Wednesday, July 23, 2008

short story collection: cold, hard reality

From: karina

I've been holding off on emailing you about my experience with your short story collection. I sent you a question earlier, but maybe it's still waiting in line for its turn or maybe it got lost in cyber-or-spam space.

My first read was totally self-indulgent: "Touching Fire" happened on a ferry to Vancouver Island, "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese" at a coffeshop in Tofino, watching the little boats make their way back from a Native reserve island where my wife spent a week camping, "Yaguara" on a log by the beach. Thank you. I enjoyed the collection immensely.

My rereading was done trying to figure out, "Why the hell doesn't Nicola publish more short stories?" I want a 500-page short-story collection!

You mentioned on your blog that you "write stories occasionally, but not that often, because I know I'm a much better novelist than short form writer." I thought your short stories were quite accomplished. Self-contained and tight, yet expansive and powerful. So I'm now wondering if perhaps it is that you enjoy the process of writing a longer piece much more than you do with shorter ones... Or is it that publishers tend to push writers toward novel-length narratives? I was thinking of Nancy Kress and Orson Scott Card, among others, who had to "expand" their shorter pieces to accommodate the demands of a publisher. In writing circles, I often hear, "Perhaps you could turn that story into a novel." The suggestion makes me cringe. So... yeah. That's me: short-story junkie.

All this rambling leads to the ultimate question (because now I've formulated too many), "Is there another story collection coming up?" Or will I have to reread With Her Body three more times?

I won't be publishing a short story collection anytime soon. Or an essay collection. Or my memoir in an affordable trade edition. Let me tell you why.

Publishing is broken.

I make my money from writing and selling novels. When I sell a novel to a publisher, the editor, and the editor's marketing and sales bosses, look at my previous sales figures. They do not compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. They look only at how many I sold of my last book. So if I publish a full length short story collection with a small but respectable publisher and it sells only 3,000 paperback copies, no publisher will then give me a six-figure advance for my new novel. Given how it takes me to write a novel, if I don't get a six-figure advance, I will starve.

It was okay for me to publish a 3-story chapbook in a chapbook series from a small, speciality genre press, because those figures don't count. It was okay for me to publish my art-press memoir-in-a-box, because those figures don't count, either. But I can't publish a book-length book book, because those figures do.

I don't want to starve. Those books will remain unpublished.

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