To overcome the chilly reception short stories and novellas traditionally receive in the marketplace, two publishers have tinkered with the packaging of some books in an effort to find an audience.

This is what Scribner is doing with its unusual editions of Annie Proulx's short story—turned—Ang Lee film, Brokeback Mountain. The S&S imprint is getting behind Proulx's tale with a movie tie-in and a hardcover edition of the story. The small books, both a slim 55 pages and in a trim size of approximately 7"×4", are getting a big push. The paperback tie-in, with a list price of $9.95 and a 100,000-copy printing, hit shelves this month, while the more expensive hardcover—$14.95—is being rolled out with a 17,000-copy print run.

So why did Scribner opt for a a stand-alone work when a tie-in could have been planned for Close Range (2000), the collection "Brokeback Mountain" originally appeared in? According to Proulx's agent, Liz Darhansoff, the story had previously found success in Europe as a standalone volume and when Scribner editor Nan Graham suggested going the same way here, "everybody liked the idea."

While both volumes are undeniably beautiful—Darhansoff describes the pair as "elegant little books"—the question of price inevitably arises. Graham said there wasn't much concern on this front. "We wanted the stand-alone edition to reflect the quality of the story—French flaps, rough front, great paper. Both volumes were expensive to produce, and, yes, the cover price goes up. But it's a pleasure to make a book this beautiful."

The Melville Bet

With its new novella series, Melville House also has hopes that a line of simply designed, well-produced books—all paperbacks in a 7"×5" trim size with French flaps—will get readers of all ages interested in major and lesser-known works by classic authors. With 17 titles currently in the series—from Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King to the lesser-known Dostoevsky work The Eternal Husband—each book, ranging in page count from 80 to 200, is priced at a relatively low $9.

While Melville House is doing significantly smaller runs on its books than Scribner—2,000 and 5,000 printings for most—president Dennis Johnson says the appeal of the line is both about having a beautiful book and getting just the story you want. Johnson said the series aims to bring back the idea that there is more to a book than the text on its pages. "American books have gotten shitty-looking; they're tawdry and overdesigned at best," he said. "I think just by virtue of the look of our books it says we give a damn... the artifact of the book means a lot to us." And giving readers just the story they want—only Bartleby the Scrivener from Herman Melville's oeuvre, for example—is another marketing tool.

Johnson acknowledged that getting his sales reps and retailers to embrace the books has been a challenge. While some complained that the size of the books created problems for store displays, others were resistant because they didn't feature blurbs and had overly simple cover designs. Nonetheless, Johnson said, the series is getting traction. At BEA, he noted, attendees treated the books, which were on display there, "like candy." Now the series is being picked up by independents and book clubs and there is growing interest from alternative outlets (like Urban Outfitters), as well as from professors and international booksellers.

That Melville House's most popular book in the series, Bartleby, is also its shortest (at 80 pages) may prove what Scribner is banking on: less is more. And, if there's anything to the psychology of intellectual self-worth as it relates to reading, there may well be a hook for little books by big authors. As Johnson points out, there are lots of people who would like to say they've read Tolstoy but aren't quite ready to dig into War and Peace. Now they can pick up Melville's lean novella by the Russian master, The Devil, to get the job done.