Written by A Guest Author September 12th, 2019

A Professional Editor’s Perspective on Novelettes and Novellas

Wendy S. Delmater

You may be one of a number of authors who finds themselves writing at the novella or novelette length. What is a novella or a novelette? Here are the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s definition of what constitutes a short story, novelette, novella or novel. It is based on the word count.

Short Story: less than 7,500 words;

Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;

Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words

Novel: 40,000 words or more.

A word of warning: anything over 10,000 words is really, really hard to sell. If it’s just barely over 10K words, you might be able to cut out enough words to squeak under the word limit by using a fantastic book: The 10% Solution by Ken Rand. It’s written by a former newspaperman who had to cut things down to fit on a printed page, and very easy to use.

But if you write comfortably at that length and cannot cut it down enough and still have a coherent story, don’t despair. The more you do this writing thing, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll eventually learn to write at longer and shorter lengths. And sometimes you can even string a number of novelettes and/or novellas written about the same characters together into one long, coherent book called a fix-up novel. For examples of that technique, take a look at Charles Stross’s book Accelerando or Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.  Or you can publish them yourself as ebooks on Amazon for next to nothing.

The good news about writing at the novelette or novella length is that if you can get these particular things published, there is not a lot of competition. So if you write science fiction or fantasy novelettes pieces at those lengths, it’s a good thing. When awards season rolls around, if you build some buzz for your novelette or novella, there are a lot less contenders in that category.

As a professional editor, my personal opinion is that when you write a story it should be the length it wants to be. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cut words to tighten it up or add words to make it better; I’m saying that when the final product is passed by your beta readers’ sharp eyes and it’s as perfect as you can make it, you have to accept that this is the length the story was meant to be. I cannot tell you how many really good novelettes I’ve seen people chop down to the point where they’re not coherent stories to get under that 10,000-word limit. If you can’t sell a 10K+ words story right away, either put it up on Amazon or wait for a market that takes things of that length to open up, and while you’re waiting… just write the next thing.

Wendy S. Delmater is the editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction. The above is an adapted from her new book, Writing the Entertaining Story.


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