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. :)