Short fiction has been a hard sell for traditional publishers who typically refuse to take short fiction unless the author is famous or very well-established. The cost of traditionally publishing a print book of short stories for an unknown or relatively unknown author is prohibitive. With digital publishing, however, a book can be produced for free, making this form of story a much less risky and a much more lucrative prospect.
Is short fiction better or just shorter?
Short stories tend to be tighter than longer forms, such as novellas and full-length novels. It is arguable that each word is more important in a short story. In a novel, there is some room for meandering. Short fiction, on the other hand, can be like delivering a punch. It takes a lot of work and skill to give that punch stopping power!
Will shorter fiction bring more readers?
Many people read short fiction, because they are busy and are looking for worlds that they can digest on the train to work.
Short fiction also serves as a doorway to longer stories. People who read your work in an anthology of short fiction might well be delighted to find that you also have novels published. This happens frequently enough that it’s a good reason for novelists to try short fiction too whether they are sold to magazines, anthologies, or published independently.
James Patterson’s new initiative
In an analog version of Amazon’s Kindle Singles – among other short-form digital publishing offerings – wildly successful author James Patterson is marketing fiction to people who have abandoned reading in favor of video games, movies, television and social media. His plan involves making books more plot-driven, cheaper, and short enough to read in one sitting. He has named this line of fiction: BookShots.
It’s been described as being like ‘dime novels’ and ‘pulp fiction’, from an era when commercial fiction was widely-available in drugstores. It will be interesting to follow the reception these books get from the reading and non-reading public alike.
Junot Diaz’s short stories
If you’re looking for inspiration or examples of what makes powerful, short fiction, check out short fiction by Pulitzer Award-winning Junot Diaz. Look up ‘Drown’ (“[a] stunning collection of stories [that] offers an unsentimental glimpse of life among the immigrants from the Dominican Republic”) and “This is How You Lose Her”, described by the telegraph as sharp, bawdy, and raw with emotion. Both of these collections are excellent examples of how to transport readers with skill, style, and an economy of words.
While you want to move your readers, whether it’s to make them cry or gasp or laugh, it’s worth being aware of a particular writing trait that may help you. This is the ability to get out of the way of the story you are telling. Your voice is important, yes, but sometimes authors’ prose can obstruct the story itself.
As a panelist at a Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City, I was asked: “What do you look for in a book proposal?”
When I said: “Writing that doesn’t get between me and the story” the room erupted with applause.
I describe this type of writing as “invisible”. You don’t have long to make an impact in a short story, so cultivate ‘Invisible Writing’ to ensure that your words serve your story, not your ego!