Anyone Still Reading Short Stories?
I’m on vacation with my Kindle, with around seventy books currently unread on it, and have found that I continue to read a lot of short stories. I’ve always loved them, from the early days of the Pan Books of Horror, and still write new ones whenever someone offers me an interesting commission.
Here are some of the collections on my Kindle at the moment:
World of Wodehouse (stories and articles)
Mrs Midnight & Other Stories – Reggie Oliver
Tales & Fantasies – Robert Louis Stevenson
Edgar Allen Poe – Collected Tales
The Complete Father Brown Mysteries – GK Chesteron
The Weird – Jeff and Ann Vandemeer (huge superb collection)
Worming The Harpy and other Bitter Pills – Rhys Hughes
Collected Ghost Stories – MR James
The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Stories – Rudyard Kipling
Saki – Complete Short Stories (I could read them forever)
Seven Basic Plots – Why We Tell Stories – Christopher Booker
Hauntings and Horors – EF Benson
Present at a Hanging & Other Stories – Ambrose Pierce
Short Stories – W Somerset Maugham
The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories – Ed. Peter Haining
English Fairy Tales – Joseph Jacobs
Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime & Other Stories – Oscar Wilde
Complete Original Stories – Guy de Maupassant
Ghostly Tales – Sheridan le Fanu
But there’s a real problem – very few new writers are getting mainstream publishers anymore. I was lucky enough to start at the time that Clive Barker’s Books of Blood transformed the market and encouraged readers to rediscover the pleasures of short horror fiction. The Books of Blood had been delivered as one big collection but were carved into six volumes by a smart editor.
Over the years, the market for short stories has shrunk drastically. My last big collection, ‘Red Gloves’, appeared to a relatively silent critical reception – my first collection was reviewed in twenty-plus newspapers. But I know from my own experiences as a reviewer that it’s impossible to cover even a tiny fraction of the books that come out. I’d be happy for the national press to drop book reviews altogether and rely on online reviews, but small print houses can’t afford to send out review copies to them, and a book like ‘Red Gloves’ was expensive to produce.
Some of my 150+ short stories have appeared in France, but hardly any have come out in the US, although when odd stories surface I get some wonderful responses from writers I greatly admire, like Harlan Ellison, who sent me a signed edition of his own collected stories.
The question is; what can we do about this? I’d like to get new writers published, and I’d like to have more short story collections of my own into print (I’ve already published enough individual stories lately to create a new collection). A high profile editor or a clever hook for the collection would help – but do readers actually have an aversion to the format?
TV companies certainly don’t like the short story format, because they think they’ll get no viewer loyalty from such a series. Later this year I’ll put in some serious time on the problem. Meanwhile, your thoughts on how to get people reading short stories again will be most welcome.