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Death of a Short Story

November 18, 2010

In 2007, Stephen King wrote an article called “What Ails the Short Story” published on the New York Times website. The subject was short stories. Are short stories a dying art? Someone may look at the market listings on sites such as Duotrope and Ralans as well as The Writers Market books put together by Writer’s Digest and think they are as alive as novels. Here’s something you should try doing next time you are at a bookstore such as Books-a-Million or Barnes & Noble.

Check out their magazine selections. Locate the ones mainly focused on fictional short stories and keep these questions in mind as you are doing so. Compared to others, where are these magazines kept? How many choices do you have? Would you find them any other time if they weren’t on your must buy list? How many times do you buy magazines such as Glimmer Train, Shock Totem or Shroud Magazine for the sole joy of reading the content?

As many times I’ve been to a bookstore, I don’t recall seeing such magazines at eye level ever. It wasn’t until I became involved in the complex world of writing that I learned of their existence. Despite knowing this, I choose to be a short story writer anyways.

So, what I want to know from you is why do you think short stories receive less attention than other forms of writing? Do you think writers are the only ones who buy and read genre magazines?

Andrea is on track with all her NaNo goals so far. Wishing you all good luck in staying on track with yours.
  1. November 18, 2010 6:01 am

    No, I don’t think they’re dying. On the contrary, even short-short stories are growing in popularity (I guess due to shortened attention spans; although you can argue about whether a “one-sentence story” is truly a story).

    What is changing though is the shift to online zines. And I think, slowly, these zines (some of them) are finally getting the respect they deserve.

    As a writer I love short stories because I can try out different styles, subjects, genres. It’s a lot of fun.

  2. November 18, 2010 8:51 am

    I think one barrier to the popularity of short stories is that adults who read were kids who read, and when I was a kid short stories (as far as I knew) were non-existent except as school assignments. I developed the habit of reading novels and only ran into the short story world later in life and by accident. Not everyone has accidents! 🙂

    Also, novels are generally easier reads. It is easier to jump into and out of a novel. Interuptions tend to drain a short story of some of its kick, so for instance, when my kids are around I am more likely to grab a novel.

    And I don’t think King’s observation on the “fun factor” should be overlooked. Short stories are more likely to take themselves too seriously, to be an intellectual exercise, or to just be downright dreary (and this is from someone who likes the short form). Not that there aren’t plenty of novels that fit this description, but it is far easier to find novels that skewer the gut or the heart (if you’re Joe Blow at the bookstore) than it is to find short pieces that do the same. The short pieces are there, but you have to wade through the other stuff to find them.

  3. Amanda permalink
    November 18, 2010 9:47 pm

    I love short stories, but I hate reading them. I get too attached and too involved. I know going in that it’s going to be a chapter long, that I’m going to like them despite myself, that they are going to make me think and inspire me to plan out my own versions using the same concepts, etc etc. Some of my very favorite stories were short. And if I read too many in a row my head is completely filled with possibilities. Way to many possibilities. It’s hard to decide to read something that will be over so quickly. A novel gives me time to process. To completely immerse myself in one world. To live through and get over the possibilities while I’m still reading it.

  4. A. K. permalink
    November 19, 2010 3:58 am

    What I like about short story collections is the time efficiency. They don’t require a large commitment and, good stories, provide a good escape for people on the go.
    I think that short stories are prevalent online more so than in print. It’s difficult to buy short story collections in print because large publishers are only interested in established writers, and aren’t interested in publishing ‘first time’ author short story collections. Many literary agents explicitly state that they don’t accept short stories. Publishers (on their websites) say that they don’t either. However, they do publish short story collections from established writers, which leads me to conclude that it is-whether writers like it or hate it, it’s the truth – about marketability and profits.
    If publishers don’t earn profits, they aren’t able to publish other novelists -new writers included.It’s not the best liked part of publishing, but that is what it’s about in the end, not just for publishers, but for literary agents as well. Where I live, it’s horrible to submit work to the less than 10 literary agents, who don’t accept short story collections and explicitly state this.
    The industry now is even more difficult to break into because there are so many more writers or prospective writers out there. Like other industries, there is a portion of nepotism out there as well. It’s a mixed bag and if it were not for international magazines – online and in print – I doubt that I’d come across any other stories (by lesser known writers).

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