Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reinventing the Short Story Market by Benoit Lelievre

Benoit Lelievre has an excellent essay titled "Reinventing the Short Story Market" on his blog Dead End Follies.  I'm a sucker for short stories and I just wanted to scream Yes! Yes! Yes! when I finished reading.  Go check it out!


Ben said...

Thank you for sharing, Sandra. Happy to know I've hit the target :)

sandra seamans said...

The problem with most writers is that they believe that short stories are a means to an end - getting their novel published. So it's nice to see writers who actually believe that the short story is its own special form of writing, Ben.

Thomas Pluck said...

It's been said before, a good short story is often harder to write than a good novel because you have limited time to engage the reader and you can't waste many words. Other genres have stronger short story markets, they pay professional rates; they respect the short story. "Linked short stories" are the only ones agents seem to be interested in for the crime market. We've had many XYZ Noir anthologies lately, such as Akashic, Jewish Noir, Dark City Lights, etc but a slightly less broad theme might serve the cause better. Best American Mystery Stories has always been popular and of high quality, so the stories are out there.
There are dozens of Horror and SF anthology calls every year with imaginative themes. I think part of the problem is "the same thing over and over"... you mention this as a plus, but as much as I enjoy a good revenge tale I'm not sure I want to read 20 of them in a row. Maybe I'm in the minority. A great short story writer like Lawrence Block is easy to read a bunch in a row, his vary a lot in theme. Enough Rope is one of my favorites.

Pankhearst has a call right now for "near-future hell" stories that could certainly be crime stories.

So why do you think people aren't buying them? I don't buy that writers are writing bad stories because they think they will sell their books. Supposedly our attention spans are shorter and short fiction SHOULD be making a resurgence, but if that's not the case in crime fiction, why so? Too many free stories? Or is crime just inherently stronger in long form, with the series character being king? The golden age of the short story is long past, maybe we ought to use clickbait titles. She stole office supplies from work, you won't believe what happened next!

sandra seamans said...

I wonder sometimes if the series character is more of a curse than a blessing for mystery writers. If you pick up an anthology with famous writers you're more apt to find their series character featured which makes it feel like an ad for their novels.

Nobody thinks outside the box for a theme when it comes to crime anthologies. A noir anthology is nice but can get depressing after a few stories. Private eyes all tend to be the same and here again you bump up against your series characters. Murder mysteries all have a dead body, red herrings, and clues that point out the murderer sometimes way before the end of the story. And many mystery writers tend to stick to the same old form instead of stretching into something new. Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines are prime examples of this.

If you read anthologies like the Big Book of Pulps you'll see a wide variety of crimes and storytelling, there's no "sameness" that infects stories written today.

Is there a solution? I have no idea. I do know that I've seen themes for both literary and horror anthologies that could be used to create some excellent crime stories. But your crime anthologies have no imagination when it comes to theme. I remember once seeing a theme for "The Clothesline" which I thought would make an excellent them for a crime anthology but no one bit when I mentioned it.

One of the things I loved about Patti Abbott's flash challenges was how many different types of stories could come from one unusual theme and you didn't get bored reading the different stories because they were all different and for the most part they were all crime stories. I just wish the crime anthologists out there would do something like that.

Thomas Pluck said...

What was the theme you mentioned?
I loved Patti's flash challenges, I placed several of my stories from those challenges in various markets and they've been anthologized. She had a knack for it. I'd say "edit an anthology!" but...
Editing an anthology is a lot of work, and like Ben said, they do not sell well. It is largely thankless work in this genre. Ellen Datlow and many others have made careers of it in SF, horror, and fantasy. Protectors made around $3400 in 3 years. That doesn't count the costs in producing it, most of which I swallowed. For 41 authors, that is $80 each, a pittance.
I'm slowly moving toward other genres like horror which are much friendlier to the short story. Noir and horror overlap quite a lot anyway.

sandra seamans said...

The horror genre is a perfect fit for noir crime stories and one of the reasons I post a lot of horror calls, Thomas. Joe Lansdale is one of the best at crossing those genre lines in both the short and long form.

The theme I mentioned was "The Clothes Line". I'd seen it listed for a literary anthology with no pay but thought it could work for a crime/mystery anthology. Seeing something hanging from a clothesline that doesn't belong there, two women chatting over their clotheslines when one realizes the other is having an affair with her husband, or maybe she's killed her husband. There are so many great ideas that could spring from that simple idea of a backyard clothesline or even one strung between two buildings in a city.

I don't have the necessary skills for editing and putting together an anthology, Thomas or I might consider it.