6/14 EDIT: For the moment, Midnight’s Tale is only $0.99–and was just accepted as a Kindle Single.

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The paradox of writing is that the more you do it, the less time you have for the activity that, in all likelihood, caused you to become a writer in the first place: reading. This morning, I cured some of my mounting guilt over writing more fiction than I read with George Berger’s Midnight’s Tale.

Midnight’s Tale is an epic novella of a young goat’s quest to understand love. Okay, maybe not “epic,” per se, but it is funny and winning with a strong style. Despite serving as my first foray into George’s work, I’m not at all surprised I liked it; I became aware of him through Kindleboards, where his posts are consistently funny, charmingly sarcastic, and self-deprecating. Eventually, I had to pick up one of his books. I’m glad I did. His style on the boards translates very well to his fiction.

As you might have guessed, Midnight’s Tale is literary fiction. “Literary fiction” is a dirty word in some circles, and as an author primarily concerned with vengeful robots, ambitious sorcerers, and Ancient Egyptian asteroid-catapults, I feel like I should say something like “Yeah, but it’s not like that other stuff.” I’ll just say this: think of all the irrelevant cliches out there about your genre of choice. Well, literary fiction’s got the same baseless prejudice thrown its way, too.

This is getting off topic, which is that Midnight’s Tale is warm and funny and I liked it. It’s a fast read, but well worth the money. Go give it a look.

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(This will be the first in what I hope will become regular series dedicated to indie authors I’ve stumbled over and liked. Meanwhile, more numbers tomorrow!)

Oh, did I mention Lightless is currently free on Kindle? I didn’t? Then consider this that announcement. That Lightless is free. On Amazon Kindle. For the next whole day and a half. At the end of Saturday night, it turns back into a pumpkin that costs $0.99.

Never had anything free on Amazon before. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

Lightless is a fantasy novella, a story of wizardry, monsters, and a world with no concept of days. From its Amazon description, where it’s available for Kindle for $0.99:

“When daytime lasts for 16 years, so does the night–and even if you survive what lurks there, stay too long, and you can never come back.

The king’s daughter Dalia has gone missing. He fears she’s fallen into the Lightless. Tasked with getting her back, Chief Tracker Vickory Carroway recruits roguish wizard Tom Raquepaw, the only man known to have traveled to the Lightless and lived to return. With days to spare until Dalia’s lost for good, their investigation leads them into the darkness–a nightmarish world of monstrous creatures and equally monstrous men.

Lightless is a novella of 60 pages / 17,000 words.”

Yes, a novella. Too short for book publishers, too long for (almost every) magazine, ebooks have once again rendered novellas a viable format. If you buy it, anyway. If you don’t, novella writers around the world will continue starving to the point where their ribs are classified as lethal weapons. What I’m saying is I’ll die if you don’t buy this. Hope you’re okay with that, murderer.

Meanwhile, I continue to be deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo, where I’m currently a few days behind schedule. For now, back to my groundhog hole.

I’ve blogged about this before, but novellas are a strange breed. Big paper book publishers don’t really sell them because readers don’t really buy them. They’re only good for an hour or two of entertainment–how much can you really charge for that? Many big fiction magazines will print them, but obviously not more than 1-2 per issue, because they’ve only got so much space. They’re not very widely-published in online mags, either, because they only have so much money to spend per issue and I don’t think they’re seen as very popular.

But I just finished revising my second-ever novella two days ago. After cuts, it came in right under 17,000 words. It feels great–but it’s a fantasy novella, and a quick look at Duotrope shows three pro markets for the length: Fantasy & Science Fiction,, and the Writers of the Future contest. Expanding that to semipro pay (around 1 cent/word) turns up three more markets.

Not many options.

Let’s get specific about terms here, because the precise definition of “novella” varies. For determining awards eligibility and such, SFWA defines short stories as 0-7499 words, novelettes as 7500-14,999, novellas as 15,000-39,999, and novels as 40,000 words and up. Nobody outside the industry really pays attention to or even knows the definition of the word “novelette,” though. And the line between novella and novel is definitely wide and blurry–40,000 words is only about 133 pages, which is extremely short for a modern-day novel. Even Harlequin category romances are usually more like 50,000, and except in genres with page counts that are frequently shorter (Young Adult) or longer (epic fantasy), publishers generally won’t touch anything from a first-timer below 80,000 or above 120,000. Plenty of exceptions, but that’s conventional wisdom these days.

If you asked me to define length by some combination of industry standard and gut feel for reader expectations, I’d break it down like this:

Flash fiction: 1-1000 words; roughly 1-3 pages

Short story: 2000-9000 words; 6-30 pages

Novella: 15,000-36,000 words; 50-120 pages

Novel: 60,000-300,000+ words; 200-1000+ pages

There are some missing word counts here, clearly. I’d shade anything in between toward whatever category it’s closest to, but the in-betweeners are kind of bastard lengths. A 1200-word piece is really more flash fiction than short story; 12,000 words should probably be called a novella, I guess, but if you ordered something labeled as a “novella” online and three days later you got a story that’s only 40 pages long, you might feel a little cheated. Same deal if you ordered a “novel” that arrived as 150 pages. Technically accurate, just lacking.

It’s not a big deal, though. I’m just looking at this stuff for two reasons. One, I like numbers. I spent far too many minutes tweaking that breakdown above, because that is the type of thing my brain considers fun. Second, I think it helps conceptualize what each of these lengths means.

Looking at that, you can see a novella is somewhere between a quarter and a half the length of a shortish novel (and knee-high on a grasshopper compared to the tomes of George R.R. Martin). And it turns out that length is awesome to write.

This may be particular to fantasy and science fiction, because in my still limited experience, 50-120 pages is the perfect length to create a world that feels expansive and lived-in. You don’t have the roaming scope of a novel, where you can divert for several pages just to explain the social habits of AI or the breeding cycles of dragons, but compared to a 15-page short story, you can do an immensity of exploration. My recent novella is set in a secondary world where the day cycle is radically different from our own. This changes just about everything about the world. I couldn’t do more than hint at how in a short story. With the 60ish pages I wrote, I was able to spend a significant amount of time in both halves of the world.

Why not just write a novel? Um, good question, actually. I may just do that. I like this world and I’d like to see more of it.

But the story I had in mind didn’t have to be that long. It was big, but it wasn’t novel-big. And that’s pretty much why I wrote it this month despite being in the middle of a full-length novel: I’d had this novella idea on the backburner for months, and I got stuck about 3/4s of the way into this novel. It wasn’t fun to write anymore and meanwhile I couldn’t wait to take a shot at that novella idea I was in love with. I hate to lose momentum in the middle of a book, but eventually I said screw it and just jumped into the novella.

Where I found, yet again, that it’s possible to carry the whole story in your head at once. Maybe other people can do this with novels, but I have a hard time visualizing and tracking an entire damn book at the same time. You’ve got dozens if not a couple hundred different scenes to write. There are subplots and side characters and themes and back stories and worldbuilding flying right and left. With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to veer off course, be it starting in the wrong place, hitting a plot-swamp where you don’t know how to bridge your middle to the end you’ve got in mind, or whatever else. Point is, novels are huge and they’re messy.

Novellas aren’t huge. They’re just big. If you have a beginning and an end, it’s pretty easy to visualize how to bridge the two. It’s a hell of a lot easier for me, anyway, and when I can see where I’m going, I write a whole lot faster. If I had it all planned out and hit a hot streak, I could probably burn through a novella’s first draft in 7-10 days. And I’m kinda slow.

Instead, between pre-plotting, drafting, and revising, it took me the better part of the month. And that was a good thing. I got a lot of writing done while getting enough perspective from that bogged-down novel to start thinking I may have taken the last few chapters in the wrong direction. Now that I’ve had some time away, I don’t really have a problem scrapping them and taking a different route to my ending. I could have taken a break for short stories instead, but I was low on ideas and typically am slow to come up with them, and I would have been tempted to come back to that novel-in-progress much sooner. Maybe too soon.

Instead, I have something big to show for the month. The length is a handicap now that I’m sending it out to markets. But I’m no longer reliant on the 3-6 places that’ll buy a fantasy story of this length to see any money from it. If they pass, I’ll peddle it for a buck or two through the usual online stores and see what happens. I have a feeling novellas look a lot better on ereaders than they do as a thin slice between two covers.

That’s right. Available in just about every electronic format under the big yellow sun, The Zombies of Hobbiton: A Martian Love Story is currently free at Smashwords.

It’s a fast-paced horror-comedy novella of about 85 pages, and it won’t be free forever. So go forth! Download! Tell your buddies! Leave reviews! Be fruitful and multiply! Etc.!

Drumroll: The Zombies of Hobbiton: Martian Love Story, an 85-page novella, is now available on Amazon.

At nearly 25,000 words, The Zombies of Hobbiton falls squarely into novella territory. This is another way of saying it’s completely unsalable.

Big book publishers wouldn’t touch a story of that length. Even the shortest genres, category romance and such, is expected to crack 60,000 words or so. A sci-fi or horror novel had better run at least 75K. I suppose it’s possible a traditional publisher would sell a few novellas bundled together, or one inserted among an anthology, but frankly, to sell a story of that length, a story that may well take up 20-25% of the anthology’s total page count, you either have to be extremely good or already well-established.

The same rule of thumb applies over at the genre magazines. Duotrope lists 200 paying horror markets and 227 paying sci-fi markets (there is some overlap here). Of these, two pro-paying magazines (that is, markets that pay at least $0.05/word) accept novellas up to 25K words: Fantasy & Science Fiction, at 25K, and Analog, at an impressive 40K. If you place a 25K story at one of these markets, you’ll do pretty well for yourself: F&SF would shell out $1500 for your story (a little more if you’re established), and Analog would pay $1250 ($1500 if you’re a big name). F&SF buys first North American and foreign serial rights with an option on anthology rights. I’m not sure what Analog asks for, but it’s probably similar, meaning you’d still have a bunch of rights left to sell on down the road.

However, F&SF receives somewhere in the ballpark of 2500+ submissions a year while Analog probably sees around 1000+. These are conservative extrapolations; I expect they receive closer to twice that many.

So if you exhaust both those options, you can turn to lower-paying genre markets. Crossed Genres is a pretty nice little zine, and while they hypothetically accept novellas, they’re currently closed to such submissions. Orb Speculative Fiction takes novellas up to 25K words. If you’re a resident of Australia or New Zealand. If accepted, you’ll be paid $50. (Note: I’m very aware of the difficulties in paying authors high rates for their work, and am not criticizing Orb for their pay rates. Just exploring the novella market.) The Red Penny Papers is an interesting-looking zine that wants gothic, pulpy speculative fiction. They’ll serialize works of up to 25K words, paying $0.005/word (i.e. 10K = $50), capping at $100. (Same disclaimer re: rates applies. I like small markets. Simply making a point.) GigaNotoSaurus, a market specifically for longer stories, takes novellas up to 25K and pays $100, and is newish but pretty well-respected.

In total, I see three other SF/F/H magazine markets that will run novellas, paying $25-40 apiece. Anthologies of various pay rates come and go and will sometimes take long stories.

From there, small presses are a fairly viable medium for novellas. A lot of them sell ebooks, but I’m aware of several that will sell actual print novellas. Small press novella markets still aren’t plentiful–I see 10-12 on Duotrope, and strongly suspect there are significantly more out there–but they exist. Most offer a token advance and royalties. Small presses aren’t normally capable of making you rich, but I have met a couple authors who make a living through them.

So maybe my characterization of novellas as a bastard-length medium that’s utterly unsalable is a little hyperbolic. In truth, you’ve got three options:

1) Try to sell them to a magazine. Between all genres, Duotrope shows seven pro-paying markets for works of 25K words or more, with another ~15 paying at lower rates

2) Sell through a small press. This has the usual small press pros and cons: a stamp of legitimacy, formatting and distribution, and possibly a bigger platform than you can provide yourself vs. splitting revenues. (My experience with small presses is limited, but I’ve enjoyed it)

3) Self-publish through Amazon, B&N, etc.

Given that there is no real traditional route available, 2) is the default option if you want a press backing you. Writing this piece has put them on my radar to explore if/when I write my next novella.

When it comes to 1) and 3), they aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. While some magazines may want permanent e-rights that could conflict with your ability to resell your novella through Amazon etc., many don’t, and some of the ones that do are usually willing to take a story offline after 6-12 months. If I thought I had a chance in hell of placing The Zombies of Hobbiton at Analog or F&SF (I think it’s too slapsticky for them, though I could be wrong), I might have tried them first.

But when I look at media to sell novellas through, I see limited options with serious tradeoffs. Some self-publishing advocates would argue this is no more than a microcosm of all current traditional publishing routes–but if nothing else, it’s even worse for novellas, because you simply have almost nothing to lose. From where I sit, the best path is to publish them yourself and see where it leads.

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