The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

Don’t Just Moan About Short Story Collections…

Two blog posts caught my eye this week, both dealing with the question of publishing short story collections. Over at Beyond the Margins, Becky Tuch’s post is titled “Nice Short Story Collection. But Do You Have A Novel?’, a phrase very very familiar not only to me, I suspect! She says:

Reviews of and praise for short story collections abounds. Yet today’s short story writer is often met with discouraging words from industry professionals and even fellow writers. At a recent dinner, a friend told me of a well-known writer who had completed a short story collection and a novel. The publishing house which would acquire his work said that they would pay him one amount for his novel. For his short story collection and his novel together, they offered him the same amount. Evidently, the house had valued his story collection at $0.

Over at the Canadian Lemonhound, in his post on Nov 23rd “The Fate Of Short Fiction In A Novelistic World”, Slim Shady (not his real name?) also has a moan:

publishers know their market, and by and large avoid publishing collections they know will not make much of a dent at the cash register….Even some writers have apparently come to this conclusion. Lisa Moore, whose strongest work has always been in the short-fiction genre, appears to have disavowed the form altogether. (This despite the fact that her second collection, Open, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2002.) Her previous two books have both been novels, as is her new one, scheduled for summer 2013. Michael Winter, another powerful short story writer, hasn’t published a collection of stories since One Last Good Look in 1999. (Maybe it’s a Newfoundland thing.)

Okay, yes, for those of us who love short stories and short story collections, there’s always something to complain about. But I’ve stopped complaining because it’s happening to my novelist friends too – it’s not an anti-short-fiction stance on the part of mainstream publishers (and we are mostly talking about them, the publishers that expect to make money from books) it seems these days more of an anti-risk strategy, a “we only want books that are like books that have sold really well” attitude. Publishers are much more conservative, that’s what I hear.

Well, if we want to change things, we need to vote with our feet, and by feet I mean, of course, our wallets/PayPal accounts. Moan as much as you want – but go and buy a short story collection, or ten. Buy copies of your favourite collections as presents for the holiday season. Support the publishers who are investing in these books and their authors. Stop moaning and start purchasing. (Should you lack for ideas, which, since you are reading The Short Review blog by choice is unlikely, dear short story lover, browse our archives.)

Both blog posts give space to authors and collections they’ve enjoyed, which is vital – pass on the love, make suggestions. In  Slim Shady’s blog post  he gives a plug to two collections he’s loved  which I have not heard of: “Alice Petersen’s sublime collection All the Voices Cry” and “Yasuko Thanh’s debut, Floating Like the Dead.” Let me end by echoing his words: “Both collections are the equal of any major novel published in Canada this year, and are in fact superior to most of them. That readers have failed to notice these two books, and other strong collections like them, is distressing. However, now that the sound and fury that attends the annual CanLit fall award frenzy has died down, there is an opportunity for discovery. If readers were to take a chance on one of this year’s strong story collections, they might not only be made aware of just how good this country’s short-fiction writers are, they might also help counter the notion that short stories are a mug’s game for publishers and booksellers alike.” Exactly.

8 comments on “Don’t Just Moan About Short Story Collections…

  1. Ellie
    December 9, 2012

    Tania – I thought this was really interesting! And I wondered why Beck Tuch’s article wasn’t titled something more like, ‘Most short story fans are bloody tight-fisted’. I’d love it if The Short Review did an Omnivore-style gift guide!


  2. Nuala Ní Chonchúir
    December 10, 2012

    Ah yes. It is so hard to get a collection published much less noticed. I am going to google the two books mentioned and buy MYSELF one for Xmas if I like what I see 🙂


  3. clarkzlotchew
    December 21, 2012

    My (small) publisher informs they will cease publication of my award-winning short-story collection, Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties, because it has not sold 250 copies in the first 12 months. I’m the only one who has done some marketing, of course. I can now buy the 125 copies (or any number I want, before they destroy at the end ofd this month, Dec. 2013) they have left at a truly reasonable price. However, the book will no longer appear on Amazon and the other online booksellers, so how can I sell them? I can also buy the electronic version of the book for several hundred dollars and either self-publish or acquire a different publisher. When they first published the book, they told me it would be much easier to publish a novel.

    I now know how difficult it is to sell short-story collections, but I find something much more disturbing. A much smaller portion of the population reads fiction for pleasure, than I had thought would be the case. Instead they watch films and TV and play electronic games or chat online, etc. Furthermore, among those who do read fiction (mostly novels), there is an extremely large percentage who love only supernatural, fantasy, horror, zombies, werewolves and vampires, as well as romance-supernatural, romance-fantasy, zombie-romance, werewolf-romance and vampire-romance. This leaves a miniscule audience for mainline novels and an even smaller audience for mainline short stories.

    Of course, the easiest type of book to be published is non-fiction written by celebrities (rock stars, sports heroes, actors, and well-known politicians).

    Am I being too pessimistic?



  4. writeliving
    January 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on Writeliving's Blog and commented:
    I ran across this post when contemplating my own short story writing, and a collection I have been editing and circulating. Even though my manuscript has been a finalist three times, it feels like a daunting task to get a short story collection published.


  5. Olivia Wolfe
    January 5, 2013

    Very interesting to happen upon as I am a short story writer and have been contemplating what I should do with my growing collection here on WordPress. I agree with the above comment from Writeliving: It does feel like a daunting task to get them published. But I am not one to ever give up though, so I will continue creating them and continuing to find that someone somewhere who is interested in them for publishing. Thanks for sharing this.



  6. Rosalie Morales Kearns
    April 9, 2013

    Just saw this, Tania, and wanted to thank you. There are many short story collections out there that are vastly underappreciated–one of the reasons I started a book reviewing collective too.


  7. Laura VanArendonk Baugh
    April 10, 2013

    Interesting, as I’ve been contemplating a short story collection to give myself a break from enormous-long-novel revisions 🙂 and to practice other things. It would be self-published, so I wouldn’t run into the same problems Clark is seeing with distribution (above), and I don’t need to move a ton of copies — but I think there is a market, if a smaller one than for novel-length genre fiction.

    My novelette certainly hasn’t broken any records since its release last summer, but it isn’t doing too bad for very limited marketing of a niche piece whose title isn’t even in English. 😉 So surely I can do better with a collection with titles of known words!


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