Short Story Cycles

Doing it by the Book – paratext in British fiction

About the uses of paratext in determining genre in contemporary British fiction, including for short story cycles.

[Abstract:] My thesis is engaged – creatively and critically – in theorising the paratext of hybrid works which fall in the boundary space between a novel and a collection of short stories, and in charting how the production and reception of such works relates to perceived commercial pressure in the British publishing industry. It offers a methodological suggestion for identifying and approaching structural genre boundaries through a sliding scale of monotextual and polytextual signifiers; identifying the levels of narrative unity within the printed, bound book.

Presented in two parts, my thesis aims to mimic the iterative reading experience – each part enhancing and developing the content of the other – which it identifies as key to the hybridity of the books under discussion. Part one contains the critical component and Part two presents my research in the form of an original, hybrid work of fiction titled Steal This Book.

Part one Chapter one introduces the key critical concepts of paratext, monotext, polytext, and structural genre in the frame of reference of British fiction.

Chapter two addresses the historical precedents of marketplace dictating form in British publishing.

Chapter three offers a unique perspective on how closer examinations of paratext can assist writers, readers and critics in the digital age.

Chapter four examines the position of the reader in relation to hybrid fiction and Chapter five demonstrates a variety of different paratextual forms, structures, and methods which British writers are using today.

Part two Steal This Book provides a distinct commentary through example, representing the practical effects of paratext through its own structure. In the five interlinked narratives both the thematic and the character-driven story arcs aim to straddle the boundary space between short story collection and novel, expanding on the structurally-driven theorising of Part one by demonstrating the necessity of structure coming second to story in order to provide a satisfying read.

Key points

  1. Hybrid fiction does not adhere to strict structural rules and should respond to internal demands for cohesion, connection, and reflexivity.
  2. Commercial considerations can compromise the literary quality of a text, and the structure and content should be in synchronicity.
  3. Negative connotations associated with genre labels can discourage writers from exploring diverse forms and pushing structural boundaries.
  4. Digital publishing and changing opportunities may impact the perception and boundaries of genre terms like “short story” and “novel.”
  5. The role of digital publishing and its impact on reader expectations and the market for fiction is still uncertain, but it offers new possibilities for diversity and quality in literary culture.


Adams, Victoria (2011): “Doing it by the book :the uses of paratext in creating expectation and determining structural genre in contemporary British fiction”, Newcastle University



This dissertation does not focus solely on short story cycles, but they feature prominently in the dissertation as an important example of “hybrid fiction” that is difficult to market within the ‘normal parameters’. There is also an interesting, albeit a bit dated, interview with Tania Hershman, founder of the (now defunct?) online review site, The Short Review. (There is still a live Twitter profile for the site which is still accessible but as of this post’s date has not had news since 2018).


Did you find this site useful? You can show your appreciation by liking, sharing or subscribing to my short story cycle, Depending on the Morning Sun.

You might also find these materials interesting ...