I have completed my novellas first draft which is 32k words long. For all the reasons, I was doing research as to whether self-publish or try my luck getting a publisher.

I should tell you that I am a complete novice at writing fiction books and publishing. This is my first book. The genre is general fiction, a self-help book with a side story of suspense.

This blog answer (Vic Connor) says, (also I read many similar answers on the internet)

So if you have a choice between publishing now, or entering the query / twiddle your thumbs / get rejected carousel, then publish now.

So, what is my best bet as far as getting readers to read my story? What should I aim at before proceeding to proofread (probably paid) and designing the cover and importantly learn the book publishing game?

I want to make a decision now, whether self-publish or find a publisher?

  • 31
    I don't have an answer for your direct question, but I have a suggestion. If your goal is publication, I think at minimum you should get beta readers and then go through another draft of your book. Proofreading for errors now without that step would be like using a fine-grit sandpaper right after your wood has gone through a table saw. You'll get the grammatical errors out but will not have addressed any structural issues.
    – wordsworth
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 14:08
  • Just thought I'd stress this: the answer for a novella might be different from an answer regarding a novel, or a short story. Also, your genre might be relevant. What genre are you writing in? Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 14:09
  • @Galastel the genre is general fiction, a self-help book with a side story of suspense. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 14:26
  • 6
    This is a good question but one that's been asked before. I'm going to hold off on a VTC as a duplicate solely because your work being a novella might make a difference. But I'd like to see what the community thinks. This question is very similar and the answers should be quite helpful to you. Congrats on finishing your first draft. writing.stackexchange.com/questions/3612/…
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:31

4 Answers 4


Unfortunately, the word count of your work means that traditional publishers will not be interested. Even well-established authors like Stephen King publish their novella-length work only as part of larger collections, not as stand-alone works. Also unfortunately, a self-published novella by an unknown author will vanish without a trace on Amazon, unless you just so happen to be an amazing self-promoter.

Does this mean there's no hope for your book or for your writing career? No, you have many options:

  • Make it shorter or cut it up. Maybe, with some great editing, you could cut away all the flab and carve a really solid, impressive short story out of this (around 7500 words or less). Maybe you could even get two or more out of it. Short stories have many potential markets, and are often a better way for a new writer to break into the market.
  • Make it longer, or combine it with something else. Maybe this could be expanded into a full-length novel. Or, if not, maybe you could write another novella --particularly if they are related --and try to sell them together. There are many successful books that are essentially two or more related novellas packaged together, and Stephen King's noted collection Different Seasons contained three (unrelated) novellas that each became blockbuster movies.
  • Change the format. Maybe your story would make a great screenplay, or script for a graphic novel, both of which are much shorter than the typical novel in terms of written material.
  • Target a younger audience. If your book is appropriate for children, sell it as a children's novel. These are sometimes the same length as adult novels, but can often be considerably shorter. Would the same storyline work if you made the protagonist a child or a teenager?
  • Chalk this one up as a learning experience. We all think we're going to be that one person who writes an eternal bestseller on the first time out of the gate --that was certainly my expectation. But that's not most people's experience. I have several completed, unpublished novels. I'm not sorry I wrote them, but by this point, I'm glad they never made it out into the world with my name on them.
  • Build a reputation. Self-publishing can work --if people know who you are. Conversely, if you have a good reputation, publishers will take a chance on projects they would turn down from an unknown. So how do you become known? Write a lot.
    • Becoming known as a great short-story writer first has been the avenue towards novels for many authors, particularly in science fiction.
    • There's a book called Write. Publish. Repeat. that shows how just being prolific can lead to reliable success in self-publishing.
    • Many writers have gone onto success after honing their skills and building a fan-base by participating frequently in fan-fiction writing communities.
    • If you write a lot, you'll become a better writer, and more in control of your craft. That, in turn, may expand your options on what to do with your existing novella.
  • 15
    Yes! An answer that is targeted for novellas.
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 17:32
  • 5
    @cool_bodhi That should be a new question. (You can certainly quote from other works but 10% seems too much in normal circumstances.)
    – Raidri
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 14:42
  • 5
    If you're asking my advice, I would NOT move forward with this project at all. Treat it as a learning experience, and start on the next book. 32K words, and 15% of that is copied from other sources? That's not a book, that's some excerpts bridged together... And if you get a reputation for plagiarism, you can forget about ever publishing again. It's one of the biggest crimes in the literary world. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 15:03
  • 1
    @Blueriver I have finished, rejected novels. For me the problem is by finishing the novel, the fire is out for a rewrite. I've gotten other ideas, and though I was obsessed with those stories when I wrote them, I am more excited by new ideas that would be new works of art. If I were the type of writer that could follow an outline, I might outline them and start over, but following an outline just isn't fun for me, it turns into a chore.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:38
  • 1
    @Blueriver - I'm still working my way towards a publishable novel. I hope it will be the one I'm currently working on. I shopped most of the earlier ones around to publishers and agents, but unsuccessfully. I reworked some of the previous ones for years until I felt it was no longer productive. None of that is to say I might not revisit them in the future. The current project is based on ideas I've been thinking about for more than a decade now. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 13:29

I will disagree with the advice you received.

The vast majority of self-published fiction earns nothing, or at best some friend and family sympathy purchases. The case is even worse for un-marketed self-published fiction.

To self-publish, you are responsible for developing the marketing materials and artwork, for figuring out where to post ads, for paying for ads, for figuring out how to produce and distribute your work, for making yourself a website that takes payments, and even many people that have accomplished all of that still languish in the single-digit sales per month, and many spend more selling their work than they earn from selling it. It becomes a maintenance nightmare, and the most likely result is you are running a failing business instead of writing.

Agents are free, publishers are free. Going the traditional route costs you nothing but time. It is very true that your chances here are also very low, BUT it doesn't have to cost you a dime, not even postage anymore, all it costs is time learning to write a query, synopsis, and where to find agents. You might get some feedback, and you shouldn't be "twiddling your thumbs" on anything but the space bar, you can be writing while you wait and trying to improve your craft.

If you don't find representation, self-publishing is an option in your back pocket. But if you get professionally published in some venue, you have partners that are professionals and will pitch in time and money in getting your work out there. The business end IS their business (both the agent and publisher), and that frees you up to write, which I presume you enjoy.

Try to go the traditional route first. Self-publishing is for the ego-trip.

If you get published you will get an advance, and if you sell more than 3000 copies you will be considered a success by the agent and publisher and they will want to publish your next (equally good) novel, because now you have name recognition amongst a small group, which they hope to grow. And unlike yourself, they are professionals with centuries of experience, collectively, at marketing books and growing an author's audience.

  • 6
    Self-publishing can also be for very established writers with a strong following (especially online). But yeah, it's not a good first choice in most cases.
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:58
  • 1
    "Self-publishing is for the ego-trip." yep, but worth pointing out that itself can be very enjoyable, and depending on the genre/niche, the only possible way to get published.
    – user17926
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 13:46

You say that this is your first book.

About 16% of writers manage to get their first novel published traditionally (i.e. through a publisher). The other 84% write between one and twenty books before they achieve the quality necessary to get published traditionally (source).

And those that get published – no matter if it's their first attempt or their fifth – usually have been working with language for years before they do. Many published fiction authors have been writing in other genres before they get published. They have polished their writing skills by being journalists, lawyers, scholars, and working in many other jobs where they have to write.

But writers do not only need to train their writing skills before they achieve mastery (and publishability), they apparently also need maturity. The majority of writers don't get published before they reach 30 years of age, the mean age being somewhere around 40 years old (source), and many don't get published before the second half of their lives.

I don't know your level of life experience, and I don't know how well you write, but it is quite likely that your first effort isn't good enough to be published. In writing, as in every other art, craft, or skill, the first efforts are usually failures. Few people can draw a human likeness on their first attempt, few people manage to play the violin without many hours of learning, few people can drive a car without taking lessons. Writing isn't different. Many aspiring writers confuse the ability to produce written text with the skill required to write fiction. It is not the same. And you need to learn it.

So, what do I recommend, not having read your work?

  1. Get feedback from some critical and competent beta readers. If they shower you in praise, submit your manuscript to relevant publishers. If not:

  2. Do not self-publish. One of my country's most popular authors has given me this advice: Do not waste great ideas on premature self-publications. If your beta readers tell you that your writing sucks, self-publishing will not make it better, and no one will buy your failed first attempt. But after a few more books written as practice, you'll have the skill to rewrite that great idea and get it published. Because, while ideas are cheap, ideas that are close to your heart are rare and shouldn't be wasted.

  3. So either re-write and re-write and re-write your first book until your beta readers shower you in praise, or write the next book and the next and the next, until they do. Either way, keep on writing until you achieve mastery.

  4. Then publish. And when you are ready, it doesn't matter whether you self-publish or publish traditionally. The only difference is the amount of work you'll have to put into marketing. If you're good at that, self-publish. If not, not.

  • 1
    I love how you imply that the "second half" of life doesn't start until well past 40. Though I upvoted it for other reasons (mostly the stats).
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Cyn Average lifespan in developed countries is ~80. Past 40 would be exactly the "second half". I rather prefer thinking of "past 60" as "second half", but that's me. :) Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:52
  • @Galastel Maybe I spend too much time with teenagers (DD and friends) :-)
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:55
  • Totally agree. While the other answers have good information in them, ultimately this is the best answer by far because of the simple stats that: first book + it being a novella = you ain’t getting traditionally published unless you’re Kurt Vonnegut. And without beta readers telling you it’s awesome, you really want to stay away from self publishing so you don’t regret your decision later.
    – levininja
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 17:03

I think you received some good advice. Try the traditional route first. There are novella publishers like Nouvella and Narrative that accept them. And many other journals as well. Maybe try to write 2-3 novellas that relate somehow and present that to a publisher. Your chances are pretty good for success if your writing is edited and interesting.


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