Short Story Collections

There seems to be a lot of heated debate about collections of short stories.  I think that many new authors or just authors new to writing short stories often try to overcompensate with collections.

Thanks to the publishing industry we have the idea in our heads that more words equals more value.  So I think a lot of writers feel guilty about charging the same for a short story as they do a novel.  So they lessen the guilt by just packing together a ton of stories into what is essentially a novel-length collection.  So everyone is happy, right?

There is a certain validity to this thinking.  And I do think that a short story writer should provide readers with as many options as possible.  However, for the most part, I feel like there are two HUGE issues that are  overlooked when a writer approaches short stories in the manner I just described.

The first problem is an artistic one.  When a writer approaches short stories with the intention of writing as many as they can to put together a novel-length collection I feel that not as much effort is put into each story.  The focus becomes quantity rather than quality.  For a literary genre that emphasizes choice, spartan wording, this is really inexcusable in my mind.  You lose the "story" and just end up writing something that's "short."

The second problem is the idea that by having a novel-length collection you will suddenly appeal to novel-only readers.  This is flawed logic.  If someone is looking for a new novel to read they are not going to think "oh well, this short story collection is really long so it'll do as a replacement."  I like short stories and even I don't do that.  If I'm in the mood for a novel, I'm buying a novel.  If I want a short story, that's what I'm looking for.  Two separate shopping experiences.

Your audience should be those who enjoy short stories.  Since this is your target audience, effort should be put into each short story.  The goal is appeal to customers that go out of their way to find short stories.  Not the ones that are maybe willing to give them a try if they stumble across a collection that's long enough.

Comments

  1. I think writing can be considered an artform. I have artbooks that are collections of paintings, yet I don't feel cheated if I pay the same price for a single print of one painting. In fact, I may appreciate and study the print far more than I might had it merely been one of several reprinted in an artbook.

    A single short story can be as meaningful or as moving as a novel (often more so, depending on the author). We all have a certain poem or song that evokes meaningful memories and whose poignancy does not depend on its length. I worry that readers today equate quantity with quality and mistakenly believe their reading experience is measurable by its weight on a butcher's scale and not by the pleasure it provides, the emotions it engenders, or the intellectual curiousity it stimulates.

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  2. A lot may have to do with the medium. There are a lot of factors in the value of a crafted piece. Fame and skill of the artist is definitely one. But the materials used is certainly another.

    I think that that is really most of the problem. The time the artist put in is never thought about. People get that there are good grapes and bad grapes and that will affect the price of wine. People get that a factory made musical instrument is going to be worth less than a handmade one.

    With ebooks, we're basically creating something using the cheapest possible medium: electronic space. The problem was already in place once the printing press was invented and now it just kind of escalated. Ebooks aren't exactly collectible.

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