Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Query Question: short novels

I've written several short stories that I want to expand into a series of books, and an idea came to me. I was thinking of the books by Og Mandino.  They all had a message, but they were all very short books. I'm guessing most of his books were only 50,000 words tops; they certainly were not normal novel length.

Would that work in today's world?  Is it even possible to find a market for novellas?  If I wrote this series of books about special children named Hope, Mercy, and Peace, and they were all in the 50,000 word range, would I have any chance of finding an interested publisher?

I had to look up Og Mandino because I knew the name but couldn't have told you a thing about his titles (that's a clue right there.)

Turns out Mr. Mandino isn't writing novellas at all. He's writing self-help and inspiration. He may be using story form to do it (Simon the Ragpicker etc.) but his goal is to is to teach, not entertain.

If that's what you want to do, and it sounds like you do if you've got "special children named Hope, Mercy, and Peace" then it's not the size of the book that's the problem it's the style.

You need to figure out what you're writing. If it's self-help and motivational essays, then it's NOT a novella.  If you want to write a novella, make sure you're telling a story first, not trying to teach a lesson. Books with heavy handed overt messages are non-starters these days no matter their length.


Ellipsis Flood said...

It's always sad when good characters and plot are set aside and/or suffer because the author wants to beat their readers over the head with a moral.

Also, the use of "special" in combination with these names irritates me. It reminds me of "special needs," a euphemism that can go die in a fire.

Colin Smith said...

C.S. Lewis felt the same way about story vs. message. While there is undeniably large amounts of Christian allegory and message in his Narnia books, he hated when people referred to them as "Christian allegory." For him, those books were nothing if they were not good stories first and foremost.

It's not easy to make a message into an entertaining read. Indeed, from what I gather, for most authors if there's a moral or a message in his/her novel, it's one that emerges naturally out of the story--not one s/he planned from the beginning.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Like Samuel Goldwyn said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union."

And yes, to most readers these days "special" doesn't mean "having unusual characteristics that set them above the others. It means mentally or socially handicapped. If that's what your writing, great. But in either case, you *have* to be aware of that.

But whatever it is you're doing – keep story first, last and always. I'd really rethink the whole concept.

Anonymous said...

I think an omission here is who is the target audience? Who is this "message" for? Is it Middle Grade? Young Adult? Adult? I agree with the above comments about the story should be first and foremost. It comes first and if, somewhere in there exists a message about difficulties getting about in the "normal" world, etc., etc., you would need to know your audience in order to deliver it without sounding preachy.

Fatboy said...

maybe not heavy handed and overt, but all good stories carry/convey a message(s)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Great stories always have messages. You learn something every time without even knowing you got into it as a student. And that is the sign of a great story teller, they write, or talk and you as the reader or listener soak it in one word at a time.

Anonymous said...


Great timing for this. I have a friend who's asked me to read his book that is less than 40,000 words, and I will. I'm just not sure I can give him a lot of encouragement about being published as is. I've started it and it reads more like a YA or possibly even MG, though he says it isn't.

Of course, what do I know? Some people think my epic fantasy is a YA coming of age story.

I think Donna's suggestion of figuring out who your target audience is spot on.

I also like John's quote. Unfortunately, Hollywood and some authors seem to have forgotten this.

I've had a few people suggest this agent or that because they're looking for "feminist" books. Lord in heaven, please, no. I write strong female characters, but please don't accuse me of writing for the cause. I'm writing for entertainment. I have no agenda.

Regarding Og Mandino. *squeals with delight* I love him. Absolutely adore him. When I had the prison ministry, his books were always very popular if I could get my hands on them. I'd often reread them before I sent them out with the lessons. Prisoners are frequently avid readers and books make the rounds until they are literally falling apart. His books wound up being tied up like bundles to keep them together.