In the aftermath of Saturday's PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony in which four of the five nominees were short story collections yet the winner was the lone novel nominated (Roth's Everyman) the Washington Post's Bob Thompson takes a look at the long underappreciated form, and most dishearteningly, shows some sales figures that may go a long way in answering the question, why writers tend to go the novel route:
According to Nielsen BookScan, which offers the most complete sales figures available (though it leaves out those from Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, food and drug outlets and specialty stores), Eisenberg's "Twilight of the Superheroes" has sold roughly 10,000 hardback copies to date, plus 3,000 more in paperback. Hempel's collection has sold 16,000 hardback copies and D'Ambrosio's 3,000, with paperback sales mostly to come.
Jones's numbers look a bit better. "All Aunt Hagar's Children" has sold 29,000 in hardback (it will come out in paperback in September). But that modest success may have come, in part, because Jones's novel, "The Known World," won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, sending its paperback sales (715,000 copies to date) through the roof. And even in hardcover, with almost two-thirds of sales coming before the Pulitzer, the novel has outsold the stories by 50,000 copies.
As for the winning novelist: Roth's "Everyman" has sold 73,000 copies in hardback (in part, clearly, due to his name recognition). The paperback edition, just out last month, is selling briskly.