Novellas & The Self-Published Author

My thoughts on Novellas & The Self Published Author

child with piles of books forest


By Daniel Ottalini

A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

There is undeniably something instinctively attractive about novellas for the self-published or small-published author. Think of it this way, a novella is faster to type, edit, format, and requires only an ebook cover, reducing costs and time in multiple areas, even with multiple checks and reviews.

So why novellas? Well, for one thing, exposure in this industry is key. You are more likely to catch more ‘browsing’ readers with five books out, even short novellas, than with two novels out. By reading one, you have a good chance of them reading more, especially if they are well done. You charge less, so people may be more willing to take a chance, especially on a 99 cent or free loss leader than on a $3.99 100,000 word novel. And they do work exceptionally well as loss leaders, bringing in new readers who, having identified the quality of your work, are willing to lay out money for your other written works.

But are they really worth it for a beginning author to write? As a self-published author, I’m struggling with this situation. First, time spent on novellas is time NOT spent on novel number three. Second, I am having a hard time mustering the effort to finish up the last leg of Antioch Burns. Having the cover ready (wow, that came faster than I thought!) has helped, but still, this hill seems extraordinarily difficult to climb. My first novella is only doing mediocre in sales. In some ways, I attribute this to the higher cost – $1.99 – rather than the more traditional $0.99 cents. I’ve also been forced to cut back on what little promotion I do, due to some other issues. I suppose that you must be prepared to offer your novella for a reduced price, or provide some other tantalizing tid-bit for readers in addition. Now these may be more personal components in some ways, but they are, in fact, a factor for many others. Burnout, exhaustion, weak story lines, all can reduce the effectiveness of a novella.
For example, the delay in Antioch Burns is actually a good thing at this point. This is the first I’m sharing with you, but the novella will be delayed until Spring, 2014. My publisher has some personal things to attend too, and currently I’m not quite happy with the novella. But this is good. Why? Because I can add that extra tid-bit into the novella, like the first chapter of Iron Tribune. Yes, exciting, isn’t it? Already, this is getting me into the mood.

So in the end, what’s my final opinion? Novellas are great, if you can commit to them and pump them out completely. In some ways, the smartest self-published author waits to publish book one until they have novella one or even book two. Just a thought, as I certainly didn’t begin that way.

What do you think? Novellas & Novels together? Novellas first? Or are they a waste of time?


Author: Daniel Ottalini

Author of the Award-Winning Steam Empire Chronicles Series

18 thoughts on “Novellas & The Self-Published Author”

  1. It certainly seems to be the way to go. At the very least, it allows self-publishing authors to spread out their work to different categories and use different keywords to create more visibility for themselves.

  2. Totally agree that a Novella is worth the effort, particularly for new writers (like me!). Apart from the benefits of increasing the body of work a writer has out that you’ve pointed out, it can also help you get out the smaller ideas that maybe aren’t worth a full novel.

    As an indie writer publishing in eBook format, you’re not beholden to the traditional publishing economy that won’t get out of bed for less than 80,000 words. I’ve read a fair amount of work that could lose whole chapters and be better, and it looks like the publisher forcing the writer to stretch out a novella length idea to a novel length.

    More novellas, I say! Especially for the readers who have, say, a 60 minute commute and are voracious in their literary appetites.

    1. Very true point, many more people are now Ebook readers, but primarily on their commutes, which limits the amount of direct time to read, unlike me, who stays up until 4am to finish a book cause I can’t put it down

  3. Hi Daniel,

    As I’ve recently published my first book — a novella — this post caught my eye. Personally, I find that novellas aren’t any different than a novel in that the good ones create the same vivid setting, the same loveable (or unloveable) characters, and can evoke the same strong emotion…just with fewer words.

    I wrote my first book as a novella, not with that intent in mind, but because the story was finished and I couldn’t force myself to write an additional 15K words when it could be told in 35K, just for the sake of word count. Yes, time spent on a novella is time not spent on a novel, but who’s to say that the additional count would make the story stronger? Who’s to say that this story isn’t worth as much as a novel? You’re devoting your time to it just the same because it’s the one you want to tell right now. Novella or novel, that’s the call of the writer.

    Maybe this is business disaster, but I really believe that there is a place for all book types in the marketplace, for all readers. And I believe that the length of the book depends on the story, that the quality of the book shouldn’t depend on word count, and that we write the story that wants to be told.

    Keep asking the questions you’re asking. I’m not sure there is a right answer in this business, but it has to feel right for you.. Cliche, but true.

    Wishing you the very best of luck with your work! I hope you find the answers that work for you.

    1. Thanks Susan! So many comments on this post already! I love hearing other viewpoints on this matter! I certainly plan on writing more novellas, especially as side components to my main novels, but perhaps this one I’m working on is simply road blocking me. I just need to buckle down!

  4. Hi Daniel, I’m also starting my writing career with a series of Novellas. I didn’t start off that way but realised ‘the story is the story’ and ‘it’ knows when it’s done. I also found the novellas I read as a young woman left an incredibly strong (if not stronger) imprint on my mind than full length works; and because of this I’ve always had a special place in my heart for short form. I’ve decided to take one of my characters from my first novella and flesh her out into a series of novellas – a bit like Sherlock / Dr Who… Anyway good luck and I think you’re on the right track – let the stories guide you as to whether they should be novella or novel length 🙂 Looking forward to see your work progress!

  5. One thing a friend recommended to me was that you can take all your novellas (at the end) and bind them up into a full length novel/anthology, then do a Print on Demand type thing through createspace to get the print-book lovers too! (I may be going that direction eventually!)

    1. Of course! The BEST way to do it would be to include one or more ‘bonus’ stories, or illustrations, to give people who have already bought the other novellas a reason to buy it as well 🙂

  6. My novels sell better than my novellas, but the novellas *do* sell, and they take a fraction of the time to write and edit. I like doing them in between novels (especially if I’m working on a series, as it gives me a break from one set of characters and a chance to explore another with committing to an entire novel — or series of novels).

  7. I can give you the perspective of one reader- I love to find short works by new authors, whether those are novellas or short stories. I am much more likely to try a short work by a new author than I am to try an entire novel. This is only partially about money- I find I resent the time I waste on a book that turns out to be no good more than I resent the money I spent. I also dislike not finishing something. The combination of those two things makes short works a much better for me to try new authors.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I feel that many readers follow your thinking as well. It is easier to ‘dip your toe’ into the world of an author by reading a novella, then decide you like/don’t like it, than to try and swim in the ocean of a novel only to realize you don’t like it.

  8. I like the ideas of novellas and I tend to write lean enough to pull them off. I do have one novel published, one in the editing stage and a spin off novella waiting to be edited. I hope to have them all published the first of the year so we’ll see how each does in the ebook market. Great article!

    1. Thanks for commenting! My advice is to advertise, connect, and talk about it with readers and in other places! It’s be really smart to put a link or a few pages of each novella into the end of the other to build cross-promotion. Or… find someone in a similar series/genre, and see if they’d like to work with you (it helps if you know them first!) To either get free publicity off your novella, giving you both some readers as there will be people willing to read yours to see a sneak peak of theirs!

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