Writer Richard Parks shares his thoughts on the short stories versus novels issue, based on a panel at the 2002 World Fantasy Con. Jay Lake responds here.
I agree with Richard Parks and Jay Lake that it’s useless for a writer to try to “break in” via short stories, if he or she actually hates writing short stories and would much rather be writing novels. Never mind that short fiction as an entry path mainly exists in the science fiction and fantasy genre and to some degree in literary fiction, because those genres actually have a vibrant short fiction scene. However, if you’re writing in a genre that has maybe one or two short fiction markets at most, entrance pathways will most likely be different. For example, the time honoured way for romance writers to break into the business used to be via writing category romances for Harlequin/Mills and Boon or similar, long defunct lines such as Loveswept or Signet Regency.
I also agree that short stories and novels are different beasts, yet I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the skill sets needed to write either form are radically different. It’s rather that many of the craft aspects are the same, though the focus is different, e.g. a short story will necessarily place much less importance on worldbuilding than a novel. On the other hand, short stories are far better suited to experimentation than full length novels.
I’m one of those people who can write both and indeed Pegasus Pulp is almost entirely stocked with my backlist short fiction. Nonetheless, the longer lengths, i.e. anything from novelette on up, come more naturally to me than flash fiction. One thing I have noticed since I started indie publishing is that I’m not just writing more short fiction, I’m also enjoying it more. Because previously, I would always interrogate every idea for a short story that popped into my head with “Is this viable? Can I sell this anywhere?” And if the answer was “no”, I’d forget the short story and focus on the novel instead. Now, however, I know that even if a story does not find a market, I can still self-publish it, short stories have suddenly become viable again. More importantly, they have suddenly become exciting again.