Monday, March 03, 2008

Selling short stories

Recently I noted how unusual (and good) it was that Faber have promoted as a virtue the varied nature of the stories in Clare Wigfall's collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing, and BookFox has commented similarly on the promotion of John Shepard's prizewinning collection Like You'd Understand Anyway.

BookFox now alerts us to an interesting essay by publisher Gina Frangello, replicated on The Literary Outpost, a section of which deals with the reasons why for so long now the typical published short story collection has been interconnected facets of a unified whole (or indeed an episodic novel):
Often, when I presented at panels, writers in the audience asked why short fiction had met with such a decline in popularity. After all, many reasoned, if the contemporary attention span has become geared towards sitcoms and videogames, then aren’t short stories the ideal medium for the hip young reader? The answer, I often suspected, had nothing to do with what the contemporary reader would actually read, and much more to do with what marketing departments could successfully tell them to read. While a novel can be easily marketed with a few plot-summarizing taglines (and a memoir even more so, especially if its author is famous and his/her life already well-documented in the tabloids), it is much harder to “sell” a collection of 10 or so diverse stories with no common characters or plots.

As I think I have said here before, when my own collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was in production I nearly died when we had to start thinking of a single unifying characteristic for marketing purposes, since my aesthetic purpose in writing the stories had been to make each one unique. I had approached each story as a whole new adventure: a new idea which required its own unique way of telling (so that you won't even find a unity through the book in the way the dialogue is punctuated, as each story required its own particular mode). But of course, since they had all been written by me with my continuing obsessions, I was able to choose fourteen stories which linked thematically, and there are other links - in subject matter and in style - criss-crossing the collection.

Shepard's publishers have no qualms, though: here's the brave or foolish but undoubtedly exhilarating blurb on his book (thanks to BookFox): "So varied in tone, theme, voice, and setting are these stories that they might've been written by a hydra."


Anonymous said...

I saw more of Gina's short story insights now here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing
your insight.

Terry Finley

Elizabeth Baines said...

Hey, that's very interesting! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think half the problem is that there aren't any "commercial" homes for short stories anymore. Newspapers used to publish them. Big magazines would feature them. You would go in the checkout line at the supermarket and see magazines that contained short stories. Today that's not the case. I also strongly believe that the "dumbing down" of media is a big part of it. Every magazine has articles now that are sleazy, so fiction would have to be sleazy too. And most everyday people just don't want that.