Ever since I got into this publishing game, I've heard the conventional wisdom that publishers don't like short-story collections. That didn't stop me from writing some, as I enjoy the challenge of crafting a tight tale and drawing full characters with a few strokes. Some of my stories have seen publication, but placing a story is a time-consuming process. I began to wonder if pulling them into a collection would be a good idea.
I got a big, flat "No" on that from Cherise Fisher, a book consultant I met with during the James River Writers conference. "Publishers don't like [short-story collections] because they don't sell. People don't buy them," she told me.
So much for that. Still, I have to wonder why.
As a reader, I go to novels when I can see chunks of time to devote to immersion in another world ... like when I'm heading to the island, or there's bad weather ahead to keep me indoors and idle. Short stories are more of an anytime thing. I like to have one or two waiting in the New Yorker or a literary magazine for bedtime reading or to accompany solitary lunches. A published collection is always welcome here.
I don't like every short story I read, but when I find a really good one it can haunt me for days, even years. They encourage me to try new authors. I would rather buy short stories by someone I don't know than invest both the time and money on an unknown novelist.
Am I an unusual fiction reader? Do most readers truly stick only to what they know, Clancy after Clancy or a steady diet of romance, leading publishers to play it safe? Even today, with everyone so time-pressed, would someone rather tackle the 700-page Tom Wolfe than sample eight pages by, say, Jordan Langley?
Really, I want to know. Oh, I'll continue to write small pieces about island people and their lives, because I feel compelled to do so, but I'd love to learn the reasons that they won't be read.