Why is the short story so unfairly stigmatized?
Too many writers awkwardly attempt to shoehorn story ideas into novel length manuscripts. Why? Perhaps because that’s what we as writers are conditioned to think of as the holy grail.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the novel. A chunky, dog-eared paperback is what I reach for on the bookshelf. Like the two hour movie though, novel length is derived out of consumer expectations. Buyers want a certain length for their money and expectation of value stems from word count.
Not every story has the bulk and heft of a novel though. That doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile story. And it certainly does not mean that it’s not useful.
One of the most difficult editorial conversations is the one that begins like this:
“There isn’t an entire novel here.”
A conversation like this should not rouse despair though. Notice that it is not an indictment of quality. What I’m saying is, there is simply not 70,000 words of content. So?
“Go shorter,” I reply.
If your editorial review says it’s not fleshy enough for a book, keep at it. The short story is as useful a tool for a writer breaking into traditional markets as it is for a self-published author building an audience.
One way to look at your short story is as proof of concept. If you’re building out the world where your novel is going to take place (specifically writing in genres like science-fiction, horror or fantasy) a bunch of published short stories prove to editors and agents that your concept has legs.
Many authors have been very successful with this track. Go take a look at the contributors section in the back of a large genre magazine like Fantasy & Science Fiction or Asimov’s Science Fiction, you’ll see that those authors are building credibility for their worlds (or their novels) through short story fiction.
The same applies to self-publishing authors. I’m amazed sometimes at how linearly my colleagues think when it comes to their fiction. There is a rigid adherence to the novel length book as master form.
Why not parse out material from that world and self-publish those? A lot of great authors use short stories and novellas to build up their audience. Sure, it’s like a small price point, maybe ninety-nine cents or free, but each story builds your readership, your fanbase.
Use it to build your email list. Use it as a give away when you do a crowdfunding campaign.
Find a walk on character. Maybe that accomplice to the crime is interesting. Maybe the sullen bartender. Build out their back story (as you should anyway) in the form of a short story.
Readers demand content. With e-readers and internet publishing, content delivery is changing rapidly in the direction of what readers want. The bookseller’s shelf isn’t the only place to turn.