The Mystery of the Disappearing Modern Day Novella: Why Length Shouldn’t Matter 


img_0123I occasionally get asked by my readers why some of my books are short. And by short I mean between 30 and 60,000 words. In fact only three of my books are what the industry accepts as novel length. Truth is, traditional publishers and literary agents tend to reject work that doesn’t hit the golden mark of 75,000 words (80,000 in some cases). There was even advise on a very popular agent search site for writers to shelve any novellas they have and focus on getting a few novels accepted by an agent or publisher first. Their novellas would then get a chance to see the light after they develop a strong readership. And when seeking to advertise your work, if you are self published, don’t bother trying if your book isn’t novel length. Most websites have clear rules stating they won’t accept your work. This idea baffles me. It really does.

I admit I initially started off by following these guidelines (hence the three books) but the simple fact is, not all stories need to be fleshed out to get the message across. Sometimes all a writer needs to share with the world can be conveyed in 60,000 words. Or 40,000. Maybe even 10,000. You get my drift. Don’t get me wrong, a tome is fine if it is actually written in such a way that readers feel the length is justified (one of my favourite books is the Pillars of the Earth and it’s a whooping 312,000 words). We can all relate to flicking through a few pages of a book just to realise that the only thing we got out of all those words was that it was a cold autumn’s day. And then we wish for those few minutes of our lives back, to no avail.

There is also the silent rule that books of novella length are only acceptable for children or middle grade books. Obviously this is nonesense as there are a good number of critically acclaimed works written for adults which fall very comfortably below (or just above) the 50,000 word mark. The problem being that most of these books were written over 40 years ago, which supports my theory that the rejection of novellas is a recent push by publishers and agents to appease some unknown quota. I wonder how different the world would have been if these books had been thrown into the rejection pile just based on their word count. Which brings me to the list below (yes, I actually spent some time doing research for this post). Some books on the list do in fact fall into the short novel category, but they count if we consider the modern day rejection rule of nothing less than 75,000 words. It could be a much longer list but I decided to go for books I’ve either read or have on my reading list so I can (mostly) attest to being satisfied by the completeness of the prose. A simple search engine click will throw up hundreds more and, trust me, some titles may surprise you. Here we go:
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad, 1902

Breakfast at Tiffanys – Truman Capote, 1958

Animal Farm – George Orwell, 1945

The Mist – Stephen King, 1980

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson, 1954

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess, 1962

The Metarmphosis – Franz Kafka, 1915

The Body – Stephen King, 1982

The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells, 1898

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson ,1886

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck, 1937

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams, 1979

The Outsider (or The Stranger) – Albert Camus, 1942

The Time Machine – H. G. Wells, 1895

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway, 1952

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett, 2007 (shocker!)

Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk, 1996

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, 1953

Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov, 1925

Advertisements
  1. Reblogged this on beardlessmadman.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: