Episode 175: Long Fic or Short Fic? That is the question.

Theme for the day

On February 5, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on the debate between long fiction (novels) and short work (stories, flash). Here are the show notes:

Everyone’s Reading Short Stories … No, they aren’t.

Agenda

  • Why aren’t we reading novels anymore?
  • Short story trends and rumors their resurgence
  • What form is best for you? (i.e. what sells?)
If screens are the problem, does a Kindle book addiction mean I’m doomed?
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1/2

After reading an article about the reason we need to keep reading novels, I (Kasie) suggested to Rex that we take on this idea of critical reading and how we build that skill set. We take it for granted that people read. For two reasons: 1) we read a TON and think that’s normal and 2) we write and we are hoping (hoping!) that people will buy our shit and read it.

This week we take a look at this reading thing. What do the trends look like? What are the opportunities (to think about this like entrepreneurs) and what are the worrisome numbers? When I couldn’t find the original article I read, I just googled “screens are making us reading” (seriously) thinking I’d find it. Turns out, I found a lot of conversation, going back as far as 10 years, related to reading on screens versus reading on paper and predicting the end of books. Yup.

Let’s unpack.

Rumors of the long-form demise:

  • No one reads novels anymore
    • This article is about how no one will read your book – is this a supply and demand problem? Are there not enough readers consuming enough books to meet the supply of so.many.writers.? Publishers Weekly thinks so. Stats: 16 minutes per day reading (for those few Americans who actually do read books) and 3 hours per day of Netflix (if you wonder WTF is with that ratio you’re not alone).
    • The big 4 represent 75% of the commercial book market and people tend to read books that are already popular. Sigh.
  • Former bibliophiles confess to having a hard time reading or finishing a book in this esquire article.
    • Blame our smartphones and their incessant notifications
    • We’ve been training our brains to skim and scroll instead of reading for depth and understanding
    • The author says, “my mechanisms for focus and attention have been gradually worn out and I find it harder now to shift gears.” Does that resonate?
    • And this: “Reading is a prolonged and concentrated effort in dealing with only the subject at hand, weaving through the logical transitions paragraph after paragraph and building a comprehensive thought after one has gone through the entirety of the text. It is, after all, a skill that requires considerable and constant practice. Simply put, the kind of reading we do in social media is easy, messy, random and incidental.”
  • Is this about reading comprehension skills? If you had a strong reading comprehension skill set, would the extensive social media reading have degraded those skills? Or, if you had a poor reading comprehension skill set, was social media made for you and is exploiting that?

Segment 3/4

Does the difficulty with novels mean we should all be writing in short form?

OMG! People have been writing short stories forEVAH (link). Yeah. We know. But that doesn’t mean people have been reading them. What’s the appeal?

  • Fiction? Fact? Meh. Who cares? – there’s an audience for a compelling short story, but we typically assume they’re fiction.
  • Thank goodness for Buzzfeed and this list of short story collections to read if you can’t focus long enough to read an entire book.

Are publishers looking for short story collections? These ones are.

  • But this blog suggests short stories (and collections thereof) don’t sell.
    • Characters – we don’t know them well enough, they don’t stick around long enough
    • There’s no follow through – without a part two, without a series, we don’t see potential for future earnings
    • Authors explore too much – short story collections are an author finding their way (different genres and styles) and don’t lend themselves to reader preferences of consistency

But agents know better, right? They know what readers are reading. So are they buying (signing) short story collections?

  • These 12 are.
  • And this article explains why they think there’s merit in short story collections:
    • Readers can start and stop them easily, and consume small portions when able
    • Writers are able to do so much with an economy of words in this form
    • There’s a challenge in stringing together all those stories via theme or style, the artistry is really on display

Okay, great. But do.they.sell?

  • The anthology model suggests they do: publishers solicit contributions for a themed anthology and then don’t take a chance on a single author, but spread the risk over a dozen or more.
  • So the full collection by a single author might be less likely to sell than the anthology except – yet some major awards seek the best single-author collection like the Flannery O’Connor Award from U of Georgia Press and the $20k Story Prize for a collection – The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw won the 2021 prize; the University of West Virginia Press published that collection.

Segment 4?

Let’s talk commercial fiction and whether the short form or long form fits better in genre fiction.

Or let’s talk how to decide what form to go with

Or let’s talk about how you know you have a long piece or a short one

How can short stories support the longer piece?

How does getting better at short stories make you better at the longer ones?

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