In the latest issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, there is a question and answer transcript of a conversation between four young literary agents. It’s a pretty good article which goes into detail in a candid way about the type of work literary agents are looking to represent. There’s a part of the interview which really surprised me.
Jeff Kleinman, an agent at the Graybill & English Literary Agency cofounder of Folio Literary Management, said that he didn’t read short stories because, “It’s totally boring.” So I guess you all should stop sending him query letters for your story collections.
Later on, another agent says that story collections are “hard because ninety percent of the world doesn’t want to read them.”
I think part of the problem with short stories is that it isn’t mainstream. Therefore, people who love them should support them and part of that support comes from our collective purchasing power. I buy short story collections all the time. About half of my bookshelves are devoted to short story collections.
If you love short stories, think about showing your support by subscribing to a literary magazine (like One Story!) and buying short story collections.
I think that short stories have made huge strides lately, especially with the popularity of short stories being made into movies and the success of Jhumpa Lahiri’s collections.
Not everything is for everyone and although I don’t judge Jeff Kleinman for not liking short stories, it made me feel not-so-sorry for him when he admitted later to losing out on representing The Kite Runner.
Here’s the part of the interview about short stories:
KLEINMAN: See, I don’t want to read short fiction. I don’t want to curl up with a collection of short stories. It’s totally boring.
BARER: You’re what’s wrong with literary fiction today.
ZUCKERBROT: It’s not boring at all! How can you say that?
KLEINMAN: I want to get captured by a book and find myself five hundred pages later—
BARER: You can be captured by a short story collection.
ZUCKERBROT: You totally can. Did you read Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler?
KLEINMAN: No, I keep falling asleep before I can get started on those things. I see their covers and I want to fall asleep.
BARER: Lorrie Moore? Alice Munro?
ZUCKERBROT: Did you ever read Eudora Welty?
BARER: This is why story collections are so fucking hard. Ninety percent of the world doesn’t want to read them.
Tell us what isn’t captivating you.
KLEINMAN: If I want to read a book, and I’m going to spend thirty bucks, I don’t want to read about a bunch of characters who are going to come and go. I want to fall in love with these characters. I want to fall in love with these characters and the world they’re living in so completely—
BARER: Julie Orringer! Jhumpa Lahiri! Nathan Englander! There are so many great collections out there.
ZUCKERBROT: What about the people who say, “I don’t have time to read a novel”? Short story collection! You can start and finish in a short period of time.
KLEINMAN: No, to me the reason they don’t have time to read is because the books are not keeping their interest.
What is not keeping their interest?
KLEINMAN: I think there’s so much MFA stuff with such a standard voice and such a standard protocol. Everything is—
BARER: Jim Shepard’s last short story collection!
KLEINMAN: I’m falling asleep already.
You can read the rest of the Q & A here.
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