Short Story Collections As Platforms

So how many of you read short stories? I know lots of writers sub short stories, but do you honestly study the form?

Can you make the distinction between the good commercial magazine story suited to one type of sub or competition and the good literary short story; the kind more likely to win a literary competition? Where does your writing fit?

I made it my mission to read short story collections (which I have always loved by the way) when I started working for Bridge House. I mean, how could I honestly select stories for collections if I wasn’t really familiar with form? Or write them?I had always read short stories at it happens, but not from a writer’s perspective. I met many short stories in that journey and ask the question of myself: what is a perfect short story? Not an easy one to answer, if indeed it is possible. But it set me on a road to read and seek. A road paved with Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, Lynda Davies, Alice Munro, George Saunders, Jon McGregor … etc. In fact, let’s just say I met a lot of writers and styles. What particularly interested me was where writers use this short form to push boundaries. That’s when it gets exciting. My own work is more about voice, but I do like to play with form. What about you?

I know from experience with small presses how few these collections by different authors usually sell and this ‘resurgence of the short story’ remains… awaited. Many shy away from single author collections fearing they will sell even less. However in the US there is a fundamental difference in that many many debut authors launch short story collections and this propels them into recognition. There appears to be less fear. The collection is often seen as the platform, so why is this? The form is seen in a different way and some even hail the US as the home of the short story. I don’t think that is the case and I think there are great short story writers everywhere; the London Short Story Festival being testament to that this past weekend. Nor is it true people don’t read these collections, but perhaps less so than the novel which has become almost the idealised form for the writer. People will say, “Oh you write short stories, so when’s the novel coming?” suggesting it’s a lesser form which it’s not. Interestingly hearing authors speak this weekend they went to pains to point out that as short story writers, though many also write novels, there was no pressure to do so which surprised me.

I heard agent Lucy Luck talk about representing short story writers this past weekend, but talks about these single author collections having a ‘ceiling on sales’ and so you don’t expect the returns to come close to those possible for novels. But at least there are people still publishing them and maybe the trend will shift to be like it is in the US.

So what do you think?

Recommendation: Jon McGregor’s short story collection

Jon McGregor


1 Comment

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One response to “Short Story Collections As Platforms

  1. Interesting questions, Debz. I always feel drawn towards writing novels, although I am very proud of the short stories that I have published (thank you Bridge House for kick-starting my career!) I used to think that I wasn’t a reader of short stories. Then I began to remember some of the books I read as a teenager. Collections of the 50 scariest ghost stories, new vampire authors, Gothic horror anthologies. Those books planted the seeds in my mind, and culminated in the work I do today. So yes, there is a place for short stories in the world, and I would love to see a resurgence in popularity at some point in the near future…

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