Novel or Novella? by Matt Mansfield

So I’ve been thinking about this story idea since I was in college (for those who don’t know me well, that was 26 years ago) and I finally wanted to sit down and write the darn thing.

The story is a young adult urban fantasy with a dash of sci-fi and I’ve always envisioned it as one book. Recently however, I’ve been exploring the publishing world and wandered across an interesting approach: serial novellas.

novella-series

Here’s the thinking behind the “series of novellas” approach:

  1. You write the first novella in the series which at 17,500-40,000 words, takes less time than a novel.
  2. You publish the novella on Amazon for $.99. At the end of the book, make sure to include a Web address where readers can sign up to be notified when the next book is released.
  3. You write the rest of the series and publish them as you go.
  4. After you publish the third book, you make the first one free.
  5. Once you complete the series, you package it all up and sell it as a collection for less than the separate novellas combined.

What’s the advantage to this approach? You:

  1. Write and publish your work more quickly.
  2. Build your email marketing list which is a critical step for making future sales.
  3. Suck people into the series by giving the first novella away for free. The goal here is to hook them in and sell 4 novellas for $.99 each rather than one full-length book for $.99 (which is common on Amazon, especially among new writers). This is a big advantage as, the more books a writer publishes, the more money they will potentially make per sale (i.e. if the reader likes one book, they may buy the rest by that author.)
  4. Have a complete book when the collection is bundled up.
  5. Wash, rinse, and repeat for fame and financial success.

Time-crunched as I am, this approach seemed like a solid way to get some work published while building a fan base at the same time. Off I went!

The Problem with Novellas

As I wrote each new chapter, I submitted it for critique on Scribophile where my Ubergroup comrades had committed to critique my work each week. The result?

They loved it! I was over the moon with delight! The story I’d had in my head for years was finally coming to life on my screen.

After five updates however, I began to see a problem in “series of novellas” approach: if your readers love the plot, characters, and the world you create, they’ll want more.

And novellas are not made for more.

You see, novellas are condensed stories. They need the same basic elements that every story has: a beginning, a middle and an end however, they have less room to accomplish this. To do so, something has to be sacrificed, whether its details about the world or a character’s backstory.

In the end, a novella is often a satisfying snack but rarely a rich, satisfying meal.

Back on Scribophile, my readers were asking for more details, more character backgrounds, and scenes that fleshed out the story further.

They wanted a novel.

Decision Time

I found myself facing a decision: would I continue with the “series of novellas” approach or go back to the drawing board and re-plot the story as a novel?

novel-or-novella

In the end, I decided that my readers were correct – there was more to this story than a novella could contain. Thinking about how I’ve been mulling this story over for years I realized that I wanted to give this story its due. When I finally publish it, I want to get it right.

I still believe in the “series of novellas” approach and will likely try it out one day however, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: never try to squeeze a novel full of ideas into a novella.

 

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