Sunday 14 April 2024

Short story collection sales

If poets think the publishing world is against them, they should consider the story writers. Conan Doyle could earn enough to live just by writing short stories. More recently, John Updike (thanks to the New Yorker) could sometimes (with the help of reviewing) be in that condition too. The trend has been down ever since.

  • In the UK in 2002 "fewer than 25 books of short stories were produced by mainstream publishers. And two thirds were by writers from abroad" according to Debbie Taylor (Mslexia, Spring 2003).
  • In 2017, The Bookseller announced that "Short story anthologies are enjoying a boom in sales, rising by almost 50% in value, to reach their highest level in seven years." though Hanks and Jojo Moyes accounted for 22% of those sales. The Guardian's Complete fiction: why 'the short story renaissance' is a myth article gives more details.
  • Sales were static during the pandemic, while sales of novels increased.
  • In 2022 Miranda Bryant wrote a Guardian article, "Tales of the unexpected: the surprise boom in UK short stories". In it Nicholas Royle points out that "Salt Publishing, Comma Press and Nightjar Press, and prizes such as the Sunday Times short story award, the BBC national short story award, the Manchester fiction prize and the Edge Hill short story prize ... have played a key role."

Comprehensive statistics are hard to come by. e-books and freely available Web-published pieces confuse the issue. The stats probably don't cover books sold at readings, but that's where poets have another advantage over story writers - there aren't many story readings.

In some countries (Eire perhaps) things may be better though when I was last wandering in Paris (2019) I got the impression that short stories were struggling there too. This photo of Maison Poésie's front window, isn't very clear, so let me translate the little comic strip.

  1. Short story
  2. "Would you like to publish my short stories?"
  3. The End

Alice Munro's Nobel success, Tom Hanks' book of stories, and Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Visit from the Goon Squad" don't seem to have changed public opinion.

Sometimes story writers try to make their collections look like novels. A more recent trend is to try to attract readers of Flash by having a mix of short and long pieces. Claire-Louise Bennett's "Pond" combines both of those ploys. Stories from The White Review, Stinging Fly, Harper's Magazine and New Yorker form an episodic novel of sorts. Several of the pieces are less than a page. Did the trick work? I don't know, but it was widely and well reviewed.

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