Nancy: The Three Bs

novellaSome 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!

9 thoughts on “Nancy: The Three Bs

  1. I like writing short fiction a lot. I can keep the whole story in my head, and I can often write the entire draft in one session. With editing, the whole process for a 5000 word story can be less than a month. Sometimes about two weeks.

    For some reason, I’ve bought into the idea that I should write a novel (a series would be better, but I’m scared to commit 10 years of my life to a series). Dorothy Parker never managed to write a novel (IIRC). Maybe some people are not meant to do novels.

    And, in science fiction and fantasy, there’s still a market for short fiction. It may not be a living wage, but it’s still there.

    I don’t know much about the short-fiction romance market. It sounds like there are co-ops of romance writers out there writing novellas and short fiction for self-publication.

    I remember reading through my mom’s true romance comics, full of both cheesy but sometimes really helpful stories of relationships and becoming a woman and a wife. I don’t think there are any of those left. By the time I got into high school, I think the main market for short romance fiction was things like “True Confessions” and sometimes (sometimes! rarely!) the women’s magazines would offer short fiction. I don’t think Glamour and Ladies Home Journal do that anymore. (I don’t even know if LHJ even exists anymore . . . .)

    Maybe that’s my project for 2016. Spend time looking for archived romance fiction that had really good, entertaining stories. 1899 would be a good place for me to start looking (-:.

    I’ve already stumbled upon John Lustig’s Last Kiss, which is a lot of fun, and shows the original artwork if you click on the right link in the proper way.

    • I remember those short stories in my mother’s copies of LHJ! I also remember one of the ladies’ magazines having a ‘he said, she said’ type of column about married couples in therapy. Interestingly, the profiled couples never got divorced, which really bothered me. I mean, I hated some of those couples! But that’s not very romantic of me, and I digress…

      • Oh, gosh, I LOVED the counselling stories. I still do. I believe there was some sort of Christian/moralistic stance where they would only feature people who didn’t divorce. I agree, sometimes, divorce is the best option. But anyway, it was always enlightening to see that there were many ways to see the same problem. A little bit Rashomon, I guess, with three perspectives. I almost went into psychology thanks to those things (-:.

  2. I’ve done some short story writing, for the very reason you mentioned above – the chance to finish something and type “The End”. I haven’t ruled out novellas, but I want to finish what I’ve started first. Congrats to you for getting your novella done.

    • Thanks :-). That’s a good plan, to finish your WIP before running onto something shiny, shorter or not. I did abandon my novel (in the same series) to do the novella, but working on that predecessor story really did help clarify a number of things about the first novel and the ones that will follow it, which was a pleasant surprise!

  3. Congratulations on finishing your novella, Nancy! The market for them seems to be thriving. I read a lot of romance and urban fantasy, and in both genres authors are using novellas to introduce a series, to keep up the momentum between full-length titles or to explore the world of secondary characters from the main series. As long as they’re clearly labeled and fairly priced, and written to the same high standard as the full-length books, I’m all for them.

    I’ve read some excellent novellas and short stories lately, but I have to say my fave is Lord Lovedon’s Duel by Loretta Chase. It was so clever and funny, I loved both characters and the plot was hilarious. Brilliant. I think it was originally part of an anthology, but it’s been re-published with another short as Royally Ever After.

    • Oh, I so glad you shared a recommendation! Before I started writing mine, I downloaded several historical romance novellas. Some were quite good, others not so much, so I’ll look forwarding to reading Chase’s take on the format.

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