A Season of Short Stories

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
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This post feels like it was a long time coming. I had the idea for it over a week ago but didn’t have the time between a multitude of social events and actually putting pen to paper and writing. Yes, you heard that right. I was writing. I wrote almost every night this week, not on my novel (which I only feel a smidgen guilty about) but on a short story. The short story is actually the inspiration for today’s post. Without any further ado, let’s get to the point.

Short stories. It’s an art form that doesn’t get a lot of exposure in the current market. Books there are aplenty, but to find a short story you have to know where to look. When I do come across a short story it’s either in the one free e-subscription I have to Fantasy&Science Fiction Magazine, or it’s an anthology found in a bookstore. Short stories are great, but people don’t hear about them. I have friends who read, but I have to admit I can’t remember them ever saying, “Oh, man, this short story by so-n-so is fantastic! You should pick up a copy of whatever-it-was-printed-in.” Nor have I said anything in kind.

The closest it’s gotten is when a well-known author who is well-liked by my social group puts out an anthology of their short stories a la George R.R. Martin’s Dragon Dreams. (Which I got as a gift for Christmas and I’m loving so far. Always cool to see how an author’s work has progressed.) Or if someone like Patrick Rothfuss has a short story featured in a collection such as Unfettered.

I’ve heard of people selling short stories as self-published e-books, but I’m going to be honest and say that buying a short story is a hard sell for me. How much is a short story worth? Especially if no one else has heard of it. One of the best things about short stories is their length. You can breeze through one and experience a whole story full of emotion and thought. How much is your time worth? It seems to make more sense to buy short stories in a bundle, a collection, an anthology…whatever you want to call it. Just like books, one size does not fit all, and I’ve been forced to read some short stories that were not that great. The best part about buying in an anthology is if one is a dud you still have several more to get through before passing judgement on the whole thing. The problem with buying an anthology is you have to weigh the difference of buying an anthology of short stories you’ve never heard of or buying a book that people have been raving about. I love me some short stories, but the premise of the collection would have to have some big name authors and a theme that had me intrigued as all hell. Really, I would maybe buy into just a really fantastic theme, but the trouble would be getting me to stumble upon it because like I said before, my friends don’t typically suggest short stories to read.

Maybe you’re different. Maybe you always go for the short story collection. Maybe you often recommend them to your friends. But then you’re in the minority.

When I actually sit down with a short story I find them enjoyable on a level that’s different than reading a novel. They also tell stories differently. When words are at a premium every one of them counts. Short stories can be reflective without seeming to drag on for eternity. They can have those nifty little twists of fate at the end that are so clever they make you smile. There’s no time to say, “I saw that ending coming at the end of the first chapter and it took 20 more to get to it.”

How do you handle an art form that on the surface has no market? As a writer, do you “waste time” playing with characters and scenarios that won’t make it into a novel or do you plod along writing something longer that you know is marketable?

Last week I sat down with an idea for a Dungeons and Dragons character that I know I will not have an opportunity to play any time soon but desperately want to play around with. “Go ahead,” I told myself, “play around with the character and write a short story to get it off your mind.” So I did. Problem was the more I wrote the more I wanted to say, but not in a “this is a novel” kind of way. I wanted a series of one-shots, not long enough to really be considered a serial either (such as Wool with its five novellas that happen chronologically but were separately published when they first hit the scene). In a way, I wanted to write the equivalent of a TV series that would never be performed. A TV series for print.

With this in mind I continued to ponder the concept of short stories released like a season of a TV show. One short story per week. Each short story able to stand alone with maybe a little bit of overarching plot thrown in but still enough that even those released later in the season could be understood by themselves (although better with background knowledge). This was an idea I could get behind. A challenge. As this thought popped into my brain at 1AM and continued to percolate I started thinking logistically how you would get such a thing to the public.

I continued along the vein of TV shows. Provided the program is on local stations the cost for watching every week is absolutely nothing. When the season is finished you wait a couple months and it gets released as a DVD for any and all to purchase and enjoy in one big chunk. It would be possible to post said short stories on a blog, one per week, and at the end of the season compile them and release them as an e-book/print-on-demand. Free access to the stories on the blog but if you want a shiny copy you can read away from internet access they can be purchased for minimal fees when it’s done being written (like you see happening with web comics) Maybe you release an extra short story available in the e-book only, nothing that affects the main storyline that’s released but a fun extra for those who really want to see a little bit more. If it’s a superhero book maybe the extra is a comedic piece about what he does on his day off.

The only problem I can see with this idea is the question of “how much can you give away for free and still self-publish”? J. A. Konrath has an e-book that is a compilation of blog posts all discussing the art of writing (Newbie’s Guide to Publishing) that was actually offered as a free PDF at the same time. Yes, you could either scroll through the blog and read them that way, download the free PDF and see them compiled neatly by category, or buy the e-book from Amazon for just under $3. In fact, if you read through his blog, you can still find the link to the free PDF. If I’m remembering correctly, Hugh Howey has a first draft of his book The Plagiarist in a blog entry of his as well which he then later self-published.

I don’t have any real-life experience with self-publishing but from those examples it would seem as a master of you self-published fate you can publish anything you like, regardless of if it appears on your blog. More research would definitely be needed if undertaking such a venture, but the idea is there, hovering in the back of my mind. Perhaps it’s a way for short stories to continue to be viable. People go to wordpress, search for the tag “short story” and BAM! up pops entries by various authors of their most recently released short works. At the end of the year you self-publish it and maybe you get a few sales from it. If nothing else your work is out there for people to enjoy and comment on.

It’s a crazy idea, but I think it has some merit to it. It’s something that just might work.

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