What makes a Novel a “Novel”?

I get this question a lot when I’m on different platforms, reading different forms and genres of literature. What does make a “novel” what it is? Well, I did some digging and starting right at the root, and I mean the root word. The word novel comes from the Latin word novus meaning “new”, which later formed into the word novellus. When the language sort of died (not really, we see Latin everywhere today!), it’s descendant, Italian, used the changed word, now novello “new”, into the new word “novella storia” which translates into “new story”. Long story short the word novel used to mean “new story”. So if a story is new does that make is a novel? Not quite. In today’s literary world, novels have a strict-not-so-strict guideline. Confusing right? Well if you look on the most popular websites that’ll tell you the length of a novel (that is the number of words that it should have) it is first categorized by category and then by a strict number count range (often the difference is in the thousands). In essence what your novel holds in terms of it’s relevance to the “literary world” is a deciding factor of calling it a novel or a “literary novel”.

Let’s look at the means in which a “novel” is published. Considering that your word count equates to that of a standard novel (about 60, 000 to 100, 000 words)1, publishing is the next big step to legitimize your manuscript. Many writers look to a variety of publishers to get their books out into the stores, both online and in a real bookstore. However, self publishing is a popular route. Those who have self published do so for a number of reasons (which I will entail in another post) but in relevance to my post, those who self-publish do run a risk for their work to not be considered “legitimate novels”. We see many online self-publishing platforms but a lot of them adhere to lesser standards than the major publishers in the U.K. and Canada. This is not to say that fan-fictions and self-published works have not succeeded, we see a very many authors who have transitioned from such cites. My opinion is that writing on these cites is a stepping stone to further improving your writing skills and fulfilling your passion of writing.

The point being that, yes, maybe your novel might not be a novel in regards to the conventional parameters of what a novel should entail, but that shouldn’t deter you from plunging forward in the industry and selling what you’ve got. What matters most is not the parameters we give to a piece of literature but the substance, what does this piece have to offer to our society, to our lives and to our minds. How does it relate to us or expand our ways of thinking? A novel is more than just a number of words and pages, it’s a literary piece that delves into the wonders and disparities of reality.

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