Novel vs Novella: Definition, Word Count, and Selling Strategies

Before the ease of self-publishing, novellas weren't really a viable option in the book market. If you were an unpublished author who pitched a novella to a literary agent, you might've been laughed out the door.

But things have changed for the better in the publishing industry. While novellas certainly aren't as popular as novels, they are definitely a viable option for both traditionally published and indie-published authors. But what's the difference between the two? And does it matter which one you write? We'll explore these questions and more in this Novel vs Novella article.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The difference between a novel and a novella
  2. The many strategies for each type of book
  3. Examples of best-selling novellas

What's the Difference Between a Novel and a Novella?

The overarching difference between a novel and a novella is word count (length). And while the definitions of each will vary slightly depending on who you talk to, there are some general word-count lengths that are recognized for each type of book.

A novel is a work of prose fiction with a word count of 40,000 words or more. A novella is a work of prose fiction with a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

While we're at it, let's define some other common fiction lengths. Common short story word count is between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Flash fiction is typically under 1,000 words. Between the short story and the novella, you have the novelette, which is usually between 7,500 and 20,000 words.

Novella Length Affects Storytelling Factors

You would be right to think that a novella is just a short novel. But the very fact that a novella is shorter means there are other differences you can expect.

With a shorter word count, you'll often find that novellas stick to only one or two points of view, whereas novels can have a dozen or more. Novellas will also center on one main conflict, limiting or eliminating sub-plots.

The cast of characters is often smaller in a novella, although this isn't always the case. It depends largely on the type of story and the storytelling style.

Given the shorter length, novellas will usually have a faster pace than novels, whereas novels will have points of rising and falling action throughout. Additionally, character development is focused solely on the protagonist in novellas, since there isn't enough space to delve into any secondary characters.

So, to recap:

  • Novels are 40,000 words or longer.
  • Novellas are between 17,500 and 40,000 words.
  • Novellas often have fewer characters, points of view, and subplots.
  • Novellas will often have a faster pace.
  • Character development is generally limited to the protagonist in a novella.

Genre Matters for Word Count

Before we move on, it's important to note that the word count guidelines above are just that: guidelines. When writing a novel, it's always a good idea to stick close(ish) to book length conventions for the genre.

For example, science fiction and fantasy novels are often 100,000 words or longer, whereas romance novels are usually between 80,000 and 90,000 words.

Check out this article for more on novel length by genre.

Should You Write a Novel or a Novella?

It can be hard to know whether your idea will make for a full-length novel or not — especially if you're not a plotter. And while novels are the most commonly sold fiction books on Amazon and other stores, there's plenty you can do with a novella. More on that below.

Whether you're a plotter or a discovery writer (aka pantser), you may want to sit down and think about your plot. If you foresee it having a relatively large cast of important characters and a complex plot, you probably have a novel rattling around in your head.

On the other hand, if your plot is fairly straightforward and you have one or two major characters to propel the story forward, then you may have a novella.

Really, you won't know which until you get to writing. If you're not sure, you can aim for a novella and reassess as you go along. It's often when you start writing that you get a better idea of where your story will go and the number of characters you'll need to get there.

If you're determined to write a novel, I'd suggest participating in NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's an annual virtual event held throughout the month of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month. Check out our article on NaNoWriMo here.

Let Your Story Dictate the Length

One thing you don't want to do is put filler in just to make your story novel-length. A story doesn't need to be a certain length to be good. There are plenty of short works that are considered masterpieces today.

Edgar Allan Poe only wrote one novel in his career. The rest of his work is short stories and poems. Ernest Hemingway wrote novels, but he also published 6 short story collections during his career. One of Hemingway's most famous works is the novella The Old Man and the Sea. Shirley Jackson wrote over 200 short stories in her lifetime.

A lot of professional writers suggest that you learn to write novels well by first writing shorter works. You can perfect your understanding of story structure and prose through writing novellas or short stories. Then you can branch out to longer works with multiple characters and more complex plots. With a solid understanding of the mechanics of writing, story length will become a secondary concern.

The Importance of Word Count Goals

There's one thing that separates those who write for a living (or as a lucrative hobby) from those who don't: word count goals.

Whether you want to write a short story, novella, or novel, it's important to create a writing habit. This means setting aside days and times for your writing sessions. It also means setting goals for each session — even if it's just 250 words.

Atticus Word Count Goal Setup

This is why we added word count goal tools to Atticus. You can customize them to your schedule and specific goals. It gives you a little positive feedback each time you meet your goal!

Atticus Word Count Goal

Using Novellas to Further Your Author Career

There's a lot of information about book marketing out there. Most of it pertains to novels and nonfiction books. In fact, much of Kindlepreneur is dedicated to helping authors become successful by selling their full-length books. But that doesn't mean you can't become successful by writing novellas. You absolutely can.

Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your short fiction to become a successful indie author:

  • Put your novella(s) up for sale on Amazon and other online retailers. These usually have a lower price point than novels. It's important to state clearly that the book is a novella, so readers aren't surprised.
  • Use a novella as a “reader magnet” to gather email addresses. Readers who like the novella may go on to buy other novellas or novels you've written.
  • Write a series of novellas featuring the same protagonist(s) to encourage read-through.
  • Post your novellas in installments on Kindle Vella.
  • Post your novellas in installments on your Patreon Creator account.
  • Bundle similar novellas into a box set for sale on various ebook retailers.
  • Give a short story or novella away to your email list as a bonus. They'll love you for it!

Important note: All the tips above require that you have a professionally formatted novella, giving the reader the best experience possible! Learn how to format your novel or novella here.

Successful Novellas to Check Out

After all this talk about novellas, you may want to check one out to see how it's done. Like a novel, there are many different tropes and conventions common to specific genres. If you're writing in the literary genre, the norms will be very different from the thriller genre. As always, it's good to read a lot of the genre in which you plan to write.

That said, here are some excellent novellas you can read now:

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • The Mist by Stephen King
  • Last Light by Dean Koontz
  • Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye
  • The God Engines by John Scalzi
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

For more short stories and novellas, you can check out the “Short Reads” category on Amazon.

Novel vs Novella: Conclusion

Whether it's historical fiction, horror, romance, or literary fiction, you can bet there's a market for both novels and novellas. While novels are the norm, some readers like shorter stories as a kind of palate cleanser between books. So whether you write a novel or a novella, there's plenty you can do to get reader eyes on your story.

If your book is over 40,000 words, it's generally considered a novel. If it's between 17,500 and 40,000, it falls under the novella category. Just remember that story length doesn't dictate quality. You can do a lot with a short story, just as some authors get a little too wordy in a novel. Just keep learning the craft by writing something you'd love to read!

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