Ray Bradbury’s philosophy of writing a short story each day will always hold true in terms of a writer wanting to explore his or her craft and creativity. However, this philosophy was passed by over fifty years ago in the business of publishing and making money. Prior to the dawn of television in the 1950’s, short stories were a form of commercial or genre fiction in newspapers and magazines, these made a great of money for the author.
Novels at the time were more or less thought of as a literary achievement in an author’s career. Television came along and wiped out the imaginative feel of short stories. Its amazing visuals and relegated short stories to being a means of a writer learning his or her craft. A two decade transition period would pass before the publishing industry would hit its next wave. The wave of commercial bestsellers hitting bookstores in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
While writers still learned their chops by writing short stories, Stephen King and Danielle Steele ushering in the era of novels becoming more commercial or genre based. During this era, many could become best selling novelists with the ease of just one book, as long as it was appealing enough for readers and the mass market. Yet this cycle would eventually subside as well in the 1990’s with more writers taking an interest in screenwriting in film and television.
The rise of home video and cable television gave way to an increased margin of writers outside Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York trying their hand at writing film and television, thus making six figures. The publishing industry responded by a more career oriented approach with new authors. An author would slowly build an audience one full length novel at a time in certain genre. Three novels in said genre would make an author a success, while five would cement their career in that genre.
After this came DVD and the rise of The Internet, along with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. There were minor setbacks in film and television, but they mostly kept things together. However, it got the point where a new author was lucky to even have one novel out in bookstores, much less an agent, editor or small press publisher behind them. Many novelists and short story writers had to resort to self-publishing, print on demand, or eBooks.
For the next several years, supply and demand for new screenwriters in film and television were at all time high. Despite an increased focus on computer animated films and reality shows. While bookstores were stocked with the novels of established bestsellers and veteran authors. This was until the Writer’s Guild of America strike in late 2007. Then followed by the economic recession that started just a month before, but has gotten worse in the last year or so.
It has now gotten to the point where feature films and networks television series are now using established in house writers. The only avenue with a huge profit margin for young writers are now cable dramas. HBO, Showtime, USA Network, TNT, and FX. Even AMC. However, the new WGA agreement expires in May of next year. Another strike would bring cable dramas to their knees, and then those would more or less be left with established in house writers also.
One question does have to be asked after the changes and cycles writers have gone through in this business. It is a situation where novelists and short story writers can be well known, but not make a lot of money. While screenwriters for film and television are paid lots of money, most of them are not households the way novelists and short story can be, or least have been in the past. Everyone what a novel or short story is, but who outside Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York even knows what a screenplay or a screenwriter is?
Another question that may be on a lot of people’s minds related to the one above is, has this business been hot shotted or overexposed in some way? It sure appears this way. In the event of another strike or when cable dramas have run their course, there are those who predict webisodes will have increased exposure amongst the mainstream and feature young talent. Also, that they will be able to make more money on a small budget with shorter episodic or serialized content.
In such an event, widespread popularity of webisodes might in fact be a step or two away from a possible return to short stories. While there is no guarantee such a thing will happen, it would be quite interesting nonetheless. It would expose a lot of new talent to the marketplace, and provide them with a more stable income than the current market. Will such a thing be able to happen at some point? Who knows?