The Uses of a Novella

ACFWAdvice, Authors and writing, Friends of ACFW, marketing, Novellas, writing 1 Comment

By Glynn Young

On July 1, with the publication of my fifth novel, I brought a five-book series to a conclusion. Each of the five was about 93,000 words in length, except for the last one. The last one has an additional 20,000 words, included as an epilogue but actually a freestanding novella.

It’s related on a minor way to the main novel; it’s mentioned as a manuscript one of the characters is writing. The idea for it predates the novel it’s part of; its genesis was years earlier from an article in Discover Britain magazine on the Celtic and Viking history that saturates the Orkney Islands.

I wrote it as part of a break from writing the novel. My novels are contemporary fiction; this novella is historical fiction, set a thousand years before the contemporary story. I wrote it without actually knowing what to do with it. What was likely in the back of my mind was an understanding of all the various ways authors use novellas:

  • As a freestanding work, marketed and sold separately.
  • As an introduction or “prequel” to a series, usually written after the series is underway.
  • As a gift for signing up for an author’s newsletter.
  • As a title story in a collection of short (and shorter) stories.
  • As part of a thematic collection of novellas written and published with other authors.

And I’m sure there are other uses I’m missing.

I knew I could use the novella for any and all of those purposes, but I had something else in mind. The novella was a professional transition, moving from a series and a family of characters I’ve lived with for 18 years and published for nine. I’m moving to other writing projects, and I used the novella to see how I would manage writing about something completely different from my publication history to date.

Once it was written, the question became, do I include it with the last novel or publish it separately, perhaps as an ebook? When I sent it to the publisher to read, his first question surprised me. He wanted to know if I or someone else had written it, because it was a very different kind of story with a very different writing style. I assured him it was all mine.

As I mentioned, it was historical fiction, set in the early Viking period. Second, it was written in the present tense. That was the single biggest difference from the five novels. I had tried using the traditional past tense, but it didn’t work. Using present tense gave the story an immediacy, a sense that it was happening right there, and the reader is a part of it.

The novella also accomplished something else, and it was a reader who pointed it out. Even though it has entirely different characters and is set a millennium before the five novels, it serves as a kind of summary of the entire story arc in the novels. Roughly speaking, that’s an accurate assessment. Yes, it’s different, but it echoes the novels (and especially the fifth one) in a few significant ways.

It was fun and challenging to write, but it also needed to be written. It’s a farewell, a nod of recognition to the characters who’ve served me well, and a professional shift to new projects.

Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter, communications practitioner, and novelist. He’s the author of four published novels, Dancing PriestA Light Shining, Dancing King, Dancing Prophet;  the newly published Dancing Prince; and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work.   Visit Glynn at FacebookTwitter, LinkedInPinterest, his blog, the Dancing Priest book page, and his business web site.


Comments 1

  1. Good to know! Thanks, Glynn. Another great use: A novella might be a solution for those of us who have a story in mind but not enough time, energy, or inclination to do a full-length book. 🙂

    Question: Will novellas do best as e-books or paperbacks?

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