Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Novellas, Novelettes, & Short Stories: What’s the Difference?

by Annette Lyon

For about two years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of an anthology series. As of February 2014, we have put out six Timeless Romance Anthology collections, and will continue to do at least four a year. Each has been fun and challenging in its own way.

For those unfamiliar with the series, each collection has six stories, three by continuing contributors (PEG’s own Heather B. Moore, plus Sarah M. Eden, and yours truly). We select a theme and then look for three guest writers to join us who are established, published writers we know will produce a great story.

We have few rules, but the ones we have are written in stone: No story can go over 15,000 words, so the entire collection is no more than 90,000 words, not counting author bios and other back matter. Each anthology is roughly the length of a typical novel.

The other two rules: 
  • the stories must all follow the theme
  • they must all be sweet romances (read: clean romance, with nothing beyond kissing in them and no graphic violence, etc.).

 In today’s digital world, the experiment has proved to be a great success. We treat the collections as a professional endeavor, including hiring a talented graphic designer experienced in book covers. The stories all get professionally edited and formatted, and the final result has been fantastic—as has the response from readers, proving that there is indeed a market for sweet romance.

We recently made the first anthology (the WinterCollection, featuring historical stories set in the winter) available in paperback, and we’ll likely put more of the e-books into print as we move forward.

So why are am I talking about these stories? Because in today’s e-book world, we’re seeing the return of relics from the publishing past. There was a time—before the Internet and all of the many distractions it brings—when magazines and book publishers regularly published short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

Short stories lasted a bit longer than the other two, especially in magazines. I may be dating myself here, but I recall a time when teen magazines still included a short story in each issue. Novelettes and novellas pretty much went the way of the dinosaur decades ago, and a big part of the decline of those literary forms was the cost. With the printing, shipping, and other costs that mirror the costs of full-length novels, but with lower price points, novellas and novelettes simply couldn't make enough of a profit to stay viable. 

As for the space short stories used to take up in magazines: It was quickly replaced by other content, with the belief that "no one reads short stories anymore."

In the last few years, however, many people, from the Big 5 publishers in New York to self-published writers, have changed their tune. Formatting for e-books is inexpensive, and a lot of writers have learned to do it themselves. There are no costs for printing or shipping, and little to no cost for delivery. Plus, they can be produced far faster. In other words, they're profitable again.

As a result, many writers, including bestsellers, have contracts to write novellas, often as a prequel before a new book comes out, or to give hungry readers a taste as they wait a year between volumes in a series.

Anthologies are one the few places that never stopped publishing shorter fiction entirely. A lot of them were and are produced by fantasy or science fiction publishers, and getting into one was a great way for a writer hoping to publish novels to break into the market.

Anthologies are still a great way to get started and break in. At the 2013 League of UtahWriters conference, Paul Genesse taught a great class about short fiction. He's had success making a name for himself through contributing to many anthologies over the years, and while he’s admitted that you won’t get rich doing that, you will grow a readership and develop a name for yourself.

But before you attempt to submit to a collection, be sure you know the varying lengths of the different forms. Today's readers aren’t yet that familiar with the terms, so if you self-publish a shorter work, the technical term won't be nearly as important as if you plan to submit your work to a contest, publisher, or anthology.

According to both Paul Genesse and SFWA, the following word counts are pretty standard in the industry: 

Short Fiction Word Counts
Short Story: under 7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500 words – 17,500 words
Novella: 17,500 words – 40,000 words

A few things to keep in mind with those numbers:

Middle-grade and early chapter books often fall below 40,000 words but don’t get the novella label, even though they're in that range. 

Word count is a far better guide to story length than page count, especially in fiction. Why? Word count per page can vary widely. For example, a page with mostly description will have many more words than a page with a lot of dialog, where a new paragraph starts every couple of lines, creating a lot of white space.

For example, the Timeless Romance Anthology stories, which typically run 13,000 to 15,000 words, will take up from 45 to 60 pages double-spaced in Word. That's a pretty broad page count for stories roughly the same word length.

As you can tell by the guidelines above, the TRA collections are technically made up of six novelettes per collection, yet in our book descriptions, we still call them novellas, because that’s the term readers are most familiar with. As novelette becomes a more familiar term to readers, we may use it.

So, you want to publish a novella/novelette/short story?
As with any potential market, be sure to research the submission guidelines and follow them exactly. Thinking you're the exception to the rule only shows you aren't a professional taking the job seriously.  

If it’s a contest, submit by the deadline or even before. Follow the format required. And, of course, know in advance if the market is open to submissions at all. (The Timeless Romance Anthologies are invitation only, for example.)

How do you write short fiction, anyway?
Actually writing short fiction is a very different animal from writing a full-length novel. For me, at least, it's been a wild but awesome ride learning how to create a good story in a small space. 

For that matter, it's a topic worthy of its own post another time.