Browsing in a very large bookstore recently, I searched for the short story section. There wasn’t one. I had just read a collection of short stories, “Fabulous”, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett. I loved this clever collection where well-known the author has retold the stories of mythical characters but in a modern garb. I was ready for another such collection and to find a new author. Despite countless shelves of fiction, I could find only seven different titles for short story collections. There were more titles for knitting.
On Amazon, both .co.uk and .com, a search for literary short stories brings up over 50,000 titles, but these include many for foreign language learners. Local libraries rarely have a separate section for short stories, and there are few listed in their catalogues. You might expect a greater appetite for short stories than for poetry, but you can usually find a shelf-full of poems. It seems logical that short fiction would sell better than long when our tastes are for the quick bite: we text in condensed format, tweet in 140 characters, TV dramas change character and scene rapidly to retain audience attention. But there’s little evidence of eagerness for short stories. Most magazines dropped their short story features long ago and big fat Harry Potter novels are the best sellers. How few Amazon reviews there are for even the most respected short story writers in comparison with minor and short-lived genre fiction titles.
Even so, there are numerous competitions for short stories. If at least the top ten entries are publishable, that should mean hundreds of stories printed every year, but no. Perhaps it’s because there are so many sites where short stories can be read free? Typically, winning stories are available online. Leaving aside those sites where new writers are trying out their stories for online criticism and encouragement, such as Inkitt and Wattpad, free reads of past works are offered by Project Gutenberg.
The covers of short story collections are often bland and devoid of visual information. It’s unlikely they’ll catch the eye and win a serenditipous sale. Yet, such collections have likely some sort of theme. If none is suggested by the author, such as revenge or love or conflict, there is always the culture, time or place of the story settings. Isn’t it worth the designer encapsulating some relevant image to attract book browsers?
Here’s a sample of fairly recent short stories well worth sampling. The Best American Short Stories 2023 ed Min Jin Lee (brilliant author herself); Christmas is Murder: A chilling collection Val McDermid; Old Babes in the Wood, Margaret Attwood (for which volume I enjoyed attending her promo in Bath). The Best Short Stories 2023, Ed. Lauren Goff;