Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Death of the Short Story

Current Reading: Symir: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

Inspirational Quote: "I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries theshort story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing." --William Faulkner

I have short stories, and I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do with them.

I like to think of myself as a "professional writer" in the same sense as Kristine Kathryn Rusch intends when she uses the phrase: I sell my words. I don't give them away free.

However, the glossy print magazines I remember from my 90's foray into publishing have shrunk to digest-sized, and circulations have dropped dangerously low (http://io9.com/5302638/has-the-print-magazine-circulation-crash-started-to-level-off). Most of the magazines to which I marketed my work (and most of which subsequently rejected said work... but that's the writing life) no longer exist. Their decline has spurred the advent of webzines, which is wonderful, but these are most often run on such a tight budget that you can't honestly write for them and say, "I did it for the money."

The problem is a lack of paying readers for short speculative fiction markets. If readers don't pay, how can publishers? I think part of the reason is the nature of the web. If a reader wants to read short fiction, they don't have to pay for it. It's out there, and not just the grammatic abominations and spell czech disasters that are the usual run-of-the-mill, but high-quality stuff (www.sfsignal.com gives a list several times a week of places where professional writers and publishers have posted free work on the web). As the old saying goes, why buy the cow when you're getting the milk for free?

If I'm not going to get paid, I could post my work here. A lot of professionals are doing that, raiding their existing work for material to put up as a kind of loss-leader to entice readers to buy their books. It makes sense if you have a published book, and if you have a name or marketing prowess sufficient to drive traffic to your site.

I don't have a published book, and some days I couldn't drive traffic to this site with a bullwhip and a fog horn. I suppose I could post some short stories to entice readers to free magazines wherein they could find other short stories. The net return there approaches zero by a roundabout route, but still gets there in the end.

I've been approaching the professional markets as approved by the sfwa (www.sfwa.org). They pay, but the stuff I've been putting out lately hasn't really been the kind of thing they prefer to publish. (Enormous ego moment: it's good enough, it's just not "right for us." Thank-you, yes, only the truly great can afford to be this humble. Remember to genuflect on your way out.)

I don't know.

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