Thursday, May 31, 2018

Querying a novella

I wrote a novella (about 22,000 words). What do I do now? Novellas seem to be squarely in the sour spot, being too long for online zines that specialize in short stories, and too short for agents who specialize in novels. I know some publishing houses (Tor, for instance) have shown a renewed interest in novellas, but as far as I can tell, it's not yet widespread in the industry. Should I look for small publishers myself? Self-publish? Wait until I'm a rich and famous author, and editors are begging to publish anything from me, up to and including my grocery lists and third grade ode to the A-Team?

PS--It's a horror novella, if that helps (or hurts).

PPS--My question actually goes deeper than this single novella, as I've discovered I enjoy the form and am likely to write more novellas in the future. Am I unwittingly limiting myself to a career of self-publishing? 

You're in luck.
Novellas are making a comeback.
Short fiction in general is experiencing a resurgence.

For querying an agent, generally a novella is paired with several short stories to make a "book length" book.

You'd query the entire project if you're going the agent route. At least a few of the short stories
should be already-published to demonstrate you've got an audience.

And a fan audience is key here. To get fans you publish stories and build your name recognition.
That can be through smaller presses first, then when you've gotten started, editors and agents are more likely to take a look.

I have two clients, Laird Barron and Jeff Somers, who are actively involved in writing and publishing short stories and novellas.  Tenacity and consistency are key here. Send things out regularly, don't get discouraged.

Now, if the ONLY thing you want to write are novellas, you can combine two of them (or maybe three) for a book length project.  You'll need an over arching theme of some kind and you query both of them in one query letter. This is trickier than querying a novel, but if you've got a compelling query, I'll read the book. 


Unknown said...

Could the writer not publish as an E-book, in order to build up a following that is?

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I like shorter fiction and was just eyeing the collections published by the Mystery Bookshop, wishing I could order a bunch. The Jack Reacher story collection was great reading. And my library had a new P.D. James collection of stories.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

For what it's worth, F&SF also takes novellas that long, and though I've yet to actually work with them (*sob*) the editor seems like a very nice and thoughtful guy. Also, Tor is going to have another open window for novella submissions in July.

Susan said...

Yay! I have a series of interlinking novellas I’ve been working on—the first one starting with my first indie published book. This news makes me incredibly happy.

I think novellas are great as well from a reader standpoint—like short stories they’re easily digestible in one sitting but can dive a little deeper. They also give you some more time to spend in and play in the world.

This suddenly gives me renewed motivation to write again. I’d been looking for that... :)

Julie Weathers said...

I just finished Chickamauga, which is a collection of Civil War Stories edited by Shelby Foote. It was very good with some stellar authors. One of my favorite short story collections of that ilk is by Ambrose Bierce. Bitter Bierce was kind of a curmudgeon, but I would have liked to have known him. Maybe it would be my ashes on his desk.

If y'all didn't read An Occurrence At Owl Creek in high school, you should read it now. It's available on some free resources. It's the ideal lesson in manipulating time. I may read it again, just because.

I've read some other short stories lately that people pointed out to me.

For me as a reader, I'm glad to see short stories and novellas becoming more popular. Odd, I know. I couldn't write a prologue in less than 20,000 words, which is why I don't write them.

So, good luck to you, OP. I'm glad you asked this question.

Mister Furkles said...

Here is another possible path to publication:

Take a novella and add one or two plot threads that cross the main one some number of times. And add a few additional scenes. Be certain to include weather, incidental things the characters see, and don't forget smell and lighting in the scenes. When done, you may have a novel sized story.

If you write separate novella around the same local or for related characters, it may be easier to combine them into a novel sized story.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

The timing of this question and answer couldn't be more perfect! I'm working on a horror novella, and I'm also continuing to write and sub stories, but the publishing path forward felt rather vague. Until now. :)

Unknown said...

I prefer horror novella or short story collections over full length horror novels. I remember being unable to put King's It down till I was finished. Prolonged panic combined with sleep deprivation is not healthy! Novella length is just right to scare the beegeebies out of me (is that how you spell that?), yet not induce prolonged panic attacks.

Colin Smith said...

I have a couple of detective novellas that I was in the process of working into novel-length... but now...? They both need some work as they are, but perhaps I should be less concerned with their length. Knowing that the industry is open to novellas certainly frees me up to deal with the stories as they are. One concern I had was that they would feel padded as novels. Maybe they won't. At least now, if I don't think they're working at 80K+, I can keep them short and know that's not necessarily a show-stopper.

Thanks, Janet! :)

Brenda said...

What Mr. Furkles suggests is what Ray Bradbury did with The Martian Chronicles. YouTube has a recording wherein Bradbury reveals how he formed the book out of previously published shorter works.
Also, OP, you made me laugh out loud. If your stories are as witty as the line about ‘grocery lists and third-grade ode to the A team’ I want to read them. We need all the humor we can get in this old world.

Miles O'Neal said...

I have always loved novellas (as well as short stories). I've never understood the modern prejudice either of these. It's always been about the story for me. Even today, I read shorts and novellas along with novels (when I have time to read).
And leave us not forget[1] that "Ender's Game" was originally a novella[2], and a darned good one. (In some ways I still prefer it.)

[1] I have long hated that phrase, but cannot not use it on occasion.
[2] Somewhere in the vicinity of 15-17K words, I believe. Depending on whose definition of novella you accept, it might be a very long short story. To me, it's foreva novella.

Kate Larkindale said...

Keep an eye open for anthology submission call outs too. Many of these are looking for novella-length stories, often around a specific theme. I have a novella-length story (24K) being published in a YA anthology in July that's centred around kissing - every story starts and ends with a kiss.

Craig F said...


If all else fails and it isn't imperative that you sell it right now. Find someone to make you a killer cover and post it there, or someplace like it. If you get a million hits, they will come looking to sign you.

Be careful if people do come looking to sign you. There are a shitload of scams and scammers out there. I just had to send for my fourth new debit card in six months, they have all been hacked. Last one was from a website the state said I could renew my driver's license on.

CED said...

OP here. I wanted to pop in and thank Janet for answering my question and the Reefers for their additional suggestions and encouragement.

I'm also happy that so many others seemed to be buoyed by Janet's answer. Novellaists unite!