How Honest Do You Want Us to Be?

The 2009 edition of our book Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market includes an article by Jack Smith called “Marketing Your Short Story.” In the piece, Smith (who’s had stories published in numerous lit mags including North American Review, The Southern Review, Happy, In Posse Review, X-Connect, Night Train, Texas Review and Word Riot and co-edits The Green Hills Literary Lantern) offers an honest view of the reality of the short story market: Things are tough.

Here’s an excerpt:

Memoir sales are up, fiction down—even novels. Given this market, how do short story collections fare?

Not well, says Fiona Inglis, literary agent with Curtis Brown: “We say no to short stories because publishers resist them because booksellers resist them because readers resist them. It’s much more difficult to sell short stories than a full-length novel especially for newer writers.” Jill Kneerim of the literary agency Kneerim & Williams also places the matter right in the hands of the consumer-reader: “The reason is easily found in your own book-buying habits. Do you ever buy short story collections? I doubt it. Few readers do.” And, adds Kneerim, “Publishers are more and more pressured by their corporate owners to turn a profit rather than advance the cause of literature, so they can’t afford to print and market a title that sells 5,000 copies. I don’t think collections ever sold well, but in the days when publishers were owned by families the arithmetic was done differently and the latitude was far greater to publish valuable work even if unprofitable.”

The article certainly does not paint a rosy picture for writers submitting short fiction–Smith interviews a number of writers and publishing professionals who all discuss the shrinking fiction market and talk about how tough it is to sell short stories to both editors and readers.

This morning I got an email from a reader of NSSWM about Smith’s piece. Here’s part of it:

I honestly don’t see the point in discouraging readers who look to your edition for advice from fulfilling their dreams. It isn’t that different from those people who tell writers, “Get a real job.” Both views encourage cynism [sic] and negativity. If, indeed, the market news is that discouraging, don’t bother to write an article on it. Use that space for something more positive. Or at least try to put a positive spin on it.

Really, the article just went like this: Short Story Publishers:

1) Commercial- They hate short stories, don’t bother.
2) University Press- Don’t hate short stories, but there’s still no point in trying
3) Small Presses- Don’t bother

I feel bad that this writers felt discouraged by the piece. It’s intention was not discourage, but to inform. I am a proponent of offering writers an honest look at the market. I think they should know what they’re in for–I don’t feel we should sugarcoat things. I don’t think that’s doing writers any favors.

Writers, do you want to know the real scoop? Should we have passed on this piece? Should we avoid telling you what you may not want to hear? In publishing Smith’s article were we in effect quashing your dreams?

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1 Response to “How Honest Do You Want Us to Be?”


  1. 1 leewindauthor September 23, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Tell us the truth. We have partners and friends and parents to put SPIN on the truth (a.k.a. lie to us), but we rely on experts -like you- for the real deal about the market. It actually helps us figure out how and where to invest our creative time – and this information was useful. If I was PASSIONATE about writing a short story, I’d still probably do it, but it’s great info to know that for debut writers a full length novel is more likely to be published – and with limited time, that helps me focus my efforts! (How’s that for a good spin on it?)


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