The Novella Renaissance
Libby Fischer Hellman’s post about novellas last month resonated with me, because I too have been exploring this long-neglected intermediate story length. I’ve written four of them over the last few years, and I find 25,000-ish words a very sweet spot to write in. And it’s not just me.
In 2013 a couple of dozen mystery writers signed up to write for Stark Raving Press, a new imprint that promised to put crime novellas on the map. We would write them, they would format them, upload them to all the e-book outlets, sell them for $2.99 each, and promote the hell out of them. Mine was one of the first published, a tale about Logan, a vigilante of sorts who chases down people who do bad things to women and children.
There was lots of excitement, there was a big meeting of a whole bunch of authors … and the whole thing fell apart just as it was getting started. But at that meeting I ran into Paul Bishop, who was running another e-novella press. Mostly boxing stories, but starting to branch out into other martial arts. I had a pro wrestling story called “Push Comes to Shove” which I was rather fond of, and I offered to expand it to novella length. Which I did. The result was called Push, and I had a grand old time learning more about my unnamed wrestler’s life and travails. (You can read a bit about the process here.)
I found I enjoyed working at this in-between length. Once I got cooking, I could kick out the first draft of a novella in two weeks or less. Rather than facing many tens of thousands of words to be written, I had a goal that I could keep in sight even as I began. I decided to write another Logan, self-publish it, see what happened.
Which wasn’t much. You have to price an e-book at $2.99 or more to get a decent return. But everyone and his sister has been putting out full-length novels at that price (many of them utter bilge, but that’s another post), and no one wanted to pay that price for 25,000 words.
Then I found out that my friend Gary Phillips (another veteran of Stark Raving) had a collection of three novellas coming out from Down & Out Books. And Charles Salzberg (also an SRG vet) had a novella in another D&O volume, along with similar-length stories from two other authors.
So I sent a query, and shortly thereafter I had a contract for a book of three Logan novellas. I wrote the third, and The Logan Triad comes out this month in trade paper and e-book formats. My return to traditional publishing after several years of e-book purgatory. And I am so much more comfortable there. (That, too, is a story for another post.)
Next year Down & Out will publish the long-awaited (by me, at least) fifth Joe Portugal novel. The year after, a Logan novel. But with these two long-form works on the horizon, I want to be careful not to forget my newfound fondness for the novella. Libby’s book, as well as the ones Down & Out is publishing, show that there’s a place for mid-length work in today’s market. I’ll be watching for opportunities to help fill that place, and I know several other authors who’ll be doing the same.
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