Some Thoughts on the Novella

For our first fiction webinar of the year, my Master’s class discussed a form which does not often cross the modern writer’s mind: the novella. It’s not so easy to keep all the definitions straight in the writing world, so I found a rough definition of “novella” from an article on The Writer. When separating novellas from short stories and novels, word counts usually create the boundaries; typically, novellas have between 20,000 and 50,000 words.

Beyond the definition of “novella,” the article from The Writer also raises an interesting question which my webinar debated as well: could the novella survive on the commercial market?

A famous novella

Image retrieved from Wikipedia

The author of this article, Jack Smith, argues for pursuing small presses when attempting to publish a novella. As hard as it is to get a larger publisher to give you the time of day as an unknown novelist, it’s even harder when you’re pushing a novella. Smith points out that more of the smaller presses are open to accepting novellas. However, he also explains that, due to financial or quota restrictions, smaller publishers can’t take anything less than an exemplary novella.

Some publishers don’t want novellas because they don’t seem to sell. Others want them because they’re shorter than a novel and, therefore, cheaper to produce; as long as the writing is high quality and compelling, it could be a very wise investment. This potential makes me wonder if the form is truly as undesirable to consumers as market trends suggest.

Consider this: a common complaint in regards to society becoming overly-dependent on technology is that it shortens our attention spans. If that complaint contains a grain of truth, novellas would be preferable to the average reader rather than the novel. The novella immerses the reader in its world as thoroughly as a novel with the writing economy and punch of a short story. What’s better for the impatient millenial reader? (I am so sorry I used that term.)

Another aspect of the digital age may also give novellas an advantage: e-books. E-books allow readers to find quick distractions when they don’t have physical books, like when they’re waiting at the doctor’s office or standing in line for a movie. Short stories and short story collections may thrive better in these shorter waits, but novellas would fill the void during medium-length waits, such as day trips and nights spent at the airport.

Another famous novella

Image retrieved from Wikipedia

For both self-published writers and smaller presses, the digital revolution could reignite the commercial possibilities for novellas. That doesn’t mean you should self-publish or send out your novella willy-nilly. As with all forms of writing, you have to make your novella the best you think it can be, including undergoing several rewrites, edits, and beta readers as you find prudent (and then add a couple more sessions to be sure). Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to pitch or publish your work because it’s a novella. If you like it, if you see more promise than failure in it, proceed as you would with a novel or short story.

To get you novella writers started, be sure to check out the aforementioned article from The Writer for some small presses open to receiving novella submissions.

What do you think? Are novellas dead? Or are they just waiting to rise again? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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