Short stories and novellas (say 20-40,000 words) are on the way back, which is great news on so many levels. I love writing short stories as you can write it and have it read in a lot less time and effort than it takes for a novel (say 50,000 words and up). Novels have not always been in existence and a lot of the ‘formula’ for novels was set by the commercial realities publishers have to face to make a profit.
There are valid reasons why books are the way they are and more has to do with what sells than the story that needs telling. The ‘airport blockbuster’ of 500 to 800 or so pages is not really ideal for reading on a plane, but a short story or collection of them is. You can dip in and out as you like whereas a novel is a commitment that too often the rigors of a journey don’t allow you to enjoy. The reality is there is a certain investment per book, regardless of length that must be met. An extra two or three hundred pages is the least of the costs to be considered. When buying a book, people are more likely to think they are getting value from one that would stop a bullet compared to what used to be the norm for novels 30 or 40 years ago.
Electronic publishing, eBooks, has changed all of that and much more as well. You can now download a short story or collection of short stories to your eReader or other device and the overhead, while remaining pretty much the same for a traditional publisher, is virtually nothing for indie publishers and self publishing authors. Even with professional editing and other out sourced help, the investment is in the hundreds of dollars rather than the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
Short stories can also be good loss leaders, introducing a reader to an author so that they go on to buy their novels and other writing. Stephen Leather, a favourite author of mine, does this very well, offering short stories for free or just a buck and including links to his latest releases. I recall over a decade ago reading, for free, his superb look at the seamy side of Bangkok life in ‘Private Dancer’, a book his publisher claimed would never sell, Stephen offered it for free as a download (this was way before Kindle et al) and after however many thousands of downloads, his publisher saw the error of his ways and now the book is available in print as well as online, but no longer for free. We exchanged emails about this and of course, Stephen was very genuine and approachable as I have found all the ‘big name’ authors to be. We are, after all, just ordinary people with a brilliant talent… (shameless inclusion of self, there)
The great thing about short stories is that you can offer them for free to promote other work and you are not giving away the ‘farm’ or devaluing your work. You can sell them for 99 cents or compile them into an anthology and add a couple of bucks to the rrp. The really big news is that short stories are selling once again and that has to be a good thing for readers and writers. None of which, of course, takes away from the necessity to write a good story and to present it as error free as possible in a professional manner. After all, if you are charging money then you are a professional and everything you put your name to should reflect that.