Thursday, November 21, 2019

Novella sales

There are a lot of publishers accepting unsolicited novellas right now.

Last week, there was a pretty public brouhaha on Twitter. A publisher had ‘accepted’ a number of novellas earlier in the year, held the rights for about 6-8 months, then killed all the deals, returning the rights to the writers. The contracts had no advances and no kill fees (which is normal for short stories).

I understand short stories having simple contracts but shouldn’t novellas have contracts similar to novels?

Also, would an agent be interested in an unsigned writer who has an offer in hand for a novella (I’d expect not)?
There are a lot of shoulds in contracts, but often small publishers don't know, don't care, or won't bend.

Standard language in a book contract requires publication within a certain amount of time (18-24 months) or the deal is off and the author keeps any money paid to them.

Of course, with no advance, there's no money to keep.

Honestly you're better off with a company that returned the rights instead of publishing and never paying you.

My guess is the publisher over-bought and came to their senses before any real damage was done.

Real damage is screwing up any chance of reselling the novella.

Whether or not an agent is interested in a novella with an offer in hand is too individual to answer here.

16 comments:

Colin Smith said...

Janet: You say, "Whether or not an agent is interested in a novella with an offer in hand is too individual to answer here." So, what's your take? Understanding you are just one agent, I'd still be interested to hear your thoughts on representing novellas.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Observation:
Hey Colin...
Because people are so busy it seems to me that novellas and short stories would fly higher than they have in years. Why invest our precious shrinking time in a novel which requires a serious commitment of time and prolonged interest. And yet, as I write this I realize reading is reading, short, long, it's all about the story.
Unless during breakfast you're out of books and reading the back of the Cheerio's box.
Do people actually sit down and eat breakfast?


PAH said...

As I understand it, it's just simply less profit margins in smaller prints (digital formats are a different story). For a novella, you have to charge less than a novel but the cost in printing doesn't make up for the loss 1:1 ... you can still turn a profit, but not as much as a profit. If you can only print ONE thing right now, you'll pick the thing that has a higher chance of bigger profits.


NOTE: I am NOT in the industry.So I could be wrong. But this is what I had always thought.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I know nothing about novellas. I rather think of them as something that can be done after an established track record maybe? I don't know.

Once more, thanks for all the support regarding my mother. She had the surgery and is now in ICU. It's all wait and see and day by day from here on out.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: The fact they are popular at the moment partly drives my question. Agents are sensitive to industry trends, and they could offer novella writers services that would be extremely helpful. Also, one of Janet's clients (Jeff Somers) has written a few novellas, so I'm sure she has thoughts on this.

PAH: I would assume, as you say, that profit margins are smaller with novellas. That's another reason I'm curious to hear Janet's take on them. If she were to represent a novella, would there be conditions (e.g., must be part of an anthology, or must have other novellas or even a novel close to completion) before she signs a contract?

Elise: Up until recently, that was the received wisdom on novellas. But that doesn't seem to be the case so much now. Like the short story and flash fiction, the novella is a form of its own so it's not for everyone. But for those of us who have, maybe, finished a story in 20-30k words, it would be nice to know if one could attract an agent with such a work.

And thanks for the update on your mom. I'm glad she got through the surgery. I pray the coming days will bring healing and health.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm with Colin regarding being interested in Janet's thoughts on representing novellas. I'm intrigued by novellas in general, and I keep going back and forth about wanting to try my hand at them.

Elise - sending good thoughts and prayers your way....

Steve Forti said...

*raises hand to also hear about novella representation and viability*

Craig F said...

I have come across quite a few novellas of late. Our library uses a lot of them in their digital format. I guess they are cheaper to buy. At times it has pissed me off because I was expecting a full book and ended up with just an hour's reading.

Does the price have anything to do with the fiscal budgets of those who maintain digital libraries? Do more of them get bought as the money stream gets down to the dregs of the bucket?

I know that libraries that don't spend all of their allotment get a smaller amount the next time.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

As somebody trying to place a fantasy novella that's apparently a very bad length (20,000 words). There are short story markets that accept up to that length, and I'm working through them, in addition to having submitted to some other places like Interstellar Flight Press and Neon Hemlock. It seems like a lot of novella-seeking markets of the small press sort would like them to be more to the tune of 30k and up. Additionally, a certain quantity publishers open for novellas aren't necessarily checking boxes for "this seems like a good deal for me to get into" (and some do things like request authors also submit a marketing plan, which Victoria Strauss commented on yesterday on Twitter).

Sure I've self published two (of more appropriate length) but those are entirely for-fun projects that I've really enjoyed (and wouldn't mind generating some buzz and income from but, we know how this goes) (oh yeah, Run With the Hunted 2: Ctrl Alt Delete is available, for those interested)

Craig in my library experience, price certainly helps (and I don't have a blessed thing to do with our digital catalog), as does visibility and patron demand. If Library Journal or Booklist or something did a big spread on novella buzz or novellas in demand or something, librarians would likely look into purchasing those. Similarly, if our patrons say "we want this title to be added to the catalog!" and it meets our collection development policies, we add it. We want to have what our patrons want to use.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Thanks for the update, E.M. I know these last hours must have been very draining for you, but I think all of us were checking back and worrying / thinking / praying for you and your Mom.

Emma said...

Inerestingly enough, I just got a newsletter about submitting novellas in my inbox this morning from Sundress Publications. I don't know much about them except that they try to promote online literary journals. I wouldn't normally share anything this small, but it seems that on top of yesterday's blog (platform and newsletters) and today's (short length fiction), it's a sign that this might be helpful to someone.

Sundress Publications

E.M. - sending healing thoughts to you and your family

John Davis Frain said...

Don Winslow, who writes about as well as anyone I've read so far, has a novella coming out in the spring, and it's partnered up with short stories so the overall length (and presumably price point) will match a typical novel. I've seen the same thing from others (some guy named Stephen King, for example) publish multiple novellas in the same book.

I just finished a wonderful book called Tiny Crimes -- Very Short Tales of Mystery & Murder. About 250 pages of flash fiction. Great stuff. Several flash fiction entries from here could have certainly qualified for admission.

I suppose it's like predicting the stock market, but it seems short is in the future. And the present.

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, one other thing speaking of length. I was in the Oakland airport earlier this month and found a wonderful little machine outside Gate 31 that offers free stories. Press a button and receive your choice of a 1-minute read, a 3-minute read, or a 5-minute read.

I walked through nearby gate areas and saw two other people enjoying the ticker-tape story. My layover was long enough to enjoy one from each length. Alas, I went 1-for-3, so again, Janet's flash fiction contests would be well represented if they appeared in that machine.

It was fun, but I wish I'd caught more people taking advantage of it.

Karen McCoy said...

Thinking of you, Elise! Here's hoping your mom has a good, and steady recovery.

I'm also curious how (or if) this relates to novelettes.

MA Hudson said...

John - Wow, that machine sounds like something out of a fantastical universe. So cool.

In regards to length and lack of time, personally I find getting lost in a long, luscious novel almost an antidote to the day's hectic pace. Immersing myself in another reality for half an hour is the best nightcap I've found, and so if a story is too short I just end up feeling deeply disappointed and unsatisfied.

AJ Blythe said...

Elise, I'm so glad your mum is through her surgery. Hoping the news stays positive. ((hugs))