What is the difference between a short story, a long short story, a very long short story and a novella?

A matter of opinion, it seems.  Short stories are – apparently – 2000 to 15 000 words long, while novellas come in below 70 000.  This means that half the most famous novels ever written are actually novellas and my novels (which seem rather ordinarily lengthed) are epic as none of them – even the shorter ones – don’t come in under 100 000 and that’s with brutal editing and very tight plotting.

But it’s my short stories that puzzle me the most.  It’s virtually impossible for me to write anything under 10 000 words for a short story, which makes them “long” short stories….or does it?   I’m not particularly bothered about defining what I write (is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a masterpiece…), nor am I bound up by such standards as “short story,” “novella” and “epic.”  I just wish there was a better description than “long short story” because when people ask me what I’m writing at the moment, I inevitably say, “I’m working on a series of connected long short stories.”  It doesn’t make sense in my ears so how can it make sense to anyone who isn’t a writer?!

This only starts to matter when I sell them.  I’m currently selling them individually on Amazon for the cheapest possible price (99c or 75 – 77p, depending on the exchange rate) which isn’t all that much, really, but is it too much for a short story when you can buy whole novels for that price?  Hence my keenness for people to know that they are getting something substantial, a good 15 000 to 20 000 words which might take two sittings to get through, rather than just the usual 2000 word snippet, hardly a breath on the page.

Perhaps I should call them substantials.  Always good to throw in large words that sound cleverer than you are.  Substantial Short Stories.

I might just patent that.


My first four Substantials have now been published, the next two are due out soon and the seventh is being written in an intense haze of dreaminess.






About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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2 Responses to What is the difference between a short story, a long short story, a very long short story and a novella?

  1. mgm75 says:

    The thing is, you can look on so many sites and even the competition sites will give you different guidelines on what is a short story and what is a novella or novelette. My ebook release “The Weight of Reason” on Kindle is 13,000 words give or take. The cover specifically says “A novelette”. To me, a short story is anything under 6000 words – anything that can be read in under half an hour.

    Each to their own though, I like “substantials” 🙂

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