Monday, March 9, 2015

Agency Lessons: The death and rebirth of the novella

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.


If you take a gander over at my submission guidelines, you'll see that I don't accept novellas for representation. I don't keep up on what other agents accept, but I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that the majority of agents are with me in this exclusion.

And yet, if you hop over to Amazon, you'll see that there are plenty of novellas out there in the marketplace and many of them are doing really well.

So.... on the surface, it looks like I and my fellow agents have our heads stuck in the sand.

But allow me to lay out the reasons for all this apparent tom foolery.

First, let's talk about the novellas that are doing well. They generally fall into one of two categories. The first are those put out in very niche genres and usually are priced low ($.99). The second group are those that are tie-in novellas for series. These have been especially popular lately in the YA market as little tastes to keep readers sated until the next book comes out. Those are great, but they are sold as stand-alones and are generally added in after the fact.

So group two isn't something you query, because it's more of a marketing tactic than a main project. Not to say that they aren't written well, they're just generally sold as a way to increase awareness for a series or promote an upcoming release. If you have a series out, this can be great, but it's not a query project.

And publishers aren't interested in that first group for good reason. They aren't going to make money within the traditional model. By themselves, novellas really aren't long enough to invest the money in a print run, so eBook is the only real option there. And while you can price them higher, right now the market isn't going to sustain anything much over $1.99 for a novella. That's just not enough to spread out among all the players in the traditional world. Honestly, without serious sales, I doubt it's enough to make much of a splash for an indie author either. It's hard to break even when you only earn $.33 to $.66 per book.

So what do you do with your novella?

You actually have several options. You can self-publish them individually. Package several together and publish them. Submit them to niche publishers or magazines. You can also post them for free on your website or an external site such as Wattpad to begin growing your reader audience.

Novella's may have experienced a death in traditional publishing, but they can have a rebirth. Just not in my query box. :)

12 comments:

  1. Not really a fan of those novella tie-in's with a larger series. Guess I'm just not a big enough fan-boy. :)

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    1. I'm mixed on them. Sometimes I think they are great, but then other times they just feel incomplete.

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  2. One caveat about self-publishing tie-in novellas: I've read (no direct experience) that publishing contracts may prohibit publishing anything in the same fictional world or with the same characters either yourself or with any other publisher. If it's just a right of first refusal, that's okay--if they say yes, great, if not, you can self-publish. A careful reading of your contract, and legal advice if you're not clear, may be necessary to avoid any trouble.

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    1. Yes, if the original work is under contract you should always consult your agent or contract before publishing anything that is tied to that work. Every contract is different and if often depends on how it is negotiated. That's were a good agent can come in handy. :)

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  3. I hate to be negative about it, but It's kind of getting to the point where I just wish they would die again. Everyone and their mother is writing novellas. Whatever happened to readers just waiting for the next novel?

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    1. Rushes off to hide the secret non-novella project on my desktop. ;) I don't usually read them, but I do enjoy the extra scenes that authors share. There's something fun about seeing different POVs or moments after the novel is finished.

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  4. I've actually considered saving my novellas for writing practice, and reading them again on my own to learn word economy, and see if such techniques can carry over into full novels. (Which even after writing for nine years I still beat myself up over not being able to write.)

    It always struck me as strange, like the middle grade series books were often around 24,000 words I would often see in the bookstore.

    I guess they must have been longer and edited down.

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    1. To clarify, I mean authors I've been wanting to read.

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    2. Studying novellas is a great idea. It's definitely a skill to fit a fully developed story into such a small word count. And yes, MG novels are generally smaller 35-50K words.

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    3. I'm just glad it's not 150K for middle grade. That be like 300,000 words in adults. Yikes!

      I actually meant to ask how a novella that borders on a novel will usually be considered like 42,000 words? (I'd have to write one as three novellas in one to do that though. My chapters are short.)

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    4. It depends. 42K for a MG is good. It's way too low for adult. In YA, in general it's going to be too short, though there are some YA novels that lean to the short side. If I got a query for a YA of this length, I'd want to take a look at the synopsis to make sure it has a fully developed plot line.

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  5. My novellas outearn my full lengths and required less of an investment. But I agree they're too short to invest in print. I've been asked for print several times, but I can't charge enough to justify the additional expense, so when The Last Marlowe Girl releases, I'll release a paperback compilation.

    FYI, Harlequin Teen put out a serial last year. It's basically a set of novellas, ebook only of course. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

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