The Age of the Novella and Chapbook

I started talking about this a couple years ago when the topic of $4 eBooks.  Readers want cheaper books, which will make them shorter.  Now, the topic is making the rounds again with a lot of "Golden Age" talk.

The Age of the Novella

Let’s agree not to remind California what it used to take for granted, that novellas, because of their length, can often be more handily adapted than novels into movies. Let us not remind New York what all the avid and demanding among us take for granted, that a volume of three novellas is more intriguing than one flabby novel (New York Times).

Yes, novellas are better for movie adaptations, and yes, they need more attention from publishers, but the important point is that they are great for readers and writers.

Other the last year, I decided to change my writing strategy to write more short stories, novellettes and novellas.  I have given up on the novel. 

The SFWA defines these categories this way:

  • Novel over 40,000 words
  • Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
  • Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
  • Short story under 7,500 words

Many quibble over where the line between a Novella and a Novel is.  When I say I have given up on the novel, what I mean is that I am done writing the 90,000+ word stories that are common in the genre, and in a lot of ways, I am tired of reading them.  Too often the story is over complicated or padded to hit these word counts.  Despite what some writers might tell you, this is an important consideration.

Harry Potter is short fiction!

When I start working on a new story, I try to feel it out to see how much is in it.  I can think of a lot of stories that would benefit from that.  Now, these stories can be serialized or chained to make a longer work.  I would argue that the success of the Harry Potter franchise is do to the fact that these mammoth tomes are plotted out more like serialized novels that (for lack of better words) a true novel.

Book 1 is a collection of interlocking short stories, and all the ones after it with the possible exception of the Deadly Hallows are interlocked Novellas, Novellettes, and Short Stories that give the impression of being a novel.  This plotting technique helped the stories to stay tight and carry the full length of the series.  These books could easily be serialized with few if any changes.  We only think of them as novels, because we are told to.

The Chapbook Revolution

Helen Carter at The Northerner Blog at the Guardian wrote a love letter to the Chapbook.  Chapbooks are small, pamphlet sized printed books, containing essays, short stories, poetry, novellettes, or novellas.  Recently, the chapbook has made a comeback.

Chapbooks are not going to be available in other formats, as downloads for E-readers like the Kindle, as Royle says it would "defeat the object of it – which is celebrating the gorgeous piece of history (The Guardian)".

I would have to agree and disagree with that.  Many of the new chapbooks are very artistic, and could only be brought to digital by a company like Comixology.  While that is not impossible, it is extremely unlikely.

While chapbooks may not go digital in their present form, short fiction is perfect for E-readers.

Moving forward

Writers need to explore their options to keep prose alive and Shorter Fiction and Chapbooks are two options that have a bright future.  I am going to experiment with this.  If you do, let me know.  I would love to see what you are up to.