Cozy Mystery Publishing

Thoughts on Writing Cozy Mystery Novellas

I recently wrote and published my first cozy mystery novella – Robbery at the Roller Derby. It’s a prequel to my Mollie McGhie Sailing Mystery series and is set about twelve years before the first book in the series – Murder at the Marina. After I had published three books in my series, I decided it was time to get more serious about marketing and promoting. One of the things I decided to focus on as part of this effort creating a reader magnet and that’s where my roller derby prequel novella came into play.

Now that Robbery at the Roller Derby has been out in the world for about a month, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about writing novellas. This isn’t meant to be advice or a prescriptive formula about how you should do things. Instead, it’s just some random stuff that popped into my head while sipping on my morning coffee.

1 – How long is a novella anyway?

I had always defined novellas quite simply – something shorter than a novel and longer than a short story. But exactly how long are novels, novellas, and short stories? This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but not everyone agrees on a single definition. Some people say that full-length novels need to be at least 60,000 words, others put the cut-off at 40,000 words, and I’ve also seen some folks say that the magic number is 80,000.

The same confusion flows down when determining word count criteria for novellas and short stories. And to add more fun to the equation, there’s even something called a novelette (the term always makes me thing of omelettes for some reason) which is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella.

I think it comes down to genre conventions and reader expectations. In terms of novels, fantasy readers expect a big fat tome that can double as a door stop. Cozy mystery readers are happy with much shorter novels.

In the end, I went with the following definitions:

  • Novel – 40,000 words or more
  • Novella – at least 17,500 and less than 40,000 words
  • Novelette – at least 7,500 and less than 17,500 words
  • Short Story – less than 7,500 words

When it came to writing my novella, I aimed for something between 20,000 – 30,000 words. It ended up being 22k. For comparison, my full-length novels have been between 62-72k to date.

2 – Books don’t have to be long to be good.

Some of our beloved classics are novella length. Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea was 26k. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was 29k. Conrad’s Into the Heart of Darkness was 38k. And Camus’ The Stranger was 36k.

Okay, there’s no way Robbery at the Roller Derby is ever going to be considered a classic, but the point is that you can tell a complete, compelling story in a shorter form. And many people like a quick read. Folks lead busy lives. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to gobble up an entire book in one evening with a cup of cocoa and a plate of cookies.

I read something somewhere (sorry to be so vague, but I have the world’s worst memory – anyone know where I left my glasses?) that you should think about novellas not just in terms of word count but in terms of target audience. Some readers deliberately seek out shorter books, just like some people prefer box sets, and others like to read big, chunky novels.

3 – Keep it simple.

Check your complex plots and your huge cast of characters at the door. When you have a limited number of words to work with, you have to keep things focused. In my full-length cozies, I have a main plot (the mystery), a few sub-plots, and a whole bunch of characters (recurring folks who show up throughout the series and ones specific to that particular mystery).

In my prequel novella, I kept it simple. One main plot (the robbery) and a minor romantic sub-plot and a limited number of characters. I’ll tell you what, it made things so simple. So much less to keep track of and weave together.

4 – How much is your novella worth?

Pricing your books is such a thorny subject. You pour your heart and soul into something, invest your hard-earned money into covers, editing, formatting, marketing, promotions etc. Isn’t it at least worth the price of a latte?

To be honest, I don’t know the right answer to this. I price my full-length cozies based on the other comparable indie published wide cozy authors. (The “wide” point is important. Pricing strategies probably differ if you’re exclusive to Kindle Select More on the HERE.) When it came to this particular novella, I wanted to use it initially as a reader magnet, i.e., folks can get it for free if they sign up for my newsletter. But because I know that not everyone wants to get newsletters and would prefer to purchase it, I also currently offer it for 99c/99p on all retailers. My thinking was that if someone bought it, then found out later they could have had it for free, they wouldn’t be too annoyed as it cost them less than a buck.

5 – Writing novellas is fun!

I have a blast writing this prequel novella, in part due to the fact that it has a roller derby setting (way cool!) and in part due to the fact that it had a shorter word count and simpler plot. It was quite refreshing to be able to bang it out in a relatively short period of time. My full-length cozies take me forever to write.

Okay, my coffee cup is empty, so I’ll have to put an end to my random novella writing thoughts. I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment and share your thoughts on reading and writing novellas.

Aspring Cozy Mystery Author Interview, Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Kelly Ethan

This is part of my series of interviews with aspiring cozy mystery authors. I thought it would be interesting to hear from folks who are in the throes of writing their first cozy mystery and planning its publication. It takes me right back to the start of my own writer’s journey before I hit the scary “publish” button with my first cozy.

I’m delighted to be featuring Kelly Ethan today. Her first cozy mystery, The Pernicious Pixie and the Choked Word, is available for FREE when you sign up for her newsletter HERE. If you want to know more about her journey as a cozy mystery writer, grab yourself a snack and a beverage, sit back and find out what she has to say about writing, cookies, and penguins.

1 – What inspired / motivated you to write cozy mysteries?

I’m married so turning to murder mystery was natural. In all seriousness, my family moved to Tasmania in Australia and the change of scenery sparked off some ideas and soul searching. Next thing I know I have a paranormal murder mystery idea and my Point Muse cozy mystery series was born.

2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

The twists and turns of the whodunit plot. The close relationships of the people in the story and the small town setting appeal to me. I live in a very small town and seeing that reflected in a cozy mystery feels warm and welcoming.

3 – What stage are you at in your writing and publishing journey?

I started writing paranormal romance years ago and was published with traditional style digital imprints in the United Kingdom and the Unites States. My Point muse cozy series will be my first foray into self-publishing.

4 – What are you most excited about in terms of publishing your first cozy? What are you nervous about?

I’m excited about reviews LOL. It’s a strange idea, but I want to know how much people love or hate my books 😉 I’m nervous about making a mistake in the process. With a traditional publishing model everything is done for you. But with self-publishing it stops with me.

5 – Tell us about the cozy mystery you’re currently working on. What’s your sleuth like? Where is it set? Do you have a hook?

My current story I’m working on is The Cruel Crow and the Deadly Hex. It’s set in Point muse, Maine and is book four in the Point Muse series. This story deals with secrets my heroine’s grandmother is hiding and her super secret spy past from World War Two is coming back to stalk her. Chaos and Mayhem ensue and hexes abound. My heroine is strong, stubborn and addicted to hot chocolate and sweet pastries… I’m not sure where that came from.

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

Isn’t not liking cookies a crime? I’m a shortbread lover although a gooey chocolate chip cookie (or biscuit for those of us down under) comes a close second. I bake and those biscuits never stay in the biscuit barrel for long. We have a biscuit fairy in the house that consumes them by the bucket load. Not me I swear…

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?

Someone’s murdered the unicorn and I’m next. He’s from the Penguin Mafioso and he’s delivering me a warning to back off.

8 – What else would you like people to know about you?

I love chaos and mayhem and that shows in my writing. My stories are small town magic, mystery and mayhem with a large dose of humour through out. I’m a huge Whovian and Avengers fan and I hide my chocolate in the vegetable drawer in the fridge so my kids won’t eat it. They’d never think to look there .

About Kelly

Kelly Ethan’s world is small town magic, mystery and mayhem, with plenty of snarky laughs along the way.  

With an overactive imagination and a love of all things that go bump in the night, it was natural to write cozy paranormal mysteries, but she also writes paranormal romance. No matter the genre, she loves sarcastic heroines who save the day and solve the puzzle.

With a busy and chaotic household, writing is her outlet for madness. She lives in Australia and when not writing, can be found plotting her next fictional murder or chasing after the family’s ferocious hellhound.

You can connect with Kelly on her Website | Facebook | Twitter

Thanks for the interview, Kelly! We seem to have a biscuit/cookie fairy in our house too. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why they disappear so quickly.