This is a revised and truncated version of a Google+ post of mine from May 2018. Now that Google+ is no longer available to the general public, I’ve been taking a new look at some of my posts from there to see whether any of them might be worth preserving.
It’s a truism that collections of short stories are a hard sell. Publishers are reluctant to take them because they know there’s a good chance that readers won’t be willing to buy them. I’ve tended to think of this as simply the way things are, without really wondering why it should be so. It’s for that reason that I had an “aha!” moment in April 2018, when I saw a tweet from Sinéad Gleeson, the editor of The Long Gaze Back, which is a collection of short stories by Irish women. Gleeson quoted Mavis Gallant from the Preface to her 1950 Collected Stories:
Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
If story collections are not to be read as though they were novels, perhaps an approximately novel-length volume in which the stories are listed like chapters is not the best delivery mechanism for them. What is that volume, after all, but an invitation to the reader to read them in sequence, one leading on to the next, in about the same time as it would take her to read a novel? Does that explain why readers, and therefore publishers, are wary of the short story collection? Because the reader knows from experience that the volume is likely to remain unfinished, unreturned-to, a long-standing reproach?
These days, readers and writers alike of short stories are lucky to have a variety of alternatives to the collection bound up in a deceptively compact volume. The internet provides several of them, as you’d expect. If you’re a fan of short stories, you probably already have your preferred sites.
When I posted the original version of this note in May 2018, I was in no doubt that my favourite site for short stories was Medium. It’s got a reputation as being a platform more suitable for various kinds of nonfiction, including tech/programming, self-help, personal essays, life-hacks, humour and polemic. But don’t let the proliferation of other writing hide the fact the platform also hosts a large and very busy community of fiction writers. I haven’t written any new fiction for several months and most of the short stories, a novel and a novella that I’ve already published can still be found on Medium. It’s likely that, when I eventually do write more fiction, I’ll post it on my own site but Medium remains a good place both to read and to publish short — and longer — fiction.
I’ve got a Mix collection for short stories that can be read on the web. Enjoy reading them.