I was recently asked a few really great questions about novels versus novellas from a fellow author. I thought others might be interested in the topic, so I wanted to blog about it here. I am by no means an expert on short stories and novellas. I primarily write novels. However, I published one novella last year, and I’ve written six this year for my new serial series, Days of New. So I’ll endeavor to answer these questions to the best of my abilities, but I invite everyone out there to chime in and let me know your thoughts on novels versus novellas!
Below, you will find my opinions on novellas and then questions submitted by a fellow author. They include: Is the marketing different for novellas as opposed to novels, should you pay for an editor, how is a novella different than a novel in terms of pacing, storytelling, etc., and do certain genres fit novella structure better.
Before I get into some of the questions, I wanted to lay out my ideas and opinions of novellas. The biggest thing, in my opinion, that separates novels versus novellas (besides the obvious things, like word count: Novels normally range from 60k-90k. 60k being on the short side and 90k+ being longer than normal. Novellas normally hit around 30k) is reader perception.
A Smashwords survey has shown that longer novels sell better (take this with a grain of salt, of course. It was published in 2013). And from my experience writing novels and novellas, I know that most readers prefer novels. It’s much harder to sell a novella than a novel, especially when the price points start to blur together. I think some authors who abuse the novella system have also put a bad taste in readers’ mouths. Some authors use the serial format to chop up what worked better as a novel and turn it into three or four novellas that have no starting and ending or no story ARC for each book. These novellas are just hacked out limbs of a novel and then priced at novel price points. This, for obvious reasons, pisses readers off.
I decided to write my Days of New series in serial format. Previously, I wanted to steer away from novellas because I thought the reader perception of them was too tainted to overcome, especially for a smaller, lesser known author like myself. But I thought it about it some, and I felt like that format was best for this series. Days of New is a spin-off series from my first paranormal romance full-length trilogy, End of Days. Because it was a spin-off, I didn’t have fully fleshed-out novel length plot ideas. The serial/novella format offered me a way to have shorter self-contained ARCs for each novella that fed into a larger, overall ARC that spanned across the entire series. I could delve into more POV’s of different characters, and not have to worry about “fluffing” the story to reach novel length. And I could price the series fairly for my true fans.
I think this reason is why many authors pursue the serial format even in the face of reader perception. But I also think there are other factors that come into play.
For one, romance readers are mostly very prolific. They read very fast. So for many romance authors, especially self-published authors, it makes sense to write some books in a serial format. They are quicker to write and release, and you’re able to constantly “feed” your readers with new material. If you’re an author that can write fast enough, this is a great method for you.
Along those lines, novellas and short stories work as great supplemental fodder for your readers between “bigger” releases. One of the greatest challenges with self-published authors is staying relevant. Releasing shorter works during dry periods help to keep your name out there and keep you in the forefront of your readers’ minds. For example, last year I released “Little Girls and Their Ponies” in December because my last release was in October, and I knew I wouldn’t have another until April. That’s a long time for a self-publishing author. So I put out the novella.
Another aspect of novellas that I don’t think many people have touched on is how Kindle Unlimited affects longer works. For every borrow, authors only make (based on the last estimate I saw from the Select Fund) $1.33 per borrow. While this payment goes up and down slightly, it’s still far less than the normal 70% cut of a $2.99 or higher priced book. On the flip side, that $1.33 flat rate is great for books priced at $0.99 or $1.99 because you’re making more than you would have on a normal 35% sale. So how do novellas play into the KU system? An author can write shorter works that can be priced in the 35% royalty cut (between $0.99 and $2.99) and not lose money because Kindle Unlimited is, in essence, stealing from them if the book is priced above $2.99. I saw an author loses money on longer works because it takes more money to produce (editing primarily) a longer novel. Many editors price per word or page depending on what editing service you’re receiving.
So those are my opinions of novellas versus novels. Now, on to the questions!
– Is there a difference between marketing a novella versus novel?
I think there is a pretty big difference in the marketing just because you have to overcome that reader perception. When I started promoting my Days of New series, I really focused the branding around the “serial series.” I wanted all potential readers to know that these books were not full-length novels. Of course, there will always be some who miss that and might get mad because they bought a short book. I think that’s unavoidable. But there are ways around that. I put “A Novella” in the subtitle of my “Little Girls and Their Ponies” release. For my Days of New series, I included “serial” in the description on Amazon. These aren’t marketing techniques, but they are methods to make your potential buyers aware of what their buying..
When it came to the branding for my Days of New series, I was faced with the issue of having SIX books in the series. That’s a lot. And also, the release dates are close together, which means I’m running into the issue of not confusing my readers on which book is which and when it’s coming out and all that. I also created another little issue for myself by releasing the first three books in the series at once. I wanted to do this because I wrote cliffhangers at the end of the books, and I honestly didn’t mean to. So I wanted to keep readers appeased by releasing those first three quickly. And I wanted to build momentum with this series because they are serials, which always boils down to how quickly the books are being released. I needed these books to stay in readers’ minds. So in all my branding, I’m including the cover of every serial. I also made a Facebook header image with the book covers and a reminder. I’ll update this header with every release. Here’s the example of the one I have right now:
As you can see, I’m reminding readers that the first book isn’t available for pre-order but that it will be free. And I’m also positioning the covers of the second and third books as pre-orders and their order in the series.
Primarily, with the branding of this series, I’m working very hard to stay consistent with the colors, fonts, and overall style. I think this is very important. I’ve seen a few other authors with successful serials use this (one example is the FOLLOW: Social Media #1. She has had very unique idea–social media–and turned it into a romance serial series. But she took that unique twist and skewed all her branding around it. All the way down to the “@” before her name on the covers). Although her social media strategy to promote her work online is already genius, she may want to also consider improving it by incorporating a tool like socialcaptain or nitreo with which to grow her following organically on platforms like Instagram. This way she can get more interaction with her content and engage with more potential readers too!
Ultimately, the difference between marketing a novel and a novella is the branding, I believe. You need to put a mark on these books that will catch readers’ eyes and excite them. This mark will almost act as a logo and should be something that represents your brand and draws potential readers in. If you need help designing one, you could head to the GraphicSprings website (https://www.graphicsprings.com/category/photography) for some guidance. You need to overcome their reader perception toward shorter books by saying LOOK AT THESE COVERS. LOOK AT THESE TEASERS. LOOK AT THESE BOOKS AND LIKE THEM SO MUCH THAT YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT THEIR LENGTH.
– Is it worth paying an editor for a novella?
YES! Pay an editor for everything you are going to publish. Do not let yourself feed into that horrid notion that “self-published books are trash” by releasing un-edited books. Hopefully, you can find an editor that will only charge a flat rate for editing the book instead of by the word or page. If there are many books in the series, the editor might cut you a deal per book because they will be getting the entire series to work on. Communicate with your editor. Ask what deals you guys can make. But most importantly, editing is important. You don’t want to treat a novella like it’s less than a book, and you especially don’t want your readers to think you did so.
One thing to keep in mind when paying for an editor on a novella is that you will be pricing these lower than a novel. So always consider how many books you will have to sell to make your money back. Be smart.
– What’s the difference between a Novella and Novel (excluding word count): pacing, storytelling, and anything else?
This is such a tough question. One that is literally kicking my butt every day. WRITING A NOVELLA OR A SHORT STORY IS A MILLION TIMES HARDER THAN WRITING A NOVEL. That deserved all caps. Trust me. My Days of New series has six serials in it. That’s six individual ARCs, five POV’s, one gigantic ARC for the series, and recapping an entire world that I already built in the End of Days series because I want Days of New to be a stand-alone from EOD. It is so hard! I’ll quit complaining now and tell you why writing novellas is more complicated than novels.
Pacing. My novellas are 30k. That is SO short to contain a single story ARC. It’s nearly impossible to fit in the proper character development, action, non-action (you need those periods between big moments to establish pace), and wind up to a thrilling climax. In a novel, you have plenty of time to let things simmer and build up and simmer again. With a novella, I’m finding that it feels like I’m racing along on a runaway train with my hand sticking out the carriage door grasping at character development and plot as I rattle and bang along.
I’m not even going to try and give writing advice here because I honestly don’t know if I’m doing it right to begin with. So I’ll tell you what I do with each serial.
I outline like a demon. I format each story in this style (I stole this from K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success but I can’t remember who came up with this actual format or who the credit should go to. I apologize. But if you like outlining, check out that book. It’s great.):
II. Inciting Incident (the scene/action that gets the reader into the main action/ARC of your story)
III. Plot Point #1 (the scene where everything changes. Throws your readers for a loop. Where shit goes down).
IV. First Culmination
V. Midpoint (you’re halfway mark. I normally go for a big action scene here that will grip the reader)
VI. Plot Point #2 (where things change again)
VIII. Resolution (so here, instead of wrapping things up like I would in a novel, I set things up for the next serial. In the first few books, these turned into cliffhangers. And I honestly didn’t mean to do that. I tried to tone it down, but still leave readers with a desire to pick up the next book).
So that’s how I format my novellas. And actually I use this for my novels too, but I really stick to it for my shorter works. I think ultimately you need a plan when you go into writing a novella, especially one that is action based or heavy on the character development like romances. I think if you prepare yourself with the proper tools going into the story, you won’t lose your grasp on the fundamentals like pacing, tone, characters, etc.
– Do certain genres/niche cater better for a Novella?
YES! I’m speaking from experience here. Paranormal/Fantasy/Sci-fi does NOT cater to novellas! Haha maybe I’m a little traumatized from Days of New, but it’s really tough to do the proper world building when limited to novella length. However! Obviously, if your novella or short story is set in the paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi world and it’s not a stand-alone but merely a supplement to a pre-existing series then that makes things a lot more straight forward. Because you’re not having to start from scratch with the world building.
I think romance readers are exposed to more serial formats, so they are more inclined to accept them. On the other hand, fantasy readers normally like longer reads so they might stray away from the novellas.
Ultimately, if you build it, they will come. Tell great stories. Give readers what they want. Always promise a great story and deliver it. No matter the length.