The Novella Hype

Last summer, Tor announced the creation of a new imprint dedicated to novellas. Last week they put out their list of inaugural titles, which seems to have caused a bit of a stir among the authors I talk to or follow.

(Some of the stories look pretty cool, so I’ll probably look into them. If I remember.)

It’s not the novellas themselves, nor the release titles. No one seems to have a problem with the idea of an imprint dedicated to novellas. In fact, most authors think it’s a pretty cool idea. The novella, as a prose length, has been notoriously hard to sell. Not long enough to be a novel, not short enough to be a short story, but somewhere in between, novellas have typically gone the way of a lot of not easily marketable genres or cross genres: ignored.

What this has done, however, is created a wave of people declaring that novellas are the new publishing norm, that people can’t sit still long enough to get through a full-length novel. And then, of course, you have the counterwave, declaring that those people are crazy and have no idea what they’re talking about.

Seeing how almost every new publishing trend seems to be hailed as the new norm, I admit I agree more with the latter camp.

I can’t help but think that it’s the same sort of thing as when someone rounds up quotes going back a thousand years or so about the state of technology, or how the newest generation is the worst, or how every story ever has been told and everything modern is a hack.

(Plus the continued popularity of the Game of Thrones books seems to directly counteract the original argument.)

The fact is that, through epublishing, it’s a lot easier to put out works that don’t fall into a traditional length. Authors may finally be able to let a story by the length it wants to be instead of bulking it up to reach novel lengths, or cutting things out to reach short story lengths.

But does that mean that people–readers and writers–are suddenly only going to write/read things that are novella length?

Of course not. Everyone has a reading comfort zone. (Mine used to include 1000+ page books, but has shrunk over the years to under 700 pages, barring exceptions.) No one is going to change theirs just because of a new imprint.

What do you think, Squiders? Are shorter books the wave of the future? Or is this just a nice alternative for both the people who write novella-length scfi/fantasy and the people who like to read it?

5 responses to this post.

  1. I think it’s a wonderful alternative. I enjoy something I can finish in one session. I have a pretty busy life, and it’s nice to have an option.


  2. I wouldn’t call shorter works the wave of the future – though the Swedish publishing market has shown a trend over the last couple of years towards putting out novellas even in actual printed form – as much as I would say that yes, the publishing market is widening in the wake of e-publishing. When you don’t have to factor in cost of paper and non-standard format-printing, it’s only natural that non-standard formats become more common.

    As for not sitting still long enough to read a proper full-sized novel… I used to worry that, after I started using Twitter, my attention-span had gone out the window – I couldn’t seem to concentrate for longer than ten minutes on anything, including drawing – which usually gets me to just sort of shut down the entire world outside me and my pencil.

    … But I’m now reading Moby Dick. For the second time. And enjoying it. I can lose hours to reading, if the story I’m reading is that good.

    It’s not a question of a shrinking attention-span so much as it is a question of unhooking oneself from all distractions for long enough to get some space to read in peace. Once I put Twitter out of reach and switched from music to 25-30 minute long podcasts instead of music, my ability to draw for long intervals magically returned; the attention spans are still there – they just need some peace and quiet to kick in.

    My reading comfort zone still includes 1000+ page novels – it’s just that I’ve added novellas and short stories in on the lower end. And I am all in favour of stories, regardless of length and shape and size – a story should be precisely as long, or as short, as it needs to be. No artificial padding, no great scenes left on the cutting room floor for sake of time-constraints.


    • I think you’re probably right–it’s so hard to disconnect from everything these days (and I invariably miss important emails when I try, sigh).

      I’m glad you figured out how to get your focus back! (And I should read Moby Dick someday.)


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