The Difficulties with Selling Short Stories

tgssI’ve noticed something in my time as a bookseller – a lot of people, most of them in fact, think they don’t like short stories.

Me, I love them.

A couple of years ago, I went through a strange phase which left me without any attention span. I’d get about three chapters into a book before throwing it at the wall in exasperation. It was bad – nothing could hold my interest. Maybe I was just choosing the wrong books, who knows?

Now, for Joe Soap on the street, this isn’t an issue, but the inability to finish a book is a pretty fundamental handicap when you happen to be a bookseller – how are you going to recommend something you haven’t read? You could lie, I suppose, but here at your favourite bookshop, we don’t do that. This is the kind of moral quandary that was keeping me awake at night.

It was around this time that I discovered short stories.

For the better part of a year, I read short stories exclusively and looking back on it now, it was like eating a box of chocolates without a map – very exciting with surprises around every corner – some pleasant…some not so.

By the end of it, I’d sampled a wide variety of authors whose larger works I’d found intimidating and I’d gained an enormous repertoire of collections to recommend to my valued customers.

“How happy they’ll be,” I thought.

I was wrong.

The scene is always the same. I’ve built a good rapport with someone, we both enjoy the same things, we’re joking and laughing and it doesn’t even feel like work. And then I ruin everything.

“So, do you ever read short stories?”

I’m met with an awkward grimace usually reserved for street pamphleteers and the same tired excuse: “I prefer something to get my teeth into.”

That’s fair enough, I suppose, but sometimes I’ll persist and make a few suggestions – all of them titles I know they’ll like – but we’re not friends anymore. I’m just some raving idiot in a bookshop and they’re an uncomfortable stranger backing slowly away from me.

Now I’m not saying short stories don’t sell at all. Your Chekhovs and Carvers tick over fairly regularly but what hope can a budding author hold when all they have is a first collection of short stories. These could be the greatest, most inspiring tales you’ll ever read – but you’ll never read them – because you want to get your teeth into something.

I’ll leave you with a friendly suggestion. The next time you’re stocking up on books, grab a collection of short stories. It could be just one author or, if you prefer, an anthology. Ask your friendly bookseller for advice if you’re not sure where to start. Take your book home and read one a week – pick a time when you’ve got a few minutes to kill and you’ll see. You’ll see that you’ve always liked short stories – you just thought you didn’t.

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