guest post: Tia Nevitt

Tia Nevitt blogs over at the fantastic Debuts & Reviews. Her story, The Sevenfold Spell, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of an ordinary girl whose livelihood is destroyed along with the spinning wheels, is being released by Carina Press. To celebrate, Tia is on a pajama party blog tour and she’s stopping here today to talk about novellas, post an excerpt and give away an e-copy to a commenter!

Welcome, Tia!



Thanks, Rabia, for having me at your blog. I’m aiming this post toward writers because I know Rabia has a lot of writerly readers. For previous installments of this blog tour, and to read all the excerpts from The Sevenfold Spell in order, pop over to Jenny Schwartz’s Acquiring Magic blog and hop along. Here is the complete schedule.

I sometimes ask myself, why this story? Why was it the one that sold? Several reasons, I think. One is that fairy tales are almost universally beloved. If you don’t love them, you probably hate them, and the cover of this novella will send you far, far away. Fairy tales have been retold for centuries. The version of Sleeping Beauty that you are familiar with is at least the third version. It’s a trope that never seems to grow old.

Another reason, I believe, is because it is novella length, and I marketed it toward e-publishers. Publishers only have to charge a few dollars for them, and their short length gives them a quick turnaround time. And they must sell well, because epublishers publish a lot of them.

It used to be that novellas were difficult to sell. Whenever I used to write a short story, 7000 words was my hard limit because most fiction magazines would only publish one or two novellas and novelettes an issue, as opposed to four to eight short stories. When you get much over 7000 words, you venture into novelette territory. The Sevenfold Spell started out as a short story called “Spin” and it was straining my 7000 word limit. It wanted to be a novella, and I fought to keep it a short story. I was unable to sell it. When a friend of mine suggested I expand it to novella length and market it to epublishers, it was as if I set the story free. I sold it on the first try to my top choice publisher.

And I’ve been treated just as if I’d written a full-length novel. I got the same treatment—cover art, blurb, editing, promotion, advertising—you name it. Fellow Carina Press author Jenny Schwartz wrote a novella called The Price of Freedom, and it was among the first CP titles that Audible chose to make into an audiobook. The big difference between epublishing and traditional publishing is epublished authors don’t get advances. Instead, they get higher royalties.

Is there anything different about the writing of a novella? Everything is shorter—both length and chapters. You also have to limit your characters. As a short story writer, I learned that each named character brings with it a certain number of words. When you add a character, your word count jumps. This isn’t something you have to worry much about with a novel, but you still need to keep it in mind when writing a novella. With The Sevenfold Spell, I have seven main characters. When it was a short story, two of those characters were throwaway. Making it into a novella gave me the room to bring them fully into the story.

So next time you’re having trouble expanding one of your stories to novel length, try going with it and see how it works out. If it ends up to short too publish the traditional way, an ebook might be a perfect fit.

Tomorrow, over at World in the Satin Bag, I’ll share with you a script I wrote for a book trailer that I decided not to use. In the meantime, here are the next few paragraphs from The Sevenfold Spell.

***

I was thirteen, and my mother had just given me the task of shopping for food. At the same time, she put me in charge of my own dowry.

“Any money you save can go to your dowry,” she said, providing me incentive to learn to bargain. One day, I went to Willard’s cart to buy some apples. As I touched one, another fell off the cart and bounced at my feet. We both reached for it at the same time.

Bonk! His head felt hard enough to dent my skull. We leaped apart, each grabbing our foreheads.

“Ow,” he said. “You have a hard head for a girl.”

I didn’t know how to respond. We both leaned against the cart for a moment, until the pain and dizziness passed.

“Here,” he said, “the least I can do after hurting you is give you some apples.”

“But—”

“You can pay for everything else,” he said. “Is six enough?”

It was two more than I’d intended to get, so I just nodded.

After that first meeting, he gave me a discount, so with an eye for increasing my dowry, I shopped at his cart exclusively. We didn’t exactly become friends, but I felt comfortable around him—he accepted me for who I was, despite my ugliness. He was homely, as well, with a long face, bright red hair and dark freckles. Sometimes when I was avoiding Mama, I would linger around his cart, listening to him talk about life on the farm.

On one such day, shortly before I turned eighteen, he interrupted his own description of the birth of a calf to say, “We should get married, you know.”

***

I’d love to hear from you! At the end of the day (just before I shut down for the night), I’ll pick a random commenter for a free ecopy of The Sevenfold Spell.

Comments

  1. Hello, everyone! Since it’s Saturday, I’m going to be here all day, although I won’t actually be in my jammies until later.

    I’m sort of learning how to do this as I go, so I hope Rabia doesn’t mind a few changes. I’ll keep the contest open until tomorrow or so. Also, if you don’t like leaving comments, you can enter the giveaway by sending an email to tia . nevitt @ gmail . com (take away the spaces) with “giveaway” in the subject header.

  2. Thanks, Tia!

    Out of curiosity, how many words did The Sevenfold Spell end up being?

  3. Around 23000 words. When I turned it in, it was only about 21000 words, but the editorial team wanted me to expand the romance plotline. It now can be considered a fantasy romance, but it isn’t a traditional romance.

    • *nod* I’ve never experimented with that length. The longest short story I’ve written is about 12K long. My novels are 90-120K long. What advice would you give to someone who wants to try a novella, but is afraid it’ll turn into a novel instead? How do you keep it complex enough to be longer than a short story but not so complex that it wants to be a novel?

      • Great question. It helped for me that I started with a fairy tale that you could tell in 1000 words. I’d keep these three rules in mind:
        * Limit your characters. I can’t stress this enough. The length of a novella cannot do justice to more than 4 or 5 main characters. I have seven, but two of them are minor characters.

        * Limit your subplots. Each subplot is going to take several thousand words to set up and resolve. A short story really can support only the main plot and maybe one or two subplots, all tightly woven together. With a novella, you can have four or five. For The Sevenfold Spell, I have at least six.

        I am doing this more consciously for my Cinderella retelling. I decided to add a subplot because it just doesn’t seem like a fantasy at first. So I brought in a fairy tale creature, and he will be especially helpful at the end.

        My first version–which was very sketchy-was only about 13000 words. I knew I’d need to buff it up a bit especially where motivation is concerned, so I wove in a couple of subplots.

        * Keep it simple. With a novel, it’s like weaving a rug of plot threads. You go back and forth as you write and rewrite, coming up with cunning twists. You have to keep it simpler for a novella to give everything time to resolve.

        • All good points, Tia.

          It occurred to me (as I working on my own novel ms today!), that it’s also a good idea to limit the sets (locations) in a novella, too. That way you don’t have to spend words setting up the stage for every scene.

  4. Alice Edwards says:

    Hi Tia,

    Nice to see novellas are making come back.

    To my mind they bring me a story and really, that’s all that matters. A story that takes me away, has a little romance, a little fantasy has it all.

    I really watch for stories like that then I pass the word along.

    The length is interesting. Enough space to give me the reader a fuller richer story.

    Nice going.

  5. First off, the story sounds awesome and interesting! You have me curious.

    Second, did want to say that I have several favorite novellas, and all of them have between four and seven chapters. They’re actually LONGER chapters, but it works because those chapters cover a lot of closely related ground.

    Third, THANK you for all the novella advice. I tend to write extremely short, so it’s helpful to know just what causes that word count to jump–though I need to ALWAYS limit my characters! :grins:

    • Megs, like any advice, you gotta pick and choose which one you’ll follow. All I know is my novella chapters ended up considerably shorter than my full-length novel chapters. For novellas, I tend to have a chapter per scene, whereas for novels, I might have two or three scenes per chapter.

    • I thought of something else. When I know I have to give a character a name, I know they are going to be somewhat significant. At that point, I think good and hard about whether I really need that character, or if some other character can fill that role. For my Cinderella retelling, I wanted someone to be a threat to my protag’s family. I thought about whether her personal antagonist could also be the family’s antagonist, and in this case, I decided not. So I’m probably looking at about 25000-30000 words for that one.

  6. Hi Tia — I enjoyed your post, especially the excellent advice on the novella structure. You seem to give a lot of thought to your story structures. I write by the seat of my pants, which is how I ended up with my novella. It just worked out that way. Do you always outline? Do you have a firm idea of where your story is going and how long it will me?

    • Well, in the case of fairy tale retellings, I know how that part will end. But, for the “accidentally enchanted” person, the ending isn’t going to be the same. I had a very rough idea. But for one both of my novels (unpublished), I sort of hung onto the story and let them take me for a ride. I’m doing the same for my time travel historical.

  7. In many ways, I think writing novellas and short stories is much harder than writing novels. You have to do so much more with less. A definite art form.

  8. Tia:
    I’ve happily traveled back to my childhood days. I need to know how your novella ends. Do they marry? Will they live happily ever after? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

  9. I am such a sucker for fairy tales. Love to read them…originals, retellings, short stories, novels, you name it! I’llhave to check this out.

  10. Hi Tia! Thanks for the mention of my novella, The Price of Freedom. I was so incredibly pleased (excited, ecstatic, leaping around the house) when Carina Press accepted such a short length. I’m a big fan of novellas since they deliver emotional punch in a brief reading timeframe. The only tip I’d add for people who write short (write short stories and novellas) is to give it a quick once over and check you haven’t left a scene under-done. I’ve been knowing to (and I’ll exaggerate) say “The hero and villain fought. The villain won.” No, no, no. How did they fight? What did everyone on stage do and feel? Where did they fight? Sometimes my tendency to brevity gets me into hot water. And then sometimes, like now, I just ramble ;)

    • Good advice. I know I’m running into that as I write my Cinderella retelling. I really skimp on my first draft, with a lot of “placeholder” scenes and notes to myself like, “flesh out” and “make this better”.

  11. Wow–I’ve been busy this morning. Let’s pick a winner! Thank you, Rabia, for the threaded discussions, which really make this much easier!

    Liz! You won a copy of The Sevenfold Spell! I’ll send you an email.

    Thanks everyone, and thank you, Rabia!

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