26 February 2013

Short But Difficult

I've had a couple of requests for me to read short stories recently. This has always been something of a thorny topic for me when it comes to commercial endeavour. In fact, even when I did my time in writer's circles back in the day writing shorts was never really my thing. I always tended to submit chapters of longer works, the contexts of my larger story worlds could never comfortably cram into a single short.

I also have found reading shorts by others to be a tricky business. The best short fiction is ephemeral, leaving you wanting more; at least the worst tends to be fairly inconsequential. Short fiction has always struck me as a tool for a writer to get a quick insight into problems with their style, pacing etc. I have to say, looking back on my own experiences with peer criticism it helped me develop a thick skin, but did it make me a better writer? Only in the sense that I had a thicker skin.

A professional guide can tell you what is 'commercial' according to accepted publisher's wisdom and what is not. If there is some glaring inconsistency in your short that can be picked up.

I have never been upbraided for my overuse of the words 'had been', which is odd because I lean on them far too heavily. Nobody has ever suggested that I change ands into follow on sub clauses either e.g. 'Milo picked up the pen and rose to take it to Niles' should become: 'Milo picked up the pen as he rose, intending to take it over to Niles.' Although the second is slightly longer, it flows better.

I learned these things on my own, without writer's circles.

So the short story has never been a favoured form in my eyes. Less so when you intend to charge people money for it. There was a song out last year, you know the one, about sharing a dollar with someone and them sharing their story in return.

Well, if the story is performed, acted out, forms a short performance piece you might get value for money. If it's delivered to your e-reader, well formatted and packed with dynamic, shapely prose, you almost inevitably won't.

Here's the issue. If I received the best short story I had ever read (An unpublished short work called 'Movies and Kids' written by an author called Nicholas Antosca) was sold to me for a dollar that might seem like a good deal. Except the short story is approx 5k words in length. So I'd have to spend 10 dollars to get the equivalent of a bare minimum Nano entry in word length. Most novels are between 70 and 100k these days (although I predict the return of the 50k special in days to come) the indie author will typically charge me between 1 and 6 dollars for 70-100k, a trad author will retail between 7 to 12 dollars for the same amount.

Now, hold on, I hear you cry. Quantity does not equal quality.

No, not always. But in this case it kinda does. Genre reading has one basic requirement: entertainment. If I could by a genre novel to keep me entertained for 1-3 weeks for 3 dollars why would I buy an equally entertaining (if also aesthetically beautiful) short that I will only be entertained by for about an hour for one third of the cost?

Answer: I wouldn't. No one sane would.

That leaves us with an awkward problem. I cannot, in good conscience, endorse a work of short fiction offered for sale at any cost greater than, possibly 20c. I believe this price bracket is not currently available on the e-publishing platforms. Let me know if I am wrong.

So, until micropayments become a reality, however they manifest, I find my self in the position of having to eschew requests to review short fiction pieces because I cannot recommend that people spend money on them over bulkier works that represent better value for money.

This is because I am a genre-reviewing heathen. A more literary reviewer may be appalled by my mercenary aesthetic sense, and rightly so.

So, this is by way of a blanket apology to short story writers looking for review here. I am afraid that I cannot help you out because I currently can't find your work, as it stands, to be economically viable.

Note: Short story collections are a different matter... particularly pulp shorts etc. Serial segments on a value spiral are also acceptable (e.g. part 1: free, parts 2/3: a dollar apiece, parts 4/5: two dollars apiece, omnibus edition: four dollars).

Get back to me when I can pick up a single short for a few pence. Then we can do a like-for-like comparison with larger works.

1 comment:

  1. I have a short story collection I'd like you to read and review. It's up to you, it's for troubled teens. Check the website at www.streetlighthalo.com in order to get a feel for what I'm doing. Let me know with the contact on my site. Thanks.