Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Publishers and short stories

It’s a truism that collections of short stories are a hard sell. Publishers are reluctant to take them because they know there’s a good chance that readers won’t be willing to buy them. I tended to think of this as simply the way things are, without really wondering why it should be so. It’s for that reason that I had a kind of an “aha!” moment in April 2018, when I saw a tweet from Sinéad Gleeson, the editor of The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of short stories by Irish women. Gleeson quoted Mavis Gallant, who wrote in the Preface to her 1950 Collected Stories:

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.

If story collections are not to be read as though they were novels, perhaps an approximately novel-length volume in which the stories are listed like chapters is not the best delivery mechanism for them. What is that volume, after all, but an invitation to the reader to read them in sequence, one leading on to the next, in about the same time as it would take her to read a novel? Does that explain why readers, and therefore publishers, are wary of the collection? Because the reader knows from experience that the volume is likely to remain unfinished, unreturned-to, a long-standing reproach?

The preceding paragraphs originally formed part of a post I wrote back in 2018 about where to read short stories online. The rest of the post is long out of date and I deleted it at least 18 months ago. But last weekend, in the last Talk about books post of 2022, I was writing about short stories and I’d have liked to include a link to these paragraphs, so I thought I’d resurrect them as a short, standalone post.

And, as we’re on the subject of reading short stories online, here’s my too seldom updated list.

Posted by Art on 07-Jan-2023; minor edit 15-Mar-2023.