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Six Skills and novelettes - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Six Skills and novelettes [Jan. 8th, 2011|10:40 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Scott Andrews, the editor over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, suggested that it would be good for me to provide a link to the novelette of mine they published last year, The Six Skills of Madame Lumiere, and to note its eligibility for awards. He's been saying nice things about it, which I greatly appreciate especially considering the source. (I like BCS! Go! Read!) So here's your link: free story, whether you care about awards or not, and if you don't want to read more about novelettes and haven't read it yet, go on ahead and enjoy.

Meanwhile, it reminded me that I've noticed a shift in my writing. I've always written at a variety of lengths, down to short-shorts and up to novels, but I have had a deliberate bias against the longer short forms up until fairly recently. They can be a right pain to sell, is the long and short of it, so when I got promising ideas that felt like they were going to be longer than the magical novelette line, I have been likely to put them aside half-finished and focus on something in the two to five thousand word range for which there are a kajillion markets.

I'm trying to stop that, because I really like some of my novelette ideas. They keep accreting text because I poke at them a bit at a time--I don't seem to want to give up on them, even as I say to myself, "Ugh, nobody wants anything longer than five thousand words." This is flatly untrue, and I know it's untrue--my first sale to Analog wound up at novelette length once we were done with revisions, so it's not even like this is entirely recent. But it has just felt like novelettes and novellas are the fast track to spending a lot more time on something for a lot less potential.

Maybe it's that I'm at a point in my career where I'm selling a lot of what I write, but I'm finding I'm able to let go of that and go with what the story wants. I've heard lots of people who are focused on old science fiction arguing that novellas are the ideal form for the genre, but I haven't actually found that to be the case in other people's work. I like novelettes. They don't bloat so much, but they have more room for the world to complicate and iterate. I don't always need that, but sometimes I really enjoy it. Sometimes there are types of story that just won't fit in the classic short story range but don't have enough substance for novels, and they're worth telling, too. I feel like a novelette gives the reader much more of its world than most short stories. There are, of course, exceptions.

I have also noticed in general that the tendency to pull back and work on what I "ought" to be working on, in absence of outside forces confirming that "ought," doesn't always work very well. I've been bringing short stories and novelettes to the brink the entire last half of last year and then saying, "No, but you ought to work on novel revisions!" And indeed, this has been an incredibly personally difficult novel for me, for reasons that are major plot spoilers. But wrenching myself away from things that are working in a hare-brained attempt to work on something that isn't backs up the creative processes and gets them all tangled and sad.

So we won't be doing that. Instead, more novelettes. Because letting things develop further is really no bad thing, and will not, despite my hindbrain anxiety, result in a pile of unpublishable stories. And in any case they're not more publishable for having a few thousand words written on each and letting them just wait and languish.

So. Novelettes. Tl; dr: I'm fur 'em and wish to be more fur 'em in future.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: moiread
2011-01-09 04:57 am (UTC)
I keep seeing people pointing out that their stories are eligible for awards, and wishing that those people would link to which awards they mean and where one might go about voting. Because really, I would love to nominate or vote for your story, because it is absolutely fucking fantastic and probably my favourite of your works that I've read, but I have no idea where to do so.
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[User Picture]From: moiread
2011-01-09 05:05 am (UTC)
Ah. Having now dug up BCS's Twitter account to see if they have done any talking about awards lately, and followed their link to the page for the 2010 Nebulas, I find that apparently you have to be a SFWA member to do any nominating or voting. And I'm not. And it's probably like that for other ones, too. Well okay then.

I fervently hope that people who can do so will vote for your story. It really is fab.

Sorry for tripping over my own feet so embarrassingly on your post.

Edited at 2011-01-09 05:10 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2011-01-09 05:57 am (UTC)
One can nominate and vote for Hugos by being a supporting member of that year's Worldcon, but yeah. That still "like that", as far as I'm concerned.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-09 12:36 pm (UTC)
No, it's okay. Everybody who knows all about awards in the field had some time when they didn't know all about awards in the field but were still enthusiastic about some story or another. I don't think you should be embarrassed.

In any case: you're correct about the Nebs. The Hugo requires WorldCon membership or supporting membership, as Alec has noted, and the World Fantasy Award ditto for World Fantasy Con. Locus does an online poll each year, and in years past you didn't have to be a subscriber to vote for those (although sometimes they give subscribers more votes than other people). And that is what I know about nominating and voting for awards, off the top of my head.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2011-01-09 05:01 pm (UTC)
I will add that anyone at all can nominate for the Tiptree Award by email. It's a juried award, but they want people to tell them about science fiction and fantasy that explore or expand our ideas of gender. Any length.
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[User Picture]From: eposia
2011-01-09 05:07 am (UTC)
The most recent short story I finished was an interesting similar case, coming in at just under novelette length (and the longest short story I've yet written). The penultimate draft I sent out to half-a dozen readers begging for any suggestions on superfluous text or areas that could be cut. The final draft ended up 150 words longer, and the beta reader who had seen a yet earlier draft had the comment "I know this one is longer, but it reads shorter."

At that point I shrugged and figured that the story was what length it needed to be, and if I am fortunate enough to interest an editor in it, they are welcome to give trimming suggestions. I have had thoughts about its lack of marketability so this was a good post to read, thanks!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-09 12:40 pm (UTC)
Stories really do need to be written to their proper length. That means that one story can be just right or too cut-down to be worthwhile at 8000 words, and another can be bloated at 800.

It's indeed true that an interested editor can have suggestions for cuts (or expansions!). But mostly editors don't want to invest in reading an 8000-word story if their guidelines say up to 5K or up to 6K; that level of cutting is something they mostly feel would be the author's job to do, or, more likely, would render a perfectly good story unsuitable for their market. So you'll still be limited to markets that read stories of that length--which is fine, but more limiting than a 4K story anybody will read. But a story that is just right at 8K will be weird and difficult at 4K, so better to have the longer story and fewer potential markets, in my opinion, if it's more likely to be actually good and of interest at the longer length.

Edited at 2011-01-09 12:45 pm (UTC)
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From: swan_tower
2011-01-09 06:16 am (UTC)
I will basically only write a novella if it's something BCS might take, because they're the only market I feel confident I might sell something that long to. Short novelettes can find homes, things in the 8-10K range, but I'm still very leery of going longer. My sales record is not robust enough to make me think that's a good use of my time.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-09 12:47 pm (UTC)
Well, and 30K novellas start to approach as much work as a novel without as much reward potential as a novel. So I'm really hoping to not have compelling ideas in that range.

On the other hand, I am not under contract for any novels, and I'm not getting invited to closed anthologies, so "this idea I have is really compelling and nifty" is one of the major factors in what I should work on. Not the only one, but one I've been neglecting a bit too much in favor of other considerations.
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From: swan_tower
2011-01-09 07:48 pm (UTC)
I even mean a 15K novella, just over the border from novelette; really, anything longer than 10K. I've never sold to any of the Big Three, and they make up a large percentage of the paying markets that will take things in the five-digit range.

But you're right that "this idea I have is really compelling and nifty" should not be discounted as a factor. What I'm hoping is that the growing viability of e-books will create more options for the longer stories, since page count and shelf space are no longer concerns: we already have some e-publishers putting out novellas alongside novels, and may see more of that in the future.
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[User Picture]From: meallanmouse
2011-01-09 08:33 am (UTC)
That was a lovely, lovely story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you. =)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-09 12:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2011-01-09 02:31 pm (UTC)
I don't find it repellent--too many writers are anxious critters and some seem to think "Well if I see others doing it, maybe I should, too." While it doesn't make me want to nominate things (it has to be memorable for me to do that) it doesn't make me want to dis-nominate something.

In Mrissa's case, the link is going to give me a chance to read a story that I didn't see before, due to dire things in real life during the time of its publication, so that's cool. And she's not obligating anyone.

(Back in the GEnie days, I really hated it when people would try to obligate one to nominate their stuff, because they could check the forum and see whose name had complied.)
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2011-01-09 02:53 pm (UTC)
I think there's some of that anxious drive to publicize behind it, and of course there is flagrant logrolling, too. I noted last year that the new Nebula process is a logroller's dream.

But this year a lot of newer writers seem to think that they have to list all their year's publications and mention the awards. Maybe next year they won't.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2011-01-09 03:21 pm (UTC)
And yet you seem to be joining everyone else in retconning the various awards to be "Best Novella from Someone Who Hasn't Annoyed Me."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-09 05:01 pm (UTC)
You are correct to notice that it's not at all natural for me to do anything that might be third-cousins with self-promotion. In fact I talked to a couple of people about how to work well with editors who are hoping for this sort of behavior and try to dodge making that kind of obnoxious post; I'm sorry that it still came too close for you. Unfortunately, one of the things I heard is that the "here's everything I published" laundry lists that strike you as not particularly bad strike some others as much worse in the "obnoxious self-promotion" direction. I had been going with the "keep my mouth shut and figure that if anything is good, people will notice" theory, but I don't really want to be ungracious to editors who are trying to be gracious and helpful to me, so it's very much a rock and a hard place thing for me. I'm afraid an editor will ask again next year, so unfortunately I can't just stop thinking about how I want to handle it.
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[User Picture]From: careswen
2011-01-09 09:12 pm (UTC)
I personally don't see anything wrong with self-promotion of one's work. How else are we all to get jobs, sell books, get clients, etc.? Some folks are willing to sit around and wait for lightning to strike; I'm willing to call down the lightning. Sure, we actually have to have the awesomeness to back it up, or it's just sad and annoying, but lightning: I can call it.

I'm okay with other folks who don't wanna do it. I just don't want to be judged for it, just like I don't judge them. I thought you walked a very gracious line in doing what you were asked to do.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2011-01-09 05:44 pm (UTC)
Minor clarification -- being a member of the previous Worldcon also lets you nominate for this coming set of awards, but not vote.
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[User Picture]From: pameladean
2011-01-09 11:56 pm (UTC)
I loved this story madly; alas, I am not a member of any nominating body. But I appreciate all these posts detailing what people have published during this or that eligibility period, because I have missed it all while finishing the Novel from Hell.

As for self-promotion, I am bad at it and I think it's in general a bad idea for editors to make writers do it, since it is probably not in our skill set. But it doesn't annoy me except insofar as I roll my eyes at the editors.

P.
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[User Picture]From: greybar
2011-01-10 01:01 pm (UTC)
Hello, and this is a nice match to the reply you made on swan_tower's LJ. On a related note, in looking up who you were I came to your pubs listing on your website. "Väinämöinen and the Singing Fish" was a very nice one and quick note that you can update your listing about it being on PodCastle - at least, I listened to it in podcast form and I'm pretty sure it was there. :)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-10 04:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks for pointing that out! I listened to it myself, but the bibliography updates don't always make it to the to-do list when they should.
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