Saturday, July 18, 2015

Guest Post by SR Mallery, author of 'Sewing Can be Dangerous and Other Dark Threads'

I would like the author to write a post on ‘The merits and demerits of writing a book of short stories instead of novels’

On the ‘merit’ side, writing short stories was the easiest path for me.  Having been a quilt designer/teacher for over twenty years, I had always felt creating pillows in order to learn one’s craft and techniques was a far savvier way to go than jumping straight into the deep end of the pool and sewing a large quilt.

So it was for me when I started writing.  The thought of completing a full novel was too daunting.  Like the pillows, I preferred to hone in on my prose and plots with short stories.  Indeed, later, when I wrote my first novel, UNEXPECTED GIFTS, I was somewhat nervous about penning a large-scale book until I envisioned each chapter as a short story that just happened to be interconnected.  That idea calmed me down enough to continue writing it!

The ‘demerit’ side of publishing short stories is aptly put by the writer/critic Maud Newton: “The reality is that collections bring smaller advances. Publishers will always tell you that they’re just not able to sell collections in the numbers that they want…I personally love short story collections…Some of the best literature––and entertainment––I’ve ever read were story collections.”

And this, from an article by Becky Tuch:

“When I asked Robin Black, author of the short story collection, If I loved you I would tell you this (Random House, 2010), about her experience, she told me, “I heard ENDLESS discouraging words – particularly about an unlinked collection and even more particularly one with traditional “realist” stories about middle aged people. I was told by many, many people – including several agents who wanted to sign me only for a novel – that the book would never sell…For many of us the sale of the collection is premised on the two-book deal in which the other book is a novel.”


“Of course, not all writers have felt this struggle. Michael Nye, managing editor of The Missouri Review and author of the collection, Strategies Against Extinction (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), shared that Jason Ashlock (his agent) “did say that short-story collections are tough to sell. But he also said that it can be done, and there wasn’t any reason not to try…No other editor or fellow writer told me not to try to sell a collection. Far too many of us love, write, and read story collections to say something like that.”

I, myself, was certainly told by various agents and small publishers that although they loved these ‘different’ stories as well as the ‘sewing connection,’ they didn’t know how to market the collection because 1) of its diverse subject/places/genres, and 2) they would prefer for me to submit a novel first before they took on the stories.

But here I am. With fingers crossed and a reminder of what the literary Jason Ashlock says, “…short story collections can be tough to sell…[but] it can be done, and there [isn’t] any reason not to try…,” I shall remain hopeful that readers who love short stories or don’t always have time to read a long book are still out there… 


  1. Thank you so much for having me on your blog today. Your assigned subject not only gave me much food for thought, it gave me, by reading different articles on the demerits and merits of writing short stories in today's market, even more confidence to persevere....

  2. Wonderful guest post, Sarah. You are so very talented!


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