Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Short Story Market UK -- Part 3

The part of the study dealing with readers and the promotion of the short story was particularly interesting. Two-thirds of the respondents who said they don't read books of short stories said that was more by accident than design. I interpret (dangerous ground, here) that to mean that they simply didn't go looking for short story books. If one were to suddenly pop up in front of them while they were browsing, they might buy it. About half of the group that didn't read books of short stories said they did read short stories in magazines, but that was, again, more by accident than design. They read them because they were there. Now this does not apply to genre fiction magazines like AHMM, EQMM, and Crimewave. This applies to general interest magazines that only publish one or two short stories per issue. As a part of this, they said readers were more likely to read a single short story than they were to read multiple short stories.

The study suggests that the reason short stories are not read more widely is a matter of exposure. Short stories just don't get the attention that longer works of fiction do. This led into a discussion of the future and readership development programs. Some of the suggestions were specific, but most were not.

Of the specific ones they said that a reading CULTURE for short stories needed to be developed, and the best place to do that was in the schools. Another one was to develop readers groups that concentrated on short stories, though this was seen to have difficulties. How do you develop a short story readers group when you can't convince the readers that short stories are fun? One of the publishers' marketing directors said, "It's hard to get readers groups to read short stories - especially library-based ones as they tend to use library stock. Libraries are very unsupportive of the short story. They think that readers don't like reading short stories, but is this because they don't promote them enough?"

They also talked about how libraries shelve short story collections, suggesting that they be included in promotions and shelved in the general fiction sections rather than in short story sections. I don't know about the UK, but that would certainly queer the old Dewey Decimal System over here. I think it does have some merit, however. Most people looking for fiction don't go to the 800-section of the library. I'll bet if the short stories were shelved with general fiction it would increase borrowing.

One of the less specific suggestions was to "rebrand" the short story and "explore ways of engaging readers in new ways." Rebrand is one of those nebulous marketing terms that doesn't seem to mean much in the real world, but this is the kind of thing I was talking about in the rants that started this whole landslide of ramblings. We, the authors and readers of short fiction, need to do something different to increase the exposure of the short story. Maybe that means visiting with our local librarian and suggesting a table promoting short stories. I don't think we're going to convince them to break short stories out of the 800 ghetto, but you never know. Maybe it means starting our own readers groups. "Tired of trying to read War and Peace in a week? Read a short story instead." Maybe it means making a run at the iPod generation.

What I do know is that we have to do something different. "There's no point trying to do the same thing as 250,000 other young hopefuls, waiting for a miracle."