Some years ago, I had a boss who talked about the three Bs: be brief, be bright, be gone. This was in reference to business proposals, presentations, and communications. To make his point even more succinctly, keep it short. Less is more. You get the idea.
In the business world, I’m pretty good at following the three Bs philosophy. In fiction writing…not so much. I’m an 80k-100k-word kind of girl. And that’s usually after overwriting my stories and cutting 10% during revisions. That’s why it was such a big thrill for me when I finished my first honest-to-god, not-a-vignette, not-the-beginning -of-a-novel, shorter work of fiction. It’s a novella, told in less than 25k words. It has a beginning, a middle, and even an end!
Novellas are becoming part and parcel of many novel writers’ lives, whether self- or traditionally-published. You might be thinking about writing a romance novella yourself. If you’re not thinking about it, you probably should be.
Why Write a Novella?
To experience the joy of typing The End. One of the great pieces of writing advice Chuck Wendig gives to anyone who will listen is to ‘finish your shit’. For those who have never completed a full novel, or who are stuck in the midst of a seemingly never ending WIP, writing something short like a novella, or even shorter like a short story, can offer a chance to do just that. And when you’ve finished your 500 or 5k or 25k story, you’ll get to type those two words beloved by writers everywhere: The End.
To meet an audience. No matter how you’re publishing your work, one of the biggest hurdles you will have to leap is discoverability. And yes, you as the author will be responsible for doing the heavy lift of this, even if you’re working with one of the Big 5, even if they can help put your book in front of potential readers. You still need to convince those readers to invest their time and money into your story. A novella requires a lower investment of both, lowering the threshold for many reluctant readers, giving them a chance to fall in love with your work so they’ll come back for more, like your novels.
To stay in touch with readers. Many traditionally-published authors only see their books being released every one to two years. In today’s publishing world, that’s a long time for readers to wait to hear from their favorite authors. Novellas (or short stories), especially those set in the story world of a beloved series, can bridge the gap and keep readers engaged while they wait for the next novel. (Short stories, in particular, make great ‘free’ bonus material to include in author newsletters or websites.)
To have more fun in your story world. Writing is long, hard, and sometimes lonely work. So why do it? I hope your answer is, like mine, because even when it’s difficult and painful and I hate it, I still love it. I love my characters, even the really difficult ones, and the plot twists and challenges that shape them throughout their stories. It can be a lot of fun to seek out a new story for one of your characters, or even create new characters within the story world to get their own leading roles. And if you’re writing a romance novella, there’s the enjoyment (and necessity) of focusing on the romance, as there’s so little word count for secondary story lines.
What to Consider When Writing a Novella
A shorter story doesn’t necessarily mean a proportionately shorter writing timeline. Jenny Crusie wrote recently about the difficulty of writing really brief writing lessons for her writing blog. Writing a novella forces you to think about story differently than you do when creating a novel. It forces you to focus on what’s most important, and to limit or even eliminate subplots, while still creating an interesting story and world. It takes a lot of finesse, which in turn can take a lot of time. I’ve spoken to several writers who estimate that for stories that are one-quarter to one-third the length of a novel, they spend half as much time or more writing it as they do the novel (frex, 6 months to write a 1ook-word novel, but three months to write a 25k-word novella). So, while shorter fiction can increase your output, which increases the very desirable goals of discoverability and reader contact, plan carefully and allow yourself to take the time it takes to create it.
Quality is still key. Write, revise, submit for critique, repeat as necessary to make your novella the best book it can be. If you’re self-publishing, pay the same attention to detail – copy edits, proofreading, a great cover – as a novel. If you’re kicking off a series or even more importantly, a career, put the best-written, crafted, and edited stories possible out into the world. If you give your novella the time, attention, and love it deserves, readers will do the same.
Do you write short fiction? Have you considered a novella or short story set in your current story world? Tell us all about it!