I ducked out of Pride early because I wanted to attend part of the ShortStoryVille event at the Arnolfini. This was a one-day convention leading up to the presentation of the Bristol Prize this evening. The panel I attended was on digital short stories. The speakers were Patricia McNair (Columbia College Chicago), Ra Page (Comma Press), Bea Moyes (Ether Books) and Dan Franklin (Random House).
I always find it very sad listening to literary people talk about short stories because they go on and on about how no one publishes short fiction these days, no one reads it, critics have no respect for it. To anyone brought up on science fiction that’s a bizarre thing to say. Short fiction has always been with us, always been valued, and is booming like never before. But all that activity is largely invisible to the literary world.
Probably the saddest thing of all was learning from Bea that Hilary Mantel has an archive of hundreds of short stories that she has written and is unable to sell. Yes, that’s Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel. Thankfully, thanks to the advent of digital publishing, mainstream publishers are getting back into short fiction. There’s a market again, and this has to be a good thing.
Part of the attraction of short fiction for big publishers appears to be the price you can charge for it. According to Dan Franklin, customers on Amazon like the 99p price point (or 99c if you are in the US). They’ll buy a “book” for that price without thinking about it, and they don’t much care whether that book is 200,000 words, or only 20,000. Also short stories can be consumed in a single commuter journey, which has value for some.
The most interesting use of short fiction I heard about, again from Franklin, was the idea of “bridging stories”. You know how George Martin’s fans are all bent out of shape because he takes so long to write each book? Well the theory is that if an author can put out a short story every few months then the fans will be much less annoyed at having to wait for the next novel. The idea has been mainly used in the mystery and thriller markets for now, but it has obvious applications in epic fantasy.
The highlight of the panel was, of course, having someone from Comma Press along. They have already done some really great books such as When It Changed, Litmus and Lemistry. Ra Page talked about a new project they are working on that will take the form of a small social network. Some of the participants will be real people, some will be fictional characters created by writers, and some will be chat bots. I grabbed a quick chat with Ra in the bar afterwards and he mentioned some exciting translation projects that they are working on, but there’s nothing announced on their website so I guess I can’t talk about those yet. They do have a brief mention of a bio-punk anthology though. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they do next.