The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story!

I keep hearing from people who ask why Cemetery Dance Publications even bothers publishing anthologies and collections (or even the magazine!) these days. After all, isn’t the short story dead?

Well, if it is, I guess I didn’t get that memo.

Yes, obviously the heyday of short stories in print has passed. None of us are selling short stories to the Evening News or Saturday Evening Post or even the paperback original anthologies that crowded the bookstores in the ’80s and early ’90s — and those markets aren’t coming back.

But I don’t think the lack of markets means the short story is dead. As long as authors want to write short stories and there are readers who still want to read them, the form will live on. In my experience, there’s definitely still readers who want to read short fiction. Not as many as there once was, but I think there could be more on the way — if only we help younger readers discover the thrill of the short story again.

After all, at least when I was a kid, most of the books I read in middle school and younger were essentially long short stories. You read those little paperbacks until you graduated onto “adult” books.

These days, it seems like all of the emphasis is on writing your big series of novels for younger readers — three books is okay, seven books is great. I keep hearing from authors that their younger readers don’t even KNOW what a short story is, and these readers find it confusing when they stumble across a piece of short fiction.

This confuses me. Have they completely dropped English classes from the curriculum? I know it was fourteen years ago that I last stepped foot into a high school classroom, and in the age of the Internet that’s approximately 1 billion years ago, but I remember having an entire book full of short stories as part of my English class each year.

But even if young readers aren’t being properly introduced to the short story, maybe we can still win them over. Time is in short supply for everyone these days and short stories can be a convenient break from reality for a busy person. You can finish off a short story in less than an hour in most cases. Sometimes ten minutes is all you need. Sometimes a story will take you five minutes to read and yet you’ll still be thinking about it days or months later if the author did his or her job right.

That means you can read a short story on the bus to work. You can read a short story over your lunch break, if you’re not too busy playing Angry Birds. You could even read a short story between classes while walking across your college campus, if you were so inclined.

If the people around you don’t think books are cool, you have nothing to worry about thanks to the rise of eBooks. You can be staring at your cell phone and everyone will think you’re just stumped by the letters you have on Words With Friends. No one has to know you’re actually reading a story. (Although, seriously, if the people you hang out with aren’t into reading, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons a bit and find some additional friends. Try your local library or bookstore while they’re still around.)

I hope short stories will find a way to flourish in the world of eBooks. Some of my short stories are already on Amazon.com right now from a marketing experiment I tried a few years back and I’m pleasantly surprised to see a few of them selling several hundred copies a year with absolutely no promotion at all. That tells me there are still readers for short fiction out there.

What are your thoughts on the short story? Is it a dying form? Or will eBooks bring them back to life?

20 thoughts on “The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story!”

  1. I don’t think short stories are dead at all. For someone like me who is busy, short stories are perfect. Some of the best things I’ve ever read were short stories in high school and college.

  2. I sure hope the short story isn’t dead. It’s all I write! And as you mentioned, these days when everyone is in a hurry you’d think there’d be a place for short fiction.

    1. Short stories are definitely my natural habitat as a writer, so I’ll still be writing them years from now if they *are* dead, but hopefully they’ll find a rebirth in this new digital age.

  3. I believe it was Mark Twain who once remarked (after seeing his name in the obituary section) – “The news of my demise is greatly exaggerated.” I believe there will always a place for the short story – even if it is not so much in print.

  4. Steve King was said that readers are lazy and do not like to read short stories. I like anthologies because you get a sample of may different author’s. Why print Cemetery Dance magazine, because it is filled with short stories. You can really get some fantastic shorty stories if you look for them. Cemetery Dance must be doing something right, they have been around for over 20 years. You have other magazines like Dark Discoveries that is also pack with short story. The short story is not dead. Look at all the comic books that are coming out by King, Hill and others. Are they not a series of short stories?

    1. So many of our favorite authors in the Cemetery Dance book line started out writing short stories for the magazine. The rest of the publishing business doesn’t really work that way these days, but we’re still finding new voices we like in the slush pile.

  5. It’s my theory that when you learn to write a short story, you’re on the path to being an author. Creating short stories is the best way to learn the craft of writing.

    1. I always assumed most writers started out writing short stories as a kid like I did, but I know that’s especially different now. You have a lot of writers who just decided to be writers one day!

  6. Novels are nice, but a short story done well delivers a kick in the gut long remembered.

    I’m sad to hear that the short form is possibly declining. I am hopeful that authors will include this most challenging art form in their portfolios. As it was once said, “I didn’t have enough time to write a short speech.”

    When writing is rich, concise, and brevity is paramount, word count is immaterial. Commercial concerns are often another matter, I’m sure. Art vs. profit motive….

    I will always enjoy a new book’s sound and smell as it is opened for the first time. And getting to know it in a tactile and visual way, as a former teacher suggested. Will the brick and mortar book survive? I sure hope so.

    eBooks are okay, too. If electronic publishing allows more short story writers and readers to share one mind for a while, all the better.

  7. Just an FYI….I don’t get but an hour or sometimes 2 before bedtime for my reads, so long novels take me quite a while to get through.  I love short  stories.  I can get through them without too many days (weeks) involved, plus they seem to hold my attention better.  I hope the feedback described below doesn’t deter too many writers from the short story. Take care, Tony

    >________________________________ > From: Brian James Freeman >To: tonyroyg@yahoo.com >Sent: Friday, March 8, 2013 1:56 PM >Subject: [New post] The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story! > > > >Brian James Freeman posted: “I keep hearing from people who ask why Cemetery Dance Publications even bothers publishing anthologies and collections (or even the magazine!) these days. After all, isn’t the short story dead? Well, if it is, I guess I didn’t get that memo. Yes, ob” >

  8. As far as making a living as a short story writer, that avenue to make a living is dead, dead, dead, dead (except maybe not for George Saunders, 10TH OF DECEMBER). But I agree, people are short on time, and a quick hit for a lover of literature is better than no hit at all. And didn’t we all start loving fiction, speculative or otherwise, with this form? Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT was a book of short fiction that completely turned me out as far as horror went, and gave me nightmares when I checked it out of the back of my Catholic school way back in the 7th grade. I reread this collection every few years, and the shivers aren’t there the way they were when I was a kid, but the power of these stories is undeniable. A short story can change your perspective in the same way a novel can, in less time. (So if Cemetery Dance ever publishes the short piece I submitted a month ago–Armor and the Day Before–check it out, I may change your perspective on arthritic thousands year old vampires.)

  9. I don’t know if this is funny, or ironic, or just plain sad. In the fall of 1985, I sold my first horror short story to Cavalier magazine (Dugent Publishers) for $250.00. I remember thinking that wasn’t very much money. Stephen King was paid that same amount back in the early seventies for his short fiction. Still, when the story finally came out in 1986 and I got paid, the money bought me some books. Now, you can hardly find a publication that pays $250 for a horror story, except for Cemetery Dance and Dark Discoveries and maybe one or two others. The going rate in today’s market is about $10.00 per story, plus a contributor’s copy. So, no, you definitely can’t make a living today writing short stories, unless your name happens to be Stephen King.

  10. both. glob bless cemetery dance for paying a decent rate…which can make all the difference in the world…buy a couple of dozen cup o’ soups to keep going for weeks…keeps the blood in my veins so i won’t have to sell it this week…heh…oh, wait, already did that…kidding. i also remember reading about the time carrie was sold at auction and stephen king was brought to his knees when he was told the amount. think it was 400k split between him and his first publisher…don’t recall exactly.

  11. Oh, I”m also that book review guy up above…forgot I even had this account, or the other one that’s conflicting with this and giving me an alterego.

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