Shorter is Better

By Joe Moore

Recently, Science Fiction publisher TOR published an article on why novellas are the future of publishing. They based their theory on one important element: time. For the modern electronic reader, time is a precious commodity. If the reader can sit down with a Kindle or Nook and read a novella on a cross country plane ride or over a rainy Sunday afternoon, they can become just as satisfied as trudging through a 120k word novel. The enthusiasm of publishing novella e-books is spreading throughout the traditional publishing industry. Lower costs, quicker turnaround, more product in the pipeline.

A novella can fall anywhere between 17,500 and 60,000 words. There’s a lot of latitude in that gap and publishers are going to give some wiggle room with word count. No agent or publisher is going to reject your book if you missed the count by 1k or 5k or even 10k, especially if the story blows them away.

Have you ever written a novella? Thought about it? Have you read one? Did you get as much fulfillment out of it as a full-length novel? Is your reading time becoming more precious to you than ever? Chime in and let us know.

For those who wonder about word count, here’s a general rule of thumb guideline to counting words:

  • Epic: A work of 200,000 words or more.
  • Novel: A work of 60,000 words or more.
  • Novella: A work of at least 17,500 words but under 60,000 words.
  • Short story: A work of at least 2,000 words but under 7,500 words.
  • Flash fiction: A work of less than 2,000 words, usually under 1,000.

19 thoughts on “Shorter is Better

  1. Just finishing a linked collection of SF/Fantasy shorts that are not stand-alone. Suspect they are more of a novella and could be read during a cross-country journey – depending on the country. (I live in Wales and it only takes a few hours to reach England – Ireland is even closer).

    • Commuters are the idea target audience for novellas and short stories, Roland. And with the ability to read on just about any device, you finish one, click, and it’s on to the next. Thanks for dropping by TKZ.

  2. Joe, thanks for the link to the article on Tor’s plans.

    Very interesting concept. I used to read novellas in FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and ASIMOV’S. I have never written one. I’m trying to educate myself on short stories, as we’ve been hearing that they are going to become more popular – for the same reason. Managed to get one published in an anthology recently.

    Do you think we’ll see print editions that will have more than one novella in them? And will this be an opportunity for writers to collaborate?

    And I’m still fascinated with the concept of “less time” for reading. Do we really have less time, or are we using our time in unproductive ways? – constant contact with social media to the point that we can only work with one hand (the other one is holding the cell phone) – now we can download “pacifier” apps to play games on our “smart” phones.

    Has anyone considered that we have entered an epidemic of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)? Would full length novels sell better (print editions) if they came with a supply of Ritalin? Just thinking.

    • Congrats on the publication of your short story, Steve. I’ve always considered short stories harder to write than a novel and have only managed to produce a handful over the years.

      Regarding collections, there seems to be more published every day. One advantage–if you don’t like the story, just click and go to the next one. And you’re right about “less time”. There’s still 24 hours in a day, but we have all filled them with more and more stuff to do and expect quicker satisfaction. As soon as Ritalin becomes available OVC, we’ll all go back to 120k word novels. Or not. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Well, with Kindle Unlimited coming on the scene, short stories and novellas are practically the only way to make money there. Oh, and serials.

    I personally enjoy a 60k book better than a 140k book, because I can finish it in a few hours. I recently read a great steampunk fantasy book, and while it was all kinds of excellent, it was way, way longer than I was used to. It took me weeks to read, and that reading every day.

    Give me shorter books in a series, not one huge fat book. Small, easy goals, you know?

    • I’m with you, Kessie. As I get older and still try to write and read books, my patience is getting frayed. 60k or less sure looks more appealing. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hey Joe. I think you’ve illuminated a correct prediction. it makes sense and I hadn’t really connected this before. Time is short…

    • Or maybe we just perceive time to be short. Either way, I think it’s moving in that direction. Thanks for commenting, David.

  5. I decided to write a novella after reading an article about how epublishing was creating a new market for shorter works. It was published last December by Novel Fox, and I’m currently finishing the first draft of another.

    So I agree. I think the novella will only increase in popularity for exactly the reasons you mention.

  6. A good book of novellas for anyone interested in them is “Transgressions” edited by Ed McBain. It includes ten top authors, including Block, King, Deaver and Mosley. I checked and it’s available on Kindle. (I’m old school. I’ve got it as a brick of a hardcover.)

  7. Oops, so my first novel is a novella. I thought that novels start with 50000. I have 55900. But I guess the count does not matter very much.
    I found very interesting what Jim said some time back or in one of his books on writing is that a novella has only one plot-line and not several as a novel could have.
    What I found with my writing is that I just go ahead and write (or plot) and the story develops itself into something whether short or long. One short story I planned turned out to become a novel. And I need to do a lot of research there. It is definitely worth it. Or a novel, which I write now turned out to be a series, probably of novellas, because it contains separate stories and plots. So far five are planned. Who knows, maybe more are to come.
    I guess the surprise the stories bring with them is one of the most exciting aspects of writing.

    • Victoria, unless your publishing contract specifies a definite word count, just write the best story you can. That’s all that matters. Thanks for dropping by TKZ.

      • Thank you for answering my comment, Joe.
        I’m a self-publisher. So I have a contract with myself. I am learning to be less critical every day. 😉

  8. I haven’t really tried a novella – and short stories aren’t my thing – but who knows – maybe I’ll give it a go:) At the moment my issue is often too many words not too little!

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