Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 7, 2013

The long and short of writing a novella

WITS is pleased to welcome back Sharla Lovelace! And psst, she's doing a giveaway. 🙂

Sharla Lovelace

Sharla Lovelace

Hi!  Thanks to Orly and the other peeps at WITS for having me!

I was asked to talk about novellas today, and I’m excited about that.  Novellas have become the new in-trend, short little bursts of story that can be wonderful all alone, or fill gaps between novels, or attach themselves to a series.  Possibilities are endless.  My first shot at writing a novella was back in October, with JUST ONE DAY.

When my agent suggested it, I honestly was already thinking about it.  I had friends who were diving in the novella pool, and I thought it would be really cool and a quick way to get some new material out there.  I thought it would be easy.  Hey, a third the length of a novel—piece of cake, yes? 


Novellas are tricky little creatures.  It’s taking what you see in your head as a full story, and putting that in a compression chamber, hoping it doesn’t get the bends.  *sorry, that’s my former scuba-diving life talking*

But it is challenging, at least for me.  Plots have to be lent to a quicker resolution, relationships have to develop faster, but yet at the same time that needs to make sense.  You can’t just chop things off or rush a plot, there needs to be a reason for the short timeframe.  When I was thinking of how to approach it, I thought of my friend Roni Loren’s novella.  She writes erotica, and her novella Still Into You had the tagline:  Three days, no rings…

Just One DaySee?  Three days.  There’s a reason for the timeframe to be short.  Everything had to move to be resolved in three days.  That helped me think about things I could do, story ideas I could come up with that would have a reason to be short.  And I ended up with a story about a woman who’s been given 24 hours to give an answer…yes or no.  And JUST ONE DAY was born.

Now, back there I mentioned that I wanted to get some new material out there, and this was the primary push on why I went the novella direction.

Mine is a standalone, but like I said, these are great little tools for connecting to a series … maybe taking off with a minor character and having a little fun with them.  Or, like in my case, to fill in a time gap between novels.

The Reason is YouMy first book came out in April, and my second was slotted for November, so to give readers something AND generate some buzz for the upcoming book, my agent and I self published the novella a month before that release.

Traditional publishers pull these into their contracts as well, but mine didn’t happen to have that, and while my agent and I talked about trying to attach it to a traditional house, the timing was off.  Even with a short work that will only be pubbed digitally, a traditional house is likely to take six months with it.  While you get the marketability of the house, we needed it faster.

I was lucky, in that my agent is also involved in an e-pub venture with all the online e-tailer connections and all the marketing and editing capabilities of a publisher.  So she and I pubbed this one ourselves in a matter of weeks instead of months.  In addition to that, she was able to score me a slot in Nook First.

This was a good thing.  🙂

I wasn’t sure about that at first.  I thought that excluding a whole market (Kindle) for 3-4 weeks, would hurt my sales, but in reality it worked to my advantage in a major way.  The exposure and push of Nook First pushed this little e-book novella to #3 on the Barnes & Noble E-book Bestseller list.

Can you say “eeeeeeeek”???  For a time (a short time) I was sandwiched between two of the 50 Shades books, and there for a whole three hours I was one above J.K. Rowling’s adult book.  Did I take screen shots to save for proof and posterity?  You bet I did!!

It didn’t last of course.  LOL.  Once I was off the Nook First roster, it slowly dropped under all these bestselling authors who actually stay there for the long haul, but that’s okay.  I can say I was there.

And regardless of where it landed, it served as an “in-between” between my print novels, giving my readers something to chew on, that also had teasers of both my novels in the back.  I’d recommend this to anyone.  These novellas are jewels!  You can use them how and where and when you like, doing the most important type of promo you can ever possibly do: putting something new in front of your readers.  Whether it’s in between novels, filling up a dry spell between contracts, or having something generating sales while you are out on submission.

Have any questions?  Please throw them out there, I’d love to help.

And as my thank you for coming by and commenting today, I’ll pick a random commenter tonight to win a download of my novella JUST ONE DAY.  Enjoy!

About Sharla

BeforeSharla Lovelace is the National Bestselling Author of THE REASON IS YOU, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE, and the e-novella  JUST ONE DAY.  Being a Texas girl through and through, she’s proud to say she lives in Southeast Texas with her family, an old lady dog, and an aviary full of cockatiels.

Sharla is available by Skype for book club meetings and chats, and loves connecting with her readers! See her website www.sharlalovelace.com  for book discussion questions, events, and to sign up for her monthly newsletter.

You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

37 comments on “The long and short of writing a novella”

  1. I so want to do this Sharla. It sounds fun, and pretty fast. I even have an idea...
    I have three books due in the future, and though the dates are easily doable, they loom. I'm afraid they would take all the fun out of 'playing.'

    But. When you did this, were you under deadline for other books?

    1. I wasn't, Laura, I had finished my obligation to that contract, but I was trying to start up another one, so I guess a self-imposed deadline. I do know many who manage it within their deadlines though, so it's doable. 🙂

  2. I am warming up to the idea of novellas. For the reader, it keeps her going until the next installment in the series comes out. Thanks for sharing and I am putting your titles on my must read list.

  3. I have a friend that just completed his novella but he has experienced some difficulty finding the right agents to query. He says they either fall into novel or short story category, not novellas. Any suggestions of agents that may take urban fantasy novellas?
    Joanne T

    1. I'm sorry I don't. I would think it would be hard to sell on a novella alone, without full length works as a heavy hitter, but I'm not sure on that. Good luck to your friend!

  4. Sharla, I love the idea of doing the short between books. I know yours worked and I've read others that work as well. Just finished a novella that is a "pre-cursor" or an intro to a novel by Shelley Noble, Stargazer.

    It's becoming a trend. Authors sometimes do them as "holiday" books for the characters in an established series, or an extra between. For whatever reasons ... like your JUST ONE DAY ... I enjoy them. Fast, easy and fun to read and good marketing for the writer 🙂

    1. The series I'm working up a proposal for now will likely have that same thing. My agent suggested that two days ago, to do a novella prequel for it that we self pub once the series sells to an editor. It's such a great tool.

  5. My first attempt at a novella was for NaNoWriMo - I needed 50,000 words and to 'win' NaNo I needed 50,000 words....perfect match and incentive! Over here on this side of the pond we call them pocket novels!

  6. I love novellas as long as they're not over-priced.

    Very cool you ranked above JK for a short time!

    1. Yes that was my two seconds of fame!! LOL! I'm sure she was crushed, right? Yeah, I don't think so. She (and all the rest in the top ten) were there for weeks on end. 🙂

  7. As a reader I'm coming around on the idea of novellas. As an author I love the idea. Thanks so much for sharing your process, Sharla. Always fun having you on WITS. 🙂

  8. I'm enjoying writing a novella at the moment. It seems a fun low pressure way to dabble in self publishing, especially if priced reasonably so people feel they are getting value if they try a new author.

    1. Exactly. It was my first attempt at self pubbing...even if it was with my agent who truly handled everything. So maybe not really self pubbing, lol. But the key is to keep the price down, and one thing I forgot to mention...... When they did my cover, they didn't put "novella" on it. I will in the future, because even though it is called a novella and a "short" in the description, some people didn't pick up on that evidently. I got complaints in the reviews about it being so short. It's a novella, it's supposed to be short, but these days there are so many 99 cent to 3.99 full length ebooks out there, it may be hard to tell the difference if you don't read the description closely and then readers are disappointed that they don't get what they thought they bought. So I'd recommend putting "novella" on the cover so there's no confusion. 🙂

      1. Thanks Sharla. Good point. I've read a lot of reviews generally that have said that about the length. Gotta make it Bleedin' Obvious 🙂

  9. Thanks, Sharla, for a clear and precise overview of your approach to writing novellas and why you've done them. BTW, you've got a couple great titles on those two novellas. I've written a few short stories in between the full length books. Your perspective has me even more excited to play around with the sweet spot in between shorts and full manuscripts. Win-win!

  10. Thanks, Sharla for your overview. It really clicked for me when you used the diving metaphor. Now I think I'm going to try it, too! There's another NaNo type event coming up in July.

  11. Like Leigh, I've been penning a novella as a way to try out self-publishing. Getting everything into the story without feeling rushed, however, has been a challenge for me. Love your suggestion of limiting the scope of the timeline - I think it will really help me to narrow the focus down to something more manageable. Thank you!!

  12. As a huge Rex Stout fan, novellas are a lifelong love. While some of the Nero Wolfe novels are long, some of the books have 3 novellas instead of one novel. Stout knew the difference and played it well.

    With short stories and novellas I'm always reminded of the quotes from Twain and Pascal apologizing that their missives were so long because they didn't have the time to write a shorter one.

    All my speaking presentations are available as 60-minute or 20-minute versions. They cost the same, because it's even harder to speak for 20 minutes than 60. Let me talk all day, and it's probably free 😉

    I had never thought of novellas as a bridge between two novels, either to fill the time lag, or to fill the story (or both.) I like that. And I have no problem buying a novella, even in print. Short does not equal lesser quality. If I found a new Nero Wolfe novella, 75 pages long, full price, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

  13. Love the idea of a novella. I'm in the submission process of a middle-grade novel, which comes in at a just-right 41,000 words. Have been working on a "women's fiction" novel which will end up novel length because of the scope of the story, but the thought of 100K words is intimidating. So I don't think about it, I just write. But with a background in children's, the 40-50K length of a novella sounds wonderful. Thanks!

    1. Doesn't even have to be 40K, Jennifer. Mine was 30K, and that's about standard from others I've seen. 🙂 My full length novels run around 85K-90K on the average.

  14. Sharla, I love your novella and didn't want it to end. I've thought about writing one but I've always written long and I don't think I even know how to start a novella. Limiting the scope as you did, makes sence. Are there other ways to limit the story?

  15. […] I was asked to talk about novellas today, and I’m excited about that. Novellas have become the new in-trend, short little bursts of story that can be wonderful all alone, or fill gaps between novels, or attach themselves to a series. Possibilities are endless. My first shot at writing a novella was back in October, with JUST ONE DAY.  […]

  16. Yay! The winner of the download of JUST ONE DAY is Leigh Hart! *throws confetti* Leigh, I've emailed you at the address on your blog, I'm looking forward to sending you the book as soon as I know what format you'd like. Congrats and thanks to everyone for chatting with me! 🙂

  17. Gosh - I have a go at most genres but I've never even considered novellas. Knowing I have a habit of 'going on longer than expected' I'm not sure if I tried I wouldn't just end up with a novel again! Still, you've given me food for thought...

  18. Will publishers publish a novella series? I get that, since novellas are so short, they won't do a novella trilogy or whatever, but what if it was a long novella series?

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