Novels, Novellas, or Shorts?

theartofthenovellaAll of these formats are options that we can produce as writers, but what is the optimum length that we should be aiming for?

Following on from posts that I’ve written recently around creating products, the obvious extension to the “Product’ theory is what size product should we produce? Each format has varying levels of time commitment invested into them and therefore the choice of what you’re aiming at is actually important.

Novels

The standard size of a novel in the genre I’m writing in at the moment (Romantic Comedies) is around 75 – 80,000 words. This is quite a significant word count but certainly not as big as the Fantasy genre, I mean, those books look like door stops.

It takes a long time to create a novel. My process goes as follows:

  1. First Draft
  2. Second Draft
  3. Beta Readers
  4. Third Draft
  5. Proof Edit
  6. Fourth Draft

Now, let’s see how long this will approximately take:

  1. First Draft – 8 weeks (10,000 words a week)
  2. Second Draft – 6 weeks (lots of changes, new bits, etc.)
  3. Beta Readers – 4 weeks (unless you have betas dedicated to you) 
  4. Third Draft – 6 weeks (again, changes and new directions)
  5. Proof Edit – 6 weeks (again, unless they’re dedicated) 
  6. Fourth Draft – 4 weeks (just revisions and polishing)

Ok, so this is the critical path of creating a novel. Other activities need to be going on simultaneously, like cover design, launch material, promotional events and the myriad of other tasks which appear at the squeaky bum time. But, assuming that the writing process is where the time is invested, this process will take me 34 weeks to complete.

What? 34 weeks? That’s two thirds of a year. Now, even for those of you who aren’t so good with the numbers, if I’m aiming to produce two books a year then I’m setting myself up to fail. I just don’t have the capacity to create products quick enough.

Solutions

There are a couple of things that I could do which would improve this situation. I could obviously get quicker at writing; I could spend longer each day writing and increase my weekly word count to, say, 20,000 words; I could whip my beta-readers and editors so that they were begging me for mercy, or; I could reduce the number of words I need to produce. 

This is what then leads me on to the optimal size of product question. Novels are big things, they take a lot of time to write and they take a lot of time to edit. If you’re after the Utopian ideal of acquiring a large volume of work, because that’s what the general advice says nowadays, then this is going to take ages. In fact, to produce ten books which seems to be the magic number, this would take me 6.5 years to complete.

This sounds almost prolific for big name authors and, if you were to produce ten books in six and a half years then you might be considered speedy by some, but it’s still not good enough. If ten books is the number which will be the tipping point between making a living from writing and not, then six and a half years is definitely too long.

Future Solutions

We’re already seeing the face of reading change because of this type of analysis. Other self-published writer/entrepreneurs have worked this out for themselves are now creating shorter pieces of work. Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ series, probably the most successful self-published work ever, is a series of novellas. Writers are starting to write serials, which are collections of smaller pieces that build on a larger story. (this is how TV works)

But the story will dictate how long it needs to be?

We’ve already been through this one. You can’t afford the luxury of penning some rambling epic if, at the same time, you need to publish as much as possible. It just doesn’t work.

Quality and Substance

I think short stories are too short to really provide enough substance to a reader and make them feel as though there is still value in the product. Novellas are possibly the answer and also carry the additional benefit of being able to link them together and create product funnels.

This is definitely something that I’ll be revisiting when I get into my next project. But, as well, I’m always interested to know what the good people who follow this blog think about it all. I know there will be differences in opinion because I think this is an issue which sits right on the intersection between old and new.

Until next time…

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