What’s a Novella and Why do Readers Like Them?

susan novella

My most recent novella series

As an author with five published novellas to her credit, I’ve been pondering the lure of a novella.

Why do people like to read them?

Novellas are shorter works of fiction, usually ranging between 15,000 and 30,000 words– or about 60 to 120 “standard sized” pages.

While short stories, on the other hand, have ranged as high as 15,000 words, they’re generally found in the 3500-7000 word lengths these days.

The ability to write an effective novella or a short story, is all a matter of word choices and the writer’s skill in telling a full story in few words.

According to the Online Classes website,

“Within the space of a few pages, an author must weave a story that’s compelling, create characters readers care about and drive the story to its ultimate conclusion — a feat that can be difficult to accomplish even with a great degree of savvy.”

Some of the greatest short story writers of the last century included Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor and, of course, O. Henry.

Many are familiar with the famous quote, attributed to several people, including Blaise Pascal:

“I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

(He actually wrote this in French).

A novella is not exactly a lengthy short story–a short story doesn’t usually have chapters while a novella requires character growth over multiple chapters.

There’s time in a novella to complete a character arc and even include minor characters.

I’ve had to plot my novella carefully to make sure I get in everything I want.Novella A Pioneer Christmas Collection

Indeed, while writing The Gold Rush Christmas for A Pioneer Christmas Collection, I had so much story to include, I counted every single word, as did my editor, a number of times to make sure I stayed at 20,000. It was a hard task, as evident in this post.

Why do people like to read novellas?

A well-written novella will provide the reader with the same satisfaction as reading a complete novel, but in less time and with fewer complications and plot twists.

Since there’s not a lot of room, descriptions are kept to a minimum, as are secondary characters.

The writer must write “tighter” and the word choices can be richer than when you have far more pages and time to tell the story.

Novellas have been particularly popular at Christmas the last five or six years, probably because it’s a busy time of year.

It’s not as hard to make the time commitment to read a novella as it is to a full novel.

The novellas in the collections I’ve written for take about an hour to read–or as I like to point out, about as long as it takes you to sip your way through a warm beverage.

Some people like the variety of stories found in novella collections, just as they did in the twentieth century when short story magazines were popular.

authorNovella collections generally revolve around a theme. My A Log Cabin Christmas Collection included nine stories that included log cabins and Christmas.

Simple and easily explained by the title.

J.D. Salinger‘s Franny and Zoey and Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, published in the 1960s,include stories about the Glass family in slim volumes.

I think it would be interesting to read a collection about the same town or the same family, with novellas written by different authors.


Many believe novellas are popular because of their ease in publication through e-books.

They’re relatively simple to put together and produce for e-readers.

Some publishing houses have begun asking debut authors to produce a novella prior to the release of their novel–so as to give a little back story and to provide a feel for the writer before the full length novel is published.

In fall 2014, Barbour Publishing undertook an experiment to see if a collections of e-book-only novellas released at weekly intervals would be of interest to readers during the busy Christmas season.

Brides novella

I wrote The Yuletide Bride as my contribution to The 12 Brides of Christmas Collection–a dozen novellas priced at 99 cents each. (Which means you could purchase that cup of warm beverage and a novella for about $5 for a winter break!)

The novellas were popular, but a bit frustrating for readers who did not own an e-book reading device.

To solve that issue, The 12 Brides of Christmas Collection will be published as a deluxe edition book in October 2015.

As part of the experiment, Barbour is also producing a series of sequels to The 12 Brides of Christmas Collection, also releasing first as ebooks this summer and then next year as a book, appropriately called The 12 Brides of Summer.

I’m hoping that people who enjoyed The Yuletide Bride, and certainly the ones who told me they wanted the story to go on much longer, will enjoy its sequel The Sunbonnet Bride!

Readers will always flock to a good story–no matter its length.

To a writer, however, can there be any better music then the reader response: “I didn’t want it to end?”


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