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Dec 22, 2014
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An Indie Writer’s Short Story Journey: A 21st Century Take

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I write short stories. Perhaps you read them. You’re a rarity if you do. Because when it comes to the short story genre, it usually isn’t the type of book that traditional publishers are looking to produce.

Featured, Guest Author, Homepage Sub  •  Nov 26, 2012

by A. Yamina Collins

 

I write short stories.

Perhaps you read them.

You’re a rarity if you do. Because when it comes to the short story genre, it usually isn’t the type of book that traditional publishers are looking to produce.

The saying goes that short stories don’t sell, and to be perfectly honest, there’s a lot of validity to this claim; which is why indie publishing has afforded writers like me an opportunity I might not have gotten otherwise. You see, indie publishing has now made the idea of sales numbers less critical to an author’s ability to publish, and keep publishing.

Why so?

Because self published authors are no longer in danger of being “dropped” by a company simply because their groovy little short story collection only sold 50 copies. Authors can continue to publish and produce however many books they want to, without worrying about a bookstore pushing their books off a shelf to make room for newer, incoming titles.

After all, the “shelf” of the internet now allows books to live on forever.

The ability of books—via the internet, to be available long-term—combined with indie author’s new power, could make this the decade we see a rebirth of the short story genre. Remember when F. Scott Fitzgerald was making a majority of his income off stories he sold to the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s?

Ok. Maybe you don’t. None of us were born almost one hundred years ago.

But surely you remember a brilliant little dude who went by the name of Edgar Allan Poe? Does anyone really believe the public would have no interest in reading quality short stories like his?

No, I’m not comparing myself to either of these two literary geniuses. I am only saying that a new opportunity has arisen for indie authors to once again make the short story genre a viable option for readers. And even if sales might remain slow, authors will have nothing to complain about, not really; indeed, there’s something wonderful about not having to worry about sales numbers anymore – it does something uplifting to a writer’s psyche and soul.

It takes the fear out of publishing, that’s what it does. It makes writing feel more like a true art form, giving credence to the idea of creative exercise for the self-published author. It allows us to indulge our inner artist – and have a little experimental fun while we’re at it. We honestly have it better than many of our literary hero’s of old.

I am reminded of how Henry James, considered a master of the short narrative (or the “nouvelle” as others have called it…stories that were basically short novels) was confined by what he could write in terms of length. However, today, we can play with a variety of lengths in the genre. Want to write a single short story? Maybe a short novel? Perhaps something that’s 60, 70 or 111 pages long?

For us indie authors, it’s now up to our discretion. What freedom! But so few of us taking advantage of it.

Think about it. It took Henry James until the age of 51 to hear Yellow Book editor Henry Harland tell him the unthinkable: that any contribution he made to the literary magazine would “go unchallenged” and be paraded in the magazine “in its own organic form” no matter what the length his “short story” proved to be (these were such sweet words to hear that James called the offer “the fruit of the finest artistic intelligence.”). That was in 1894.

Yet here we are, authors are in the 21st century, with the bridle off on our “story freedom”, and we aren’t taking advantage of it.

Perhaps it’s a shame for both the writers of this genre and the readers.

I am hoping the floodgates will open soon, regardless of sales.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I for one would love to be able to quit my day job and make enough money from my short story collection, “The Blueberry Miller Files” to live on. Nonetheless, the dread of not selling a certain number of books is forever gone for indie authors.

In my book, in fact, I got to play with different styles and ideas and even different subject matters.

Publishing the book via my own company gave me the freedom to be a black writer who writes about white characters (sometimes), a Christian author who refuses to use cursing in any of my stories, even though it might not “sound realistic” to some people (ah, well…), a humor writer who gets to explore the mind of a black Anglophile who adores Shakespeare a little too much, and a “southern” observer who does something I never saw done in “Gone with the Wind”: let the slave holders speak with as much of a jacked-up dialect as the slaves themselves spoke with.

Could you imagine me trying to pitch a collection like this to a traditional publishing house? Where is the cursing, the rabid sex scenes, the gangsta tales, they might’ve asked me?  Thankfully, there is no gatekeeper to keep writers like me out anymore.

Now I’m just hoping that the public still cares about this genre. And even if they don’t, it’s been an amazing ride because of indie publishing.

So, here’s a cheer to the publishing revolution of the 21st century; where a whole new wave of creativity, and unprecedented opportunity is open for folks like me to write the stories we’ve always dreamed without a sales chart hanging over our heads.

****************************************************************

Author A. Yamina Collins runs the popular literary blog Yaminatoday.com. She has been featured on About.com for women in business. The Blueberry Miller Files, a collection of tales about the humor, awkwardness, and tragedy of the human condition, is her first published book. You can purchase the book on Amazon.

  • http://yaminatoday.com/ A. Yamina Collins

    Thanks for welcoming me to IndieReader. I enjoyed writing this post and hope authors of all walks will get something out of it. All the best,

    A. Yamina Collins

  • http://www.orcutt.net Chris Orcutt

    Yamina,

    I, too, love the short story form and have had several published in literary journals, but in the last 2 years I’ve received nothing but rejections. Over 250 of them. That’s why I’m going to be self-publishing some of them as a collection in the next few months. Put them in front of actual *readers*, not jaded editors, and I know they’ll enjoy them.

    Like you, I hope the short story form makes a comeback here, and given how the attention span of people is decreasing, I think short fiction has a chance.

    Good luck with THE BLUEBERRY MILLER FILES and all of your future short fiction. As for me, I’ll continue to write my detective series to earn money, but the elegance of the short story form will always make it my first and strongest love. Stories by Anton Chekhov, John Cheever, Andre Dubus and Raymond Carver are among my favorites. I’ve always said that if I could write just one story that approached the brilliance and drama of Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” I could die a happy man.

    Take care, and thank you for revitalizing interest in the often neglected short story.

    —Chris