Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The hopeless hopeful silence

I'm recovering from a packed ten days, first at the Cork International Short Story Festival and then this past weekend at the Small Wonder short story festival. Both were wonderful, but the reason I decided to treat myself and go to both is rather less wonderful. I've been feeling depressed about the short story. Not about the short story itself, good heavens no! How could I, when reading short stories brings such joy into my life and writing them might even have saved my life.

No, I've been depressed about the "business" of short stories, and more specifically short story collections. It's only so much we short story writers and lovers can take of being told the same thing again and again and again... No-one reads short stories...No-one buys short story collections...No-one wants your work.. Oh, I don't like short stories... Then came the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Reading cuts, which I found out about on my birthday. Charming. Sign the protest petition here. At least the comments by signatories are really heartening.

Then a few days ago someone in the audience at Small Wonder even asked one of the speakers why they write short stories since short story writers are "in the graveyard of writing", or something to that effect. You can imagine how I was feeling hearing that. We're in the graveyard of writing? We're dead? Who's dead? We write for the dead?

My first reaction is, No we're bloody well not, there are thousands of people worldwide who love reading short stories. Maybe even more than that. It was heartening in Cork to meet a wonderful Canadian writer, Deborah Willis, whose first collection was bought by Penguin Canada without an agent and was nominated for the Governer General's Award - and for her to tell me she is under no pressure to write a novel. Of course, in Canada you just say the words "Alice Munro" like a magic password if someone dares to suggest that you "graduate" from the little short story to the mightly novel.

Now, my rant here is not against novels - that would be utterly ridiculous. Some of my best friends are writing novels :) No, my rant here is that writers aren't being allowed to write whatever they want - and, more than that, what they are good at.

Second rant, and this relates to the title of this post and is more personal. I've been thinking it's about time I looked for an agent. I had a few meetings in 2009 when my book was commended for the Orange Award for New Writers, and everyone was very kind but I didn't have anything for them to sell. That made sense. Well, now I am 3/4 of the way through a new collection, biology-inspired fictions, funded by an Arts Council England grant, and so I thought this might be a good time.

I want to state categorically here that I fully expected the "I'm so sorry but we just can't sell short story collections at all right now". I figured there was a 0.0001% chance an agent would buck that trend. What I didn't bargain for was this: silence. Total and utter silence, from three agents. I wrote what I thought was a well-constructed query email, and I had a personal recommendation to each agent through writer friends and another agent. But... I was also completely honest about only wanting to write short stories.

No response. Nothing. And it's been 6 weeks or more...

And then last week I read about the new "no response means no" policy apparently being adopted by a number of literary agents. This equates to: if we don't write back, we don't want you. I am very thankful that I am not alone in find this quite shocking. You don't have a minute to even paste in a form reply saying "no"? Apparently, one agent said she employs the "no response" tactic because she doesn't like dealing with the "negativity" of having to reject people. Oh my.

I'd like to put my Short Review editor's hat on here. We receive a lot of queries asking if we might review a newly published short story collection, many more than we can, in fact, review (which is good news for short story collections). I have a form reply in which the first thing I do is congratulate the author or publisher - because, especially in this climate, I believe every short story collection published is a cause for celebration! I then explain how I will try and find a reviewer but it might not happen. It makes me sad, the number of collections we won't be able to review since we "only" review 10 a month. But I would never dream of ignoring an email. Never.

As editor last year of Southword, I had to pick 6 short stories for the issue. This meant rejecting hundreds of stories - a number of which were submitted by friends of mine. How did I feel? Sick. Because I knew exactly how it would feel to get that email, however kindly I worded it.

But to leave someone hanging, not knowing if the non-response is a sign that there is hope or not, is, frankly, cruel. I think it is deeply uncivilized. And if that agent thinks she is avoiding negative karma by not sending an actual rejection, she is mistaken. She should congratulate and applaud every single person who gets up the guts to write to her. Don't we all know how hard it is to move from "I'm trying to write" to "I am a writer", to take that leap into sending out your work to a publication, to then even contemplate the next step, the possibility of an agent taking you on?

Thankfully, there are a number of agents who have reacted to this "no reply means no" and said that they simply don't agree with this. I think we should vote with our feet - if an agent has a "no reply means no" policy, perhaps we should send them silence first, before they can send it back. And let's give ourselves a round of applause, for just putting ourselves out there.

It's not easy. I am trying to stop worrying so much about the "business" side of all this and get back into the writing. Thank goodness for all the amazing small presses out there who are publishing the books - not just story collections - that are the sorts of things that no-one thinks will sell. They are to be applauded too. As a very wise friend of mine said, mainstream publishing is a bit like Marks & Spencers  - they aren't going to agree to sell a limited edition of your hand-painted belts unless it's a very special occasion. And if what you're creating doesn't even really look like a belt... well then. 

 In the mean time, I'm getting down to some writing. I'm going to stop caring if I'm making the right kind of belts. I'm going to let it all hang out.

I forgot to mention that this also comes after hearing many many stories from fellow writers of non-responses, not just to initial queries like mine, which didn't include an MS, but after agents have requested an MS to be rushed overnight to them, they are so excited about it! And then.... silence. Is this a good way to do business?


I am being told that 12 weeks is about standard for a response time, so it seems I was jumping the gun here. But this isn't just about me, this is about a principle which I do hope isn't becoming the norm. I've just had a response from an agent's assistant apologizing for the delay - it seems it's a complete coincidence that it came today, and I have thanked her profusely for just ending the silence. I don't mind waiting and waiting... not at all, I understand how large the slush piles are. I just needed to know that I hadn't sent my queries into a void! An autoreply, as mentioned in the comments here, would have helped immensely.


Anonymous said...

The lack of acknowledgement to a letter, query, request for help, application seems to be becoming commonplace.

Elise said...

There is no better tool for teaching literature (IMO, as a teacher) than the short story. I LOVE short story collections. You are right that the general, non-writing public does not line up to buy short stories, but knowing how much skill it takes to write one, and how perfect they are for reading and teaching, I have nothing but respect for this genre and its artists. I write novels, but I have written a few short stories (this took many months of effort. Only one has been published, but that's because, I tell myself, of the weak market for stories, not because the stories are God-awful bad).

Publishing houses that care about art and literature still publish the short story, but it's rare to see a collection that sells well. Does that mean writers should cease to write the short story? No way. Just don't expect to earn money at it (sad but true); do expect to earn respect as a writer.

Jessica said...

Thank you for writing such an honest post :)

I love short stories too and I have a seperate blog (www.jessicapatient.tumblr.com) for linking to my favourite online stories.

I wonder if the lack of mass 'love' of the short story is the lack of teaching in schools with regards to short stories. I believe there needs to be more education in the short story.

PS. I am looking for agents at the moment too - those rejections stab harder than lit mag ones.

Marisa Birns said...

This is a wonderful post. I have read about those agents who have decided "no answer" means no. Appalling. What is they haven't received the query? What is a writer to do? Send again or consider it a rejection?

Spending a few minutes composing a template of a polite and kind rejection response is an answer. Then all they would need to do is hit "send".

Good idea you have of writers boycotting those agents who don't believe in civil and professional behavior.

Tania Hershman said...

Hi pete, is it a sad reflection of our age? Our failure to properly communicate anymore with all the wealth of communication channels we are bombarded with? If so, I'd rather go back to the age of the telegram, the carrier pigeon!

Elise, I think those of us of a like mind all agree about how wonderful short stories are. But sadly it's the respect part that I feel is lacking. This lack of any response makes me feel so disrespected, that I don't even merit a proper rejection.

Tania Hershman said...

lovely to meet you! I accept that not everyone wants to read short stories, fine. Although I find it utterly puzzling that publisher seem to be refusing to publish some of our best short story writers and pressuring them to do something they may not be so great at, or even love. I am sorry you are getting rejections - but it might be better than silence. Wishing you much luck.

Marisa, thank you. It's fairly inhuman, eh? OK, maybe I will be boycotted as a result, but right now that wouldn't change much!

Shop Girl said...

Silence is definitely worse than a rejection letter. It's like an unfinished action you keep thinking about it. And it's rude.

Still, it's only four agents! There are plenty more - so don't give up.

Good luck!

Tania Hershman said...

Shop Girl - Exactly! Like any non-reply, you never stop wondering: did it get lost? Did they get it? Are they thinking deeply. But for me, I stop here, I'm not prepared to do this anymore, not right now anyway. It affects my writing, it affects my whole sense of self as a writer. I've got to get back to what's important. But thank you for your cheery words!

AliB said...

Hi Tania
I think this is a sad reflection, not so much of communication but of simple manners (I suppose not unconnected!)
Perhaps it comes from the world of work where application forms often indicate no response after a certain date means failure, but a job application, however detailed, isn't quite the same as one's creative masterpiece/life's work. As everyone agrees, what's the problem with a 'sorry' template, which at least gives the writer closure and the chance to move on. You have goaded me into following up some of my recent queries, not something I usually do. I think I'm emtitled to an answer, even if I don't like what it is!

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Ali, a good point there about job applications, but there is something fixed, a start date, a deadline, and you know if you haven't got the job. This is so amorphous, so blurry... we've all heard stories about an agent who replies 18 months later saying, Ah yes, loved your book! Who wouldn't keep hoping, you have to have hope to be here, right! Good for you for following up, I followed up on one query, to more silence. I'm not sure I've got the energy. Good luck!

Debi said...

Maybe there's hope for the future. Seems to me that short stories would be perfect on Kindle et al. A complete story while on the tube or bus. I don't have an e-device but can imagine it working really well for short stories, maybe better than for novels.

Either way, I do think it's destructive to allow ourselves to focus on the business end. It can sap energy and enthusiasm and we need all we can get to just keep on doing what we do best, ie writing.

LynseyMay said...

Hi Tania

I totally agree, silence is always worse. In the scary space after sending something off you are free to imagine anything, but all you are stuck in the present, waiting for the response that never comes.

At least if you receive a rejection, you are free to start thinking about the future, even if it doesn't hold the dream agent you were hoping for.

That said, you're doing wonderfully without one, and I hope the tide turns and one day you'll find a bunch of agents knocking on your door, hunting for hot shorts. :)

Tania Hershman said...

Debi - I think the future is definitely with small presses and brilliant outfits like Shortfire Press, the short story world is vibrant and very much alive, no graveyard! But yes, I need to get my head back into my writing. Yes yes yes.

Lynsey, thanks, you're right, a rejection frees you. Closure, to use a cliche. And thanks for your kind words. "hot shorts" conjured up a rather interesting image! Maybe one day the short story writers will be the rock stars... Short Story Idol :)

Sherri said...

I don't have a problem with 'no response means no' PROVIDED that an auto email response is sent out (so that receipt is acknowledged) stating the time frame after which we should assume a 'no'. Surely, politeness requires at least that. (And, no, I don't believe that there is no place/time for politeness in business - on the contrary the best businesses are built on it.)

Have fun with the belt-free writing!

Tania Hershman said...

Sherri, a great idea! The first query I sent was about 8 weeks ago, I don't know if perhaps expecting a response sooner than that is foolish - but an auto-reply saying thanks and giving an estimated time frame for response, or the no response policy, would be very helpful.

Oscar Windsor-Smith said...

You can always be relied upon to tell it like it is, Tania. Must be the scientist in you that makes you search out the truth. And truth is what makes you the outstanding writer you are.

There will always be good and bad in any craft or profession; bad writers and bad agents. To be a writer one needs certain basic language skills, but - in my view anyway - one also needs imagination and, above all, empathy.

When all's said and done, exactly what skill set is required to be an agent?

Whenever the whole apparently impossible situation of being a writer – particularly, a writer of short stories – starts to get me down (and I am prone to the black puppy, if not the full-blown Churchillian black dog) I think of something I was told by a most unlikely individual. He was a plasterer, a right jack-the-lad who had I'm told 'served time' too. I explained the impossibility of being successful as a writer, and he said: 'Cream always come to the top.' Not very cerebral or completely original, but I hold on to that thought. The thought does not improve my chances but it keeps me flogging away at those odd times when I feel inclined to give up.

Sorry, I'm going on a bit. Must get back to work. Ironically, I should be working on first collection right now. Oh, dear.


:) scar

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi there

leaving aside the discourtesy of a nil response, for which in this age of simple fast communication there is absolutely no excuse, be they agents, editors of journals, whoever...

The projects you are working on are not 'only' anything. The science-inspired one - a 21st century response to a beautifully written book from 100 years ago, is not a series of 'only' stories, or flashes. It is a whole, equally beautiful thing, I'm sure.

As is the MM project.

As will be the new liberated TH oeuvre, the result of playing with images and having fun.

That Small Wonder question was simply nuts! 'We are a short story writing group' she announced... writing something they consider to be 'the graveyard'!

"Why ?!" I wanted to say. "Go off and just write something else, and revel in it ! And leave the story (I'm refusing to call them short) to those who love them. You'll never write a decent one if you don't give them some love and respect!!"


Tania Hershman said...

Oscar, thank you for that, I think perhaps it is my scientific side, always searching for explanations, for some theory that explains things like this silence, which to me is illogical. Ah there, a Mr Spock moment! I won't disrespect agents, I do think they have an important role to play - but perhaps you are right, there are good agents and less good agents, and the good ones wouldn't go for this "no response means no", because they understand that the writer is a part of their business. Go work on your collection! No "oh dears", think small presses, those wonderful and dynamic people often doing it for love and doing a damn good job. But, when you're writing - and me too - don't think about that at all. Go now!

V - thank you for your lovely words. And yes to the graveyard point, it does boggle the mind why a group would be working on something they feel is doomed. Love and respect all round!

bevjackson said...

I couldn't agree more on all points you so well enumerate. Respect for writers, respect for actors (not 'stars' but working actors), respect for artists...it doesn't really exist except among 'our own.' This nation as a whole doesn't honor and respect the arts in ways that other countries do with subsidies and focus and the same emphasis that's given to a law degree or a Wall Street internship. Give me a break! Trick down effect results in people saying to their children, "well, you can't make a living as a ..." (writer, actor, artist) and from the get go, one is doomed to fight the current. A damned shame in my opinion and I point my finger to the head of the snake - our government and our society as a *capitalist* whole. Is that too strong? I don't think so.

Sarah Hilary said...

As always, V says it best. I echo everything she says, and will add this: Silence can be a wonderful thing, in its place. But it can also be a terrible, enslaving thing, which our imaginations cram full of shapes that cast long shadows over everything we do. I'm sorry you've had to suffer it. I don't have an answer to it, except to say Write Through. And even that I've been failing at, of late. But I hope to fail better.

Tania Hershman said...

Bev, I don't think it's too strong at all, these are things I worry about. I hear from artist friends who go to speak in schools and the first question they get is "How much money do you make?". It's a shame.

Sarah, I know you know all about the terrible kind of silence, am feeling for everyone in that position too. We need to keep reminding each other to both Write Through, and Fail Better. Wise words.

Steve said...

If short stories are the graveyard, then God knows how poets must feel.

Six feet under x 2?

All literary forms are on a vocational continuum I feel, with short stories and even more so poetry, at the latter end of that continuum. The continuum also has a monetary aspect to it, and like a lot of vocational activities, they're not massively saleable. Writing short stories feels more like meditating than anything else (to me at least).

As far as agents go, perhaps its just becoming easier for them in our virtual, non-lettery age, to forget that flesh and blood human beings are the sender of those email queries?

TracyFells said...

Totally agree with everything you write in this blog. Firstly, I am always reading an anthology of short stories (either bought or borrowed) along with novels. There is so much talent out there writing short stories when you start to look for it. As a writer I find these anthologies stir the creative juices far more than any other media.
Secondly, I have written a similar rant on my own blog in respect to "non response policy". In this age of automatic email responses why not simply add a timeframe - so if 6-8 weeks is stated for review period then post this you know for certain your cherished baby ended up in the digital wastebin. This policy can only encourage multiple submissions, which so many publishers/agents hate.

Good luck and keep submitting.

Tania Hershman said...

Steve, great to meet you, thanks for commenting! I am not a poet, but I do think that poetry, while not hitting high sales, does get more respect - whole sections of bookshops, and so many events. I doubt that Radio 4 would even consider cutting Poetry Please -well, I hope not! I was stunned at the turnout for the TS Eliot shortlist prize readings in London earlier in the year - 1000s of people! And at least it's a given that poets don't need agents, the relationship between poets and poetry publishers seems to be clearer, simpler. And poets don't get asked when they are writing a novel... unless I'm wrong. Not to diminish your comment at all, I may be getting it all wrong! I love your comment about short stories and meditation, it often feels like that for me too.

Tracy, great to meet you too. I will check out your rant! Yes, it's really about communication, clarity.

Diane Becker said...

Tania, thank you so much for writing this.

I can accept a non-response from an unpaid lit-mag team or editor who do it for love ... though a quick form response saying no, would, as you say, allow some closure and let you move on.

However, 'no response, means no', an attitude adopted by many professional agents (and publishers), is arrogant. Whatever we write, poetry, short story collections or novels - we're (often highly) educated professionals.

The agent's role these days is not to tell us whether we're good enough, we (most of us) know that. What we're asking when we submit our work to agents is if they like what we do (often subjective) enough to try and find us a publisher.

If we approach them with respect, then why not expect this to be reciprocated. A simple 'sorry, but no' at a basic level, would suffice.

Without artists there would be no galleries ... Without writers there would be no agents, editors or publishers. A nod of respect to those who do the long and often hard business of creating work is not too much to ask.

Having said all that, I'm optimistic that things will change, that the world of writing (in whatever form) is alive, and not only well but thriving - perhaps more so beyond the UK - where the short form especially is 'allowed' to be much more experimental. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing your as yet unpublished stories/collections in the near future.

Grogan said...

Thanks for a great post.

Publishing is in such a state of flux at the moment that agents are probably prioritising alternative career options, rather than reading manuscripts.

As an avid reader of short stories I’ve always felt aggrieved by the dearth of decent collections, aware they have little commercial value to a (traditional) publisher.

There is a growing market for good terse tales – writers/readers need to take control and shape it.

Susan said...

Tania, I'm sorry to hear you were treated that way. It's well-known that unless you have some secret, unspecified "in" to the Establishment - i.e. the right patron at the right time - it is almost impossible latterly to make one's name as a short story writer. This may be due to demand, or marketing, I am not sure which. I have decided to concentrate on making a bit of occasional extra cash from my stories rather than wait for the chance to publish a collection. I'm happier that way and a little richer too.

It is wrong for the agents not to reply and I think it would not be inappropriate to mention who would give such a response so that we can submit elsewhere.

Also I am wondering if the postmodernist climate has fostered a mannered reluctance on people to *tell a tale* the old-fashioned way, thereby rarefying short stories more and making them clever-clever rather than gripping. I wonder if as writers we're being encouraged to look down on a simple story, well-told. I hope it is not controversial to say this. Many of the greatest, fiercest most powerful tales have been short ones. McGahern's "Korea" being one I mention again and again.

I hope you soon regain your joy in writing what you are called to do, Tania, and to hell with the bad guys!

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Grogan, you might be right about the new career options, but I'm certainly not calling for that! I like your idea about writers and readers taking control of the market, that may well be happening.

Susan, I'm not sure what the situation is, but I have enough friends who have found representation through the quality of their writing alone that it does cheer me. None for a short story collection, though. I won't name names here, because I've been told that I should wait until at least 12 weeks before assuming a non-response, so we'll see what happens. Thanks for the recommendation of McGahern's story!

Susan said...

You're welcome! I don't really have any resentment against the agents, they after all just want to get something that will sell as well as something that is good quality. But not responding is certainly bad form and to make it a policy? Puts one on the Enemy List, as far as I am concerned!

Tania Hershman said...

Diane, very good point about the lit mag editors who don't get paid for what they do. There are some amazing editors who respond within 24 hours, perhaps many of them are also writers and they know how that waiting waiting waiting feels. Yes, it's all about a little respect. Just a little. For all artists. Maybe Canada is the place to be!

TOM VOWLER said...

Was lovely to see you at SW. I'd like to think the story will always find a way, a forum, an outlet, regardless of trends and whims in publishing. I interviewed Philip O'Ceallaigh recently, who put it rather beautifully:

'Stories are a basic human need. Not in the sense that food is, we don't need them to keep our hearts beating. But in the sense that as long as our hearts are beating we need to hear them, and there will be people called upon to make them.'

Anonymous said...

Lots of comments here and I agree completely that the no reply policy has no excuse, there are plenty of ways that email groups and automatic responses can be set up, anything else is bad manners.

On the short story front, it is a bugbear of mine that their are so few outlets for short story collections and that sometimes they have to be hidden as novels. I think that this 'the short story never sells' is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps traditionally it hasn't but now we are in an era where the personal story is king, where convenience and accessibility are important and where small vignettes of truth and humanity are needed more than ever. I have read a great many people and for me, your writing stands with the best of them and that fact will win out in the end. You are writing what is important and what you love, like all of us writers we need to take it down to the smaller level, the beauty of a particular sentence, the way our work touches someone are things worth celebrating. Every time we write we exhibit hope in the act itself. Publishing has no guarantees but what you have already accomplished in that sphere has already added beauty to the literary world.

I could go on and on but perhaps I should save my energy for fiction!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I used the wrong 'there'. I hope there are no agents looking, I'll never get taken on.;-)

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I think Sarah H touches on a very good point - the effect on the writer if a carefully put together query, sent with some trepidation (always) just goes into a black hole.

I know one helluva lot of writers, from absolute beginners through to the very well published, recognised names. I know none who don't care deeply about what they do, and for whom treatment like this from the very people they need to facilitate getting their work out there, in conventional processes, is damaging. How many do I know who are occasionally laid low by stress, self-doubt or depression? probably most of them.

The daft thing is, the people they are treating so crassly are the very ones from whom these people might make a living, in the future, even if the submission/query in question wasn't the one to make them money.

We all know the world of publishing is going through a real upheaval, and the rules are being re-drawn fast and frequently. What is this treatment going to do but push more and more writers down the self-publishing route? maybe thats what they want - cant be arsed seems to be the new professional motto for some.

However - just to put this in context. I was treated absolutely appallingly by a well known agent some years back. having crawled all over me on email, when he met me, I was obviously not quite what he'd imagined, physically! Older. Chubbier. Who knows?

He left a very nice event without bothering to say goodbye, or more importantly, to take with him the envelope containing my ms, which he'd requested. (!)

Look. It happens. We have to get over it. We have to toughen up, cry quietly then act like we don't care. Like I had to. I did care. But there was nowt I could do about being my age.

The famous agent? There is a lot he could do about his rudeness. Karma, sir. It will bite you on the bum one day.


Oscar Windsor-Smith said...

All I can add, Vanessa, is that you were well out of that potential agent's slimy grasp. He was clearly a loser in life despite his seeming status in the 'agenting' field. Why do I say this? 1) He seemingly bases his judgement of literary ability on shallow physical attributes, and, worst of all in my book (see what I did there? ;0) ), if he must employ those criteria, 2) He doesn't recognise a life-experienced, feisty and cuddly peach when he sees one.

In short, the man's a prat.


Oscar xxx

Grogan said...

A friend has just been through a similar experience with an agent. She has written a ‘self help’ type book, which touches on a subject that is highly marketable in terms of its potential PR value.

She was hugely encouraged by two firm bites from credible commissioning editors (not bad for a first time writer). Unfortunately all contact ceased when they received her bio.

A male agent whom she met was brutal (he would say honest) in his candour, when he surmised, “Publishers prefer this type of thing from a foxy young babe.”

Publishers are more often than not looking for potential celebrity in their writers. My hope is that the current changes will go some way to right this wrong.

Or maybe I’m just a hopeless idealist?

Hayley N. Jones said...

I think we can take some comfort from the indications that those of us who do like short stories are very passionate about them.

The point that poetry gets its own section in bookshops is interesting - if short stories were displayed in the same way, would more be sold? Most of the short story collections I've bought in person (as opposed to online) have been found amongst the novels in my local bookshop, which is a fraction of the size of even smaller branches of Waterstones. I simply cannot browse the same way in other bookshops because it would take me hours; instead, I can only skim over most of the titles.

I think I would buy more short story collections if I could access them all in one section. Indeed, I do buy more collections from Amazon than anywhere else, but it doesn't allow you to browse in the same way as a physical bookshop. I think a short story section would lead to me buying more collections from authors I haven't heard of, since they'd be easier to find.

Would a separate section encourage more people (i.e. those who usually only buy novels) to buy short stories? I'm not sure, but I suspect that increasing the visibility of short stories would help them to become more popular. I didn't really read short stories until I was in my early twenties and, several years later, I'm pretty much obsessed! I suspect that other readers would discover they love short stories, if only they'd try them, and a devoted section in bookshops is one of the strategies that could help to achieve greater awareness and consumption of short stories.

Jamie Guiney said...

Hi Tania,
Interesting post, which highlights an indemic sluggishness right across the publishing industry. Everything always seems to take 3 months, 6 months, forever!
Though, this just seems to be the way it is. Agents and publishers are very busy, editors are piled high with manuscripts....there just isn't anything that we can do as writers, except wait, and while we're waiting, do some more writing :o)

Rebecca Emin said...

Oh gosh, where to start?

I love the honesty in this post. I also find it really annoying that short stories are not worthy of much attention. As time goes on I am coming to love them more (as a reader and a writer) if I am honest.

As for the agents (and publishers) who say if you don't hear from us, blah blah blah... Whatever happened to good old fashioned manners? I heard from an agent yesterday (7 weeks, 4 days, and they say they try and get back in 6 weeks). It was a form rejection. But it offers a sense of closure. I would rather know it's a definite "no" than been left hanging. It only takes two seconds to copy and paste a standard email into a new window.

Normally I would be saying keep smiling, chin up, etc etc. But as I'm in the-day-after-the-rejection zone, I can only really say what I am trying to think myself. Try not to focus on that one thing too much, there are always other projects to be working on, avenues to take.

Instead of wallowing, I've been looking at publishers websites and checking out some new books for inspiration. I think we also have to have a sense of determination in this business. Never give up, and we will find a way eventually.

Tania Hershman said...

Tom, great to see you - I will never forget "fugacious"! Just as lovely as that quote, thank you.

Alison, I totally agree about the self-fulfilling prophecy, it seems to make such little sense. To me it's like saying "People only like large cakes, small cakes will never sell" instead of trying to interest those who love cake in cake of all shapes and sizes!

V - that is just plain rude, and I totally echo Oscar's very succint response. Yup.

so sorry to hear about your friend being on the receiving end of such things, too. I know of a similar experience although backwards - an book declared excellent by several publishers then turned down because its writer was female. Madness, eh?

Hayley, I can't help but feel that if a browser in a bookshop were to see that the bookshop has given short story collections their own display (as Sara does in the excellent Brighton Waterstones!) then they may feel differently about them, see that they stand alone, they are not mini-novels or long poems without line breaks. They are what they are, their own thing. They deserve their own shelves!

Jamie, I really don't mind waiting, honestly I don't. It's the idea of waiting with no end in sight that freaked me out - the thought that maybe the waiting would never come to an end, even with a form rejection. That's surely a form of torture, endless waiting!

Rebecca, thank you for your honesty too, sometimes we have to come out from behind the "chin up" and just say how we feel. Not wallowing is also good!

Carys said...

Loved your honest, heartfelt post Tania.


Wow. Yes. I too am waiting waiting waiting. I think it's time I fired off another 'Do you want it or not?' email!
Great post, Tania. I empathise.

Tania Hershman said...

Carys, thank you!

WRW - sorry to hear about your waiting waiting, if it's been 8 weeks then I think you should email again. Grrr...