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What About All These Novella Sets?

By Lee Carver

From the author’s POV, is this a train I should hop on? What is the dollar payout, the time investment, and the publicity value?

Novella sets are being released with increasing frequency, often only as e-books due to their length. If five to seven authors contribute 20,000 to 30,000 words each, a print cannot be economically produced. The price per page of a CreateSpace print goes up after 400 pages, and most of the sets (if not all) are Amazon publications. But each author retains the copyright for her novella, so it can be used in other ways, perhaps later in a collection all under her own name.a-sweet-noel-collection

That would be one of the potential benefits–an individual novel set at some point. Some authors use publication in a set with other authors as a means of publishing something between novels. Keep the fan base fed. Keep your name out there.

What’s the time investment? Some people knock out 20,000 words in a week or so. I hear more often that the call is for 20,000 but the writer gets into the story and can’t wrap it up under 30,000. And since no print book is planned, that’s okay. More “pages” read on a KDP e-book, more money for the group. But it takes longer to compose, which may throw the writer into a time crunch somewhere else. The important thing is to have the novella well written, well edited, and of a quality which favorably represents the main body of that author’s work. So it does take time.

As for the payout, so many novella sets are sold for $0.99 that the new ones feel pushed into that price. That’s not much when sharing 35% with the group. Okay, say you price it higher and then put it on a countdown for a few days so you share 70% of $0.99. But the sets DO sell, some by the thousands. Christmas sets may sell into January and February. Valentine sets may be even less time-limited.

There is definitely a place in the market for novella sets. My questions have more to do with their costs and value to the authors. I have no firm conclusions to dish out, and welcome your discussion.

Lee CarverLee Carver is once again failing at retirement, a hybrid author in every sense: fiction and nonfiction, traditionally and independently published. She also does freelance editing, formatting, and print book and e-book uploads as well as being a Stephen Minister, alto in the choir, crocheting with Prayer Shawl Ministry, and volunteer pianist, among other activities. Married forty-eight years to a very supportive man, they have two children and five grandchildren. Lee’s novella, A Cordial Christmas, is part of the set A Sweet Noel, which released Nov. 1st. Visit Lee on her website, blog and Facebook.

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11 Responses to What About All These Novella Sets?

  1. Carol Ashby says:

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Lee. I wonder whether publishing in a novella collection between regular novels really does keep the fan base fed.

    I much prefer novels with plots that interweave multiple conflicts, romantic and otherwise, and with more than two POV characters who are as emotionally complex as real people. The authors who have me eagerly awaiting their next novel all write that way. That’s the way I write myself.

    I’ve been very disappointed when I’ve read a novella by one of my favorites. The restricted word count forced the work to be a plain piece of cloth instead of the rich tapestry of her full-length novels that keep me reading until 2:00 in the morning. The novella didn’t feed this part of her fan base at all.

    In such cases, I wonder whether a novella doesn’t do more harm than good for sustaining an author’s brand.

  2. Jackie Castle says:

    Collections have never been meant to boost an author’s paycheck. Most go in with that understanding. The benefit of being part of a collection is in authors banding together to help promote one another. My readers have a chance o meet you and your readers have a chance to meet me.

    As a reader, I’ve found many new authors to follow in this way. One collection of retold fairy tales has not only opened my world to a possible new genre to write in because I’m loving these kinds of stories, but also some really good authors to follow and maybe make a connection with later down the line.

    So when I agree to be part of a collection I’m looking for the long tail benefits. The possibility of meeting new readers and increasing my following. And the monthly royalty check is just icing on the cake.

  3. What Jackie said! The main benefit for an author of being in a boxed set is boosted discoverability through being seen by the readers of all the other authors in the set, not just my own.

    Money- well, some novella boxed sets can do spectacularly well and earn significant royalties for each author. Others, especially those that aren’t in Kindle Unlimited, may barely break even on the costs of editing and promotion, even with a large number of sales at 99c. A 35c royalty split eight or more ways doesn’t add up to a huge sum each even on a bestselling set!I’ve been in two sets that made the USA Today list, and neither produced much income once expenses were covered. So going into a set with a goal to make money, in such a crowded market, could set the authors up for disappointment.

    What Carol said, too. I’m in a set at the moment which has disappointed some fans of at least one of the authors. When authors who normally write long produce a far shorter than usual story to meet the requirements of a set, even the best written novella can dent reader expectations. And if the authors in a set write books for widely divergent audiences, the cross-over readership may not be there, either.

    But on the plus side of sets, they can be fun, they can challenge us to write something different and new, there are always lessons to be learned from working in groups, and they can help build readership.

    Good questions, Lee!

  4. Lee Carver says:

    I agree with you, Carol. The two times I’ve responded to invitations to write novellas for a collection, I’ve felt terribly constricted. In some passages, I had to tell not show to keep the word count down. I far prefer reading and writing full-length novels. I hope the success of novellas doesn’t indicate a dumbing-down of the reader pool.

  5. Lee Carver says:

    Good points, Jackie. Sharing the marquee with well-known authors is a definite advantage. I’m also hoping they are more successful marketers than I am. Theoretically, if all the authors of a collection are diligent about marketing, the collection should sell well enough to be worth the effort.

  6. I’ve been privileged to be a part of several sets. Some have been wildly popular (and lucrative), others not so much.

    Like Jackie, I do it as a way to spread the love, if you will. Your readers see my work; my readers see your work. And maybe we get new followers.

    I do use it as a step-over between novels, but I’ve also found I LIKE writing novellas. As you said, I can write them quickly, get them edited, and published within a three-month time period. I’ve also continued them with follow-up novellas.

    They may not be as “deep” as some of my other works, but I think the stories are complete.

  7. J.A. Marx says:

    I agree with Jackie Castle. And novellas are definitely a great way to help good writers get a toe in the publishing community.

  8. Tonia says:

    I am not one who likes the novellas for the most part. I have seen single authors that write a novella, with fewer than 100 pages and the price is far above what I will pay. $2.99 for 300 pages or 2.99 for 100 or less pages, I just will not buy the short stories. Several authors who combine their work in a package is better however it depends on the authors and also the subject matter. The one positive for me is that I might pick up a new author. Still 98% of the time I will not buy the novella.

  9. Lee Carver says:

    Thank you so much for your additional thoughts, Amber, Ginger, and J.A. We’ve looked at novella sets from all sides. This has been a valuable and insightful discussion.

  10. Thanks for all the info, ladies! This is a great discussion for those who have been wondering about the ins and outs of novella collections.

  11. Lee Carver says:

    Tonia, we all have our favorite genres and formats. There’s no point buying something you don’t expect to enjoy, especially if it’s overpriced. I’m more likely to be interested in a novella set by several authors, including a best-selling name or two. It’s like getting a sample. As Carol said above, though, it had better be good or damage is done.