Does size matter?

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Does size matter?

Postby Brightonian » Fri Jan 09, 2009 4:39 pm

When I pick up a magazine or a collection of short stories, I tend to go for the shortest stories first. If a story takes up more than 20 pages or so I may even never read it at all. Do editors tend to have a similar preference? Is say a 3,000 word story more likely to get accepted than one of 10,000 words?
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Size matters

Postby admin » Sat Jan 10, 2009 9:11 am

Big fat novels tend to sell, especially big fat novels that are part of a never ending series. I would estimate that less than 100,000 people (that is, less than one person in a thousand) reads short stories any more. Just look at magazines -- only about a hundred of the many thousands of magazines out there publish fiction. I think the reason is that people carry a novel around with them. They may read one novel all summer. But with shorter entertainment, they want to be able to discard it withoutout needing to finish it, thus magazines where it doesn't matter if you finish an article or not.

For those of us who do still read short stories (I recently read a Faulkner, a Jerome Bixby, a Vonnegut, and an Asimov -- can't remember any of them!), I estimate that one out of ten short story readers is also a short story writer, which makes the market really tough to sell to.

And, yes, many short story markets will not look at stories longer than 6000 words -- some 4000. And there is an active market for "flash fiction" -- stories only 100 to 300 words long. I can't see the point -- even though I've written a few myself.
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Re: Size matters

Postby slaven41 » Sat Jan 10, 2009 11:31 am

admin wrote:(I recently read a Faulkner, a Jerome Bixby, a Vonnegut, and an Asimov -- can't remember any of them!)


For me, this aspect of short fiction doesn't go in parentheses. I simply find that the more time I spend reading something, the better it sticks with me afterwards (on average). A short story that I read in one sitting gets crowded out of my brain by a novel that occupied me for a month. Nowadays when I read short fiction, It's usually a single-author collection, so that there's at least some sense of unity to it. That said, I don't know why short stories seem to be preferred over novellas or novelettes. It seems counterintuitive.

The last time I read short stories on a regular basis was back in the early 80s when I subscribed to Omni Magazine. They had about three of them per issue, as I recall. I don't think there's anything like Omni out there right now, though: a combination of science and sci-fi.

Here's an idea that I've often wondered why nobody's tried. What about individually packaged short stories at, say, Barnes and Noble* for something like 75 cents a pop. There would be a big rack of them and they'd be sealed so you wouldn't just sit down and read them in the store.

--Dave

*Note to Brightonian: In case you don't know what Barnes and Noble is, it's a big chain of large bookstores in the U.S. that has rendered other bookstores economically obsolete. Do they have them in the U.K.?
"It's only Neutron. We call him that because he's so positive." --from This Island Earth
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Re: Does size matter?

Postby Brightonian » Sun Jan 11, 2009 5:54 am

Someone already had the idea of individually packaged short stories selling at ultra-budget prices - you see them either as very slim booklets or printed on one sheet and folded like street maps.

And yes I know what B&N is, it's where Clementine works in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind :wink: . We don't have them in the UK, we have an ongoing high street battle between Borders and Waterstones who between them are driving independent booksellers to the wall. Though the Borders chain is no longer owned by Borders in the US, apparently.
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Re: Does size matter?

Postby admin » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:17 am

While most short stories don't stick, the ones that do can give you a reading high like no other. I'm thinking of Kipling's "The Cat That Walks By Himself", "Riki-Tiki-Tavi", and "The Butterfly That Stamped". Hemmingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber". And, in science fiction, "Flowers for Algernon", "Lot's Wife", "The Nine Thousand Names of God", "And He Built a Crooked House", "Adept's Gambit", ...

I avoid single author anthologies. If I read them, I read several at a time, one story from each, between novels, for variety. I also dislike theme anthologies, as I've mentioned. I prefer "best" collections, where somebody else has weeded out all the minor stories -- and even the very best authors turn out a lot of minor stoires. I recently read a huge collection of Faulkner's stories, and only a couple stick in my mind.

When I was younger, I tried to get everything my favorite authors had written. When the world was younger, sets of "The Complete Works of..." were commonplace. You can still see them in second hand bookstores, gathering dust. The world was slower, then.

Fred Brown deserves mention. I can almost quote one of his mystery short stories from memory:

"I killed a man," he said. "It was the perfect murder, but I made just one mistake.

"What was that?" the policeman asked.

"I killed a man," he said.
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Re: Does size matter?

Postby bluerequiem » Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:54 pm

It seems like the last two books I read must have started off as 250-300 pages of mediocre story telling until the publisher told the author, "We'll buy it if you add another 200 pages." I'm always amazed at how short The Hobbit and Asimov's books are compared to the current offering of Sci Fi/Fantasy novels.
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