A Discussion of Novel Lengths, An Excerpt and Cover Reveal, by Jann Rowland

A Discussion of Novel Lengths, An Excerpt and Cover Reveal, by Jann Rowland

When I started writing, long stories were everything. You have to understand that I started reading as an adolescent focusing almost exclusively on fantasy fiction where the stories tend to be very long, and often broken up into multiple books. Then I started getting into Ludlum and Clancy, who are no slouches in the length department. Though not everything I’ve read is a mammoth saga like the Wheel of Time (14 books and over 4,000,000 words!) many works in the genres I preferred are similar to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

My writing reflected that, though I did not get into series for the most part. My first book, Acting on Faith was fairly long, coming in at about 164,000 words, and while my second solo was shorter at close to 100,000 words, I didn’t go below that until I had put several more out. Even if you look at Waiting for an Echo, which I co-authored with Lelia Eye, you might think that we went shorter, as each book in the duology was less than 100,000, together they’re close to 190,000 words!

It wasn’t until last year that I finally wrote something much shorter. A friend challenged me to write a novella. I’ve never felt I was any good writing novellas, as I much prefer a long, sweeping story arcs to keep the reader engaged. Though I wasn’t certain if I could do it, I thought I would give it a shot. The result was Mr. Bennet Takes Charge, which became one of my most successful stories to date. Novellas have now become a staple of my literary endeavors.

Before we go any further, perhaps some definitions are in order. I’ve been asked recently where the dividing line lies between the various lengths of literary works: short story, novella, novel, etc. Depending on where one looks the definitions can differ slightly. Personally, I have my own definitions in place which correspond to a certain degree with a lot of what those sources say. Here are my definitions:

Short story: Under 10,000 words. Most resources suggest 7500 words for a short story, but I prefer something a little longer. I can blow past 7500 words without even trying!
Novella: 10,000 to 40,000 words. To be honest, I often consider a little over the outer limit to fit into the novella category, though that’s as good a number as any.
Short Novel: 40,000 to 100,000 words. This definition does not appear often but I like to put it in there as it differentiates between a shorter work and a full-length novel in my own mind.
Novel: Over 100,000 words. The basis of my work and my most used category.
Novelette: about 7500 to 20,000 words. I will add this in at the bottom as it’s commonly used. Personally, I don’t really use this definition, as anything over 10,000 words is a novella to me. The only thing I’ve ever written which falls in this category was Be Careful What You Wish For from the anthology Love and Laughter.

Since I started writing novellas, I have started mixing in different story lengths. For obvious reasons, it’s much easier to write a novella than a novel based on the sheer amount of work, though I will note that outlining a novella is often more difficult–a writer has to fit a lot more action into a shorter space with a novella, and it’s often difficult to do that. Writing long tales is rewarding but it can be really draining too. Writing a short is often a true breath of fresh air, and my novellas tend to be a little more lighthearted. I’ve also started to consider other options in the art of story telling. How would a set of novellas be created, for example? I have a couple of ideas for such a set. I’ve referenced a set of novellas based on the notion that Darcy and Elizabeth meet during a Grand Tour of the continent before, but that idea has not progressed far yet. I also have a duology in progress, a pair of books that will likely be about 150,000 words each and cover territory I’ve never covered before.

So I’m curious. What do you all think? Do you prefer longer stories, or would you prefer to read something shorter? I suspect I know what most of you will answer, but I’m interested to see if my suppositions are correct.

Of more pertinence to this post, I wanted to share an excerpt from the first in the other set of novellas I referenced above. The basic premise is that Darcy and Elizabeth meet in London before Bingley leases Netherfield and proceeds from there. I won’t say a lot more, as I hope the story provides a few surprises along the way. First, the blurb.

*     *     *

After rescuing his sister from the clutches of the vile George Wickham, Fitzwilliam Darcy stays in London instead of returning to his beloved Pemberley, feeling despondent and adrift. Though he does not know it at the time, he will be forever grateful for his decision, as a chance meeting with a lovely young woman changes his perspective and sets him on the path to love and happiness.

Ordinarily, Darcy would never have considered pursuing a young woman such as Elizabeth Bennet, who is not possessed of the usual advantages of those of high society. But he learns she is a woman of rich character and ethereal beauty, and his admiration for her grows with every meeting.

Though the course of true love is not always smooth, Darcy and Elizabeth determine to meet every challenge together with courage and fortitude. In the background, unknown to the happy couple, forces move against them, threatening all they struggle to attain.

A Tacit Engagement is a novella of approximately 39,000 words and is the first book in the Darcy and Elizabeth: Destined for Each Other series. The remaining books, Scandalous FalsehoodsUpstart Pretensions, and Quitting the Sphere, will follow in the coming months.

*     *     *

And now for the excerpt!

*     *     *

The sight of the gentleman stirred something within Elizabeth’s breast. Unable to state what it was, Elizabeth only knew it had something to do with his demeanor, the way he wandered about the exhibit, his shoulders bowed over as if he carried some impossibly heavy burden.

As he walked from room to room, Elizabeth noted how he often seemed to stop before the various exhibits, though he stood there unmoving, suggesting either earnest contemplation or a mind bent to other matters, seeing none of what was before him. Once, Elizabeth caught him staring at a spot in the wall above and to the left of the painting he was ostensibly viewing, suggesting the latter.

When the moment came, Elizabeth was uncertain what prompted her to speak to him. The man was a stranger—she did not even know his name! It was nothing less than improper to address him in any manner, particularly as she suspected he was well above her in the eyes of society. For whatever reason, Elizabeth could not remain silent, despite whatever society would say about her actions, for it was not in her nature to witness another’s pain and not attempt to relieve it.

“Does the sight of this brilliant work of art not lift your spirits?”

The softly spoken words caused the gentleman to start, and he looked to her with surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

Had he spoken in a severe tone, Elizabeth thought she might have quailed and fled from this tall, enigmatic man. He was much larger than she, his lanky form towering over her more petite size. It was his utter shock and lack of reproach which allowed her to speak again.

“I was marveling at the wondrous talent necessary to produce such a masterpiece. One cannot see such perfection without their spirits being raised as a result.”

The way the man turned his critical gaze back on the painting, Elizabeth thought it likely he knew far more about the subject than she. Elizabeth did not even know who the painter was, for she had not looked at it in any great detail. The man regarded it with a gravity Elizabeth felt must be a part of his character, and after a moment, he responded.

“The work is pleasing to the eye. There is something about the blending of colors, the stroke of a brush, the very sense of self the artist imbued in every detail.”

The gentleman turned to her, and Elizabeth noted a hint of amusement in his look. “But I suspect, Miss, though I am not acquainted with you, that you are not an art connoisseur. Though this artist is talented, I would not call him one of the grand masters.”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to grin. “Ah, to be caught out with such ease! You have discovered my secret, sir, for my only thought was to make conversation.”

“Do you often make conversation with those with whom you are unacquainted?”

It was another inflection point where a different comment from the gentleman might have sent her fleeing. His tone, however, was anything but censorious. In fact, Elizabeth felt reassured and comforted, the feeling of being wrapped in a warm blanket on a bitter winter day.

“Not often at all, sir,” said Elizabeth, fixing the gentleman with a playful grin. “In fact, this is the first time.”

“Then might I know with whom I am speaking?”

Elizabeth curtseyed. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, sir.”

The gentleman returned her gesture with a bow and replied: “Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.”

*     *     *

Have I whet your appetite with our happy couple’s meeting? Where do we go from here? In directions both pleasing and interesting, I hope!

Now for the surprise. I haven’t spoken much about this work as to be honest I wasn’t certain how it would work out. As it stands now, I have the entire set almost completely outlined (a few chapters left) and the first book is ready to go! The opening volume A Tacit Engagement will be published on Amazon this Thursday. I don’t have a schedule worked out yet, but the second volume should be ready before the end of the year, while the third and fourth will arrive early in the new year. Sorry but there is no pre-order for this title.

Finally, as a reward for putting up with my long-winded post, here is the the cover reveal. It’s a simple cover, a theme I’ll continue as I release subsequent volumes. There will be no paperback, as novellas are generally too short for paperbacks, but I will release a paperback of the entire series when the last one is published. I hope you enjoy!



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November 8, 2020 9:13 AM

I like reading both lengths although I like to sometimes alternate between them.

August 20, 2020 9:59 AM

I’m a novel fan myself. Something that takes me days to get through and leaves me hanging (I just re-read acting on faith duology while in quarantine, it is still amazing). Novellas always make me feel like there’s something missing.

But hey, I will always appreciate your work, because it is always brilliant.

August 20, 2020 8:11 AM

Love the lengths of both novels and novellas. I will admit that sometimes I wish a novella was longer because I enjoy it so much but maybe it might have been because it was short.
Whatever format you write in, please continue. Just purchased A TACIT ENGAGEMENT and adding it to my Kindle library of all your works.

Eva E
August 19, 2020 12:55 PM

I appreciated your definitions. I prefer a novel as there can be a developed story line(s) and characters. Novella’s leave me feeling cheated. I confess that I will not buy a book that is a series although I might read it if it is in KU. I have enjoyed all of your books and am just completing Her Indomitable Resolve, which is a tad long.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
August 19, 2020 12:52 PM

Congratulations on this new series. I LOVE that cover and enjoyed the excerpt so much so that I WANT to read it. I’m glad it is coming out soon as I can’t wait to see what you have done with ODC. Blessings on the launch and the success of this new series. Don’t forget to wear your mask, stay safe, and healthy.

Robin G.
Robin G.
August 19, 2020 11:51 AM

Thank you for the excerpt, and the cover is beautiful!

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
August 19, 2020 10:22 AM

Beautiful cover! I have read and written all lengths. I Love them all

Linda A.
Linda A.
August 19, 2020 9:49 AM

I like to be able to read the whole thing in one sitting / day so I don’t lose the flow / feel of the story by having to stop and pick it up the next day and the day after, etc. But, while I like a little shorter story in order to achieve that, I don’t like to spend money on too short of a book, because then I don’t feel like I get my money’s worth when purchasing on Amazon. Thus, looking at your definitions, I seem to prefer the short novel category. Although, depending on the author or series, I don’t mind the much longer stories; I just try to stop at a good point before the next round of action starts, then I go back and reread the last couple of pages to remember where we left off.

Beautiful cover, btw.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 19, 2020 9:11 AM

Wow, what a difference lengths make! I don’t mind a wordier book or one that is long but I also like short stories too. I like a good book I can settle into.lol

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 19, 2020 9:12 AM
Reply to  cindie snyder

I also like the cover for your book! Just the place Liszt and Darcy would meet after a walk!

Regina Jeffers
August 19, 2020 7:37 AM

The novels I wrote for Ulysses Press back in the early 2000s were all 130,000 to 140,000 words. Such was customary at the time. Now, most of my novels are 80,000 to 90,000 words.
I wish you well with the new book. It was a surprise to learn of it. I will be adding it to my catalog tomorrow.

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