Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books April 15, 2016 - 10:40am

Writing friends, a question (and if I get enough responses there may be a LitReactor column in here):

Why should an author write a novel? I know it is the next logical step from short stories, but aside from the novel being the perfect form for you to tell a particular story in, what purpose does it serve your career?

I had my first piece of short fiction published in June 2015, and since then I've had 10 other stories published, a couple in pro markets, as well as the "novella" Kanye West—Reanimator. I have a few more pieces pending publication. I am very happy with my acceptance record so far, and have been really enjoying the short form. But everyone keeps asking me if I'm going to write a novel, and my standard response has been: Why?

There is a more immediate gratification—creatively and monetarily—to selling a short story, especially considering the amount of effort put in. There is no guarantee a novel will make more money or be read by more people, and that's if it gets published. A big if.

So why the hell should I write one?

Why did you?

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break April 15, 2016 - 1:04pm

I wrote mine because that was the amount of word count it took to tell the story.

Honestly though, I've made so much more money on short stories.'s disgusting how much more I've made on shorts compared to novels. At least ten times more with only a fraction of the time and effort required.

Even though short stories are where the money is at, novels continue to be the product that yields the most individual attention. That's hard to get when you're one of twenty in an anthology.

There's a large list of pros and cons.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books April 15, 2016 - 2:15pm

I see what you mean about the attention. Because until I started writing short stories, I was way more interested in reading novels. Unless it was a collection by an author I already liked, I didn't really pay much attention.

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest April 15, 2016 - 6:41pm

How are short stories where the money's at? That's the opposite of everything I've heard.

50 2000-word short stories at $0.06 per word = $6,000.

And I don't know anyone who publishes 50 stories a year; 20 would be great.

Vs. one 100K word novel (which will be easier to write than 100K of short stories, imo) which will get you a $10K advance (or much more if you're a somebody).


MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions April 15, 2016 - 7:14pm

DrWood, the average novelist will not receive a $10k advance. But I agree with your greater point: the novel is where the money is at.

While some may make more money writing short fiction than writing novels, novels have the potential to make exponentially more money than stories ever could.

Neither are likely to earn you a livable wage, but you have a vastly greater shot writing novels than stories. I've never heard of a modern writer making a living off short stories (unless you credit their stories as earning their professorships).

They are essentially lotteries on different scales--pay $1 at a shot at $100, or pay $100 at a shot at $10,000--the investment being your time. Spending a week writing something unpublishable is easy to swallow, but spending two years writing something unpublishable can break folks.



TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories April 15, 2016 - 7:37pm

Ignoring the money piece---I finally decided to write a novel because I had a story I could not tell in < 10K words and it was an idea that I never got bored of. I have no illusions of making money, it was just fun. Hard, but fun.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions April 15, 2016 - 7:49pm

And I totally agree the money side should be ignored. Brandon's statement "that was the amount of words it took to tell the story" should be the only thing that matters. If a writer's chief concern is making money, they're in the wrong field.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel April 15, 2016 - 8:39pm

I'm in the camp that you write the story in as many words as it takes. I just happen to be a long writer. My stories don't take place in a few days or weeks, my ideas span years, so I write longer to make it all work. 

That's my two cents. Write the story you want to tell. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal April 16, 2016 - 7:20am

Well, making a career out of it seems to require novel length works, for one.

jenkap's picture
jenkap from London is reading Bad Behaviour April 16, 2016 - 10:02am

Well what's your reason for writing? If you're happy with what you're doing, keep doing that and ignore them. If your goal is to reach as many people as possible and or win major awards, the novel is the best vehicle for that... 

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers April 16, 2016 - 10:14am

Only the scope of the story should dictate it's length. Assuming everything we hear about the internet age, shorter attention spans, time management, etc., then it's safe to say that publishers will/have been focusing on shorter packages of story. The novel was at one time defined as 70K (give or take 10K) words or more, the novella: 20K-60K, the novelette: 10K-20K. Those terms are less defined now, or defined rather loosely: we have publishers pushing 30K-40K 'novels' though they clearly are not novels, while novelettes are now defined as basically 8K-18K words, with novellas hit well under 30K words. Point being, these definitions are not static, and ebb and flow as marketing and psychology change to serve the purpose of putting books into people's hands.

Regardless of these marketing tactics, the fact remains the same that only the scope of story should dictate its length. There are recently published 'chapbooks' that have more visceral punch than an armfull of doorstopper sized bestsellers.

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest April 18, 2016 - 6:27pm

The "length the story deserves," is immaterial. I would hope I'm not alone in having hundreds of ideas for stories, and I can choose to concentrate on stories, novels, or a mixture of both, however I please.


Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal April 23, 2016 - 9:26am

I'm going to add to my answer, and answer specifically the two original questions.

You should write one if the idea of it excites you.

I wrote mine because I got super excited about the idea. And as I went, the excitement only grew. To the point that at times it faded, I simply had to see it done. (Which it isn't, revising, etc.)

Murasaki_Ducky's picture
Murasaki_Ducky from Austin is reading Stardust April 26, 2016 - 9:11am

You should write a novel if you feel you have one in you. If you have a story to tell that requires a greater word count than what a short story or novella can help you accomplish, by all means, write a novel. At my day job, I always hear the phrase "use the right tool for the right job". If the short story format serves as the right tool for the ideas you have right now, then I don't think you need to write a novel. Writing, first and foremost, should bring joy and/or fulfillment to the writer so don't force a novel out because others think you should write one. 

I started writing a novel when I was in high school because I thought that since I claimed to be a writer, writers need to write novels. I managed to choke out a couple of chapters before that story came to a sputtering and pathetic end. Twelve years later and I find myself working on a novel because I believe the story I wish to tell would best be told through this medium, not because I think it's expected of me. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami April 27, 2016 - 11:08am

I wrote mine to come to terms with what I saw as my future at the time. Each MC an aspect I hate about myself.

In fact it is an arc of attempted self improvement.

Thus I only online part two.