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7Sep/111

Why Does No One Buy Short Stories? The Paradox

Lately, when writing friends speak to me for the first time in a while, they ask how my short story collection "The Cheat Sheet" is selling.

"Honestly...not great," I tell them.

"Oh, I'm sorry," they say, in the hushed tone usually reserved for news of a death in the family.

It's no big deal I tell them. I didn't expect it to sell well. I assumed it wouldn't sell well. Short story collections never sell well. People just aren't interested in them.

And there lies the paradox.

In a world where people seemingly crave shorter and shorter content, where attention spans for art and entertainment continue to diminish, where long novels and epic movies and four hour baseball games are being all but marginalized, if not avoided, for pithy Tweets and YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, where you are even getting sick of how long this sentence has been going on for...

You would think that the short story would conquer.

But, for some reason, it doesn't.

It's now been ten months since the release of "How to Fail," yet last month alone it still sold 3 times better than the brand-new release of "The Cheat Sheet" in paperback and nearly 50 TIMES better on Kindle where both are priced exactly the same (a mere 99 cents).

"How to Fail" gets generally great reviews so you'd think most people that read and enjoyed it would then pick up the, again, 99 CENT Kindle copy of "The Cheat Sheet," but the numbers simply don't bare that out.

Fine, I'm just one man, just one writer. Maybe "The Cheat Sheet" simply has content that doesn't interest people (are you scared of sex?), even "How to Fail" fans. So let's look at some other authors.

Turn to the "best sellers" in short story collections on Amazon and you're smacked in the face instantly with these depressing facts:

*The current #1 and #3 best-selling short story collection is "A Visit From the Goon Squad," an admittedly great book deserving of best-selling status, but very much not a short story collection (though it is short story collection-ish in it's unique style).
*#2 is the two-decades old classic "The Things They Carried" which, again, just like "Goon Squad" isn't exactly a short story collection.
*Soon we actually start getting to legitimate short story collections, but a lot of it is stuff you've never heard of, if not schlock you're not so sure you ever want to hear about again (see: "Hot and Steamy: Sizzling Sex Stories--OK, I guess some purchasers aren't scared of sex!).  And all of it could hardly be called "best-selling," even in a world where no one reads books any more.
*The rest of the current top 100 best-selling short story collections is predominantly stuffed with old, surely public domain works from long-dead authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Jack London.  Not exactly the kind of trendy, state-of-the-art, modern works you find dominating the top 100 lists in other niches.

What gives?

Does the collecting of many short stories into a larger volume negate the brevity that people crave?

Do people perhaps not crave paying for short content?

Perhaps it isn't that no one reads short story collections.

Perhaps it's that no one pays for short story collections.

People will read a story here or there, usually in a magazine, or free off the web, but few people seem to want to commit to an entire collection of stories, with rare exception (Tucker Max, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Chelsea Handler...then again, notice those are all stories based on real-life).

Of course, there's the new "Kindle Singles" section where you can simply buy a single story for a buck or two, but even those don't seem to be selling all that great.

So what is it?

What do you think? Do you buy or read short story collections? Have you bought any Kindle singles?  Why or why not?

 

Buy HOW TO FAIL:  THE SELF-HURT GUIDE in paperback
Buy HOW TO FAIL:  THE SELF-HURT GUIDE for Kindle (only 99 cents!)
Buy THE CHEAT SHEET in paperback
Buy THE CHEAT SHEET for Kindle (only 99 cents!)

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  1. Richard Bausch is my favorite short story writer, and I’ve taken the time to purchase two of his collections. I’m in the process of publishing my own collection, titled “Amidst Traffic” and reading this post is a bit discouraging, but perhaps sobering in a very much needed manner. I decided to add a twist to my collection, in which, even though all the stories can stand alone, most of them have characters that “bump” into each other in some way and cross through the elements of other stories. The attempt is to have each story become bigger than itself, while at the same time, each short could easily be (and most have been) published alone in literary publications.

    I’m sorry to hear that your collection isn’t selling well. I’d buy a copy, but I’m not a fan of sex in fiction.

    I’m mainly publishing the book because I believe the stories deserve a place in print, and some will read it. Even if the sales aren’t great, I’ll still feel satisfied by the fact of accomplishing the collection.

    Best of luck to you!


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