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Wednesday News: Best picture books, Africa’s growing book culture, more investigation...

“With everything from a sweeping biography of Nelson Mandela to a story about a unicorn that can make it rain cupcakes, 2013 was another great year for picture books. This is particularly notable because 2013 was the first full year after the death of the legendary Maurice Sendak and marked the 50th anniversary of his classic Where the Wild Things Are.” Huffington Post

Less than ten years ago, I was presenting at an Oxford Round Table discussion, and one of the scholars from Africa was soliciting American universities for discarded computers that could be sent to Africa to feed their growing tech needs. It’s going to be interesting to see how the continent continues to build their technological infrastructure and how digital publishing and online technologies more generally affect the book culture, which many have perceived to be significantly underdeveloped.

“‘The proliferation of smartphones across Africa, combined with the inevitable burst into e-commerce, means that we would be foolish to ignore what is about to happen with publishing in Africa,’ said Jeremy Weate, of Abuja-based Cassava Republic, publisher of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

A romance imprint entitled Ankara Press and an original crime series, Cassava Crime, are due for release later this year with the focus on an e-reading audience, while Max Siollun’s Soldiers of Fortune, a non-fiction work charting Nigeria’s recent military history, has been published digitally as well as in hardback.” BBC News

“The investigation concerns whether Barnes & Noble and certain of its officers and/or directors have violated Sections 10b and 20a of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.” 4-Traders

“It was Parris-Lamb who contended that the novella really isn’t anything unique in its own right, merely a term used to denote a short novel.  He spoke about the tradition of publishing novellas. Usually too long for magazines, too short for most houses to publish economically, it has taken on a taboo quality.  With the recent options for digital publishing, most literary agencies would rather market a “novella” as a novel, so as not to trivialize the work.  Why demote a work to novella status when it can be marketed as it’s more prestigious older brother?” Publishers Weekly

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

18 Comments

  1. Maria F
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 09:02:14

    Africa is a continent, not a country. (Or am I misreading the anecdote?)

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  2. Sunita
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 09:59:19

    Thanks for that link to the discussion about novellas. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and trying to write about it. I think the McEwan has it right; at their best, novellas *are* their own literary form, not just a stretched short story or a shorter version of a novel. The rise of “novellas” in romance subgenres (first in m/m, in my reading experience, but now we find them everywhere) is not the same thing. Melville House has a great series of classic novellas, which for me highlights the difference. I’ve seen newish writers talk about tackling a novella as a kind of warmup to writing a novel because it’s easier. It may be easier to write, but it’s not easier to write well.

    Harlequin, of course, is the romance veteran of the novella form, especially these days, when word counts (holding pages constant) are lower than they were a few decades ago. And they have strict rules about what the story can comprise. The category romance is closest to the literary novella form, in my opinion.

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  3. Janet
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 11:14:41

    @Maria F: Nope, I just had a momentary disconnect between my brain and my fingers.

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  4. Janet
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 11:18:20

    @Sunita: It’s interesting to me because I was never taught to think of novellas as anything *but* their own literary form, so these discussions — once again — remind me of a disconnect between the way lit scholars view generic forms and the way those who produce and consume them at the ground level, so to speak, do.

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  5. LauraB
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 11:27:38

    Truly, I hate spending more than $2.99 on books that are less than 300 pages. Not because I think that longer books = better quality, but because of the amount of time I spend reading a longer book. I really dislike the idea of spending say $7 on a book that I’ll finish in an hour. Intellectually, I know that a great novella requires a lot of work — likely even more than a mediocre 400 page novel.

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  6. Nate
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 11:45:43

    There are at least 4 law firms sniffing around B&N, not one. I blogged about it the other day.

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  7. Lada
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 11:57:01

    So many interesting things today! Those postcards are insightful and worth checking out. The least surprising of the bunch might be the one Fitzgerald sent to himself. I enjoyed Vonnegut’s followup postcard.

    It would be interesting to hear from some romance authors about their experiences writing short form versus long and what they find easier/harder about both and why they may prefer one over the other.

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  8. jamie beck
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 13:37:02

    I’ve tried a few romance novellas by tried and true authors I really enjoy. Unfortunately, for the most part, I felt short-changed because I wanted the story to go on or go deeper, even though I knew in advance to expect that very feeling. But there is something nice about picking up a story you can finish during one short flight or car trip. And I do like novellas that pick up where a full length novel left off. That way you have the richness of the characters from the first story carry over, so the word count in the novella can be devoted to the story without sacrificing characterization.

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  9. Mandy
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 15:03:30

    I see novellas as another way for publishers to gouge money from readers because they cost more compared to novels, and more can be pumped out per year by authors. I will always prefer reading novels.

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  10. Raechel Henderson
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 15:24:29

    As a publisher that focuses on novella-length work, I find discussions about novellas interesting. There’s one going on over at LinkedIn where the question of just how many words equal novella length and the numbers are all over the board.

    I like novellas for e-books because there are so few print outlets for them. If an author writes a story that just happens to be novella length and they want to go print they are encouraged to either cut it down to a short story or pad it to become a novel.

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  11. Rebecca Rogers Maher
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 15:34:20

    Well, I definitely have to pipe in here about novellas. I write them exclusively and by choice, because I prefer the tightness and economy of the format. A good novella is like poetry — every single word matters and is deliberate. No scene can be removed without disrupting the quality of the whole. When done right, this leads to a very visceral experience, in my view, and requires a deep level of engagement on the part of the reader. There’s no room in a novella for filler. You can’t skim. You have to get right in there with both hands.

    It’s a good thing for the romance genre if we think of the novella in this way — as its own literary form that makes specific demands on both author and reader. I’m sure there are authors/publishers who churn out novellas for the sake of a quick buck, but that is true of hastily-written, paint-by-numbers full-length books as well. There are plenty of kickass romance novellas out there (more every day!). You just have to look for them.

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  12. Laura Florand
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 15:48:45

    @Rebecca Rogers Maher: Yes, to what Rebecca said. Love the novella.

    It’s a particular kind of story that calls for a novella. It can be fun and light or so intense that it *has* to be short form.

    I do think the rise of the novella is very specifically related to self-publishing, as I know that both of the ones I self-published were stories I felt compelled to write, but in the traditional landscape I wouldn’t have had an outlet for. Actually, I probably should say the rise of digital publishing, because it’s the ebook release that makes the difference for this length rather than who earns the money from it, publisher or author.

    I’m sure authors must exist who are also “writing a quick novella” or something to make money, and it probably shows. But I think for most of us, it’s just that we have so many stories in our heads, and now we can let more of them out that didn’t before “fit”, whether in length or subject, with what someone would publish in paper format. Our reading world is richer for it, in my opinion. Thinking here of novellas like Rebecca’s own or Theresa Weir’s Cat Tattoo books. Different enough to be a hard sale to a traditional publisher, probably, but I’m so glad they’re out there for us.

    The idea of calling a novella a novel seems odd to me, though. Deceptive. I would think readers would react negatively, when they buy a “novel” that’s 100 pages. I always indicate clearly somewhere that it’s a novella so people know what they’re getting. I’m sure as they grow increasingly popular the term will also grow more familiar to readers, too.

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  13. cleo
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 16:43:47

    I love reading novellas – I agree with Rebecca Rogers Maher that there’s a specific art to writing them. Some authors seem to have that knack and I am grateful for them.

    I think I’ve commented this before, but I do think that just as some authors seem to have a preferred length they write best, I think some readers have a preferred reading length too. I like novellas – I like the intensity, the focus and the immersion, and I like the fact that I don’t have to make a big time commitment to the story (sadly, my attention span keeps getting shorter as I get older). And I love it when I see authors playing with different styles or tones or topics in novellas.

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  14. Lindsay
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 17:15:39

    I really enjoy novellas — for me, they’re a one-evening read, so I know I’ll read them and then go to bed and not be up all night desperately needing to find out what happens next.

    I enjoy short stories as well but for entirely different reasons. Short stories generally are more of a snapshot and have no character development, they’re just a quick look at something and usually leave a lot more to the imagination (I love horror short stories for exactly this reason). Novellas I expect character development, even if not as dramatic as through a good novel, but I also generally don’t find there’s room for really purple prose or navel-gazing. They see, they do, they feel, they’re happy, no epilogue. There’s an intensity to novellas that I’ve really enjoyed — Snow Kissed by Laura Florand, or In the Clear by Tamara Morgan are two recent reads for me that I LOVED, and was drawn right into them where I might have had a longer settle-in time for a full-length novel. Maybe part of it is because I read them in one sitting but I definitely feel a stronger emotional connection with novellas more often than I do with full-length novels, not that I dislike reading longer works.

    I’ve felt like I was wading through a few books lately that just went on and on, so a lot of times a novella is the unicorn chaser to that — even if, like above, one is a serious uglycry book. ;)

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  15. Luce
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 19:15:42

    I’ve always felt ambivalent about novellas. Though I acknowledge that there are authors who can turn out beautiful stories in a short format, my reading preferences are pretty much set in lengthier reads. I deeply enjoy “getting lost” in the story for a certain period of time. Also, I can’t justify to myself spending $6 for 25,000 words.

    That said, I do make an exception for novellas that are tied-in to novels I’ve read. In that case, the novellas are the equivalent of a sweet (if brief) visit to characters I’ve liked.

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  16. Anna Richland
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 01:16:57

    I like writing both novels and novellas – but I have to say there is a very different thrill to writing a novella, due to the speed. I can be all-consumed by writing a novella and actually finish it — research to fine-tuning – before my family and real life become unsympathetic to the way I’m spending my time.

    Because a 400 page novel takes so much more time than a 120 – 130 page novella, I can’t maintain that intensity over the whole writing project. I just can’t block that much time out of the rest of my life.

    I’m not sure if there’s a difference to the reader – I don’t think so, b/c both are fresh to her – but at least to me, there’s a difference to the writer.

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  17. Anon2013
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 09:32:06

    I agree there is an art to writing novellas. In romance, I quite liked Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair (worked better for me than several of her novels, in fact). Outside romance I think The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James is a masterpiece.

    Am I the only one frustrated by how the industry is using novellas as sequel bait for ongoing series, especially when you have to buy an anthology to get the novella that has a pivotal piece of worldbuilding or character development? That drives me crazy. Sometimes I just rely on other readers to give me the spoilers for those novellas.

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  18. Lada
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 11:41:04

    I appreciate the comments about novels and novellas here and it’s given me something to think about. As others have mentioned, I’ve always bought books under the assumption that less time/effort go into shorter works and therefore I have a lower price point I’m willing to spend on novellas. Sometimes I think this is true, especially when it’s offered as some form of longer epilogue to an ongoing series where the characters and world are already well fleshed out and established.

    I’m more curious now than ever though about what defines a novel, novella and short story. I like @Lindsay: description but it doesn’t seem like there is any industry standard. I’ve read some terrific, fully realized works in the past thinking they were short stories (generally part of an anthology) and wonder if they could fall under the novella category.

    Perhaps the ladies here at DA could work on a longer piece, bring in more authors for their experiences and shed some insight…?

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