Short Stories and the UK Small Press
In 2006 Rachel Cooke wrote that "it is more difficult than at any time in the last 100 years to make money from short stories ",
claiming that "In the Fifties, John Updike was able to keep his family by selling just six short stories a year". Nowadays
All it not lost. Recently, 2 story collections won prizes ahead of novels
- Fewer story collections are published
- Fewer mainstream magazines print stories - woman's magazines in particular
have been affected.
- Fewer fiction-only non-genre magazines exist - In the UK there's
only Riptide and
short Fiction. Working on the assumption that writers subscribe to magazines
that they appear in, fiction magazines are going to attract fewer subscribers
than poetry magazines will, and will struggle to survive.
- Alice Munro won the International Man Booker prize
- Deborah Kay Davies won the Wales Book of the Year Award 2009
but they're rare exceptions and seem to have no trickle-down effect. Attempts have been made to get contributors to subsidize publication. At least
one small press I know thinks that
this is the only viable means of publishing stories nowadays
It's worth supporting these - the money goes to a good cause.
It's no accident that these initiatives are all by small presses. The small press is
traditionally associated with poetry, but of late their
involvement with small stories has increased.
funded by story (the UK campaign to celebrate the short story) in 2004 noted that
- Cadenza magazine only printed stories that succeeded in their
competitions. Aesthetica now does likewise. Glimmer Train in the US is similar, I think
- Salt are running
Scott Prize story collection competition where the winning entries
are published (45,000 words, deadline 31st October)
- HappenStance are running
a short story
competition (2500 words, deadline 9th August)
- "The number of collections published by mainstream publishers
has fallen significantly, but the number of collections published
by the independents (including self-publishing) has increased"
- "Despite the fact that over half of all short story titles published
were by independents, virtually all of the top 100 short story
bestsellers for 2002 were from mainstream publishers, and
most were written by novelists"
- "Small presses tend to offer similar advances for short story
collections and novels, and sales of collections can be
amongst the bestselling titles for this group"
- "Small presses experience more success comparatively with
short story collections, and collections are often amongst their
Amongst the small presses they had in mind were
But small presses are feeling the pinch at the moment.
The long-term solution, again, might be the WWW.
Elizabeth Baines in
is beautiful article mentions short story webzines
like Pulp.net, East
of the Web, and Storyglossia.
Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals in "Poets &
Writers" Sandra Beasley writes that
"The barriers are coming down. Selections from online magazines are now regularly included in the Best American Series of annual anthologies. Online editors can nominate their contributors for the Pushcart Prize. The National Endowment for the Arts permits up to half of one's qualifying publishing credits to be from online journals"
Maybe short stories stand to gain the most from this revolution. Sites like
Everyday Fiction exploit the
medium by allowing reader comments and voting.
Updated June 2009
- My impression is that the US markets are distorted by
University-subsidized journals. Is the climate for short stories healthier in the US? Are there small presses in the States that focus on short stories?
- In 2006, Picador published a series of 12 booklets called "Shots". Costing
£1, each contained a story or two. In 2008 they published 8 more, this time at £1.99 each. I didn't buy any. Would you?