Last week, I received these words from a thoughtful, well-respected agent:

... I have no confidence in being able to place a collection at this time in the world of publishing. Publishers don't like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can't in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad. I am very sorry. If you write another novel, I will gladly read it...

Not very encouraging, to be sure.  Is this agent right?  Is the short-story collection going the way of the dodo bird?  It's been a long time since I've been in grad school.  Are short stories still the working unit of MFA workshops?  If so, where are all those stories going now?

 


Comments

Dave McNair
07/30/2009 09:56

May be you should change your name to Mahmood Trainer. Ah, don't worry...that's what agents are supposed to say. Writers just gotta keep writing....that's the challenge...and welcome to the blogosphere. Hey, where's the link to my blog?

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Jack Carneal
07/30/2009 14:27

I love hearing stories about how writers get stuff done; in many cases these anecdotes might convince me that my own processes aren't quite as ridiculous or worthless as I might think at my worst...Would you consider writing a longer essay about working for PT? I loved the CBK piece but wanted more. For example, did PT spend a lot of time on Facebook while only wearing his underwear, meanwhile telling Eleanor that he was hard at work on his new novel? If yes, that would make me feel a lot better about myself.

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Mark Trainer
07/30/2009 14:40

Hey, Dave, I didn't know you had a blog. Hell, I'll link to anything.

Jack, maybe this is the place for that PT essay. I've always resisted it, for some reason, but what the hell.

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07/30/2009 16:32

What story collections have sold (reasonably)well? Any come to mind? There must be some.

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07/30/2009 16:50

Mobylives had a good post back in 2001 about short-story collections, the marketplace, and readership. http://bit.ly/4sM3UY

Money quote:

"The problem, it is often said, is that story collections have never sold much, although I'd point out that they've never been promoted much, either. Hype them as heavily as some novels get hyped — Raymond Carver, Melissa Bank — and they sell just fine, thank you. I mean, no American should ever forget that we live in a country where someone not that long ago made a fortune selling pet rocks at Christmastime."

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Jay Wigley
07/30/2009 18:47

Uh, hello? The 2009 Pulitzer was to the collection "Olive Kitteridge," which was obviously short stories. But face it, fiction isn't moving much. Short stories are high art these days. Publishers are in survival mode. Survivalists aren't into art. Will that change? Maybe. But I wouldn't expect it.

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Mark Trainer
07/30/2009 21:25

Jay,

I take your point. But how did stories get put in the high-art ghetto? I certainly don't blame publishers for not buying story collections if story collections don't sell--they're in business, after all. But how did we get to this place? What made readers think if something runs under 20 pages, it won't be any fun to read? Can I blame those New Yorker stories I can't bring myself to finish?

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Mark Trainer
07/31/2009 00:15

My wife Jennifer Howard and her writer friends have taken up this thread here:

http://twitter.com/#search?q=@jenhoward

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Mark Trainer
08/23/2009 23:07

So this thread got picked up in The Rumpus. The comments are worth the read:
http://therumpus.net/2009/08/more-crappy-news-for-short-story-writers/

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Dave McNair
09/22/2009 13:09

Of course, who cares if nobody reads your short stories if you get a MacArthur Fellowship....
http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2009/09/22/eisenberg-gets-genius-grant/

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LYNN MUNROE
03/31/2010 03:29

Hi Mark - are you the son of paperback author Russell Trainer ? Lynn

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