Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stephen King's Take on the Short Story

Thanks to Sandra Seamans' excellent blog My Little Corner, which is a tremendous resource to keep up to date on what is happening in the publishing world, especially short fiction, I found Stephen King's thoughts on the state of the short story. It was published in The Atlantic magazine HERE. It is well worthe a read.

What really caught my attention was this comment:

"And there are little magazines that publish in that sense -- but a lot of the people who read those magazines are only reading them to see what they publish so that they can publish their own stories".

I know a lot of the writers I follow and read are all published in these types of small press or e-zine sites and blogs. There is no pay usually and if you did get a few bucks for a short, it would be a great win. So, is there any truth to SK's comment or has he become so successful and out of touch with "the little guy" that he's got his head up his ass? Remember, he used to submit soft-core porn stories to skin mags when he first started out, and I'm thinking he might have only bought them to see his own stories in print.


  1. Great post Sean - and nice to pull in My Little Corner. I think Mr. King is a little out of touch with the way publishing has morphed and changed in the past ten years. I'm sure there might be a little vanity involved with some writers and small press/e-zine publications, but for me, I've found that these present a great opportunity for writers on a couple of different fronts.

    First, they allow us as writers to tweak, hone, and fine-tune our writing skills - the guidelines offered (whether theme or word count) force us to work at our craft and tell a story economically and skillfully.

    Second, they can serve as tremendous sources of inspiration - in the noir circles we hang around, there are some very skilled/polished writers. To compete on that playing field you have to bring your "A" game.

    Third, each of these venues offers a community for us. Without some of these publishing options many of us never would have connected or found the support, feedback, and criticism we need to make us better at our craft.

    Just my two cents....

  2. Great post, Sean. Yep, SK certainly has his head stuck firmly up his arse!! We all have to start somewhere. I 100% second Kevin's points. We have a wonderful community on here that I am proud to be a part of. If it wasn't for the webzines (And my great friend, Col Bury) I wouldn't be here commenting on this now. My writing has gone from strength to strength since I've had my own blog and had stories published. I would never have dreamed I'd be running one of those "little magazines" 20 months ago.

    So, up yours SK, with your $1 million dollar per novel. we all have to start somewhere!!

  3. Kevin and Dave- I am with you guys 100 %. It is kind of a drag to read something like that too, as it seems almost out character as well as going against the perception I think a lot of peole have of SK. The very people he is dissing are most likely payng his bills amd made him what he is today. Thanks for stopping by guys and providing such detailed responses.

  4. Hi Sean,

    You know, when I read King's interview, I actually took his comment to mean something different than how you understood it. I pasted a few more lines with it here:

    "All those magazine published short fiction. And it started to dry up. And now you can number literally on two hands the number of magazines that are not little presses that publish short fiction. And I've always felt like I wanted to write for a wide audience. And I think that that's an honorable thing to want to do and I also think it's an honorable thing to say, "I've got something that will only appeal to a small slice of the audience". And there are little magazines that publish in that sense -- but a lot of the people who read those magazines are only reading them to see what they publish so that they can publish their own stories." - S.K.

    I don't think he's dissing so much as he might be trying to point out how tight some of the smaller mags/press are in their specs. They are looking for very specific material, a specific audience, and seemingly, specific writers in general. It's near impossible to break into some of them.

    Anyway, thanks for the link to the interview. I actually read that short story of his the other day. Whoa, what a punch at the end.

  5. I found the article quite depressing. I've been a fan of SK for years and I loved 'On Writing', but this seemed terribly arrogant, and dismissive of those of us who are starting out in particular.

    We all know how valuable the magazines and e-zines that accept our stories are, perhaps especially in terms of (as Kevin and David so rightly say) improving our writing and raising the bar, but we also know from the comments we get that we're not just writing for each other. There are readers out there who aren't also writers and who enjoy those 'zines too. (And even if there weren't any, writers are also generally avid readers, and I for one feel both privileged to write for fellow writers and grateful for feedback from them. We are a community, and I appreciate the fact.)

    I also don't get his argument that on the one hand, there are lots of small 'zines publishing short stories and on the other, markets and appetites for short stories have dried up.

    I could go on, but I'll spare you. And let's face it, what do I know? I LOVE Black Sabbath!

  6. Erin- I had to re-read the article a few times, and like you, it seemed like he was being fair enough, but the last comment somehow didn't fit in and I guess being in the same boat as most of us, it kind of struck a nerve, because here I am trying get my writing out there, actually using SK's advice, almost like a role model to keep at it, persevere...I think what irritated me most was that the short story and quality of them is alive and well, he's just out of the loop. SK still holds Godlike status with me as a writer and can't wait to read his short.

    Julie- Sabbath rules! Great comments and I wonder what writers like Hilary Davidson, Dennis Tafoya, Stuart Neville, and many others who started with shorts in e-zines / blogs/ small prints would think about this? None of them were in the Saturday Evening Post, GQ, Vainity Fair, or other "big time" mags.

  7. I think it's been a while since he was a hungry author. He's a master of his craft and I'm an avid fan(apart from Gerald's Game which was poo) E-Zines, Blogs and small prints are the building blocks. My stories on E-Zines helped garner interest from a top US agent, though I muppeted that one up. A story I had in a small print got to the short list at the British Fantasy awards and got me a review in a print magazine as well as two mentions in the Best Horror of the Year book. The thing I'm trying to say is that there are people out there reading our stuff and enjoying it though we might not know it. These publications are our stepping stones. Take Minjacker, you published it and it has great reviews and you got an interview with Alan Guthrie, that's a big deal in my books. Erin, I've not heard a bad word said about Grave of Echoes or anything you've put out on e-zines. I think SK has been a little naieve with his comment. He comes from a different era, a different publishing age etc.