Novella or Prequel?

Book Cover I’ve spent the last few days knocked on my backside by Hella Flu, and in that time, I watched Vanilla Ice renovate a house (he crunked a pool, made a bathroom bling, and told me about single celled micro-organisms, and about encephalitis. No, really, I wasn’t having a fever hallucination. Vanilla Ice said “encephalitis” to me) and read a lot of novellas. I didn’t have the attention span or energy to read an entire book, so I was in a serious novellaly-minded mood. “Novellaly” is my new favorite word, too.

One of the books I picked up was The Guy Next Door, which will be available digitally and in paper come February. I flipped right to the Victoria Dahl story because I heard her tweeting about how it’s part of her new series that’s set in a microbrewery in Colorado, and I was in the mood for silly, sexy contemporary humor.

Y’all. I am so pissed. I’m not pissed at anyone in particular, though I may be glaring at the book cover a lot. I’m just pissed. It’s not a novella. It’s a prequel. It’s a tease. It was SO NOT WHAT I WANTED that when I got to the next page expecting more story and got the copyright information, I made a really strange noise, somewhere between a curse and a growl. Novellas are not prequels. Prequels are not novellas, and should not be sold as such. GRRRR. That makes me angry. ANGRY. ANGRY SARAH SMASH.

But what really pisses me off is that it was enjoyable and thought provoking, even while it was meanly teasing me. Beth Cantrell works at a sex shop and is embarrassed about her taste in very preppy, straight-laced men, while her coworkers are drawn to more edgy, outlandishly tattooed and dangerous-looking men. Beth’s sexually educated intellectually-speaking, but sexually fearful, as she’s bashful about her tastes in men as they contrast with her employment and her public image – yes, I had a hard time with that part, too. And particularly this line: “The men who asked her out were looking for a sexual savant. And deep in her heart, Beth wanted to be seduced. She was an old-school-feminist failure.” Yes, because feminism of any school is not at all about owning your own sexual preferences and is always about grabbing guys by the balls and leading them around, quickly. In comfortable shoes. No, wait, that’s lesbians. I get my stereotypes mixed up.

The hero, Eric Donovan, meets Beth at a local business convention, where their booths are nearby one another. He notices her, and tries to avoid being distracted by her adorable hotness while pouring samples and doing all the business and administrative stuff he does as part of the brewery. He is, for characterization’s sake, “the responsible brother,” and feels a little stifled by his role and responsibilities, so when Beth mistakes him for his brother Jamie, who has a definite playboy reputation, he stops himself from correcting her a few times, eager to experience for once the illicit thrill of a no-strings relationship. Yeah, because that always works in a romance novel or novella.

The story starts out in a confusion of expectations and I liked watching the characters slowly become a little more comfortable with themselves, and I should have seen there was too much going on to resolve in a short space but still. It really was like the opening chapters of a novel, and you know that rage of the thwarted romance reader denied her happy ending? Yeah. I got that rage RIGHT HERE. DAMMIT.

I haven’t read the Donovan story, though that’s on my radar to read in a hurry – nothing like reading an anthology backwards, right? I want to read something that finishes with a happy ending, not a tease for more. It’s a good thing I’m reading this anthology out of order, or I’d be even more irritable.

Has that ever happened to you? Does it bother you if a novella is not a complete story? Or do you look for the book that follows more eagerly because of it?

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    AgTigress says:

    There are two definitions of novella:  the older one is ‘short story, moral tale’, and the usual one used today is ‘a short novel;  novelette’.  Both of those require that the story is complete and free-standing.  Not a prologue, a prequel, an excerpt, a teaser;  it has to be a story that is complete in itself, albeit shorter than most novels.

    So yes, I would be extremely irritated to be misled in this way, and I think the publishers deserve a sharp rap over the knuckles.

  2. 2
    Ell says:

    I actually wouldn’t call it a prequel, either—to me, a prequel is a *complete* story that takes place before other stories already published in a series.

    I also wonder if this is an excerpt of what will be published—it sounds like it.

    Either way, mislabeling sucks, and yeah, I’d be pissed too.

  3. 3
    Milena says:

    Honestly, anything that isn’t complete and yet isn’t clearly and visibly labeled as “incomplete” would get me in a major rage. I like reading teasers, and if they’re any good, I’ll jump on the book in no time. But if I pick up something that’s supposed to have an ending and then I don’t get it—no. Just… no.

  4. 4
    Laura (in PA) says:

    That would just piss me off. I am totally on board with AgTigress’ knuckle-rapping.

  5. 5
    Anonymousss says:

    I love these authors like hell on fire, but what you describe sounds a) yeah, absolutely rage-inspiring, and b) like a straight-up money-grab using these authors’ names as bait.

    Bottom line, who wants to read – PAY to read – an imcomplete story?  Pass.

  6. 6
    Barbara W. says:

    I. Hate. Prequels.  Especially when they’re bundled with novellas or short stories.  I don’t want to be baited into reading something by someone in order to suck me into buying more of your next books.  If I want to start your next series I will (I’m a series whore anyway, so if it looks good, I’ll be there without teasing and annoying me).  With books as expensive as they are now too, I don’t want to pay for a story that I don’t want to read either.

    I see a ton of freebie Kindle prequels, and while I know not everyone has a Kindle or other ereader, at least that doesn’t piss me off.  Rachel Vincent does it brilliantly with her “Soul” seriels (she’s had two little tiny free stories so far).

  7. 7
    Mireya says:

    I appreciate that you mentioned it, Sarah.  I have this book in my wish list. 

    When I pick something for reading, I prefer to know what to expect and a “tease” is never it UNLESS I am expressly looking for a sample chapter or excerpt.  In an anthology, I would be pretty pissed off if I didn’t know beforehand that a specific story is actually a teaser.  I definitely would have reacted like you did, and furthermore, I would be even worse, because I would likely not be finishing the anthology, fearing a repeat in the other stories included.

    I always like to know what to expect from a story: be it that it is a prequel or teaser, I like the blurbs as clear as possible, I don’t like misleading titles, etc.  I mention all this because I recently picked up a book for review that I really thought would be a historical comedy based on the title.  The blurb was not clear on that department and there were no reviews anywhere… and boy, was I wrong.

  8. 8
    Diatryma says:

    I like complete novellas.  Excerpts?  Not so much.

    I don’t always find excerpt and later book together, which is problem one.  Then, if the excerpt is necessary to understanding the book, it’s probably been months since I read the thing and now I’m lost.  If the excerpt is not necessary to understanding the book, then why was it written not to stand alone?  Not everyone cares about the deleted scenes.

  9. 9

    Over at my place, Quacking Alone, I blogged a little while back about the length of ebooks.  I think a lot of folks prefer shorter ebooks – even those who don’t have the flu – Get Well Soon, Sarah, the world needs Smart Bitches in fighting form.  I’m trying to keep my WIP shorter to see how it goes. 

    Speaking of complete stories, I’m putting my WIP, Duke of Eden, out in serial form on Amazon for Kindle.  It’s been an interesting experience.  The first 2 parts are up and I’m working on the 3rd and last part which will be posted with the full ebook to follow shortly thereafter.

    As a bit of shameless self promotion, over at the Marianne’s of Romance Blog my piece about whether readers like their dirty talk straight up or sugar coated.  I’d appreciate y’all boogling by and giving it a read.

  10. 10
    Jen H says:

    Ah, the ol’ bait and switch…Yuck.  Just adds insult to your flu injury:(  If it’s in a book of anthologies, it better BE a complete li’l anthology; I don’t care if it’s 20 pages or 120, it needs a beginning, middle, and end.  (Yes, I do see how many commas I squeezed into that sentence—-scary, isn’t it?) I hope the other stories in the book redeem this epic fail for you, and that Mr. Flu hits the road asap.

    quality69: …um, versus quantity69? It’s all good, right?

  11. 11
    Kinsey says:

    Novellas are shorter (not short) self contained stories with beginnings, middles and, necessarily, ends.  Prequels and teasers are fine but should be explicitly labeled. And I only like them if they’re free.

    I did a series of mini-prequels for the book I’ve got coming out in February – posted them on my blog and then collected them and put them on Smashwords, for free. It’s been downloaded 250 times so far, which is great. But I’d never expect anyone to pay for something so short, and something that basically doesn’t go anywhere.

    total73: I had to yell at my Diva at least 73 times this morning to get her out the door. My throat’s sore.

  12. 12
    Laurel says:

    Nonononono! No to the teaser being sold as a novella! I’m with everybody on the thread on this one. Bait and switch is bad business, especially if it’s my first experience with an author. Thing is, I might enjoy a teaser if I know what it is but if I step into it expecting a full story arc I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy jerks the football our from under him. I feel the same way about cliffhanger endings to a novel. NO!

    On the novella front, though, if you’re still in the mood, I just read a really great one by Tia Nevitt. The Sevenfold Spell (sold as a novel, but really novella plus in length) is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It reminded me of the movie Ever After as a retelling of Cinderella…slanted tropes and empowered heroine. I did a review over at Jennifer Estep’s blog if you want to see a little more about it.

  13. 13
    Lynz says:

    I would’ve been so pissed at that. I mean, I get annoyed when short stories that are part of a series and can’t really be understood on their own are included in an anthology, so a straight-up prequel masquerading as a novella? PISSED. If I bought a book like that, I’d return it.

    The “old-school-feminist failure” line, sigh… I’m getting really sick of all the feminism-fail in romances these days. I’m really tempted to go to RWA in New York, force all the editors into a room, and explain tell that letting negative/just plain wrong references to feminism stay in their novels is a bad idea and needs to stop NOW. If not sooner.

  14. 14
    Jen B. says:

    Aaaahhh!  I hate that in a throw the book across the room and hit something kind of way.  I love teasers if I know they are teasers.  If I am expecting a prequel, I want a complete prequel.  You know, I wouldn’t even mind it if the author said that the story was just an idea for a possible series and then when she decided to complete the series she decided to publish the little piece.  Of course, she should warn that it isn’t complete.

  15. 15
    amy lane says:

    Dude, I can’t even load samples onto my kindle.  I HATE not having the whole thing there.

  16. 16
    Hannah says:

    I’ve never encountered a novella that was a prequel/teaser in disguise. I think it’s an innovative idea actually, to put a teaser in an anthology but it should be billed as such on the cover so as not to enrage the reader who’s expecting a self-contained novella.

  17. 17
    Ginny says:

    I would be feeling the same rage! I hope the rest of the anthology delivers happy ENDINGS! Get well soon Sarah!

  18. 18
    Jinx says:

    Ooooo! I hate this so much! Get into reading what is thought to be a nice little story and the rest of it is in another book. No. Just no.

    I read antologies mainly for a writer I like and to see if I like the style of the other writers. I know, that’s probably weird, but I expect the stories in anthologies to be complete. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth if it’s just a teaser.  I can almost forgive the story if it’s a part of a series, if I don’t have to slog through 300 books in order to understand what is going on, but a teaser? Not cool.

  19. 19

    Y’know how, when you are reading a romance with a mystery and the mystery is kinda starting to pall and you really just want to know how the romance works out?  Someone should write more books where all you care about is the romance with maybe a little background stuff and ongoing life stuff to make it a little bit more interesting.  And if those books teased just a little bit about how more books like that, maybe about the same people, in a way, that would be great.  This book you mentioned, I would probably have to buy it for the cover and then maybe the words inside would relate to that guy on the cover.  That would be nice.
    “Part 22”  No, maybe just one, two, three, and four. . .

  20. 20
    Karen H says:

    I would also hate this!  I read for the HEA and if there’s no ending, then by definition, there’s no HEA.  I actually never read excerpts, though I get lots of author and authors’ community sites email, because I remember too well and I’ll pick up the book months later in the store, read the first few paragraphs, recognize it, and think I’ve already read the book.  If I was reading an excerpt that I didn’t realize was one, I would be very upset.

    Isn’t the market hard enough without publishers treating their customers this badly and possibly turning them off their entire line?  What were they thinking?

  21. 21

    I hate prequels. I avoid them like the plague, I want my ending. I love novellas, as long as they have an ending. I want my HEA!

  22. 22
    Carin says:

    To me a prequel or teaser is advertising.  It’s free.  It’s on an author’s website, or as a sample for an ebook, or even in the back of another novel with the disclaimer: “If you like this, then you’ll also enoy this sneak preview blah blah blah.”

    I’d have been furious at the bait and switch!  And Victoria Dahl!  I’d have done the same thing, flipped right to her “novella” and then raged when it was “over”.  Thanks for the heads up!

  23. 23
    Jody W. says:

    A prequel to me is a complete story that happened before the other complete story. The original Star Wars had a prequel trilogy, for example. This is an excerpt or teaser, yes? I’ve seen that happen a lot in anthologies. I remember one with whaserface…LKH…with the first couple chapters of her upcoming hompity book billed as a “novella”. No thanks!

  24. 24
    orangehands says:

    That’s so shitty. A short(er) story is a shorter story, not an excerpt or tease. I would buy a novella (and have.) I would never buy a prequel or excerpt. And I rarely buy a (new-to-me) author without reading an excerpt because you can have the most fascinating book cover, but if I don’t like your writing I don’t like your writing.  But to pay for that tease? Seems way too greedy. And stupid.

    And feel better!

    Yes, because feminism of any school is not at all about owning your own sexual preferences and is always about grabbing guys by the balls and leading them around, quickly.

    Hell yes. I’ll help you Lynz cause this pisses me off to no end. It actually ruins the story, so no matter how much I like it they’ll always be that little nagging WTH in the back of my mind. And I’ve seen it pop up more and more. Not necessarily about sex/sexual preferences, but jut some little line of “she knew it went against her feminist ideals, but she wanted to have kids/wanted to be seduced/wanted to X/wanted to Y.” Hi, author, please stop listening to media’s portrayal of feminism and look at actual feminism.

  25. 25
    GrowlyCub says:

    I read it via Netgalley and was kind of stunned when I came to the ‘end’.  Especially since the book for this couple will come out *last*, which means it’s not out till November.

    Major bad mojo to the publisher for that stunt and loss of good will.  I didn’t bother reading the other stories, I was so annoyed.

  26. 26
    SB Sarah says:

    HOLD UP @growlycub. It’s the third book, the prequel in this anthology?

    *cues boo-birds*

    BOOOOOOOOOOO. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  27. 27
    Noelle says:

    Oh man, double whammy!  First it’s not even a proper novella, then they make everyone wait several months to read the ending. 

    Clearly they really wanted Dahl’s name on the anthology, so when she told them she didn’t have time to write a novella they just told her to submit a few chapters from a future book and that would work just as well. 

    I hope that’s not the future of anthologies!

  28. 28

    I was the CP on this book. It never once crossed my mind that someone would have a negative reaction to it. Maybe that’s because I see the big picture?

    This novella is about Eric and Beth starting an erotic relationship that they don’t continue because they’re not in the right place. But it does have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying ending (though not an HEA).

    The first novel in the series, which is coming out in September, is about Eric’s little sister. It is hilarious, sexy, and full of awesome.

    The second novel is about Eric’s irresponsible and irresistible younger brother. I haven’t read it because Vicki just finished writing it.

    The third novel is about Eric and Beth giving their relationship another go. This is the one I’ve been dying to read, precisely because I loved the novella.

    When I read, and therefore when I write (because I always try to write the book I want to read), I love for characters to have a past together. Sometimes that past is so delicious that it threatens to take over the book with backstory. In this case, wouldn’t it be great if you could take all that backstory and give it its own space to let it bloom and grow on its own? That’s how I view this novella. 

    Clearly they really wanted Dahl’s name on the anthology, so when she told them she didn’t have time to write a novella they just told her to submit a few chapters from a future book and that would work just as well.

    Noelle, this is not what happened. Imho Vicki’s novellas are so wonderful because she takes the same care with them that she takes with her full novels. I felt absolutely sick yesterday when she told me she forgot to enter her FDIC novella in the RITA.

  29. 29
    GrowlyCub says:

    It’s great for you, Jennifer, that you are privy to ‘the big picture’, but readers are not.  All they see is a story where the h/h are walking away from each other.  That’s not a romance and – as it was packaged as one in a romance anthology – that’s a big problem.

    I think it’s one of those ideas that look great to the writer/editor (and obviously CP) who are aware of what’s planned for the future, but it’s a really, really bad idea in real life.  I predict lots of ill will as I certainly felt it and I have loved every Dahl book except for 1, so am certainly not negatively predisposed towards her and her books.  I think it’s precisely because I’ve loved her books (especially the FDIC novella) that my sense of ‘oh no, she didn’t’ is so outraged.

    This would have been a wonderful teaser to put up on the website as a free mid-summer read to get readers excited for the trilogy.  As a paid ‘romance novella’ it fails abysmally.

  30. 30

    I think this is a very nice response, saying that as a non-professional in the industry.  But, also being new to this blog, what is a CP, and FDIC, and a RITA?  My husband used to work for the FDIC but it was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. then.  I love you guys.  Y’all.

    I think they pick these robot filter codes with deliberation.  reading56, 57 and probably 58

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