Salon Says There Is No Short Story Boom

In reaction to a New York Times article stating there is a short story boom, thanks to digital technology and shortened attention spans, Salon published an article saying there is no boom. Laura Miller, the article’s author, notes that the only book mentioned in the Times article selling well is George Saunders’ The Tenth of December, and Miller attributes that to other factors, writing, “Saunders has built a devoted following over the past 17 years, hadn’t published a book in a good while and — most important of all — was heralded in the headline of a long, radiant profile in the New York Times Magazine as producing ‘the best book you’ll read this year.’ All of that could have happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and produced the same result.”

Yet, the Times articles does not necessarily make the case that short story collections are selling well. (Really, how many books are selling well now-a-days?) The Times instead makes an argument that the Internet has made it easier to publish short story collections and has even given rise to some indie presses focused solely on short stories. Miller does, however, acknowledge that the advent of smartphones changed reading habits, but she wrongly states that the Times claimed smaller screens  have led to a resurgence in the short story. I’m not so sure that is what the Times  articulated but rather that reading habits are changing and the Internet has shortened attention spans. As a creative writing and literature teacher, I see this all the time. Trying to get students to read a novel, or even a long poem, is a challenge. Now I don’t have particular evidence that the Internet has fundamentally altered the brain and changed attention spans, but it does seem likely. The youngest generations have grown up with the Internet, with instant information, and with a culture of soundbites. They want entertainment easy to digest in a sitting or two.

Regardless,  the Times and Salon articles provide interesting debate about the place of the short story in contemporary society and whether or not it is undergoing a resurgence because of the Internet.

Resurgance of the Short Story

Short story writers rejoice! No longer do you have to feel like your medium is the oddball cousin of the novel. According to this recent article by the New York Times, short stories are undergoing a resurgence, due to the Internet and our short attention spans. For a while, the short story market was tough. A lot of publishers didn’t want to release short story collections and instead focused on novels and memoirs. Even some journals shied away, due to a shortage of funds that made their page counts smaller and smaller, thus making micro fiction or poetry the preferred genre.

But all of that is changing, thanks to the Internet. Several well-known fiction authors have released short story collections recently, and the trend will continue. According to the article:

“Already, 2013 has yielded an unusually rich crop of short-story collections, including George Saunders’s Tenth of December, which arrived in January with a media splash normally reserved for Hollywood movies and moved quickly onto the best-seller lists. Tellingly, many of the current and forthcoming collections are not from authors like Mr. Saunders, who have always preferred short stories, but from best-selling novelists like Tom Perrotta, who are returning to the form.

Recent and imminent releases include Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell, whose 2011 novel, Swamplandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Damage Control, a first collection by Amber Dermont, whose novel The Starboard Sea was a best seller in 2012; and another first story collection, We Live in Water” by Jess Walter, just off his best-selling novel Beautiful Ruins (2012).”

While literary journals that have traditionally published short stories may be dwindling, the Internet has offered new publishing opportunities. For instance, Amazon created its Kindle Singles program a few years ago for publishing short fiction and nonfiction. The cost for the reader is cheap and authors get 70 percent of the royalities.  Meanwhile, some smaller Internet publishers, such as Byliner, are pushing short stories.

What the Times article proves is that the Internet is creating yet another change in the publishing world and making it more possible for short story writers to find a market. The article also notes that our attention spans are rapidly decreasing and we want work we can read in one sitting. Short stories, however, have long been around, and some of the most well-known fiction authors of the last century, including Hemingway, Carver, Cheever, and Nabokov, have written memorable short story collections. Now there is an emerging market for such a form.