It’s taken several days to get our bodies back to this time zone. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this posting on Thursday rather than my usual Wednesday.
The word of the day is NOVELLA. Why? For two reasons actually. Number one? I just finished writing one—a JP Beaumont novella called Still Dead. As for number two? That has to do with a novella named Taking the Veil that’s coming out in an anthology called Matchup due to be published next week.
But first let’s deal with the whole IDEA of novellas. What are they? A novella is a literary form that is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. I understand full well that novellas aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. The first time I bought one and realized it was … well … short, I was disappointed. And so, for the purpose of this blog, we’re going to begin by getting our literary terminology straight.
Short stories generally clock in at 2500 to 3000 words. Some can be as long as 5000, but that’s unusual. Novels are around 100,000 words long, give or take. My publishers will allow me 5000 words of flexibility in either direction, but here’s the not-so-artistic reason for that 100 K limitation: shipping boxes—STANDARD shipping boxes. If a given book’s word count comes in much over the 100,000 mark, one of two things will have to happen: Either the print will have to be much smaller—and, as you see here, that is not a good idea. The other choice is for the shipping box to be larger and hence non-standard. Let’s hear it for standard shipping boxes!
As for novellas? Word counts for them fall somewhere in between those of short stories and novels. Think of them as the literary equivalent of a wine tasting. They’re designed and primarily AIMED at new readers in order to give them a taste of various characters and story lines and to draw them in.
For the record, not all publishers handle novellas the same way. Simon and Schuster, the publisher in charge of my Ali books, brings out novellas in both e-book and audio formats, but their ink-on-paper copies appear only in paperback editions of preceding hardbacks. This strategy is designed to encourage readers to pick up the next upcoming book. Unfortunately and in my opinion, that option does a disservice to my loyal hardback readers who, in order to have access to the new novella, are compelled to trot out and purchase the paperback edition of a book they’ve already read.
HarperCollins—Beaumonts, Bradys and Walkers—also publishes in e-book and audio formats along with the strategy of including the novella in the back of the whatever paperback precedes the next hardcover book. That can sometimes be problematic and confusing, especially if the action in the novella is out of order in terms of the action in the novel itself. I’m trying to do a better job on that score. You’ll find that the action in Still Dead, the novella that will appear in the back of the paperback edition of Downfall, will precede the action in the upcoming Beaumont book Proof of Life by a matter of several weeks.
To HarperCollins’s great credit, however, when it comes to novellas, they have one additional trick up their sleeves. They print a separate mass market paperback edition of the novellas which makes them accessible to my beloved DTRs—dead tree readers. This is NOT a hard cover edition—it’s a paperback edition—but at least it’s something print-only readers can hold in their ink-stained hands. Bookstores don’t bring novellas in as a matter of course. If you want one of those babies, you’ll probably need to place a special order, and you can count on both my newsletter and blog to let you know when placing those orders would be appropriate.
And appropriate timing is what brings me to the next topic in this blog—Matchup, the anthology I mentioned earlier which goes on sale next week. The idea of the book, undertaken by members of International Thriller Writers and edited by Lee Child, is a kind of complex literary wine pairing, if you will. Two authors are teamed together to write a novella. In my case, my partner is Eric Van Lustbader of Jason Bourne fame. In the case of our novella, his protagonist is Bravo Shaw, while much of my part of the story is carried by Sister Anselm Becker from the Ali Reynolds books. In terms of literary wines, I’d be a summer Riesling and Eric would be a smoky port.
Writing Taking the Veil was challenging to say the least. Eric’s characters and mine are literally centuries and continents apart. Eric knows a whale of a lot more about ancient religious artifacts than I will ever know. Putting his in-depth knowledge to work in a setting that includes modern Arizona geography took some doing. If you try it, I hope you like it.
In addition to Eric and me, you’ll find a lot of big names present and matched up in Matchup: Sandra Brown and C.J. Box; Kathy Reichs and Lee Child; Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille. I’m not sure exactly where their vintages fall, because I haven’t had a chance to read all those other stories.
There are no local—as in Seattle or Arizona—signings scheduled for Matchup. The official signings for Matchup will be held during Thrillerfest in New York City in July. If you end up with a copy and want me to autograph it later, feel free to bring it along to one of my regularly scheduled signings.