Writing Novellas And The First Big Ebook Christmas

I’ve been noticing a lot of shorter ebooks in the Kindle store recently and I’m still trying to decide what I feel about them. There is also an ongoing debate about the serialization of fiction and what that could mean for authors and readers.

Some of my favorite authors have released novellas as prequels or teasers for their main series characters and I can see the sense in that as a writer. It keeps people entertained in between the full-length books you write and you can produce them more quickly. But as a reader I feel faintly cheated by the length of the ‘book’ I am paying for. The price is often not that different to a full length novel even though a novella is 20,000-40,000 words, half or even a third the length of a novel. I also feel that many are not ‘meaty’ enough.

But Amazon is selling 1 million Kindles a week at the moment and the US has seen the successful release of the Kindle Fire. This is shaping up to be the first mainstream digital Christmas and you can bet that a stack of novellas will be downloaded in the weeks after people open their new e-readers.It’s got to be worth considering writing one.

My friend, action-adventure author, David Wood has just released a novella, IceFall. It’s part of his Dane Maddock adventure series and is a fast-paced romp through a winter wonderland. I caught up with him briefly to chat about the novella idea and also to discuss the upcoming digital Christmas.

Why did you write a novella?

I was researching and planning the next Dane Maddock novel and I had this idea to write a little 5000 word short story themed around Christmas in some way. Not the Christmas message itself but more that the setting and the McGuffin had those ideas. And I’m not very good at writing short stories so it turned into a 30,000 word novella. The plot centers around our heroes Dane and Bones as well as Jade, Dane’s girlfriend and Angel, Bone’s sister, who are in Germany for a Christmas vacation to check out some cathedrals and enjoy a white Christmas holiday. So they’re wandering through Cologne where the bones of the Magi are kept in the cathedral when the bad guys steal the bones and the adventure kicks off. It’s a bit of Dan Brown with the various cathedrals and religious sites and then it’s all David Wood/ Indiana Jones with the crazy ending and the creepy monsters. It’s good fun!

Is the novella gaining ground as a format?

It’s a great way to write as a teaser or as a lead-in to a bigger series as I’m doing for the Dane Maddock books. To me, it’s like the old pulps of the mid 20th century where they were cranking out short paperback novels just as fun short stories, for a low price. As that went away, books became thicker so the spine would be more noticeable on the shelf. A thin novella would get lost and bookstores probably weren’t going to buy them. The advent of ebooks and print on demand is bringing the novella back. We’re seeing more and more writers putting them out on a regular basis. It’s a good form as some stories don’t need to be as long as they are. You’ve probably shared the experience I have. When an author reaches a certain level of popularity, they stop being edited so much. So books end up longer than they need to be and we end up skimming through them.

The other thing I like about it is that readers don’t have to wait a year for a book. There’s no reason you can’t pop out a novella here and there so you can have new content to keep them interested. It might even be a gateway to serializing stories once again like in the old days. One of the things I personally like is that I’m an impatient person and when I get to 30,000 words in one of my novels, I get whiney and want to quit. With a novella, about the time I get bored, I’m done. They’re great fun to write.

Is this is the first mainstream digital Christmas?

We will see. I’m a cynic by nature but I wouldn’t have believed last year that this year I’d be writing full-time and doing better than I was as a teacher. So it’s possible that this year will be huge. The Kindle Fire and other tablets won’t necessary represent new readers, they may be upgrading or existing e-reader crossover. But I don’t think there’s any question that ebooks are becoming mainstream. I’m also hoping that some people who aren’t big readers but love gadgets will pick up some of these and buy a few books to try the new medium. It might be a good gateway drug. I have actually met people like this who have rediscovered reading because of these gadgets. For example, people who are dyslexic seem to find it easier to read on a screen with no other stimuli. Also older adults who can adjust the font size or listen to the book are trying them out. I’m hopeful that at least the trend will continue upwards.

I hear you have a Christmas special on your Thriller podcast?

Yes, there will be a ThrillerCast Christmas special starring special guest Boyd Morrison, author of The Ark. We’re also giving away a lot of books so tune in over the Christmas weekend and there will be lots to win. ThrillerCast is on iTunes here or you can find it at ThrillerPodcast.com

You can find Icefall on Amazon now as well as David’s other books at all online bookstores and also Audible.com. You can find David at his site here.

I also did a full length podcast with David a while back if you ‘re interested in Writing thrillers and action-adventure.

What do you think about novellas? And are you taking advantage of the first mainstream ebook Christmas?

(Top image: iStockphoto)

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m a huge fan of novella length fiction and love that ebooks are making it viable again. I have one novella out now (a noir sci-fi kinda thing) and another (a contemporary dark fantasy story) being published by Red Penny Papers in February – serialised on their site in 4 parts and released as an ebook when part 4 goes up. I think it’s exciting that we can work in this length again and get the work out there. Often ideas are way too big for a short story, but a novel would be padding the idea out. Hence, the novella works perfectly.

    In the “old days” a lot of novella length stuff was published – people like Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft, Robert Silverberg and others cut their teeth with this kind of length in the old pulp zines. More of it, I say.

    So yeah, I’m a fan.

    • says

      Alan, you’re a pro at writing multiple lengths – short stories, novellas and chunky novels – how do you do it?? I am always so impressed by your output!
      One of my aims in 2012 is to try to write something shorter – an ARKANE novella perhaps, and see how it feels. I personally only read longer novels – but I did enjoy the Domino Project shorter business books, so I’m going to try and give short a go! I can see it makes sense from a speed and income point of view.

  2. says

    Think the idea of Novellas for a series of books is a great little idea. As Dane says, it can act as a great little teaser and mean you don’t have to wait a full year or more for the next instalment.

    Could see this becoming a trend in the future, although i think they should be very cheap (if not free), as they are shorter and think they can act as a good little promo. Just think about the current Batman Promo (obviously on a much larger scale). Has me very excited for the movie, even though i have a very long time to wait for it

    Turndog Millionaire

  3. says

    Novellas are a great idea, especially with as popular as the Kindle is getting.

    I got my Kindle last year at Christmas and I love it. I’ve even done some of my own publishing on Amazon Kindle because they make it so easy. The downside are the royalties Amazon takes but on the other hand you can’t beat the exposure Amazon gives you.

    As you mentioned, ebooks of all kinds, business and entertainment are quickly becoming mainstream. I remember about 2 years ago asking people if they read ebooks and they would often say ‘What’s an ebook’. Haven’t had that question lately :-)

    Best of luck to David with his Novella, Icefall, sounds like a good one.

  4. says

    I believe the average eConsumer actually _wants_ smaller manuscripts, that they want the experience of a full-length novel but don’t want to spend so much time on a single product. I also feel they are willing to pay in the $99-$2.99 range, which is within the range for many full-length novels.

    Additionally, this is a great thing for writers because we can release more products, shorter ones, over a given time period that it would have taken to create a full-length one. The best news is we can ask for the same amount of money that we would have for a full-length novel, and the consumer will gladly pay.

    I made a blog post about this a few weeks ago, but I think shorter works are wanted right now; and this is a win-win for both writers and consumers.

  5. says

    Shorter works are in! Where readers used to make some value assessment (“that $5 is two inches thick”) there is not the shelf space with ebooks to compare. Some genres played with text size like a college term paper to fill out the buyer accepted paperback heft.

    There are trends, I think Kobo in China primarily, where the serialization method has really taken off. Readers want shorter things for the train/plane, at lower cost. There is also an explosion of subscription models for these shorter works. I think a lot of Amazon’s experiment with subscription models is to try this out before another company latches onto it.

  6. says

    Thanks, Jo! I’ve always been a fan of all lengths – I love to read and write short stories, novella and novels. I’m working on all three right now! And ebooks make them all so much easier to publish.

    But I disagree strongly with free. It takes time and craft to write to any length and we should never devalue it by giving it away. If we say it’s worth nothing, what are readers supposed to think.

  7. says

    I’m working on a novella now. I’ve never written one before, but I’ve read a few and I like the length. I’ve heard a few people complain that it doesn’t give room to really develop characters but I disagree. I think it’s a great way to introduce new readers to your work.

  8. says

    I think a lot of people just don’t have time to read full-length novels of 80-100,000 words. With a Kindle, you never know what page you’re on as you read, only what percentage of the book you’ve read. So, the difference in length between a novel and a novella may be less noticeable – provided the story and characters are well-developed.
    I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels, but now I’m thinking of making them into 6 novellas. That means publication can come more quickly and I’m hoping to put one out every 3-4 months. I really like the way things are changing. As a writer, I don’t have the time I used to have for reading, so serials and novellas work well for me.

  9. says

    Story/book length doesn’t really phase me, as long as the author keeps me turning the pages. (I will admit, though, that seeing p. 1 of 556 at the top of my Nook’s virtual page can be a bit daunting, and for the very reason mentioned in Marcia’s comment: my time to read is limited.

    Having stated that, nobody is making me buy anything, so authors (and/or Amazon) is free to price as they see fit. Personally, if I’ve paid less for some full-length novels than the price of a novella, I may think twice about that particular purchase. And I’ll admit, I have some big-name authors I love but I won’t pay the bigger price tag attached to their virtual copy (or for the print edition for that matter). Too many other choices available for less.

    Anyway, here’s to a Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! Great post Gene and Dave!

  10. says

    Novellas, short stories, long stories, prequels, sequels, series: all a mighty fine mix, all attractive to the reader, and now doable in the age we live in. A toast to the mainstream ebook Christmas and the age of the author.

    To answer your question, Joanna, I’m on the cusp, about to partake.

    This is such an exciting time for authors, and thanks for your post, reinforcing the awareness that all our words are salable.

    Slightly off topic: I’m wondering what impact the ability of us to sell our “shorts” has on the bread and butter of the literary magazine? I used to send in short stories to be published, or pay for consideration in short story contests. Now I’m not, but polishing them for publication as an anthology or novella. Are all authors doing this?

    Susan

  11. says

    I love the novella length. It’s a quicker read when I just don’t have the time to sink my teeth into a novel. Plus, anyone who can write well at novella or short story length deserves kudos; it’s harder to write well when you write short. (This is of course assuming you find a well-written novella, lol.)

    I don’t have a problem with authors offering some works for free now and then. It’s a great prospect as a loss leader, I think, particularly if you have a solid backlist or the free story is the first book (novella, short story, whatever) in a series. What does concern me is the HUGE amount of stories available for .99cents. Novel-length, too. The biggest problem is that many, many of those .99cent books are just not very well-written. However, it can lead some readers to expect that price point and refuse to pay more. The wild west of digital publishing is still in the throes of pricing wars…will be interesting to see how the dust finally settles.

  12. LKWatts says

    As I’ve still got my first book – a 57K memoir, up at 99c – I’ve pondered for hours whether to raise the price, as I feel I couldn’t release anything shorter for the same amount.

  13. says

    I am a writer who specializes mostly in short story collections and novellas, so naturally, I love the shorter stuff. I have always adored a well written short story. I also think since my preferred genre is erotica or sensual romance, that shorter really is better sometimes, especially if I want something that gets right into the action. Sometimes I do read novels, but most of the time I find myself turning to short story or novella collections, especially when I need a quick fix. However, all that said, I do think that shorter ebooks should be cheaper than their novel-length cousins.

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