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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Novellas: A Welcome Addition or An Annoying Sales Gimmick?

Do you remember the Lays' Potato Chip ad campaign about not being able to eat just one? I think about it every time I see a listing for a novella pop up on my delightful, divine new reading buddy - the Kindle Fire. I just haven't been able to embrace the format. Not a single novella occupies space on my fireplace shelves.

Why? Because I'm the customer Lays was talking about. If I like it, then I can't eat just one. I'll eat several and keep the bag tucked close by. Periodically, I'll eat a few more and sooner, rather than later, I'll finish the bag. I have a similar appetite for books. Writers who've put out novellas are banking on that, which annoys the immortal duckness out of me. So I've just been passing 'em by.

Novellas aren't in any way, shape or form "new." They're just the newest old things. You know, every so often, something old will be trendy. It might be bellbottoms, minis or jumpsuits. It might even be getting tattoos or wanting to protest something by occupying it. Whatever. None of those things are new, just like novellas aren't new. But someone somewhere put out a long short story, labeled it a novella and it caught on. Suddenly, novellas were new - again.

Just having a novella pass by my range of vision on the virtual shelves grates on my nerves like a parade of sales "tweets." I've yet to meet a novella that wasn't a sales ad for something. Big name authors have started writing 'em to pad the time between books in a series and usually, they'll even include a little bit of the next book in the series at the end of the novella. Nice of 'em to toss in that little freeby, isn't it? Not so much. Other authors who have created a particular "world" or "events" have released novellas with a new story taking place in the world or offering an event like the ones in their stories.

The lustrous ones will release the novellas for special low, how can you resist this price from this author deal - $1.99 or less for a Krentz or a Quinn. I love both ladies' work but the prices their publishers charge for their new ones annoy me. (At my Quackingalone site I just blogged about Krentz's publisher charging almost as much for her new ebook as they charge for the hardcover.) But I'm not going to chase that cat in this post. Feel free to click the link that my darling hubby will have inserted for me. Right now, I'm busy ranting about novellas. By now, you can guess how I feel about 'em.

That's right. I see novellas as nothing but a giant sales gimmick.

Now, if an author who only writes historical romances were to release an honest-to-God actual independent novella that wasn't an advertisement for an already half-finished contemporary -- that one I'd pick up and read. If I liked it, I might even go back and leave a nice review encouraging the author to explore more contemporary material. (I'm a big fan of contemporaries.) Just don't wiz on my head and tell me it's raining, okay? Don't release an out of your regular genre as a hook because you're already starting to write one in the new genre. I'll find out. And I might even break my own personal rule and go out and leave a not so nice review. (If I don't have something nice to say in a review, I usually just don't leave one.)

I can see where the novella might be a nice, not-so-time-consuming way to explore new turf, new ideas. It might be an interesting way to try writing a new type of character, a new type of story, or to create some amazing blend of romance, poetry and non-fiction. Then a writer could toss it out there and wait for reader reaction. It would be a good place for some real groundbreaking experimental writing. Any of that, I might go for. I might try. I just haven't run into an author brave enough, bold enough to sashay out on those particular limbs and I haven't done any sashaying in that direction either. (Heck, a bunch of readers think my blend of time periods, my over-the-top style and my "history as mood" philosophy are more than strange enough.)

All I've seen is novellas that want to show me extra material at the end of a series I read long ago or that want to throw me into the middle of a series because they're about to put out a new one. In the first case, that's an author who is trying to introduce new readers to an older story. I know that writer wants to perk up sales for a romance "classic." In the latter case that's an author trying to hook me into a series. Either way, I'm not interested.

Putting out a novella to try to hook me has exactly the opposite effect. It makes me less likely to ever try your work. Sorry. Am I? No, not really. Not so much. I'm willing to give a novella a try, if anyone can identify one that's not trying to sell me something else!

How about y'all? How do you feel about the new "trend" with novellas? Have you found any that you actually like? Has anyone seen an actual independent, standing on its own novella? If anyone wants to pitch me the genre, I'll listen. If anyone has an anti-novella rant you'd like to dish, I'll listen to that too.

Fire away - this blog is a fine place to "let it all hang out" - whether you're crazy enough to agree with me or not.

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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Picture credits:

Duck chips

Oil protest sign

Con artist

Duck laboratory

Baby duck yelling

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