Does Size Matter (Short Story Questions)

Fiction

As many of you know, I have been going through my short stories, both those that I have posted here (over 110!) and those I haven’t (only looking at a handful of these) to pick out the best for a collection of short stories I want to self-publish.    I’ve also been doing a little research into it.  Instead of clarifying it, the research seems to muddy the waters.  So, keeping in mind I am going to do with it what I want to do, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

Size is an important issue, both in the length of the book and the stories themselves.

The advice for novels is around 80,000 words.  I’ve heard up and down, though mostly up.  An 80,000 word book of short stories seems awfully long.  What do you think?  The only advice I’ve seen is to make it at least 40,000 since prizes usually only look at books of that length.  I’m not going to win a prize.  I’ve seen examples cited of short story collections by known names that range from 40 – 120,000 but most self-published collections I have read are much, much shorter.

OK, so lets say I choose 50,000, give or take.  Most of the stories I’ve posted are very short, lets put an average of 1000 words.  That would mean 50 stories.  Does that sound like a lot of stories to you?  Too many?  It sounds like a lot to me, but perhaps not.  I have books by big names that have 30 or 40 stories, but all of the self-published books I have contain less than 10, some as few as 4.  OK, I have one that has 69, but that’s a different story.

Which gets to story length.  Every bit of advice I’ve seen says to NOT publish any flash fiction or short-shorts.  These were defined as 2 pages or less.  A lot of stories I’ve been looking at are less than 750 words,which is about 2 pages, perhaps less.  The advice-givers all state that only other writers like very short stories, “real” readers hate, Hate, HATE short-shorts with a passion and will not read them, period.  All of these articles say, “Don’t believe me?  Ask people.”  So I’m asking you – If you are reading a book of short stories, do you skip those that are just a couple of pages long?  Do you hate them?  If you flip through a book at a book store and it is jam packed with very short stories, do you immediately put it back on the shelf?  Of course if my stories are an average of 5000 words, then that 50,000 word book only has 10 stories, which seems like a good number.  Or does it?

One thought I’ve had – I purposefully made most of the stories very short for the blog.  I could fill them out a bit for the book.  Of course I’d have to be careful.  If something was written to be lean, I don’t want to lessen the impact by putting in filler.

Enough about size.  There is an even bigger issue.

Every single article I have read about short story collections have said that the very, very worst thing an author can do, worse than bad grammar/spelling/story telling, is to mix genres.  It seems to be the cardinal sin of short story collections, the biggest no-no imaginable.  They all say that if you write in several genre, to only use stories from one.  If you don’t have enough, do not put out a book.  From what I understand, the lowest level of author-Hell is reserved for people who mix genre.  Of course I do not write in one genre.  How boring!  I do not read in one genre.  Again, how boring!  So, if I put out a book with widely mixed genre, will readers hurl camel dung at me, if not literally, then verbally in the reviews?  Note- I am 98% sure I will have a wide mix of genre, but I am very curious on what people think.

As i said, I am going to put out the book I want, but I’d love to hear what every one thinks.

Thanks!

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24 thoughts on “Does Size Matter (Short Story Questions)

  1. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee – 2/13/2016 | Trent's World (the Blog)

  2. Sarina

    Also I forgot to mention, when it comes to a selection of poetry and collection of short stories there needs to be a flow from one story to the next. I’ve seen stories intersected with quotes or things like mini thoughts to get a flow going. Author’s do it differently. But a flow is important. Perhaps like someone has already commented to group them according to genre.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I doubt if I’ll organize them by genre, but I will think a lot about flow between the stories. I’ll also mix up lengths a bit, but I want to have one idea introduce the next. I think this will be most difficult with the small handful of “outer-space”, far future sci-fi stories. I might end up having to group those a little, though it might just be three or four stories.

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  3. Sarina

    Before I started blogging I was very genre loyal. I’d only read short stories if they fit into a series of books I was already reading. So I can honestly understand the genre thing. Mind you I’ve now come to realize how limiting this was. In all honesty your readers are most likely to come from your blog who already are used to your certain style. Do it your way. if you need help in the form of betta readers and cover design critique I’m here.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks! I think you are right. I think every author has their own style and voice, so when it comes to genre, the people who read my blog know my voice and often ignore the genre. Since that will be my main audience, at least initially, they should already know what my writing is about.
      Thanks for the offer to help. I might take you up on it later.

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  4. Corina

    Because I like just a few genre, I would not be interested in a collection that had more than two or three genre. I don’t think it would matter to me if there were 100 word stories mixed in with 7,000. It would be a welcome way to choose a story of the length I wanted to read if I’m on the run. Maybe alternate the short and long stories? Also as to genre, I might like it if they were grouped by genre so I knew what I would be getting.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks Corina. I see your point about grouping the stories by genre. I’ll give it a little thought. You might find this weird, but when I write a story the last thing I think about, really, is genre. I think the stories are all related and the fact that one is depressingly set in a gritty version of the 1980s and another is a humorous story on a star ship doesn’t matter, it is how the characters behave in their given situation that I find fascinating. But then, as I said, I’m also very eclectic in my reading… Anyway, something for me to think about.

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  5. Solveig

    I have to think of the Grimm fairy tales. They are in different genres, different lengths (some are half a page while others are about 20).

    I’d prefer a book that includes different genres and different lengths.
    Maybe you should do it the way you wish short story collections would be.
    Some time ago I read a short story collection with 12 stories or so, some were great and others unreadable but as it was a bestselling author the publisher did not tell him not to publish.
    I’d say 25 stories is a good number. Maybe you could throw a novella or long short story into the mix. And flag fiction pieces can definitely be great.

    Sorry my comment is a mess, written on my phone…

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Actually, that’s amazing well written for being on the phone – I’m awful at doing anything involved on the phone unless I do voice to text.
      Thanks! Grimm fairy tales is actually a good example. I have a few stories that are in the 3 – 7,000 word range, so I will very likely use most of those longer ones unless my beta readers hate them. My first thought was between 20 and 30 stories, but when I started to do the math the book seemed awfully short! But throwing some of the longer ones in will help. So, yeah, 25 was pretty close to what I was thinking.

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  6. joannesisco

    I’m afraid I’m probably not going to be any help at all. I’ve only ever bought and read one book of short stories … and it was Steven King – because, well, Steven King.

    I never got into short stories because I thought I wouldn’t like them. Instead I enjoyed getting immersed in the characters and storylines of big books. At least that was true until I started reading blogs of short stories and flash fiction. I discovered I LOVED short stories … but I have no preconceived ideas of what ‘short’ really means. (Remember I said I wasn’t going to be any help).

    I’m not sure I agree about not publishing flash fiction though. Poetry tends to be short – often very short – and there are lots of books of poetry. Why can’t flash fiction co-exist with longer stories in a book? … like mental floss between short stories :)

    As far as mixing genres goes, it does make sense to me to not mix them. I read many different types of books, but when I’m reading a book, I expect a certain consistency from it. It’s like watching a few sit-coms and then suddenly trying to get into a serious drama. It can be too jarring to go from one genre to another. I sometimes have that problem in bigger books as well.

    That’s my 2 cents worth.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks! I tend to agree about having an occasional shorter work in to break up the longer ones. I get your point about changing genre. Story order can be important, so I guess I would have to make sure transitions aren’t jarring. My style, the themes I use and my “voice” are relatively consistent so that might help, but it is something I’ll have to think about.

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  7. eloisedesousa

    I would say it depends on the age group you’re targeting. Depending on your target audience I would say stick to the advice of those who have come before if you want to make money. If it’s something you wish to share with a wider audience, well then, it’s up to you! I like short stories and prefer mixed genres – similar to what the reader’s digest used to print many years ago. As Tessa pointed out, only choose the best of the best. The story length won’t matter if the reader doesn’t enjoy it.
    Good luck!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      My target audience is adult. I know i won’t make much money, but i do want to sell a few books. Of course, as I said, if I follow the big names (Steven King and such) it goes one way. If I follow what fellow bloggers have done, it is the exact opposite. I am planning on only the best – of almost 120 total I may do maybe 30, though maybe more or less depending on how it goes. And then, as you know, edit, edit edit! What I post on my blog are pretty much first drafts.
      Thanks!

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      1. eloisedesousa

        I can’t wait to read the final collection. Good luck and follow your heart. It’s your creation at the end of the day and to quote Dr Seuss, “those that mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind!”

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Thanks Eloise! Yes, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, I’ll do it my way, but it does give me something to think about as I pick stories out. Currently my list has a few checks (yes), a few more x’s (no), but far, far more question marks ;)

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  8. D. Wallace Peach

    I’m no expert on this, Trent, but here’s my 2 cents. Most anthologies I’ve read are relatively short – under 10-12 stories. The stories tend to be a bit longer than what you’re talking about (2000 words and up) or at least a mix of lengths. To me, the book’s total word count isn’t a big deal. I expect to pay less for 7 stories than 25 stories. I probably wouldn’t pick up an anthology of 50 short stories. If I’m reading short stories, I’m usually on the go and want something I can pop in and out of. Mixed genre wouldn’t bother me, but I can see how readers might feel disoriented. Again, I’m not an expert. Good luck with your collection :-)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks! One of your statements, you “want something I can pop in and out of” – for me that means a lot of little stories that I can pour a bowl of cereal and read a story before I finish eating it. Then the next time I sit down for 5 minutes I have a different story I can read. Right now the stories I’m reading have wide variety of lengths: a handful of 4-7,000 word stories, several 2-4,000 word stories, a few more 1-,2000 and a lot of under 1,000 word stories. I may put in a very short story (100 or 200 word) but not many.
      You are an expert of what you like and what you read, so thank you for your opinion.

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  9. Tessa

    A 100 word story can get a great story across and a long one can be boring as hell. I think it depends on the writer. I don’t like mixed genres as much. I once read a book and all the stories but a couple, fit on one page each. Good stories though. You really have to pick and choose. I would think 1 pagers would have more stories in the books. Longer ones less.10 – 15 long ones maybe. I am not an expert writer, but I do read a lot and though I usually stay away from story collections I do read them occasionally. Not my favorite choice because I like to get lost in what I am reading. Help Any??

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      So, it depends? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;) Short story collections aren’t very popular for the very reason you stated. That’s why most publishers avoid them unless they are by big name authors.
      Thanks, it does help. I want to see different people’s ideas. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to do, but I want to get a feel for what others think.

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