Sunday, January 1, 2012

Short Stories? Like, Gag Me With A Spoon!

Yes, that was Nicolas Cage in 1983.
Happy New Year!

I tend to be oblivious to popular trends.  So I missed out during the early 80s and wasn't one of the manic geeks obsessed with the Rubik's Cube.

No, it took another twenty-five years for that to happen.

A new website called, YouTube (pronounced, yoo-tyoob,) allowed you to upload, view, and share videos.  It opened my eyes to a new and bustling world of the Rubik's Cube. A resurgence had been long underway.

Back in 2003, the World Cube Association held the World Rubik's Games Championship and the Rubik's Cube's popularity skyrocketed again.

Okay, skyrocketed may be overstating it a little, but when one of the geeks from the quasi-reality show, Beauty and the Geek, solved the Rubik's Cube behind his back, it was clear the cube was back in the mainstream.

Now if you talk about the short story, most people will say they have gone the way of the towering shoulder pads and over sized jackets of the 80s.  Some say the short story is dead.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Is a frenzied resurgence of the short story just around the corner?  There is certainly potential with these major elements:
  • short attention spans
  • fewer newspaper and magazine sales
  • seekers of high quality, low cost reads
Sadly, I don't think we're going to see a resurgence soon.  Here's why.  Everyone is competing for our time.  As readers, we still look for quality reading, but in the quickest and easiest manner.  We could track down dozens of anemic literary magazines, or we could simply go to

But the Amazon machine is broken.

As long as Amazon is a stomping ground for the 99 cent eBook, short stories cannot have the massive success they once had and still deserve today.

Take a cue from iTunes.

The music industry adapted and began selling 99 cent songs so consumers could impulsively fill up their MP3 players.  But there is a clear delineation between a radio single and an entire album.  You don't see albums selling for 99 cents.  And you don't see 1 penny songs for that matter.

Should a short story have the same value as a novel?

There should be a clear delineation between the price of a short story and an eBook novel.  If readers buy a short story for 99 cents and like it, they will, and should, pay more for your novel.

The short story is not dead, but readers like me are waiting for the next revolution.  I would love to see talented short story writers be able to earn a living like Charles Dickens.  I think the potential is there for it to happen, but not without some changes.

What do you think?  Is 2012 the year of the short story?


  1. I think the short story is already getting its come back. Short stories and novellas are both doing well (compared to their recent history) on Amazon, more than one digital literary magazine have cropped up recently, in general, it's a very good environment for short fiction.

    2012 will likely see more growth for short fiction, but the 'year of' I doubt.

  2. I think this revolution has already happened, or at least begun, in science fiction and fantasy. There are more markets--more pro markets, even--today than at any point in the last forty years. I think where you're missing the boat is in not looking past Amazon, which is unlikely to start a literary revolution in products that it has exclusivity on.

    Some great sf/f venues where you can read short stories for free:, Subterranean, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Clarkesworld Magazine.

    And that is by no means an exclusive list--just a sampling of some of the best places where genre readers can read terrific short stories for free.

  3. Oh, I think so.

    I love short stories. They're actually my favorite form of fiction. My 7th grade teacher read "The Sound of Thunder" to the class, and I've been hooked ever since.

    I'd love to see short stories priced at $0.99, and novels at $5 or more. People spend $4 for a cup of coffee, a novel is certainly worth more than that.

  4. Thanks everyone for your insight. Great discussion.

    Short stories do not get their deserved respect from readers or from many writers. As Joe pointed out, there are plenty of FREE markets for short stories. Why should this wonderful art form be given away for free?

    If that's a conscious strategy to gain a following for the writer's eventual novel, that's one thing. But I know a plethora of writers who snub short stories altogether.

    Some of the best works of fiction in history are short stories and their authors should have the same types of opportunities as novelists to make a living at it. Just because a work of art may take less time to paint than a marble statue did to carve doesn't mean they don't both deserve similar status in a museum.

    I totally agree with Lori, short stories should be a buck, and novels around $5. She hit the nail on the head – and that coffee tidbit should be used for each and every blurb. :-)

  5. Television is free to consumers. It doesn't make it any less valued as a medium. In the markets I noted above, the *authors* aren't giving their stories away for free. Those markets are all paying what SFWA considers "pro" rates. I believe is up around 10 cents a word. It may not be a living wage for short story writers, but I'm not sure the readership exists anymore to make it possible to make a living as a short story writer.

  6. Sorry Joe, I was mixing up my responses, I sometimes mix metaphors too ;-) You're right and perhaps the "television model" is the best way to deal with the lower readership for the short form of fiction. I know that novels and short stories will never stand on equal ground, but in the "Amazon" pay-per-piece model, I don't think the 99 cent novel works if fiction products are priced relativistically. It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy that the readership for short stories is low therefore that market cannot be profitable. It's counter-intuitive to me even though the evidence is all around us. We only read news headlines, watch 90 second videos on YouTube, pay $5 for coffee, yet the market says most of us are not pining for short stories. We live in a bizarre time.

    Awesome to have you on the blog! And thanks for sharing the short story market links. :-)

  7. *nod* I'm not crazy about 99 cent novels either, although John Locke seemed to make it work as a way to make real money. It hurts to think of that much time spent on something, and it going for so little. It creates in people's minds the baseline of how much a thing is worth.

    I'm actually inclined to think novels in general--at the store, even--are *underpriced*. A novel gives me eight to twelve hours of entertainment, which is far more than a movie does. So if I pay ten dollars for a movie, why should I gripe at paying as much or more for a novel? And if you only read a book or two a year, well then heck, why complain about the cost? We gladly drop more than the price of a book for a fast food meal or a couple beers or some other passing fancy. Why not pay more for books? The only reason, I think, is that we've been conditioned by the market to think books should be cheap.

  8. Joe, this is my favorite comment on this blog! I'm going to print and frame it.

    I never thought about the movie connection either. You are spot on! A story is a story -- it is created to entertain. Yet, movies hardly live up to the richness of a novel. Maybe the brick and mortar book stores should bundle butter popcorn and Junior Mints with the books to generate more revenue ;-)

  9. I am hoping to see some price restructuring in Amazon with the $.99 short story as the norm. I think novels should range between $3.99 (intro to series) and $6.99 (new releases). I might even begin paying $9.99 for a novel written by an author I love.

    I believe that pricing will level out once publishing adjusts to the new environment of the ereader. We'll see!

  10. Here's hoping that will be the case. But I'm not going to hold my breath ;-)

  11. 2012 is the year of the short-short story: flashes, dribs, drabs, 420's . . .thanks to the (deserved) hoopla of Lou Beach's "420 Characters" collection and some great websites like 100 Word Story, Nailpolish Stories, Monkeybicycle, etc. etc.

  12. I would like to see it happen. 420 Characters simply makes sense given today's short attention span.

    Personally I enjoy challenging myself as a writer and know that I will never have it 'mastered'. That's why I don't characterize myself as a novelist, or blogger, or a short story writer...only as a 'writer'.

    If I were in charge of handing out the Writer hats to people it would be mandatory for everyone to write some form of short fiction.

    Even dedicated novelists can benefit from the experience of writing short fiction.

  13. Hi Jason. I just discovered your blog and I'm loving it. I also got a bug for Rubik's cubes after their heyday in the 80s, but mine happened in the mid-90s. Are you a fan of Pac-Man, too, or is that just me?

    I always enjoyed a good short story and once hated how all forms of entertainment seemed to become shorter and more suited for people with ADHD. The first time I heard someone read a piece of 400-word flash fiction in a writing class, I was appalled. I thought the point of reading a book or even a short story was to slow down and savor it, and I couldn't believe someone would want to strip away that enjoyment and turn reading/writing into another rushed form of entertainment. Over the next couple years, though, I heard some very impressive pieces of flash and somehow decided to start my own flash fiction blog. While I still enjoy longer formats, it gives me an attainable goal to write something every day, however brief. It definitely keeps me active and creative whereas I once beat myself up for failing to complete longer works, and I love the challenge of learning to say a lot with few words. It’s definitely good practice for developing a writing style.

    I'm not sure how the media is evolving or where literature will end up, but I’ve become less resistant and more optimistic about it. There are so many more digital venues for writers to exhibit work then there were a few years ago, and more people have access to them. I still love a thick book and always will, but I believe skilled and persistent writers will find their success in whatever new formats arise.

  14. Hi Martin, what a great discussion. This thread has taken a life of its own.

    Actually that attitude of want to spend a lot of time with the characters is what prompted me to write this post. So many writers I meet tell me they don't read short stories. If they are going to invest in a story, they want it to be for a while. I feel they are really missing out. Especially when there are great short shorts like "The Custodian" by Brian Hinshaw. Simply powerful in very few words. Plus there are a lot of bad novels out there where you're forced spend time with uninteresting and flat characters.

    In 'real life' I have met many engaging and interesting people in passing or on airplane flights. I have also been trapped at parties for hours listening to someone blather on about themselves.

    And you're dead on about writing more with short stories. It's not always about pure word count volume to find your voice, sometimes it's about finding the right combination of characters and the right story arc. With short forms you can churn through and experiment and importantly finish your works, and as you put it develop your writing style.

    Welcome to the blog and keep writing! :-)

  15. I LOVE short stories. The points you made really got me thinking. I wish more people would view things this way.

    I'm tweeting this post :0)

  16. everything is a story; life, the trip to market, the cat swatting at me wif her paw as i pass by.... when we tell a story, it will likely be remembered long after the same information is rendered in bland rote facts. so if we phrase our sentences to tell a story, then they will be remembered, and if we tell a slightly larger story by putting a few sentences together, they will tell a lil bit larger story... thus the short story is not dead, it just needs to be told.

    stop by my burrow, i'll spin you a yarn. did i tell you how i found Big Foot, or the Lost Tribe of the Delta?

    i tweet at @Samuel_Clemons


  17. Elisabeth, viva la Short Story Revolution ;-) Thank you for sharing!

  18. Exactly, Sam. Everything is a story and some have their own body types just like people do. Who wants a one-size-fits-all anyway? More writers of petite stories need to speak up :-)

  19. Well, short stories are what I tend to write most fluidly/easily. Both novels and short stories are valid vessels for the creative process, and should be valued as such. Though, that has yet to be the case, in my humble opinion. :-)

  20. I'm glad you agree, Stephanie. There are so many fantastic stories regardless of their format. I don't think it's necessary to have short stories equally valued ($) against novels, but there should be a similar level of respect given to short stories as is given to novels.