A New Model for Books of Short Stories

Readers will recall that I’ve been promising a new book of short stories for a while now. Well, in truth, I’ve not only been working on it, I’ve been struggling with it. My plan from the beginning has been to write short stories sometimes, then to occasionally collect them into books. Now, though, I have some problems with that approach:

  • Stories that logically belong together, like the existing Idea Man stories and ones I haven’t written yet, should be together. Yet, if I release stories in periodic volumes, they will be apart. That doesn’t seem right, and I can’t imagine readers actually buying several books just to read all the Idea Man short stories. I can, however, imagine them buying nothing in disgust over it.
  • On the other hand, I can’t very well put off publishing short stories in case I write new ones that go with the old ones, can I?
  • I used to like to spend my time writing short stories, but now I prefer spending my time on novels. Sometimes, though, I just have to write a short story. I don’t want to wait years for the short stories to add up to a good-sized collection, but I don’t want to publish a bunch of little books, either.
  • Suppose someone likes a short story I wrote and wants to buy it, maybe “The Red Balloon”. If I had three or four or more books of short stories, how would that person know what book it was in? Would he or she take the time to track it down? Or suppose that person also wanted to get “Indestructum”, and it turns out to be in a different book. Does that person buy both, or neither? (If I was that reader, it would be neither.)

So, what I’ve been thinking of is this: maybe I should put all my short stories together in one e-book, called Short Stories, and every so often, when I have new stories, I update the book to include the new stories, and people who already bought the e-book will automatically get the updated version with the new stories. I really like this idea. It has a lot of benefits:

  • Stories that go together, like the Idea Man stories or the Trexlor preludes, end up together.
  • The book of short stories has enough bulk to justify its existence (and price), and is definitely worth reading.
  • Nobody has to wonder where to find “The Red Balloon” or “World of White” or “Indestructum” — they’re in Short Stories.
  • Because the book updates with new content, readers will feel rewarded, may re-read favorite stories, and may be more inclined to get my novels and tell their friends.
  • It removes the burden of building and maintaining separate volumes of short stories (and the stress of producing books that feel broken and incomplete), freeing me to spend my time writing novels.

On the other hand, I can think of a few reasons why this might not be the best approach:

  • This publishing arrangement complicates print sales. Of course, I could make a paper edition, too, but it would not match any newer e-book editions, and that might be confusing. However, I’m thinking about giving free copies of the e-book to all buyers of the print book, complete with free updates for life. That might help.
  • If next year I suddenly get inspired with the Idea Man stories (or something), and I want to spin them off into their own book, would I be breaking a promise to the people who bought Short Stories with the understanding that it would always be all the short stories? And I couldn’t remove the Idea Man content from the existing book without getting lynched, could I?
  • Lots of authors write short stories and sell them as shorts on Amazon. Would this approach prevent me from doing something like that in the future without alienating readers?
  • If I suddenly get keen on short stories again, I might end up writing scores or even hundreds more. Would all these make an unreasonably big e-book?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. I’ve even put together a table listing all the factors and factoring their weight into the pros and cons. Right now, the pros overpower the cons at about two to one. Unless something changes my mind, I’ll probably be doing this, and soon.

What do you think about this? Do you know of anyone doing this now? How would it make you feel as a reader?

0 Replies to “A New Model for Books of Short Stories”

  1. I’m glad that D.H. Lawrence, J.D. Salinger and Kafka didn’t have all of these ‘computer issues’ to worry about and could just Simply spend their time writing.

    • It’s tempting, but I’m not glad about it. Sure, there was a certain freedom for them in not having to worry about publishing options, because there were none. On the other hand, what they published was limited to what the gatekeepers, the system, and the technology would allow. Who knows what they would have produced if they could have written whatever they wanted and published it in whatever form they wanted?

      They did have one significant advantage, though: if they produced a book they were unhappy with, it could be simply taken out of print, and eventually all copies of it would disappear from history (more or less). That doesn’t happen today. Books might no longer be officially distributed, but no matter how regrettable they may be, they never disappear from catalogs. E-books will likely remain available somewhere until all the lights go off, and paper books only become more valuable if you try to take them out of print. So, it behooves contemporary authors to make every effort to get things right the first time.

  2. Not to get into a big debate that I am not well-versed in, I was just making a ‘back-handed’ reference to the SIMPLICITY in their lives, and how conducive it was to freeing up their time for doing only what they loved and not getting sidetracked… (just my take).