Short is Sweet…what’s behind the new romance novella surge?

I’ll never forget how excited I was when I found out about the new Silhouette Nocturne Bites line.  I was so excited that I sat down immediately and wrote “Wilderness”, a story that ended up being the first Bites the editors at Silhouette bought from a new author.  To this day, I have to smile when I think about how that 12,000 words energized my career. 


Short fiction has to be vital and intense.  It has to deliver GMC and Scene/Sequel and all the saving the cat stuff in less time than Margaret Mitchell would have used to describe one ball.  I’ve always known short fiction packs a punch.  From O. Henry to Ray Bradbury, I’ve read some spectacular short fiction that has stayed with me years after I forgot exactly what shade of mauve Scarlet’s shoes were in Chapter Fifty-Five.  So you can imagine my joy as a writer and a reader when romance publishers began taking interest in the under fifty thousand word format!

My mother, bless her heart, never had to drive one child to chess, another to baseball and still another to chemistry camp…while practising  spanish with a CD and tweeting with her husband because she hadn’t actually spoken to him in three days.  My mother never had to surreptitiously check her son’s Ipod for songs with vulgar lyrics while cleverly pretending she was bored with her own playlist and looking for something new.  My mother was addicted to an hour long Phil Donahue.  I’m addicted to five minutes of facebook, twelve times a day.  These days, it’s hard to find time to stop and pee much less sit down with a chunky 800 page saga.

Tada!  Bring on the novella.  I can read a Bites(or two) while I wait for  son number one at the dentist while sons number three and four take whatever lessons are scheduled for that hour of that day of that week.  I can even grab one at lunch or in line at Dunkin’ Donuts. (Well, okay, that’s a stretch.  While in line at Starbucks.) 

My point is:  No matter how crazy life gets, I can get to the happily ever after I crave sooner rather than later when I need to.  It doesn’t mean I don’t take something chunky to the beach or shut myself away with my favorite full-length series when the newest one comes out.  Having novellas available just means I don’t have to give up on my heroes when I’m on the go!

So, what do you think about short stories and novellas? Have you tried one?  (Be careful.  They’re kind of like chocolate.  Ever tried to eat just one M&M??)

midnight-cravingsToday, in honor of my new obsession with short fiction, I’m giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS, a Silhouette Nocturne Bites Anthology.  Join our yahoogroup and be automatically entered in the drawing.  And don’t forget to look for “Wilderness” in AWAKENING THE BEAST, a Silhouette Nocturne Bites Anthology due out this fall.

11 Responses to “Short is Sweet…what’s behind the new romance novella surge?”
  1. Suzanne Rock says:

    Great blog Barbara! I love novellas for the same reasons you mentioned. Quite often I find a 300+ page novel rather daunting. Sometimes I would rather read a shorter work and get my HEA in the time it takes to watch a movie – or a sit-com. I find it’s also a great way to discover new authors. If I read a short I like, I’m more apt to go to their website and look for some of their longer works. From a writer’s standpoint, a novella can get your foot in the door at a publishing house (something we both know about). Some people may prefer the longer sagas, but I really think the novella has it’s place in fiction and is here to stay.

  2. Susan Falk says:

    Very insightful post, Barbara. I can understand the appeal the novella has and my hat goes off to people that can pull off a convincing and complete story in the short format.

    I’m just the opposite, I guess. When I take the time to pick up a book, I want to take a while to get to the end. And the few I’ve read, I find myself thinking “is that all” when I’m done. Yes, I get the beginning, middle and HEA but have felt there’s no meat in the middle. And they’ve left me feeling rather disappointed instead of satisfied.

    You’ve used Gone With the Wind in your post, so I’ll use it, too. Yes, it’s insanely long and M. Mitchell described things to the umpteenth degree she probably didn’t need to. But while reading that book I would dream about Rhett and Scarlett and Melanie and so on and so forth. No novella has ever impacted me in such a fashion.

    There’s only one novella that has remained memorable to me, and it’s one of Charlaine Harris’, set in the Sookie Stackhouse world. I can’t even remember the title, but it touched on a character who had been minor in the Sookie books until that novella. It gave a nice backstory. Maybe that’s why I liked it, she wasn’t trying to give the character her own story, but merely flush her out a little for more use in later books.

  3. Chandra Ryan says:

    I love that we, the reader, now have the option of a shorter story. And I love how direct novellas have to be. There are no plot devices simply to have plot devices. No extra characters purely for comic relief. There’s simply no room for anything that’s unnecessary. Yes, it’s a lot harder to capture, but at its best, a novella should be the core of a story, elegantly delivered. And if an author can pull that off, they’ve got skills 🙂

  4. Susan, I’m definitely glad to have long and short choices available. I’ve never been a Gone With the Wind kind of gal, but The Witching Hour by Anne Rice comes to mind as an example of a long book that I thoroughly enjoyed. So rich and textured and haunting.

    I like the way Chandra called a novella the “core” of the story. That’s a great description!

    And Suzanne is right about trying new authors. I’ve gone on to find full length works from many authors I first discovered in a short story.

  5. Barbara, you hit the nail on the head. (I use this cliche because at my critique group yesterday, we talked about how cliches shouldn’t be used in narrative or description but have a valid place in dialogue. After all, it’s how we talk! But I digress.) The point is…it’s the 21st Century, and we don’t have time to wade through a mass of description and narrative to get to our HEA. I think novellas are definitely here to stay, particularly in the e-book arena. As a former non-fiction writer myself (political speeches, feature articles, state-of-the-city addresses…yawn), I’m all about economy. And for those of us who pine for a book in print, why not assemble a novella series into a full-length print novel? My long-range plans are to string my vampire series into book length. I’m planning on a “fang quartet.”

  6. I find it hard to write a shorter story and have it be believable. So anyone who does is a borderline superhero in my book 🙂

  7. sandrasookoo says:

    You’re right 🙂 I love writing them and can’t wait to see how readers like them. Once you do one or two and get the hang of how to operate within a novella, it comes easy 🙂 It’s like a peek into a brief time in the characters life, as if you–the reader–are looking at them through a window.

    Love them.

  8. Natasha A. says:

    I like novellas and anthologies because I feel like I am getting more for my money (I’m cheap, ok?). I can read 3-10(??) stories for the price of one!!! 😀

  9. Dawn McClure says:

    I like novella’s for the quick read, and I often use them to discover new authors. There are so many novella’s that I WISH were longer, though. I don’t want them to end. 😦

  10. Amy S. says:

    I’m enjoying the shorter stories and novellas. It lets you read a new author to decide if you would like to buy their other books.

  11. elove says:

    Great one Barbara!

    I’ve always been quite happy to read any length. I started early with the big stuff (I read Lord of the Rings aged 10 – but now if I try it, my head overheats), but given my busy life (three kids, writing, work, volunteering, luckily hubby is pretty self-sufficient), I leeeerv a novella.
    In fact, they have spoiled me.
    If I read a mediocre full-length now, I find the pace torturous and skip through the boring bits that aren’t dialogue (or sex), and condense it into a novella in my head, anyway. LOL.
    That’s why I love a PR too, the danger and darkness ramps up the tension, and I’m less likely to skip.
    Makes me feel more like an adult and less like an English student forced to read one of those insanely boring class texts. The ones where the novel sits in your bag until deadline, and then you borrow the movie to catch up… And hey, I’m an English teacher, and I’ve even done it!
    Hehe. E x

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