Fanfare! The Loneliness of the Short Story Writer

A new publisher looking for SF/F manuscripts

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Capo Famiglia
Full Member
May 19, 2014
London UK
I'm delighted to announce our first front page feature article has just been posted. Authored by Bernard Stacey, it is an eloquent discussion of the paradoxical neglect of short-form writing... which ought to be taking off these days, but patently isn't.

The Loneliness of the Short Story Writer

Your thoughts below, please (I have a ton) and do remember, the front page is all yours now... let me have your submissions!
No time to give this topic the response it merits [day job getting in the way], but briefly, I suspect part of the answer is a bit Catch-22ish. People buy what is published and effectively marketed. If short stories / collections thereof are not published or effectively marketed, nobody will buy them. If nobody buys them, they won't get published. But I suspect that's just a part of the answer.
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The excuse used to be that short-form was nearly as expensive to put together physically as long-form, i.e. origination costs for a 50-page book are similar to a 500-page one.

I agree that one of the main roadblocks is the lack of a market mechanism for monetisation. Which is, surely, where things like the Arts Council ought to step in... Do you remember how fabulously successful Poems on the Underground used to be...?
Many thanks for those kind words @Kitty, @Carol Rose and @Peggy Lou ! Compliments from other writers count double.

As regards short stories, as print costs are no longer an issue (at least for ebooks), I do wonder whether readers these days demand more time with their heroes and heroines once they've made an emotional or intellectual 'investment' in reading a work, and therefore prefer 100,000 words to 5000?
Maybe it's like watching a soap opera. Episode after episode, endlessly. I'm not a fan but I know many who are.

Or perhaps as you said, it's an escape mechanism. For several hours we forget the dizzying world out there and lose ourselves in a book.
Nice piece, @Bernard Stacey. For what it's worth, here in NZ we have a peanut butter manufacturer who puts a poem on the inside of every label. I very much appreciate it, and I spend extra to buy their peanut butter. I think that manufacturers would do well to add stories and poems to packaging. Imagine the serialisation possibilities of the back of breakfast cereal boxes? (serial cereal?)
It's a lovely idea @Robinne Weiss though I'd eat too much peanut butter as a result! Adverts have occasionally caught onto the idea that a story could, in installments, hook people into their brand. The famous Nescafé Gold couple and their stuttering romance, or the flighty Nicole and her oh-so-innocent utterances of 'Papa?' as she returned from another illicit night out in her Renault Clio. Perhaps they lead where cornflakes, jam and pints of milk will follow. One of my friends recently suggested a niche role for poets to compose little ditties to go on the inside of sweet wrappers - sort of Quality Street rhyme-a-dimers. Tuppence a poem. I'd sign up for that!

There was thread on here a while ago about a wine label in Italy that tied a short story onto its bottles so people could drink their evening glass(es) and read simultaneously:
These wine bottles have short story labels so you can read while you drink
As a marketing ploy I've certainly heard worse.
A great piece, Bernard. I'm a huge fan of the short story form, revering Guy de Maupassant.

One trend that I've noticed in recent years, is how publishers are calling a book that is the length of a novella, a novel. I know that terminology is flexible when it comes to book length, but the world runs on definitions so most people accept categories like this: Differences Between a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, & a Novel

Novelette, as a term, has all but disappeared. It's as if publishers are gaming the market, recognising that readers have limited concentration spans and marketing shorter forms of stories as 'novels' if this will give the reader a sense of achievement.

As an example, I recently read The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. This was turned into an indifferent film in 2001, directed by Sean Penn, and starring Jack Nicholson. The book is vastly superior. The edition I had was published by influential Pushkin Vertigo, and they proudly proclaim that it's a novel on the cover. It's not, it's a novella of 155 pages, about 35,000 words.

Maybe George Saunders' current success with his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, will introduce readers to his short stories, for which he's renowned. It's a back-to-front way of attracting readers, but they sometimes have to be led by the nose!
Thank you @Paul Whybrow !

Last November I remember going into Waterstones in Piccadilly and seeing a table display given over entirely to novellas (I bought several - ideal for the forthcoming train journey) but as I made my way through them I was struck by the beauty of the form. I became just as attached to the characters as in a novel five times the length, and the message or moral was, if anything, even more memorable and crisp.
Sadly, when I went back for more in January, the table had gone.
There are also "Kindle shorts"--essentially novellas--I've bought a few of these, and enjoyed them a lot. Amazon was really pushing these for a while, but not so much recently. I wonder how they sell, compared to novels.
Interesting piece Bernard. But I wonder how much of the lack of interest is down to the fact that there is so little income to be had from short stories for writers. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories have been in print since 1893. Proving that people will happily read short stories.

James Patterson has invested a lot of his time and effort into launching 'bookshots'. These are low cost crime and thrillers at under 150 pages.

Who knows! If Patterson's new venture takes off perhaps he will create a new publishing market for writers ton start working in?
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A new publisher looking for SF/F manuscripts

You couldn't make it up