Every now and then some great-reputation author (John Cheever and Saul Bellow for instance) will publish a stand-alone novella and the publishing world holds its literary breath: will this be viable? The answer is, frankly, no.
However, the viability of the novella as a literary form is changing with the internet, with electronic reading devices, and the ways reading habits are evolving. But in general, the novella does not stand alone, cannot stand alone, must be part of an anthology or collection, like Dark Continent.
Readers and writers aren’t even quite sure what to call this strange hybrid. Katherine Anne Porter, that renowned writer of short fiction, once snapped, “Call it a short novel, or a long story! But don’t call it a novella!” Novella seems to me a much better term than novelette that sounds like something you might get out of a gumball machine.
But in truth the novella does elude definition; maybe that’s why I like it so much. I always wanted to teach a course in the novella; I have so many favorites as a reader. As a writer it is my favorite literary form because it challenges the author to combine the expansive arc of the novel with the compression of a story. Caveat, The Music Room, even These Latter Days began as stories, long stories, then evolved into novellas, and finally became novels, These Latter Days, a very long novel (from which, by the way, the original story was edited out).
In my very early days as a writer, I was working on a piece, and it expanded beyond any possible definition of short story (at about thirty-five pages), I gave it to Kathy Frank, a biographer friend. She returned it with the pronouncement: “This is a novel.”
“Not for me, it’s not. I don’t want to spend that much time with these characters.”
“Then,” Kathy replied, “make it just as long as it needs to be, and leave it at that.”
Thus the great pleasure of writing novellas: the tale is just as long as it needs to be, and if in that loose definition, it remains neither quite fish nor fowl, not a mini-novel, nor a overblown story, well tant pis as the French say.