Short Stories – An Undervalued Art Form?

I have been thinking a lot lately about short stories. I have various half formed ideas floating around in my mind for short stories but as yet the ‘big idea’, the novel length mammoth of an idea eludes me. I have wracked my brains and all that fell out was a couple of short story ideas and some loose change I thought I’d lost down the sofa.

In my efforts to think up a novel, I have completely neglected to write anything of a fictional nature, so I asked myself, why? It’s not that I don’t enjoy short stories, I do, I believe I’ve mentioned my love for M.R James and Conan Doyle etc?

So what is it that holds me back? What gives me that sense of, a kind of shame almost, of being nothing more than a short story writer?  It’s the writing market. Now I know we all tell ourselves that we write primarily because we love it and not with a view to selling our work etc etc but at the back of our minds there’s that little voice that says why am I doing this if no-one will ever see it, or at least at the back of my mind. So what’s the problem with the short story market?

There isn’t one!  Or not much of one at least. If you were to google (other search engines are available 😉 ) You’d see the problem immediatley. There are some out there with rather haughty attitudes to short fiction and it seems to be seen as a bit of a poor cousin to the novel, something that people who aren’t good enough to write novels write. The general opinion seems to be that approaching agents and publishers with short story collections is a waste of time, unless you are already a big name in the publishing world.

The standard advice is to sell to magazines, but with a decreasing number of these publishing short fiction that’s easier said than done. The usual types of magazine that seem to crop up in these discussions are womens magazines. Now I, rightly or wrongly, tend to associate women’s magazines with stories of romance and love. No offence to writers in this genre, but it’s just not my preferred genre; I’ve been accused of being many things in my time but romantic is not one of them!

Of course there are exceptions; I’m not anti-romance, and I’m not saying I never explore the genre; in the end if the story interests me the genre is secondary. But if I read romance I like it to have more going on than just the straight up love story.

Admittedly the association between women’s magazines and romance is a mostly unfounded assumption on my part as I don’t read women’s magazines, again not really my thing.  Therein lies the problem; do I want to write for an audience that I’m not a part of? Is my work likely to be suitable for a product I wouldn’t buy? Should I write something I wouldn’t normally read in order to raise my profile?

In recent years Kindle has bounded on to the market ready to lend it’s assistance to anyone who wants an easy way to self-publish. Even with this new avenue is it really possible for an unknown author to make a success of selling short stories?  Is the gap in the market there simply because it’s neglected? or because it’s no longer what people want to read?

Some of the most celebrated writers from the past made their names and legacies from the short stories we remember them by. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, despite his best efforts to the contrary, is still best remembered for his Sherlock Holmes short stories. In my opinion, with the exception of  ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ ‘ the Sherlock Holmes shorts  actually worked far better than the novels featuring the character.

M.R James as I mentioned earlier is one of my favourite authors and it’s for his short ghost stories that he is remembered; arguably the ghost story is a genre that works at it’s very best in the shorter format, though I’m sure there are exceptions. One of Charles Dickens’s most famous stories was ‘The Signalman’, which was a short ghost story.

The short story is undoubtedly something that requires skill if it is to be done well; it is an art form in itself and requires brevity and imagination. A different set of skills perhaps to the novel writer? Or perhaps being a short story writer first can make you a better novel writer by honing your skills?

My questions are: Is the short story an undervalued art form? Should first time short fiction authors be given greater opportunities to get their work seen? Is the market too restricted? If short fiction was more widely available would you spend your money on it, or do you prefer a weighty novel to sink your teeth into?

Answers on a postcard…. kidding comments box below please 🙂

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