I love the novella form. The word “novella” is an Italian term meaning “story.” I thought it would be fun to use this photo of the Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella as an illustration. If a short story is like a snapshot of life, a novella is like a photograph that invites and explores a single issue. If you carry my analogy a bit further, the modern novel is more like a full length movie.
Longer than the longest short story and shorter than a novel, a novella is typically between 15,000 and 40,000 words in length. The length of the novella gives the author the freedom to explore a single issue in great depth not possible in a short story.
The novella form has a unity, a singular focus that can be lost in the plots and sub plots of a long novel. Here are a few examples of the novella:
- Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”
- Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”
- Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”
- Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”
- George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”
Each of these fine works can be read in a single sitting. Single novellas in book form are rare because they are too short to meet the structural requirements of the printed book. When you can find novellas, they are often grouped into a quartet to meet print publishing requirements. I’d love to see a renaissance of the novella and the E-Book is the perfect format.
It’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of viewing E-Books as digital versions of printed books, why not capitalize on the virtues of the E-Book instead? Freed of traditional production and distribution constraints imposed by printed books, E-Books can go where the printed book can’t.
Novellas, short stories, thoughtful essays, single articles are all E-Book candidates. Instead of being aggregated into anthologies or included in print magazines, short pieces can finally stand on their own. Might this be an opportunity for writers similar to single music tracks and the iPod?
I read a book containing four novellas by four different authors last week. It was a $15 paperback. With a typical 10% royalty, each author would receive a mere 38 cents from the sale of each book. What if each novella was offered at 99 cents on a site like Scribd? Too low? Well even at this price, the author would receive 54 cents, almost 50% more than book royalties. 99 cents is probably a good price for a short story.
A novella ought to be worth a bit more, say $1.59. An author would receive $1.02 from Scribd, nearly three times what he or she would receive in book royalties for the same novella. A best selling author who receives the highest print royalties would get about $4.19 on the sale of a $27.95 hardcover book. A book of four novellas would net the best selling author $1.05 for each novella. Hmmm — I like this math.
Readers benefit as well. I’ve purchased short stories and novellas from fictionwise to read on my palm. You can tell that was a while back. I never minded paying a dollar or two for a good read. E-Books open a new world of writing, publishing and reading not possible in the world of printed books.