epics like The Count of Monte Cristo for months on end.

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  9. Great article.
    In my underwater series, I find that my audience enjoys having novella's for my secondary characters.

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  10. I plan on it. I've started a YA series surrounding an Up North Michigan town. I want to write novellas between full length novels to keep my readers engaged. If Jan Karon had done this with Harmony, I would have been all over it!

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  11. Great advice and questions. I have several novellas in the works right now, nothing published yet.

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  12. I've read a few of the super short ones. (80 page types.) A fair amount aren't that good and feel like filler, but I have read a few good ones.
    I'm almost done writing one that will probably be around 35,000 words. I am currently wondering what the best way is to go about getting it published. Another thing I wonder is if it's possible to write novellas instead of novels. (I have a fair amount of ideas that don't really seem like they can make full novels.) This new niche might be interesting.

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  13. Novellas can be a great read in themselves. Authors just need to remember long or shot readers want a good story.

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