Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Trios: The White Road and Other Stories, by Tania Hershman: The Bookseller’s View

Sara Crowley has had fiction published by Pulp.Net, 3:AM, elimae, flashquake, Litro, Cella's Round Trip, Dogmatika, Red Peter, Better Non Sequitur, and a variety of other lovely places. “Salted”, her novel in progress, was shortlisted for the 2007 Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award. She is, among many other things, a bookseller at Waterstones and if you visit her blog you’ll be able to see photographs of some of her displays of the short story collections she so enthusiastically promotes—including one with Tania’s book in centre-stage. I wish that every bookshop had its own Sara Crowley, and offer her my warmest thanks for this piece.

I am a writer, mother, and part time bookseller in the fiction section of a large branch of Waterstones. I like to read and write short and long fiction; each has its own craft, skill, and reward. Novels outsell short story collections though, and there are a number of customers who are resistant to them. I understand how satisfying it is to immerse oneself in a lengthy story, but just as we are capable of listening to, and appreciating, both singles and albums, I don’t see the need to pick one form of writing and reject the other.

I maintain a short story collection display case and have no difficulty in filling the nineteen available spaces. I like to mix classic must-reads (Sylvia Plath's Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling from) with new voices (Lee Rourke's Everyday, Neil Smith's Bang Crunch) and contemporary greats (Lorrie Moore's The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore, Ali Smith's The First Person and Other Stories). I hope there’s something for everyone, and regularly change things to keep the display fresh. My colleague (who runs the fiction section) has a vast knowledge of fiction past and present; between us I think we offer wonderful range.

Customers often bring in reviews they have cut from the paper, or ask for a book they heard about on the radio. I’m not sure that short story collections get the necessary publicity in the press to generate buzz about them so one way of attracting potential buyers is to write a bookseller’s review. One of my favourite authors is Janice Galloway, so I ordered in copies of her superb collection Where You Find it, wrote a glowing review, and have sold 55 copies so far. It really pleases me to think that I have helped people to discover such a talented writer, and it proves that if good quality work is visible then people will buy it. Tania Hershman’s name may not be familiar to people yet, but if they read my recommendation and pick up The White Road and Other Stories they will see that it is beautifully produced and it offers something a little different, as Tania prefaces the stories with snippets of scientific articles that have inspired her. She is a very skilled writer, so reading a passage or two is likely to make the customer buy the book.

It’s sad to think that without publicity some wonderful books can remain undiscovered.

Two weeks ago we heard how Tania Hershman promoted her book, The White Road and Other Stories; and last week Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing discussed some of the difficulties involved in running an independent press.

If you'd like to be in with a chance to win a copy of The White Road and Other Stories, then answer this question: which magazine's articles inspired many of the stories in Tania's collection? Answers to You have until May 27 to get your emails to her, after which time she will select one winner at random from all of the entries she receives.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the lovely introduction Jane. It's much appreciated.

It's a shame that you linked my recommended titles to Amazon though, all are available from
and if people click through to my blog I link to all the current titles in my case too.

Jane Smith said...

Sara, there's a simple reason for my Amazon links, apart from the Amazon affiliates program (out of which this blog earns me about three pence per week): I live out in the sticks, and can't get broadband here. So I rely on a dial-up connection: and while Amazon loads reasonably quickly, the Waterstones website takes an absolute age--each page takes several minutes to open, which makes finding links far too time-consuming, I'm afraid. The Barnes and Noble website is the same--terribly slow. I've tried them both a few times, and have each time ended up frustrated and bored.

Thanks for adding the link, though: it's useful (although I would suggest that if readers would prefer a Waterstones link they find it via your blog, so you get a few extra hits).

Tania Hershman said...

I want to echo Jane's glowing praise of Sara - due to the curious current attitude to the short story, it's often hard to find them in shops, and, as Sara says, people often find books they want to read from the review sections of newspapers etc.., which don't carry that many reviews of short story collections. Sara demonstrates how one bookseller can make an enormous difference, not just to those of us who have written the books, but to readers who may never otherwise find "new favourite" authors. A great service! I must also add that the few Waterstone's branches I have been in to have been delighted to hear about my book and have ordered several copies for their branch. I always find the staff very helpful, interested and open, and do recommend buying through their site, too. (You can find my book on the Waterstone's site: The White Road and Other Stories.) Thank you again to Jane for giving us this platform!

JP_Fife said...

It's ever been thus with publishers' attitude to short stories, don't know why. I also can't understand how readers are resistant to short story collections as they are a great way to introduce yourself to a writer.

Short story collections are obligatory for SF writers - any SF on that shelf? - as short stories have always thrived within the genre, and even now still have pretty decent outlets such as Interzone, F&SF, etc.

Unknown said...

Thank you Tania!

JP_Fife - The bookshop I work in is huge and "Science Fiction and Fantasy" has its own section on a different floor. I have put S/F titles in my case in the past, most recently Kelly Link.

annie clarkson said...

it's so good to see people championing short stories, both on blogs and esp in bookstores. Hurray for your short story display, its fabulous, which Waterstones is it? I wnt to go into my local Waterstones and suggest they do the same...

pierre l said...

The Brighton branch of Waterstone's is really fabulous. I've been there a couple of times for readings and book signings (it's about 60 miles from where I live).

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you for this fascinating series, Jane.

Jane Smith said...

Tania, thanks for that live link--it makes things much easier.

JP et al, I love short story collections and usually have at least one on the go: I wish that there were more of them, and that they were easier to find--which is why when I first talked about this particular Trio with Tania I suggested that Sara could contribute: we need more bookshops and booksellers to follow her lead.

And Vanessa--you're welcome. Just let me know if you'd ever like to take part.

JP_Fife said...

So, I'm easily influenced. Just ordered the book on Amazon via the link - hope someone got an affiliate fee - for £6.99 and free post.

I love short stories too, Jane, and as I'm into SF and the short story is a big part of most SF writers' armoury a fair percentage of the books I own are short story volumes. My Theodore Sturgeon collection is at least 75% short story books.

It is odd that publishers don't seem to like short stories as they are suited to the modern environment; quick, succinct, accessible. Very suitable for the kick and rush life of most people nowadays.

Didn't some publisher(s) try the shorter format book? Those £1.99 quick read books? Any info on how they sell?

Tim Jones said...

My short story collection Transported, published by Random House New Zealand in 2008, has been marketed as literary fiction but actually contains about 1/3 speculative fiction stories, mainly SF - maybe even 1/2 if you take a generous definition.

After acceptance and before publication, I had some very interesting negotiations with the publisher about what proportion of the book should be SF. Essentially, they felt that too high a proportion of SF would prevent the book being marketed as literary fiction, which would reduce sales.

We solved the problem by adding a couple of new literary fiction stories, rather than cutting out any SF, so I was happy with that. Nearly all reviewers have noted the SF element - most have been pleased to see it, but a couple have been distinctly sniffy.

Tania Hershman said...

JP, thanks for buying my book!
And, ah, the genre discussion. Tim and I love this one, don't we?!