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Can short stories find an audience?

13 July 2015

At the London Short Story Festival a month ago writers lamented the lack of a publishing market for short stories. With one or two notable exceptions, such as Comma Press, which is publicly funded, publishers do not find it economic to publish short story collections.

I was rather surprised recently to meet a writer doing a Creative Writing Masters at a reputable college who told me that she wasn't interested in writing novels, only short stories. It may be philistine to say so, but this author is never going to make a living out of her writing because there is very little market for short stories. The market which does exist is really an online market, which does at least mean that short stories have the advantage of being saleable online.

But how do you find a price that will work for the reader and also recompense the writer for their time?
The reason publishers have not been able to work out a way of publishing single short stories is that they cannot be sold in a way that will recompense both the author and the publisher. Short story collections have much the same problem but a larger investment for the publisher.

For whatever reason - and there are notable exceptions - book-buyers do not want to buy short story collections. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that readers show a strong preference for novels. They like to get immersed in the characters and the story - and the short story is simply too short to allow for that.

So what can short story writers do? There are reputable short story websites, such as Writing Short Fiction, which offer many suggestions. There are certainly markets such as literary journals and short story competitions which are worth trying. But perhaps the most obvious solution is to self-publish your story and then see if you can find an audience for it, off or online, rather than expecting a publisher to support you.