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Funky Little Tunes

I'm driving home from work today, listening to the radio, and listening to the voice in the radio talk about EPs, albums, and singles, and it occurs me that collections and anthologies have a strong connection to albums.

The difference, however, is a lot of bands release their albums after doing their time in pubs and bars and festivals, and a writer often does time with short fiction in low paying 'zines, anthologies, and so forth. Once you've done enough time, you might get the chance to have a collection, which popular wisdom will tell you won't sell well, on the most part. Which is probably why collections are mostly released by independent presses these days, unless you're someone big and flashy in that famous way. Neil Gaiman isn't getting a huge print run for his new collection because of literary merit (no matter if you think he deserves it or not). Of course, I don't really hang in the music industry, but I imagine that there's a popular saying that EPs don't sell well, and that most albums go bust, just the same with fiction, but every form has got its doom and gloom, you know?

But I was just struck by the form of an album, and how it mirrors that of a collection, with it's individual tracks comprising a whole. An album isn't really comparable to a novel, but it is to a single author collection, and my reaction to them is much the same. It's very rare for me to find an album I love every track on, the same for a collection, and I'll go back for certain tracks, and certain stories, whereas, with a novel or film, I find myself picking up for scene or pieces of dialogue that I find especially memorable.

The thought can't be new, really. I remember a few years back Warren Ellis would go on about comparing single issue comics to singles, in which you could get that injection of culture straight into you. I tend to think the same goes for short fiction, but there's really no way you can drop a couple of dollars down on a counter and get one story, in a nice little package. I'm not talking a novella here, but a proper short story, anywhere from a thousand to eight thousand words, just in one neat form, which you can take with you after dropping the change. Something to read for that bit of disposable time on a train, before bed, between shows, or while you cook. Sure, you can do the same thing with a collection, but collections, you know, they cost money, take time to read, and they're not small and compact and sold for the price of a whim.

It's probably impossible to do outside a PDF or internet release, anyhow.

Anyhow: yes, collections, albums, singles, EPs. Just a thought I had as I was driving home. Can't even say it's that originally, really. Someone might even be doing it. Let me know if they are.

Comments

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angriest
Sep. 10th, 2006 04:49 am (UTC)
I've been thinking about the single short story publication for a while now, and do think it's possible. It'd be something disposable, and really really cheap, and yeah, just a few thousand words long that you could read, enjoy and then chuck in the recycling bin or something.
benpeek
Sep. 10th, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
the trick, i think, would be finding a way to get it out to people. to get it distributed, somehow.
angriest
Sep. 10th, 2006 05:26 am (UTC)
Front counter of independent bookstores, record shops, comic shops, etc.
benpeek
Sep. 10th, 2006 06:40 am (UTC)
yeah, true--but i was thinking of a proper distribution outlet, you know? which is nothing to do with nothing, really.
chrisbarnes
Sep. 10th, 2006 05:07 am (UTC)
I think that if and when e-book devices become widespread, we'll see short pieces - fiction, articles, etc - available for download just like individual songs from iTunes. But e-books have been "just around the corner" for years now, so who knows when that'll actually happen. It might be the only viable distribution method, though.
benpeek
Sep. 10th, 2006 05:19 am (UTC)
i don't think it'll happen, personally. i don't think a lot of people want to be reading off a screen for pleasure. screen reading implies that you get to interact, which, of course, you don't with fiction--which is why i think it won't go tht eway of itunes and singles. but who knows, in the end.
jody_macgregor
Sep. 10th, 2006 09:34 am (UTC)
Nine out of ten albums don't turn a profit. But that's because the recording industry is fucked in the head, really.
underdogautopsy
Sep. 10th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
This was sort of the intentions with Wicked Hollow early on. The idea for it germinated in the summer of 2000 while I was living at the coast, working full-time as a dishwasher in a family owned restaurant, and hardly having the money for food or rent, and still having to borrow from my parents, have no health insurance, etc.. But I had waited long enough to edit/publish something, and so I created the idea for Wicked Hollow, which would be a pocket-sized, disposable magazine of fiction and poetry. The cover price would be $2US. I made some mistakes, however, if that was the model by which I intended to keep. I included artwork. The magazine now has artwork for every story but that first issue I only had artwork for two or three stories plus one epic poem. I also used a higher quality cover stock just to try and give it some personality. Basically, I became too concerned with the physical artifact, even though it was supposed to be disposable, to pull off the bottom line, which was to create a magazine I could sell for $2 and that not be financial suicide. I made it at home, printed, trimmed, stapled, etc. However, with the cost of the ink I was using, it actually turned out to be more expensive to make (and mail) than what I was charging, and each new order I got was more like me losing that much more rather than coming nearer to breaking even.

I've since gone with it, have Wicked Hollow sent off to print, raised the cover price to $4, and market it as a pocket-sized magazine, as it remains, but nothing about being disposable. If I had it to do over, and I was genuinely trying to create a disposable magazine for $2, I'm certain it could be done and be very readable in terms of its literary merit, but it's not destined to be the most beautiful artifact ever. Which will make it that much more difficult to solidify wide distribution for it.
benpeek
Sep. 11th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
yeah,t he problem i think is in finding a method in which to actually have it picked up. maybe if it were small enough? i dunno. having absolutely zero kind of design skills, it's really beyond me, but i do reckon that after a while i'd become concerned with it as a physical artifact.

as always.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 11th, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)
But I'm not getting a huge print run on FRAGILE THINGS because I'm famous. I'm getting a huge print run because over the last eight years SMOKE AND MIRRORS has sold in the hundreds of thousands.

And the publishers around the world were happy to do Smoke and Mirrors, despite most of them adamantly not wanting to do short story collections, because DreamHaven's small press ANGELS AND VISITATIONS had sold 20,000 in hardback before we decided to put it out of print, from 1993-1998.

Which has nothing to do with literary merit, but has a lot to do with there being people who want to read the short stories...

Neil
benpeek
Sep. 11th, 2006 07:33 am (UTC)
in this case, i was sort of connecting 'fame' to have a name selling quality--which, in your case, has been done through the selling of many books. at any rate, it was a bit of mid stream throw away thought, so my apologies if it cause offense. wasn't intended to do so.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 11th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC)
Didn't take offense at all. Actually, I was mostly agreeing with you -- my first collection was small press, after "serving my time" as you describe. I was just lucky enough that A&V sold in quantities that meant that a mainstream publisher didn't regard a short story collection by me as a gamble, and *that* sold well enough that I've got a short story collection coming out now as a major book (something that worries me vaguely. I'm very aware it could sell a hundred thousand US copies and still leave a third of the print run to be pulped).
benpeek
Sep. 11th, 2006 11:59 pm (UTC)
well, i hope that doesn't happen for you. it's nice that some collections aren't seen as gambles.
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