Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are short story collections dead?

During the last ten years or so that I was director of TCU Press, we routinely rejected short story collections, usually without reading them. The policy was based on bitter experience--we had published collections by well-known Texas authors, stories that I really thought were high quality. And we inevitably lost money on them. In this day of POD and  e-books, they may be more profitable, but I came away with the impression that readers don't want short stories. They want to immerse themselves in the world of a novel. Short stories were saved for literary journals and the occasional commercial magazine that publishes them. Remember when POST published all those stories by authors either already famous or soon to be? Those days too seem gone (oops, just dated myself--I mean I've read about the history of that magazine).
In the past I was asked to contribute to several themed anthologies of stories, the most difficult among them the time I had to write about some sort of firearm--I required a tutorial from my longtime friend and mentor, Fred, and if I remember correctly I wrote about a derringer--and a young girl out for revenge. "Pegeen's Revenge" was one of my favorite stories.
Today my publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, publishes themed anthologies of romance short stories. Recent titles inlude Men in Uniform, Foreign Affairs, and Be Mine, Valentine. They must be successful or TMP wouldn't continue to publish them.
I have one collection of fourteen stories in print. Sue Ellen Learns to Dance is filled with stories about what was once my focus--the lives and loves of women of the American West, both historical and contemporary. Originally published by Panther Creek Press (thank you, Guida Jackson), it got some nice blurbs and reviews but it never sold much. When I asked for permission to post it as an e-book, Guida gave me her blessing, and up it went on Kindle and Smashwords. Recently, a couple of fellow members of Sisters in Crime/Guppies have discovered the title and said some quite nice things about it but mostly it languishes.
I have two books posted myself on those platforms. One, Mattie, sells quite well. The short story collection simply doesn't sell. I know a redesigned cover would help--the current one has too academic a look, so a friend who owns a gift shop tells me. It didn't sell for her. You can comment on the cover as seen above. The photograph, which is eloquently poignant and sad, is by Dorothea Lange and was my personal pick. But at this point, I'm reluctant to put more money into redesigning the cover. Then again, maybe I didn't market it enough, put enough oomph into it (yes, this blog post is an effort to remedy that).
I don't know the answer to Sue Ellen's status, but I'm curious: do you read short stories? Collections of them? Don't get me started on poetry collections...but then, I've never written a single poem.

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