Could Novellas Be The Happiest Medium?

Books

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We know that people in the work force don’t have enough time to read as much as they did. Through school and after retirement reading is in fine shape, but the biggest loss is male readership between 20 and 50. Crime reading is now largely driven by women, SF has lost ground, being traditionally male, and men are using their briefly available time to go on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr and Pinterest. Women in the work force read if they commute.

My partner devoured a book a month but has now not read one in a year – the iPad habit of browsing has taken over. But book sales are still healthy. Hardbacks and audiobooks are up, short stories – so-called singles – do well on Kindle and only the old mass market paperback has really suffered.

It’s been suggested that there should be a format change, and that novellas could fill the gap. In 1978’s ‘Extreme metaphors’, J.G.Ballard, ever the seer, suggested; ‘I think the form is part of the reason the novel has been losing ground. The form is wrong, the form of the extended narrative, the long story doesn’t accord. It may accord with the way people lived, or thought they lived, in the 19th C., but it doesn’t accord with the way people see themselves in the 20th, certainly not the late 20th.’

In 1902 we got the word ‘novella’, a shortened form of writing very popular in postwar years when paper was scarce. Could they revive the fortunes of both novels and shorter fiction? Many of the best novels are in fact of novella length.

I’ve just written a novella for New York’s Mysterious Press called ‘Reconciliation Day’. It’s based on my recent research in Transylvania and will be a limited edition one-off to encourage sales at the Mysterious Bookshop – I really enjoyed tackling the format.

New novellas are starting to be published. Now we’ll have to see if the public encourages the format.

10 comments on “Could Novellas Be The Happiest Medium?”

  1. J. Folgard says:

    Tor has published a whole line of brand-new novellas, all of them SF/Fantasy, and they’re beautifully done & produced. I really enjoy the format and hope there’s more to come.

  2. ediFanoB says:

    I’m a 56 years old male which means I do not belong to the male readership between 20 and 50.
    I do not own a smart phone. I have no Facebook account, no Instagram account, No Tumblr account and no WhatsApp. I use Twitter from time to time and once a while I use my Pinterest account. My TV consumption is below average. I prefer to read books, go to cinema with my wife, to follow blogs like yours, and see videos on YouTube like the BBC documentation like “Bakery in Victorian era.

    More and more I feel like an anachronism in this “modern” world.

    I’m a programmer and my spare time is as limited as for other males between 20 ad 50.

    I would say I’m an avid reader and I prefer series consisting of books with 350+ pages. I don’t see much benefit for me to use social media. My brain deserves a lot more than to befriend unknown people, press “LIKE” buttons or to look at boring selfies.

    My mind wants to travel into the future, into the past, to alternate worlds and more. All of this I get in form of books.
    I can’t change the world and if there is a need for novellas then there will be authors who will write them.
    But I will not buy them because for me they are like fast food. I hope there will be interesting books with a for me normal length until the end of my life.

    I hope that sounds not too narrow-minded which I’m truly not. The older I get the more valuable is my spare time and fortunately it is my decision how to spend my spare time.

    In the end an author needs people who buy the books. Therefore it is good that you enjoyed to write a story in novella format. If a lot of people will like and buy it, it will also be good for me because that may give you the base
    to continue to write books in “normal” .

    Have a great day and thank you for sharing your thoughts about novellas.

    Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr and Pinterest

  3. Roger says:

    Fewer people may be reading novels, but it looks as if the novels they do read are getting steadily bigger, especially crime and SF novels. Compare the size of the average crime or SF novel thirty or forty years ago with their contemporary equivalents.

  4. John Griffin says:

    Blimey, someone else with no smart phone. The TV stays turned off for days, have a FB account to keep in contact with family, but nothing else. Love reading BUT I’d agree with Mr Fowler that novellas – like great short stories – may be the way to go, though I do enjoy his work. I don’t enjoy massive tomes in the main, I suspect however this is more to do with my attention span getting less as plots get recycled and short of time as still working at 64, with grandkids to entertain me in the early evenings.

  5. Diogenes says:

    I don’t like novellas (or short stories) much but Kindles make them slightly more attractive.
    On a happier note, I have just finished “Strange Tide” and I want to say God Bless You, Mr Fowler.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Have just finished London’s Glory (and I can’t help but think of the title as using glory in the same sense as the Hand of Glory) and I did enjoy the stories. It is easier to stop at the end of one story than half way into a novel but the nature of the short story is such that you can’t introduce many complications. H.H. Munro or O. Henry stories come with twists in the end (ever read The Open Window?) but that type of story requires incredible honing. Nice as a change, though.

  7. Steve says:

    1 I think you have to distinguish between physical books and ebooks.
    2 I think the Ballard comment maybe relates to say Trollope and the 19th century novel?
    3 I agree a novella length can be incredibly effective and especially in sf there are many great examples. It depends very much on the experience you are trying to deliver to the reader – a short sharp shock or something more immersive. You couldnt write say The Quincunx or Bleak House as a novella.
    4 Im not sure that the changes in readership necessarily drive a change in form. I mean, Bryant and May are done for lve I think and the readership turned out to be there; they weren’t written to target a demographic.

  8. Steve says:

    The lve above was meant to be love
    sorry for errors, the lack of punctuation i am indeed typing on a smartphone, and yes it can not exactly take over your life but you do start to panic if you dont know where it isfor more than 30 seconds!

  9. Steve says:

    Another ps about Ballard anyone else remember his compressed novels? Id completely forgotten about them until this second! Didnt really lead anywhere!

  10. LAM says:

    I’m sure there’s interesting research to be done on where and how people read (and where and how which people read what)–the novella is so lovely for when you have a few hours to sit and focus and have a complete and entire experience. I’m less in love with it now that I seem to only have 20-minute intervals ever, because the compactness of the experience is wasted by being so spread out. I have gone back to reading chunky novels and recognizing that they are long-term projects. I used to be really annoyed by the choppy format of of the short-chapter popular novel–e.g., Dan Brown and Martha Grimes–but enjoyed that structure when I had a daily F-Market commute in San Francisco because the chapters pretty much were the length between stops and so suited my reading time. Now I find it matters less because I do more of my less literary reading as audiobooks in the car or when doing housework. I think the audio format might help keep the longer novel going. I also expect that the long form may be well served as the generation that started real reading with Harry Potter ages. So called “middle grade” fiction seemed to be getting shorter and simpler till then, and while it’s still on a pretty short leash within the industry, the rise of the “early chapter book” means that middle grade can get a bit chunkier.

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