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Is It a Novel, a Novella, a Short Story or Something Else?

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By EelKat Wendy C Allen

"So, here's the deal. I'm writing a book. My friend tells me it's a short story, but I say sh is wrong, I say it is a novel. See this is the word count chart I've been using and it says I am writing a novel. She says this chart is phoney. Who is right?

Short story - 7,500 words or less
Novelette - 7,501 - 17,500 words
Novella - 17,501 - 40,000 words
Novel - 40,000 or more words"

I am writing a story but is it a novel, a novella, a short story? How do I tell? This is an incredibly common question asked in as many ways as there are writers to ask it, and is the question we are looking to answer today.

Is it a novel? Well, you didn't tell me how long your "book" actually is, so I can't tell you if it is a novel or not. I can however tell you that if you are going by that chart you sent to me, than yes, your book is nothing close to being a novel.

Not sure where you got this info:

"Short story - 7,500 words or less
Novelette - 7,501 - 17,500 words
Novella - 17,501 - 40,000 words
Novel - 40,000 or more words"

But it's very wrong.

For example. Stephen King's SHORT STORY "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is 49,701 words long, and yet according to your chart 40,000 equals a novel!

I can't say your friend it right, not knowing what your friend's numbers are, but I can tell you that the chart you sent me with your question is so incredibly wrong that it is down right laughable. It's not even close to right.

Here is the correct version:

Flash fiction - 3,000 words or less; fewer than 10 pages
Short-short - 3,000 - 7,500 words; about 10 to 20 pages
Short story - 7,500 - 15,000 words; about 20 to 40 pages
Novelette - 15,000 - 35,000 words; about 35 to 85 pages
Novella - 35,000 - 75,000 words; about 85 to 175 pages
Short Novel - 75,000 - 90,000 words; about 175 to 225 pages
Novel - 90,000 to 120,000 words; about 225 to 300 pages
Big Novel - 120,000 to 180,000 words; about 300 to 450 pages
Epic length Novel - 180,000 words or more; about 450 to 600 pages

(a 600 page book is about 250,000 words)

Some publishing houses use a chart which looks more like this:

Flash fiction - 5,000 words or less
Short-short - 5,000 - 15,000 words
Short story - 15,000 - 25,000 words
Novelette - 25,000 - 45,000 words
Novella - 45,000 - 90,000 words
Novel - 90,000 to 250,000 words
Epic length novel 250,000 words or more

Many self-publishers, not knowing anything about the publishing industry, make up their own rules about what is and is not a novel. There are very few traditional publishers who will consider anything under 120,000 words a novel. Most traditional publishing houses will not read a manuscript shorter than 120,000 words long.

The problem here is that many new writers are looking to NaNoWriMo and it's write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days idea, as a source of inspiration. They neglect however to read all the fine print on NaNoWriMo's website, like the part where it says that 50,000 words isn't long enough to be the length of a FINISHED novel, but is rather the average finished length of the FIRST DRAFT of a novel.

It is expected that you use NaNoWriMo to get your first draft written in 50,000 words, and that you will then edit that draft into a publishable 120,000 words later on. However new writers don't read the fine print and instead jump in and write 50,000 words, than try to get those 50,000 words published without even bothering to fix spelling and grammar let alone trying to polish it and lengthen it and than they wonder why no publisher will even look at it.

50,000 words: is it a novel? No! Hell no! Not even close!

Another problem is caused by ebooks. Ebooks do not rely on printing presses to tell them how long a book should be, so ebooks can be anything from 1 page to 1,000 pages or more. Is an ebook a novel? Only if it's between 75,000 and 250,000 words.

Remember ebooks are great but ebooks are not books. Books are made out of paper and have pages to flip through. Ebooks are, like audiobooks, a way to make the contents of a book accessible to everyone.

Keep in mind that while ebook sales are steadily rising, ebooks still account for fewer than 30% of book sales, fewer than 2% of the population owns an ereader, and fewer than 3% of books are available in ebook format. People who do read ebooks read a lot of them, but 75% of the readers are people over the age of 65 who do not even own a computer or a cellphone let alone an ereader. Young writers forget that just because they have technology all around them, doesn't mean they are in the majority.

Fact is, youths with their techno gadgets are a very small minority of the world's population and only a very small percent of those youths read books, of those that do read books only a small percent of them use ereaders.

While publishers are adding ebooks to their backlists, a majority of books are still being published as 280 page mass market paperbacks, and if you are seeking to be published, than you MUST write a story 280 pages long (120,000 words) no IF, ANDs, or BUTs about it. No amount of "But NaNoWriMo said 50,0000 words is a novel", is going the convince a publisher otherwise, because a publisher has a huge machine that only prints up books 280 pages long. No more no less. 280 pages. You either write a book that machine can print up, or you don't.

When you go to publisher's websites and look at what they ask for, you will find that most every one of them says:

"Seeks manuscripts of 90,000 to 120,000 words; will not look at anything under 75,000 or over 150,000. Most of our books are edited to 280 printed pages."

You can search hundreds of publisher websites and you will be hard pressed to find any publisher big or small, that will consider ANYTHING shorter (or longer) than 280 pages. 280 pages is the standard, not because it's easier to read or anything like that, but rather because it's the cheapest trim size (known as mass market paperback) for print shops to print up.

A publisher is not looking at how good your writing is, as much as they are looking at how well you can write what they can publish cheaply enough to make a profit.

Your 40,000 word "book" is going to print up at 85 to 95 pages long. Is it a novel? No! A novel is described as any story 280 pages long. Your 85 page "book" is only one third the size of a novel. Not even close to being a novel.

If you write a book significantly shorter (or longer) than the standard mass market trim size, the publisher has to pay extra fees to have the printing press change their paper rollers and signature gluers around. This costs the publisher several thousand extra dollars, which means instead of earning dollars per book sold they are now earning pennies per book sold. In order to justify doing this, they have to be guaranteed your book is going to sell millions and get picked up for movie rights.

Sure you may have a spectacular story that readers will love, but readers are not willing to pay more than $5 or $7 for a paperback book, and if the publisher can not sell your book in that price range, they are going to refuse to publish it not matter how great it may be.

When your book goes to a publishing house, the editor is going to look at it asking:

"Can this be edited up (or down) to 280 pages?"

They are not asking if it is good writing or if the story is great. They don't care about that because ANY story no matter how crappy it is, can be edited into something great and ALL writing no matter how shitty and full of errors can be edited into perfect grammar.

The editor will be looking at page count first and foremost.

If your story is really wicked super duper good, the best thing he's ever read spectacular than the editor will ask you to plump the script up to 120,000 words.

If you tell them you won't do it because your story is only 50,000 words long and you barely made it to that, how in the heck are you going to add a whole 'nother 70,000 words to it so it can actually be called a novel, well then there are plenty of other authors out there who are more than willing to stick to guidelines and edit their books up to 120,000 words, so why should they waste their time on someone who's too much of a spoiled brat to work with the editor and make the book publishable?

If you start bragging you can't or won't edit your book from 95 pages to 280 pages than you'll be viewed as a snotty egotistical spoiled brat not worth wasting time or money on, and they will move on to the next author.

Sorry to say it, but you are only a drop in a bucket, and for every great manuscript you send there are thousands more just as good as yours sitting in that slushpile waiting to be read by that same editor.

You have to decide what is more important to you: getting published or writing the book your way?

If getting published is important than you are going to have to learn to make huge additions to your stories by creating new characters, subplots, and adding chapters, in order to comply with the publisher.

If writing the book your way is important, and if your way means calling 40,000 words a novel, than really your only option is to self publish.

Remember the issue here is not how great your story is, but that the publisher is using a machine that only produces books 280 pages long, so you can bitch and moan and scream and cry and boo-hoo all you want, but if their machine only makes books 280 pages long, there ain't nothing you can do to change that unless you have a few million dollars in pocket change laying around so you can buy the publishing house a machine which does glue up books significantly less than 280 pages long. They simply can not make a book 85 pages long if they do not own the machinery required to create a 85 page book!

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