Friday, December 24, 2004

The Short Story Market UK -- Part 1

The people who put this marketing report together interviewed writers, editors, publishers, agents, booksellers and readers. The sample seems to be a little light to me: 19 authors, 102 readers, 6 agents, 12 editors (half from mainstream publishers, the other half from independent and small presses), 7 booksellers (one marketing manager for a chain, 2 managers for large retail chains, and 3 independent booksellers). Because of the small sample I'm not sure how valid the conclusions drawn are, but it at least represents more information than we had.

One of the first things that struck me reading this report is how different the UK market is from the US market for short stories. In the UK it seems that the primary outlets for short fiction are collections (single author) and anthologies (multiple authors). They apparently have almost no magazines publishing short stories. Like the US, with a very few exceptions, the book length works don't sell very well.

Frederick Forsyth's The Veteran sold just over 116,000 copies and was #1 for 2002. Catherine Cookson's The Simple Soul and Other Stories was #2 and sold over 48,000 copies. Both of those were paperbacks. Stephen King's Everything's Eventual was #5 and sold 34,000 copies in hardback. That was the only hardback in the top 20. Ian Rankin's A Good Hanging and Other Stories was #12 at 13,500 copies and was the last one to sell in five figures. The figures drop below 5,000 with Edgar Allen Poe's Selected Tales at #26. They drop below 3,000 at #54, J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth Stories. They drop below 2,000 at #70, Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Number 100 on the list for 2002 sold 1,434 copies.

I don't know how this compares with US figures for book-length works, but I suspect it's not very different.

One of the most interesting conclusions drawn from this study was the impression that marketing short stories for their brevity (fitting into a busy lifestyle) might not be the most effective way. The readers they interviewed said that they wanted the stories they read to be "provocative, meaty, and satisfying." Short stories are, by their very nature, brief, so marketing them on that basis is rather like "All hail, King of the Obvious." They felt that it was better to market on the basis of the depth of the characterization, the meatiness of the plot, etc.

Another interesting tidbit was that most readers felt that short stories were harder to read than novels. The authors of the study believe that this attitude might just be the fault of the educational system. Think back to your literature classes, both in high school and college. While doing this, think not on your own experiences, but on those of the others, the jocks, the popular crowd, the science geeks. How did they react to reading the short stories and answering the interminable and annoyingly vague questions at the end? Personally, I think this conclusion might have some weight.

This entry is starting to run a little long. Since I don't particularly like reading long-form posts, I'm going to cut this off here. There is still a lot to cover, and I'll do that in future posts. But I'll leave you with one other little tidbit: only 4 of the 102 readers interviewed thought it was easier to dip in and out of a book of short stories than a novel; a full 1/3 of the readers through it was harder. The other 2/3 said it didn't matter, novel or anthology. Kind of shoots the old "brevity to fit into a busy lifestyle" argument in the foot, doesn't it?


At 1:38 AM, Blogger Megan said...

Re: short stories being harder to read than novels. Every story, regardless of length, has a certain learning curve. (At least every one worth reading.) The reader is introduced to the characters, the plot developments, the setting, and so forth. In a novel, there will be more material (sometimes by several orders of magnitude), but it's all related and in some sense easier to get a handle on. For this reason I often find that reading a hundred pages of short stories takes more brainpower than reading a hundred pages of a novel.

Re: education. My exposure to short stories in school was to the canon. There's nothing wrong with that--I'll go so far as to say there's a lot right with it--but I do think it would be good for the middle or high school curricula to touch on current publication as well, and underline the fact that the short story is still a vital (if rather marginalized) form. In addition to the standard lit (Faulkner, Hemmingway, Saki, etc.) I can remember some genre work (Bradbury and Asimov in elementary school), but I would've liked to see more. A couple weeks for selected Hugo winners, Edgar winners, etc., maybe. And they could still do the "man vs. man," "man vs. nature" thematic categorization.

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