When Was the Last Time You Paid for Short Stories?

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“More crappy news for short story writers,” is how The Rumpus interpreted a literary agent’s polite rejection note to short story writer writer Mark Tainer:

… I have no confidence in being able to place a collection at this time in the world of publishing. Publishers don’t like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can’t in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad. I am very sorry. If you write another novel, I will gladly read it…

This triggered Rumpus blogger Seth Fischer. “The form of the short story collection is so uniquely well-suited to the Internet age,” writes Fischer. “A good short story should grab you by the junk and make you yelp in that first line. So should good web copy. A good short story should be no longer than it need be. So should good web copy. There are many very important differences between the two types of writing, but the publishing houses could be taking advantage of the similarities to develop a model that could turn a profit.”

Is the publishing industry’s lethargy towards short story collections really news? A commenter at Tainer’s blog points to a newspaper column by short story writer Dennis Loy Johnson, who took up the issue way back in 2001:

The problem, it is often said, is that story collections have never sold much, although I’d point out that they’ve never been promoted much, either. Hype them as heavily as some novels get hyped — Raymond Carver, Melissa Bank — and they sell just fine, thank you. I mean, no American should ever forget that we live in a country where someone not that long ago made a fortune selling pet rocks at Christmastime.

“It seems to me that all it would take is a tiny bit of ingenuity to make money off the right short story collection,” writes Fischer. “Why aren’t the publishing houses trying it?”

Are you supporting the lowly short story writer? When was the last time you paid for short stories?

Source: The Rumpus

Image by ginnerobot, licensed under Creative Commons.

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