Thank You, Kindle: Short Stories Rule!

I resisted ebooks for a long time. I’ve been using a computer for writing since the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean I like reading on the things. I spend enough hours in front of a lighted screen to turn my eyeballs into quivering jelly. And they expect me to read for pleasure on a computer? Besides, I love printed books. I love everything about them from the way they look to the way they smell. Reduce a book to bits and bytes? No way.

But then I got interested in indie publishing and I had to see what the fuss was about. So I bought a Kindle. I will not say it was love at first sight. It wasn’t. It’s not the same thing as reading a printed book. I had to learn how to maneuver it to use it properly (and at my age, there is a measure of resentment anytime I have to learn to do something I’ve been doing just fine for decades). I did get used to it. I know I’m entrenched now because just last week I was reading a rather weighty tome while lying in bed and my hand cramped because of the awkward way I had to hold the book. I thought, “Shees, this wouldn’t have happened with my Kindle.” I’ve also discovered that the Kindle is much better for reading while I cook (Cooking bores me, so while things are simmering or steaming or whatever else that involves just standing around watching pots, I read a book. The Kindle, bless its sturdy plastic casing, takes splashes, spatters, greasy fingers and cake batter in stride. Additional bonus, my cats don’t chew on the Kindle and while they do like to lie on it, they’ve yet to figure out how to do it harm.)

The very best thing I’ve discovered, thanks to my Kindle, is the resurgence of short stories. I’ve always loved short stories. It seemed like every magazine I read as a kid had at least one piece of fiction in every issue. There were zillions of monthly and bi-monthly magazines devoted to genre fiction. The very best writers, the mega-writers, wrote short stories for the top magazines. Writers could make nice livings just writing short stories. That changed. Magazines realized they could make more money with advertisements than they could with fiction. Genre digest after digest folded or merged and eventually became sad little shadows of their former selves. Rates for writers dropped. Publishers decided novels were the money-makers and yeah, some writers were able to publish collections, but usually only after they’d become bestsellers with novels. Short stories faced the fate of poetry. Something only artists did, in their spare time, when they weren’t working a “real” job and nobody was expected to make a living at it. If a genre writer was bursting with short stories to tell, his options for publication were limited. He could write novels and hope his publisher took him seriously enough to invest in a collection. He could hope to be invited to contribute to an anthology. While short stories are still being written and published, they aren’t the ubiquitous purveyors of ideas they once were.

From a writer’s perspective, short stories are pure delight. Other than the requirement that they be, you know, short, there are no hard and fast rules. Short stories can be tightly plotted or dispense with plot altogether. They can be snippets, character studies, an exploration of a single, “What if?” or a slice of life. Short stories are a great way to play with a style or just have fun with language. Short stories are about ideas. Big, small, important, trivial, dark, light and everything in between. Hell, Ernest Hemingway supposedly a short story in only six words:

“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Unfortunately for writers, as the markets dried up, writing short stories fell into almost hobby status. Forget finding a market that paid good money, try finding one that paid at all.

Then came the rise of indie publishing and ebooks. Writers have discovered a whole new market by publishing short stories direct to readers. Writer after writer is indie publishing collections and stand-alones, all for a very low price. Because they can make money at it, they have incentive to keep doing it, which means the variety and selection will continue to improve and everybody is happy.

This reader thanks them and Kindle and Amazon and every other outlet that makes it possible for me to find short stories. In the few months I’ve had my Kindle, I’ve purchased a ton of singles and collections. A few of the stories were freebies. Gifts by writers to their readers. I haven’t paid more than five bucks for any of them (and no, I don’t need to hear from you jokers asking how many novels that has led me to purchase, so how much money am I actually saving, hmn? Just shut it.)

The .99 cent short story is pure heaven. Because the cost is so low, I’m comfortable trying out new-to-me writers. I can explore genres that have been neglected by publishers. I no longer have to buy a hardcover at twenty bucks for an anthology in which I’ll probably only find one story worth reading. I really like that a lot of my favorite novelists are taking advantage of ebooks to put out short stories.

Here are a few I’ve really enjoyed:

Weird Fantasy: Irregular Creatures, collection by Chuck Wendig.

Horror: Blood is Red, collection by Scott Sigler

Horror: Specimen 313, by Jeff Strand (FREE!)

Zombies!: The Undead: Zombie Anthology, by David Wellington and many more.

Psycho Horror: Head Cases, anthology by Scott Nicholson and many more.

Horror: Pickers and Pickled Punks, collection by Marina Bridges (I’m biased here since I edited this collection, but they are really good stories or I wouldn’t have edited them)

Literary: House of Skin, collection by Kiana Davenport

Mystery: The Burglar Who Dropped in On Elvis, by Lawrence Block

Women’s: Is It Spicy?, by Julia Barrett

Mystery: The Night and The Music, collection by Lawrence Block

Not every short story or collection I’ve found has been a winner. But I have unearthed enough real treasures to turn me into a short story fiend all over again. Thank you, Kindle.

 

 

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12 responses

  1. Oh wow, thanks! I can’t believe you lumped me in with such illustrious company! Indie publishing/e-publishing is allowing for a resurgence of the marvelous art of the short story – which had died a lingering death among mainstream publishers. Yay!

    1. I loved that story. Anyone with a mother should read it. 😉

  2. You can also subscribe to a number of magazines on your kindle, which is another way to discover new authors. Particularly if you like SF&F or mysteries.

    1. Oh yeah, Marie, lure me in with yet more stuff to read. Evil, evil.

      Seriously, it occurred to me as I was writing this that there are quite a few online magazines that publish pretty good fiction. I haven’t been a consistent reader because I don’t like reading on the computer. Now that I have a Kindle, I bet I can go get downloads now.

  3. I was surprised to find myself on your list. Thanks, Jaye!

  4. You belong on many lists, qm. Glad you’re on mine.

  5. Jaye,. thanks so much for the mention. I am glad the Kindle is bringing short stories alive again!

    1. You and me both, Scott. Thanks for the stories!

  6. A thoughtful response to a question I’ve been having. I experimented with publishing a short story online and have been wondering how many readers out there are reading short stories now that there’s a convenient venue. I hope to see the market flare back into life!

  7. I hope so, too, Story Hunter. I don’t actually know how many readers are out there. I do know this. As long as there is a good variety and an easy way to find the stories, they will be found eventually.

  8. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t read short stories, it makes me reluctant to put up any more collections of my own previously published stuff. Nice to hear someone saying the opposite for a change! 🙂

  9. Ruth, I think writers were in danger of letting “nobody reads short stories” become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe it’s not a fantastically paying market. Maybe no single story is going to become a mega-best seller. But I think writers can make enough money to make short story creation worth effort and readers benefit. There were short stories that have IMPACTED my life. I hope they never, ever go away.

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