Does the short story need saving? The whale, the rainforest, heritage buildings, yes. But you'd have thought the short story robust enough not to need saving, wouldn't you?
Well in Britain at least, it seems the form needs all the help it can get. There's even an entire website supported by the Arts Council of England devoted to the campaign! (Do check out the site to download some excellent short stories.)
The Save Our Short Story Campaign aims to:
- Increase the number and visibility of high quality outlets for short fiction
- Give the short story form more prestige and a higher profile
- Enable writers to specialise in the short story form
- Encourage and promote exciting short fiction
Such intervention is timely. Market research carried out by Book Marketing Limited shows that short story writers now have to turn to independents to get published as the number of collections published by mainstream publishers has fallen significantly.
It seems that although more people than ever in Britain are writing short stories and more short stories are written than any other literary form, only seven British collections of stories are published each year.
(By comparison the situation in Malaysia doesn't look all that bad!)
And British writers have to look to North America for the most innovative short fiction writing; writers like Anne Beattie, Junot Diaz, Richard Ford, Ellen Gilchrist, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates and Tobias Woolf. These voices have been nurtured by high profile, high prestige short story publications such as The New Yorker for which there is just no British equivalent.
Here Mslexia's Editor Debbie Taylor accounts for this disturbing trend in British publishing. (It seems though that the situation is particularly dire in Britain - the short story does very much better in other parts of the world. In Malaysia sales of short fiction are comparitively good, I understand. For many less convinced or very busy readers, a collection of stories might seem less daunting than a full-length novel, perhaps?)
Philip Gwyn Jones of Harper Collins is one of the short story's greatest champions and brings out five collections of stories each year in the Flamingo imprint.
His solution to the problem? "We need investment in a well-designed, well-produced, well-marketed mainstream magazine that people feel they have to buy."
In Malaysia at the moment, the nearest thing to such a literary magazine is undoubtedly Off The Edge.
But as I understand it by far the biggest problem for the editors of this publication is a total lack of quality local fiction to print! So here we have a very different problem in getting short fiction off the ground ... You can't really save something you don't have in the first place!
This link is now down and the site has since been revamped and renamed with even more useful stuff.