Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thoughts on The Idiocracy -- c.anne.gardner

No, we wouldn’t [be interested], and I suspect you’ll have a really difficult time finding any agency who would. 33,000 words is a novella, it’s not a novel, and from a financial perspective it’s typically not worth a publisher’s time to spend the money to publish a book that’s only 33,000 words. It’s a book they would only be able to price at about $3 or $4 (in paper), and I don’t think it would be a cost-effective move for anyone.

More important, though, I’d be curious what romantic suspense readers think. Do you think 33,000 words might pack the punch you’re looking for, or would you be instantly suspicious that this book is about one-third the length of what you normally read?

I found this bit of ridiculousness over on an agent blog, I shit you not, who was queried by an author who had a 33k novella to sell, and I just have to say that this outdated way of thinking is why the traditional publishing industry is in doggy-paddle mode at the moment. Now, with the advent of ebooks, shouldn't this be the time to think outside the box, think innovation, and think new business models. Can a novella pack a punch? Good Lord. Read much do you? I can't believe someone would even ask that question, and I am more astounded that it came from someone in the industry, someone who should know a thing or two about literature. Did Brokeback Mountain pack a punch? How bout Animal Farm, or Of Mice and Men, or Story of The eye, or I am Legend, or Silk, or The Stranger by Camus???? Yea, Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus. So, to think that anything less than 80k words is "suspicious" is beyond absurd to me.

Look, just because novellas have fallen out of favour with the paper-product manufacturing industry does not mean the genre has fallen out of favour with readers, or for that matter, with film-makers. [Think Rights Options in case you have forgotten how many novellas get made into films because they are easier to write screenplays for.]

The ebook industry knows that novellas pack a punch and have not fallen out of favour with the readers. ePublishing houses have been listing novellas in their catalogues since the inception of the ebook, which isn't a recent thing, BTW, ebooks have been available in some form or another since the early 90s, and readers have been snapping them up.

Wake up Traditional Publishing Industry. Now is the time to consider the ebook as a viable option. It might be cost prohibitive to sell a paper book for 3-4 dollars, though Brokeback did sell for 9.99 as do many novellas, but it's not cost prohibitive to sell them as ebook only contracts at that price point. Editorial time would be cut in half because it's a shorter work. eBook covers are also only half the work, author advances would be much smaller for an eContract, and you could expand your catalogue significantly with new voices and new stories tailor-made for people on the go.

But again, this is why the traditional publishing industry is having a hard time right now. Agents could be "change agents" here if they would only step up and embrace the digital age, because if anyone's iceberg is melting, it's theirs. Agents should be talking this up with Industry professionals. I see more and more houses opening up ebook only imprints in the future. Now is the time to be having the discussion about alternative content.

Does short fiction pack a punch? Yup, Cheryl Anne says while shaking her head in disbelief. That question moves to the top of my "Stupidest Shit I have every heard in my life" list. Reason being: it was asked by someone who we automatically trust to be savvy and have expertise, not to mention we trust they have a broad knowledge base when it comes to literature. If they had said, "Sure they can pack a punch, we know that, but with respect to profitability, we just can't sell them." the post might not have rubbed me the wrong way, but they didn't...say it...that way. If I were interested in Traditional Publishing, I don't know how comfortable I would be with an Agent who questioned whether or not a novella could pack a punch. Check Please.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Cheryl Anne Gardner, proud writer, reader, and appreciator of the novella form.


Jim Murdoch said...

No, I'm a huge fan of the novella. Do we really have to start making lists of the great novellas in world history to make a case? Surely not. Not that I spend a lot of time in physical bookshops these days but my hand will always reach for a thin book in preference to a thick one. The last book I read was The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare and at 164 pages it was just the right length to suit its subject matter. I have always held that a writer should say what he has to say and get off the page.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I hear that Jim. Novellas still get published, but it's a rare few, and European publishers seem to favor them still more so than the American publishing industry.

That's why I get so pissed. The industry has this moronic habit of focusing on word count. It's the content that matters not the damn word count. I thought BrokeBack Mountain would have proved that point. It was less word count than my 78 page novella Kissing Room and it sold for 9.99 and was made into an Award Winning Film.

I'll have to add Ghost Rider to my list.

Kait Nolan said...

Novellas are definitely popular on the ebook front. In our rush rush, busy busy world, it's great to have a SHORT something to that you can read through in a sitting or two. Which is why I chose that format for my build-a-following debut release, Forsaken By Shadow. Novellas are like...the appetizers of the book world, and I think they can be a particularly effective means of whetting interest in a series.

DED said...

I agree with your post, Cheryl.

Novellas are still getting some love in the genre markets as small presses have been willing to print them. For example, John Scalzi's agent, Ethan Ellenberg, sold The God Engines to Subterranean Press. But yes, in general, novellas are neglected.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I think they need more PR so we can get readers out of the mindset that a thick book is a better book.

It's just not true.

Right now over on The Emerging Writer's Network they are profiling novellas all month, and the story was picked up by the LA Times:

author Scott Nicholson said...

Size in NY is all about the number of books that can fit in a carton (48) and how many fit in one paperback rack (obviously less important by the day).

Now, i can see the limitations in actually printing and distributing a book based on profit margin (if you have a lower price) but in the e-book era, it's hogwash. I sell lots of copies of my short story collections, way faster than I did in paper, and my novella sells about as well as my novels.

Scott Nicholson

Vikash Kumar said...
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