Could Novellas Be The Happiest Medium?
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.