Have ebooks Led a Novella Rebirth?

I found an article on Forbes about how epublishing has renewed interest in the novella. What is a novella? The interwebz are divided on the word count range, but most agree that it is a piece of fiction between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Variations go as low as 17,500 and as high as 50,000 though. At 30,000 words, Dead Heat certainly falls within that range – right in the centre, in fact.

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Part of the reason for that interest, it is believed, is because a novella looks pathetically thin in print format (especially in hardback which is where publishers make the real money) despite that people do like to read something short enough to finish over a lazy weekend, or to take on 4-5 hour flight and finish it – if not before they land – then certainly shortly afterwards.

With ebooks, you can’t “see” how long a book is even if you can make a good guess at how it would look in print format. You can really only use the guide that tells you how long it can reasonably expect to take you to finish it. With print books seemingly getting longer and longer, with 800-900 page tomes (in the region of 250,000 words depending on the size of the print), and people unwilling to pay £11-15 for a paperback of that length, perhaps that accounts for why the novella is making a comeback and the cheap cost of self-published ebooks is the perfect medium to deliver it?

Horror has always had a good relationship with the novella format.

  • Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is said to be around 25,000 words, which I find surprising. I remember feeling it was longer than that though the oppressive atmosphere of Neville’s plight could account for that
  • James Herbert’s The Rats. I couldn’t find a word count, but my copy is not much thicker than Matheson’s book
  • Stephen King’s The Mist, one of his greatest works originally came in a compilation of stories but eventually proved so popular (and eventually made into a film) that it got its own release. Again, I haven’t found a word count but in terms of pages it is slightly shorter than the other two above
  • Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption is also a novella, once again coming in a volume with other stories (in this case, Different Seasons)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde. I read this in a volume that also included Frankenstein and Dracula and it was by far the shortest in the volume

Some famous classic novellas include.

  • Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
  • John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men
  • Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw

You get the idea, some of our best works of modern and classic literature, some of those remembered with great fondness and books that stick in the mind – are novellas. Most children’s books (not YA) can also be classed as novellas.

The appeal of the novella for the reader is that it is inexpensive, doesn’t take that long to read, and they will know that there will be little fluff and filler. They are immediately engaging and you are guaranteed that the story will progress immediately – no lengthy introduction or build up and every scene, every chapter is (or should be) vital to the plot.

The appeal of the novella for the writer is that it is possible to write more of them – potentially increasing your portfolio and number of book sales. Inconsistencies and confusion in the text is less likely as you edit and are able to keep everything in mind in the shorter period in which your write it. It does not mean less effort, but you are less likely to need pages and pages of notes of who is doing what and when.

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6 thoughts on “Have ebooks Led a Novella Rebirth?

  1. Some great points! I wonder also if there is an increased thirst for reading more than short posts, but not enough time to read lengthy tomes, hence the nice balance that a novella brings?

    1. Good point! Self-publishing has given readers more choice than ever before which has really challenged the patience for the 900+ page tomes now so common with traditional print book publishing,

  2. This is really interesting–it makes sense why people are learning towards e-books and, in turn, the novella, but since I don’t like reading longform text on the screen I don’t think I’ll ever tend towards that format.

    1. That’s also another issue. Reading A Game of Thrones on my Kindle with the “Time left in Book” counter, made me realise just how much more time is invested in longer books. When it’s hard copy, you see 900 pages and you don’t tend to think of it in time.

      1. Definitely not, although Goodreads does calculate my percentage read, which can be either encouraging or discouraging depending…

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