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Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction

How do you know if your short prose is a short story or a novella? How long is a short story? A novella? What’s the difference? If you want to get your short story or novella published, you’ll need to know who is publishing your type of fiction—and you’ll need to know the best way to target your writing to literary agents and editors of literary magazines.

How long is a novella?

A novella is a “short book.” As such, a novella is considerably longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. A novella must be able to stand on its own as a book, but the exact word count is not set in stone: 30,000 to 60,000 words may be an appropriate length for a novella in most markets.

Who is publishing novellas?

Imagine the weight and size of a typical novel (80,000 to 100,000 words) when you hold it in your hand. Now imagine holding a slim, 30,000-word book—almost a pamphlet—in your hand. In order for a publisher to justify the production and marketing overhead of taking on a novella, the publisher must give the reader a valuable experience that justifies the price of the book.

The trouble is, the profit margin of a novella can be lower than the profit margin of a novel in certain circumstances. For that reason, few “big New York” publishers will take on a stand-alone novella—except in certain circumstances. When a novella is published, it is often bound in a collection of novellas by various authors or the same author, creating an anthology.

Because novellas are difficult to market as print novels, they have become very popular in the world of digital publishing. E-publishers are readily taking on novellas of all genres, and readers of e-books are on the rise. In fact, some e-publishers prefer novellas to novels because some readers of electronic formats prefer shorter books—and a good novella can pack a lot of story into a limited number of pages!

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How long is a short story?

Although a short story could be as long as 30,000 words, stories of that length begin to become too bulky for their genre. These days, editors of literary magazines are readily publishing short stories of approximately 3,500 words, and they are shying away from longer works.

Short stories published in online literary magazines are often held to even smaller word counts, sometimes as little as 1,000 words or less. The Internet has dramatically changed the way that modern readers approach fiction and prose, and the trend is that shorter short stories are more readily published than longer ones.

That said, the long story isn’t dead. It’s just a matter of seeking out the markets that are open to longer works. Some online journals are open to publishing longer stories (especially given that print costs don’t apply when a long story is accepted). Generally speaking, however, the larger trends in the industry suggest editors are favoring shorter works.

Read more: Stories And Poems: Why Length Matters

Who is publishing short stories?

The best place to publish a short story is a literary magazine—be it an online journal or a print magazine. Literary magazines have a long history of being both cutting-edge and traditional; if you’re a writer, you can bet there is a literary magazine out there for you. It’s just a matter of researching the right literary magazines for your writing. (Note: Writer’s Relief can do this research for you.)

Many writers dream of publishing a collection of their short stories; however, the short story genre is not especially popular with the book-buying, mainstream public at this point, and in order for a collection to be appealing to a literary agent or publisher, the writer would do well to have a significant number of publication credits.

Read more:

How To Write A Query Letter For A Short Story Collection

How To Publish A Short Story Collection: Tips For Getting Agents’ And Editors’ Attention For Your Short Stories

Writer’s Relief is NOT currently working with writers of novellas. However, we do work with writers of short stories and, when merited, short story collections. Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service; we assist creative writers with the process of making submissions. We lift the burden of researching markets and give our (invitation-only) clients more time to write. Learn more about how Writer’s Relief can help you submit your novel, short story, or short story collection.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you pay attention to your word count while you’re writing?

16 Responses to Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction

  1. I currently have completed two pieces of writing. One is short story length, the other could be classified as a novella (longer). These are the beginning of a trilogy (same main character development, different venues, same decade). The third piece will also be novella length. Theme and time frame is early 20th century. Selected audience is teen and young adults. However, the premise, the characterization, and the backdrop of drama makes the trilogy adult oriented, as well. I have considered ebook publication. However, the trilogy development and treatment might make it interesting to a literary agent. What do you suggest? The third piece is in the development stage and ready for the first draft. Is it advisable just to publish the stories individually on ebooks, or as a trilogy? Your feedback is appreciated.
    Robert Hofman Ph.D.

  2. This is an old thread but…novella isn’t a short book. Novella is Italian for “new.” It’s an art form in and of itself that tends to have a certain word count, but is in no way defined by it.

  3. Yes I watch word count, two years of Nanowrimo taught me that. It is fascinating the way that word limits and conventions get in the way all the time. My writing group has a max o.f 1000, weekly submissions for my MA course tend to be 600-800, term papers are 3000-4000 and the final submission is 20,000 so it turns out that none of these fairly standard learning environments mesh with the commercial ones. How crazy is that?

  4. I think that for new writers, short stories are the best way to go. In my experience,taking it slow will make you into a better writer. After I got comfortable with writing short stories, I extended them into novellas, and one of them is in the process of becoming a novel.

  5. I DO APPRECIATE NOVELLAS WRITING
    BECAUSE IT GIVES THE OPPORTUNITY TO NEW SHORT STORY WRITERS TO
    BE KNOWN FASTER THAN A LONG NOVEL ,WHICH SOMETIMES DOES NOT REALLY CLARIFY IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME , THE VALUES OF WRITING AND EXPRESSING THE FEELINGS , THE CHARACTERS WHATEVER THE AUTHOR ‘S STYLE IS IN LANGUAGE AND LITERARY THEMES OF ALL GENRES AND SUBJECTS.
    PLEASE PLACE ME AND GUIDE ME THROUGH A LITERARY AGENT AND EDITOR
    OF NOVELLAS, ANTOLOGIES..iT PROMISES A LOT FOR THE FUTURE OF BOTH WRITING GENRES: THE NOVELLAS AND THE NOVELS..

    THANK YOU,
    RAMY GEORGE MORCOS

  6. I’m obsessive over the word count. For me it’s easier to eventually separate my chapters so I know how long each chapter is going to be before my final editing when the rough draft is completed. I edit along the way only because I come from that background and can’t help but notice things as I re-read. I will make a few final edits, have some family and friends (readers) edit it, and then hire a professional editor before publishing.

    But, being aware of the word count all along helps me realize how many chapters and scenes I’m look at during writing. I’m grateful to Writer’s Relief also for the information on what the average is per book. That helps a lot.

  7. Stacy, thanks for sharing your experience! We’re glad to hear you’re having fun with your writing. Good luck publishing your novella!

  8. I just got through publishing a full length novel(75,000 words) and am now working on a novella(25,000(?) words). In my experience so far, novellas are more challenging. Why? You have a limited amount of words and you have to pack a lot of punch in a short amount of paper. In my case, the novella is going up as an ebook. You can’t have a lot of sub plots and supporting characters because they add conflict, which means more words and more time resolving their issues as well. But, I do enjoy a challenge. With novellas, I have to map out where I’m going on a much more confined space. You don’t need that with novels. The up side to novellas? They get done much faster. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

  9. I don’t watch my word count as I write – just let the story tell itself. Then, when editing, I tend to keep the word count in mind.

  10. I never pay attention to word count. If I finish a manuscript and it doesn’t fit into the conventions of what’s acceptable, I say too bad. The story can only be told in the way that’s true to the art. If no one wants to publish it because the word count is too short or long, then I guess I’ll have to self-publish or just work a lot harder to find the right agent.

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