Saturday, June 2, 2012

Guest Post: Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories, Oh My!

Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories, Oh My!

By Delilah S. Dawson

If you’re on any sort of social media, then you know two things for sure: books are dead, and the zombie apocalypse is on the way. I can’t make any promises about zombies. But I can assure you that books are far from dead, although the publishing world is changing, maybe for the better. 

A traditional book runs 60,000 to 140,000 words for fiction, unless you’re talking George R. R. Martin, and then all bets are off. But traditional books aren’t the only answer, and not all stories need that many words. Stephen King and Isaac Asimov (among many others!) are known for starting their careers by writing short stories, which are generally 500 to 10,000 words. And with the advent of self-publishing and e-publishing, novellas of 20,000 to 40,000 words are growing in popularity. 

I wrote my first novel in 2009 and sold a three-book series to Pocket/Simon and Schuster in 2011. I tried to sell some short stories after that, and although I received several, “Almost; keep trying!” notes, I never managed to break into that market. So when Pocket approached me to write an e-novella, I was anxious to try my hand at a new medium—and also a little scared. After all, I was accustomed to dreaming big and having 100,000 words to explore my characters, set evocative scenes, and enjoy snappy dialog. How could I cut that down to 30,000 words and still feel like the tale was complete?

The answer was: pretty easily, actually.

I discovered that I love writing novellas. While it takes me around two sleepless months to whip out the first draft of a full-length novel and several months to revise, I wrote the 34,000 words of "The Mysterious Madam Morpho" in exactly ten days. The story came quickly, and editing has been a breeze. Because there was less to do, there was less to mess up. As this series is romance, I was able to focus in on the couple and keep them mostly in one place instead of the usual madcap adventure I favor. And boy, did they ever get personal fast. When you’ve only got one third of the time, you have to get busy three times faster!

As far as reading novellas, I’m starting to see the appeal. Buying an e-novella for less than two dollars can be a great way to discover a new author without investing bigger money in a book you might not finish. Or, if you really dig a series and the author has long windows between release dates, you can get a quick fix of your favorite world to tide you over. On the author side, it’s exciting to give characters who might not merit an entire storyline their own little adventure, and it’s also fun to broaden the world and explore new corners. 

Pocket liked my first e-novella enough to contract me for two more. The next step is collaborative as we go back and forth with what they’d like to see and what I’d like to write about. I’m excited to work within their wishes and deliver a story that will satisfy my editors and audience, not to mention entice some new readers into my steampunk paranormal world of bloodthirsty rabbits, dangerous cities, and topsy-turvy caravans.

To aspiring writers, I would recommend trying your hand at a variety of stories and seeing what works best. Whether you want to self-publish, enter contests, or go the traditional publishing route, every word you write is one word farther on your journey. Stephen King once said “The first million words are practice,” but he never said how those million words had to be divided up.

Delilah S. Dawson is the author of Wicked as They Come,the first in a steampunk paranormal romance series from Pocket/Simon & Schuster. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or on her blog. Her first e-novella, The Mysterious Madam Morpho,came out in October 2012.

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