If you like.
Tune in next time for more stunning insights from me!
No, I’m kidding. Let’s look at this in a little more depth, as I have (genuinely) been asked about this more than once recently.
I’ve written a few shorter tales now, including novellas, a novelette and some short stories so I’d like to think I have some idea of how they work – not so much from an artistic standpoint perhaps, since that’s subjective, but from the business side. In other words, whether they sell or not.
And I’ll get straight to the point and tell you that, in comparison to full-length novels, NO, shorter stories don’t sell as well. Even if you lower the price, it doesn’t seem to matter. When browsing your book’s Amazon page readers are very clearly checking the page count and spending more of their cash/time on books with 300+ pages.
My first novella was Knight of the Cross which was more fantasy influenced than my other books so, when it didn’t sell as much as Wolf’s Head or The Wolf and the Raven I thought people weren’t so keen on the HP Lovecraft cosmic horror thing. It had a superb cover after all, so something else had to be at play.
Then Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil was next and, even at Christmas time when it sells best, it still doesn’t come even close to any of my novels in the charts despite being included in Amazon’s prestigious Kindle Singles Program.
The Prisoner and The Escape were shorter again and despite having really nice covers (particularly The Prisoner) and being good enough again to win places in the Kindle Singles Program they haven’t sold all that much.
The Abbey of Death was the next novella and this was my first book to be bought by a publisher (Amazon Publishing). I earned a nice advance and for once didn’t have to pay for my own editor. I hoped for big things.
Yet that book is my worst selling so far, despite being hailed by reviewers as one of my best! What’s the deal? It’s full of action and based on a cool premise with a much-loved main character!
I began to wonder if my readers simply enjoyed the cover art and settings of the main Forest Lord novels and didn’t care for anything other than those.
But then The Druid came out, book 1 in a totally different series, and that has flown high in the charts for the past year and a half or whatever. It is, of course, a full-length novel. The sequel, Song of the Centurion, has sold consistently well too since it was published last autumn.
The success of that new Warrior Druid of Britain series made me wonder if I’d now built up a readership more open to different things so I had high hopes when I started work on another Forest Lord novella. Faces of Darkness came out in December and…well, once again, it’s shown me that readers simply don’t care so much for shorter books. It’s doing great in the reviews, but in terms of chart placings or sales, it isn’t even close to my novels, even older ones. We’re talking about UK Amazon chart placings of circa 1000-2000 overall for The Druid and Song of the Centurion, compared to the novellas which rarely every reach higher than top 20,000 and are usually way, way lower. That’s a big gap.
And let me be clear – the novellas and other shorts all have just as good reviews as the novels. Not as MANY, obviously, but those who do read the likes of Faces of Darkness or The Prisoner seem to really enjoy them so it can’t be said bad reviews are putting off potential buyers.
So – if you are planning on writing a series of novellas to make money, I would advise you to rethink it. I read the Smashwords end of year report in 2018 and their findings totally confirm this – their figures proved that readers prefer buying books of 100,000+ words. So, if you are writing to make a living, rather than writing a few novellas why not restructure them to make one novel?
All of this assumes you are writing to make money. I must admit, I enjoy being an author but I only work my dayjob part-time now so my books are my main source of income these days – it’s no longer just a hobby. It may seem “vulgar” to some, but if I want to put fuel in my Lamborghini*, I need to sell as many books as possible and many authors are in the same place, or would like to be.
But writing IS art. If you have a great idea for a story and know it simply wouldn’t work padded out to 100,000 words, feel free to make it a novella. I thoroughly enjoy writing those shorter tales as they are action-packed and straight to the point with no messing around. It’s refreshing and a lot of fun, and some readers love them, so I will probably do more in future.
So you must weigh up your options but, ultimately, do what feels right for you and your characters.
If you have anything to add to this, or would like to contradict my findings, please let me know in the comments!
One final thing – I have another full-length novel which came out recently: Lucia. It’s available on Audible ONLY for the first six months, so impossible for me to compare to the other books in terms of charts and sales figures but I’ll be VERY interested to see how it does when it comes out on Kindle. Will a standalone novel, one that has no connection to any other book of mine, with all new characters, sell well? Might it, as I really hope, draw in new readers who might not want to take a chance on starting a series by an unknown author? I guess I’ll find out in the spring when Lucia is unleashed on Kindle!