Every few months, an article about the “death of the novel” makes the rounds on the internet. This subject, the impending doom of one of literature’s most enduring forms, is a perennial favorite for bookish handwringers everywhere. If it isn’t ebooks that’s going to kill the novel, it’s millennials, the internet, our dwindling attention spans, or one of a hundred other things.
As a professional writer, though, I am awestruck by the timelessness of the novel. Think about it:
From its origin with Don Quixote in 1605, the modern novel has endured through social and political upheaval, global pandemics, the collapse of numerous societies, the most devastating war the world has ever seen, genocide and holocaust on an industrial scale, and rise and fall of half a dozen global empires. The world today would be unrecognizable to a person from Cervantes’ time, yet the novel has endured.
Movies didn’t kill the novel. Television didn’t kill the novel. Video games didn’t kill the novel. On the contrary—numerous franchises from Star Trek to Halo have a thriving line of novel tie-ins. When the ebook revolution was just getting started, people thought that so-called “enhanced novels” would dominate the marketplace. They failed to realize that all of the added audio-visual content was a distraction for most readers. Plain text is not a bug, it’s a feature.
It’s important here to make a distinction between novels and other literary forms, such as novellas and short stories. The other forms have endured as well, but not with anything approaching the popularity of the novel. Short stories are great for exploring an idea, but not so good at immersing the reader into another world. Novellas are great for telling an intimate story about two or three characters, but not nearly as good at conveying scope or intrigue.
There’s something about a novel-length story that captures the imagination in a way that other forms just can’t. Whether it’s the large cast of characters, the intricate world-building, or the interplay of numerous subplots, novels are more immersive, and therefore have the capacity to be much more satisfying. Little wonder, then, that the novel has endured.
I’ve seen this in my own books, too. Over the years, I’ve done relatively little to promote my full-length novels, and yet they still chug along with a steady month-to-month trickle of sales. When I do promote them, such as with this month’s free run of Genesis Earth, the results are astounding. My full-length novels also tend to receive much higher reviews.
In my second year of self-publishing, I got impatient and switched to novellas. While I don’t think that was a mistake, it did not provide the foundation for a lasting career. The Star Wanderers novellas did well for a couple of years, but I don’t think they’re going to endure in their current form.
I love writing novellas, but the books that I’m proudest of are all novels. Where novellas entice, novels satisfy. Where novellas tell an intimate story, novels possess greater depth. As such, I think it’s time for a change.
In the next couple of months, I’m going to prune back my catalog a bit. The Star Wanderers series will still all be up there, but I’m going to remove the individual novellas from sale, keeping the omnibus editions instead. This will pave the way for a sequel novel, Children of the Starry Sea, which I’ve already started work on.
I will probably remove most of my older short stories, and some of the derivative works. I don’t want to clutter my book pages with my earlier practice work, or anything that looks too obviously self-published.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with Sons of the Starfarers just yet. I’ll definitely finish the series, but I’m not sure whether to do the other two omnibus editions or to just release each individual book in print. I’m toying with the idea of releasing the last four books in rapid succession, to build some momentum for the series, but it would take some time to write them, which means that Patriots in Retreat (Book VI) would be delayed for maybe a year.
I’m definitely going to turn Genesis Earth into a trilogy. No idea when the next book, Edenfall, is going to come out, but I’m going to do as thorough a job with that book as I did for Genesis Earth, which means it may take a while.
Novels take a lot longer for me to write than shorter books, but the end result is generally worth it. The trouble is that without a busy release schedule, sales tend to dwindle as you fall out of readers’ minds. I’ll try to make up for that by upping my marketing game and running more free and group promotions. In the meantime, anything you guys can do to spread the word would help!
I’ve got a couple of really awesome projects that should be coming out before the end of the year: The Sword Keeper, Gunslinger to the Stars, and a bunch of other stuff that’s really going to branch out my catalog. I’ve also got a couple of short stories that should be appearing in some new markets soon. Be sure to keep an eye out, and let me know what you think!