shining the spotlight on 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.