Short Fiction, February 2010

Feb 11, 05:27 by IROSF

Comment Below!
Feb 11, 18:08 by N. K. Jemisin
Speaking not as an HNT here -- not sure I qualify -- but simply as an author of "this generation"... I think you're right to note that the Big Three (going to toss in Realms of Fantasy and make it Big Four) put out some warn-off signals that may repel younger-gen writers, like keeping homophobic racist misogynists on the payroll or their unwillingness to make the submission process convenient. But IMO, these things alone are not responsible for the divide; they merely exacerbate the problem. The real problem is an environmental shift (climate change?) that occurred some while ago: short fiction has little value anymore for authors looking to build a long-term career.

I'm not talking about intrinsic value here, note. I've become a better writer by writing short fiction, and I *enjoy* it, which is the biggest reason why I do it. But I'm talking about practical/logistical considerations.

First is the pay issue: even the pro-paying markets don't pay enough to cover a month's rent (maybe if you live in a small town, but most young writers seem to live in cities since that's where the economic opportunities are, and those ain't cheap). Since the online, HNT-focused magazines are actually the ones that pay best these days (I understand the Big Four pay better for the OPs, but few of the HNTs are there yet), there's no real reason to submit to the Big Four given that. And since *none* of them pay enough to cover the health insurance bill, money has essentially become a secondary reason to publish short fiction. Attention matters more, now.

But attention is hard to come by too. You talked about the life-cycle writers went through in your generation, progressing from semi-pros to pros and then novels. That doesn't happen anymore, at least not for most of us. Agents and editors with big novel publishing houses rarely read short fiction at all (notable exceptions like Tor aside), so publishing shorts doesn't help there. Editors with the Big Four don't seem to pay much attention to the semipros/online pro/HNT markets, possibly because of this divide you've mentioned. So basically, getting published in one set of markets does you no good for breaking into the "next set up", and that strategy is therefore useless. Better to just go for the most-eyeballed market you can get into, from jump.

And the Big Four are not the most-eyeballed. Most free online markets get more readers, simply because they're free and easily-accessible. The Escape Artists podcasts get something on the order of 25,000 listeners per month, all total. And all I have to do to be eligible for those markets is get published somewhere, anywhere, beforehand. So my publication strategy in the last few years has been to get my short stories published somewhere "respectable", so that I can get the rarefied eyeballs that might turn into awards consideration or reviews in places like IROSF =)... and then reprint with Escape Artists so I can actually get reader/fan eyeballs. I've met far more casual fans of SF who know my fiction through some EA podcast than through any textual publication I've ever had. Now that I've got a book coming out, I'm going to be advertising there, because those are the kinds of readers who might buy my book, and there are enough of them to generate some real word-of-mouth value. (It helps that they pay well for reprint rights too, putting a little more cash into the health insurance kitty.)

So basically, environmental factors make the OP markets less desirable to begin with, and their unwelcoming policies/practices just compound the problem.
Feb 11, 18:54 by Erin Hoffman
In addition to Nora's very good points above, which I agree with almost all of... :)

Really appreciated this thoughtful consideration of the markets, Lois, and the advocacy for bridge-building, which I very much agree with.

Also Not a HNT, being in a similar boat to NK above... but if it's useful to have a perspective from someone who is trying to "make it" and has wanted to carve a career in this field since she was a kid:

I think it's no coincidence that you're seeing the most bridge-building from Asimov's. Not only do I as a "young Turk" find Asimov's the most approachable of the big three (I've gotten the best replies), I find the fiction in the magazine the most palatable as a reader.

I think another dimension to those being considered above is that the type of fiction appearing in the 'old' and 'new' magazines is actually different. Asimov's is noticeable to me in that I more regularly enjoy the kind of stories on offer there, and I think that as a magazine it has evolved more than the other two -- or three if you do include Realms. And while Asimov's has done less than I think what is necessary to stay ahead of the curve in modern internet speculative fiction communities (to me the frontrunner of the establishment is Tor.com), it's done more than either F&SF, Analog, or Realms to stay relevant and accessible to the new online communities of speculative fiction.

All of this said, there is an issue with short fiction as a whole and its function in the career of a new writer. The balance shifted a long time ago to where if you realistically wanted to be considered a professional and have even a shot at a life-sustaining career, you had to move to novels. This dimmed the light on short fiction and it's been in decline ever since. But online fiction allows a new writer to make their work accessible, have a stamp of approval and quality from the community, and potentially reach new readers. It serves a potentially powerful marketing function. The print mags serve some, and arguably the establishment still has enough power that it's worth chasing them, but in raw career terms it seems from the outside that there is more ROI in many of the online markets these days than there is in print periodicals. If you are shooting for novels, it makes more sense to try to place a story with an online magazine that will help amplify your audience than with an old time print periodical that has an established older market that probably won't be that interested in what you're doing anyway.

I would, as a reader and a writer, like to see more interchange and understanding between both of these sides, and also between the field as a whole and other industries (video games of course are the natural assumption for me, particularly massive online fantasy games). I think that ossification danger is very real across multiple dimensions. But I also wonder if these markets aren't somewhat content to ossify, and if trying to change some of them isn't a waste of time. I guess only they and their readers can so determine.
Feb 11, 20:41 by Lois Tilton
Thoughtful responses.

There is a difference, as I see the issue, between HNTs and merely new writers. The OP zines do publish new writers. Baen's, for example, an online OP venue, had a special section in which the work of very new writers was featured. But such writers don't come with a readership base. The HNTs, being hot, do have an established readership, and I think the zines would benefit by picking up part of this readership if they published the authors.

I'd be very interested to know if the February Asimov's picked up some of these readers when they printed the Yoachim and Bodard stories.

otoh, I can definitely see the dangers for the zines with established stables of HNTs falling into ruts of their own and ignoring the next generation of authors, now still in the embryonic stage.
Feb 11, 21:11 by Sean Wallace
I'm afraid that it's too difficult to determine on the basis of one issue if including new authors would have any impact, considering all the variables that go into magazine print publishing. You would have to analyze over a period of a year, or years, to get anything that you could interpret.

I suspect you're not taking into consideration an important aspect of this concern: "I can definitely see the dangers for the zines with established stables of HNTs falling into ruts of their own and ignoring the next generation of authors, now still in the embryonic stage." in that, most new authors, having established themselves, then move to writing novels, and the zines in question simply bring in newer generations of authors to replace those that have moved on. You can work this out by analysing the percentage of new authors, in each year of the zine in question, and if it's a significant number, then it's not an issue. If the percentage is reasonable, then that's all to the good. This assumes that online zines have stables, which may not be the case. Out of the thirty-nine stories scheduled for publication at FM for 2010, only twenty are returning-authors. I think that matches with 2009, with only eighteen, out of fifty-two. I guess the question is what constitutes a stable? Of the 150 or so authors published at FM over the years, only a few have cropped up repeatedly.

I think you'll find that once a market is known for being open to new authors, that there's little risk of a zine falling into a rut, or at least that's my hope :p
Feb 11, 21:27 by Sean Wallace
I should also note that you are assuming the inclusion of young hot authors would change anything but it doesn't take into account that it's a lot easier for an author to point to an online story release, rather than encourage people to pick up the latest digest due to fewer distribution channels and market availability. Does that make sense?
Feb 11, 22:24 by Lois Tilton
I think that in every generation of authors there has been a significant number who more or less drop out of short fiction once they start getting novel contracts. There are exceptions - I see book publishers like Tor and Baen publishing short fiction from their regular novelists.

One of my question is not whether some ezines are open to new authors, but whether they are open to older ones. Are the Olde Phartes not submitting to newer zines, or is their stuff being rejected?

It is certainly true that distribution problems have hampered the digests, but they have now begun electronic distribution for reading on those newfangled devices, which is making the individual issues more obtainable.
Feb 11, 22:51 by Sean Wallace
I'd guess that some or a lot older-generation authors are not submitting to online venues. In some cases they are solicited, sometimes, which is how we got Tanith Lee, among others, though Carol Emshwiller actually found us, out of the blue.

With the internet, selling issues still represents a pay-wall, if that's all you're doing. This is what has handicapped a number of online ventures from scaling up. If you can sell X, but you can reach 10X or 100X by giving it away for free, then authors would be more interested in the latter. It's much easier to point at a html link, after all, and have a few thousand, or ten thousand, or twenty thousand people take a look at the story. For authors attempting to build their career, that might be more important.

The other variable with online, with regards to authors . . . the stories keep getting read. A print issue is gone and out of print in a matter of weeks. But if an author links to a story from their website, then several thousand people annually read the story, from the initial pageviews. So while the story might have gotten 15,000 page views in the first month, it may continue getting a few thousand every year, which builds.

It's definitely a changing landscape.
Feb 11, 23:02 by Lois Tilton
If I am correct, the online sources like Fictionwise keep an issue available for some time.


Carol Emshwiller is one of a kind, always new. She may have been around for a long time, but she is still, today, a Hot Now Thing, like a phoenix. I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be eager to get her work.

Feb 11, 23:17 by Sean Wallace
Looking at Fictionwise it appears Penny Press only allows the last six months to stay up, for all four of their digests. However, F&SF has issues going back to 2002, so they're much better at this than Penny Press, I would guess.
Feb 12, 00:37 by Jennifer Pelland
"A Serpent in the Gears" is written by Margaret Ronald, not Margaret Roland. She's the author of the "Spiral Hunt" and "Wild Hunt" novels, and a member of my writing group, so I want people to be able to find more of her stuff :)
Feb 12, 01:02 by Lois Tilton
Thanks for the correction.

And a neat story that one is.
Feb 12, 02:18 by Dave Creek
Some of the problem (if it is one) is generational, I think -- not in terms of age as such but in the type of fiction someone of a certain age might enjoy. My favorite material is in the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/Poul Anderson/CJ Cherryh vein. Spaceships, thought experiments, aliens, strange worlds, exploration.

I don't care much for the new space opera because it's mostly war stories rather than exploration. In fact, I hate that the default for SF adventure now is generally war stories and not exploration. But my generation is that of Apollo; younger ones remember Challenger and Columbia, so that probably has something to do with it.

Many of the online mags are oriented toward fantasy or horror. I read some fantasy such as George R.R. Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and some horror by King, Bloch, and Matheson. But I'm not interested in writing it.

Many of them also want shorter work, which I write sometimes, but as often as not my stories are 10,000 or 15,000 or even 20,000 words long.

So if I'm writing character-oriented space opera with a focus on exploration, where do I go for online markets? I don't see many that accept it. And if you'd care to suggest maybe I should write something else, remember that part about not being able to make a living on short fiction? That's exactly right, which means if I'm not going to make a living at it, then I'm damn sure going to write exactly what I want to write, or what's the point?
Feb 12, 19:19 by Lois Tilton
Cherryh, I would say, leans more towards war than exploration.
Feb 13, 02:21 by Dave Creek
Lois, you're absolutely right about Cherryh. I guess she snuck in because she's so character oriented. Plus, it's not as if I NEVER read military or war SF; I just wish there were more of the exploratory stuff.
Feb 13, 02:45 by Lois Tilton
It's the sort of SF that I had thought Baen's magazine would be doing, or doing more of than they did.
Feb 13, 03:32 by Dave Creek
I subscribed to Baen's for a year, and disliked reading on a computer. I think with the new readers coming out, it may be time in a few years for someone to try a similar online mag again.

Plus, the new issue would sit there reminding you it had arrived. When I'd finish a book, I'd literally reach for another in my eternal to-be-read stack, forgetting I had a Baen's to read. Duh.
Feb 14, 23:44 by Jed Hartman
Good discussion and good reviews, as always. I'm glad to hear you'll be reviewing at Locus Online. Thanks for your reviews here these past few years!

I think your questions about the divide are good ones, and I like the answers and further discussion here in the comments. I especially like the points (in comments) about the difficulty of making substantial money from short fiction.

I'll toss in a few other related thoughts. Note that I'm making a distinction along print-vs-online lines, which wasn't quite the distinction you made; for example, you put Baen's in your established-writers category, and I'm guessing you would also have put Sci Fiction in that category. But below, for convenience, I'll refer to the established-writer magazines as "print prozines".

We at SH don't often receive submissions from the pre-2000-debut generations of established pro writers, and the few such writers I've solicited stories from have said no (generally with the explanation that they're writing only novels). We have received submissions from maybe three or four writers who I've been a fan of since college or earlier (and perhaps another half-dozen writers whose work I've liked in the print prozines in the '90s and '00s), but the stories they've sent us haven't been quite what we're looking for. I hate hate hate rejecting those stories -- how can I not want to publish a story by a writer who I've admired since I was ten years old? But it wasn't the right story for us, so we sent a very regretful rejection. But fwiw, I would love to see more stories from more established writers.

But I don't think that's likely to happen at SH (can't speak for other online magazines), because I think that even aside from the established-writer perception of online publication as semipro by definition (and the length issue, which I think you're absolutely right about), SH in particular has developed a reputation for being a sort of starting point for newer writers. We tend to publish significantly more first-pro-sales per year than the print prozines do, for example.

And a fair number of our authors have gone on to sell at least occasionally to the print prozines. For example, two of the authors in the March Asimov's, three of the authors in the March/April F&SF, and one of the authors in the March Analog have previously sold to SH. Not all of those got their start with us, but it does show that there's some overlap.

You noted that the February Asimov's has a couple of writers in your HNT category, but I think it's worth noting that the March one has two stories by established writers (Rusch and Jablokov) and four stories by writers who've made their debuts in the past five years. (I'm not sure whether they count as HNTs per se; I don't have a very good sense of which neopros have followings and which don't.) Likewise, at least three of the authors in the March Analog debuted around 2000, which may put them one writing-generation back from the current crop, but still well within the time period of writers who debuted online.

I agree with Sean about stables. SH, too, has lately published about half returning authors and half new-to-us authors; but even among the returning authors, only five authors have sold us more than four stories apiece over the nearly ten years we've been buying stories. (Three authors have sold us five stories each; one has sold us six; one has sold us eight.) For a while, we had something of a reputation among some writers in our social circle for being very hard to sell a third story to; not intentional, just worked out that way.

Two more interrelated thoughts:

Regardless of any other factors, the print prozines have much higher prestige/better reputation than online publications among certain categories of people, including Hugo and Nebula voters. Stories published online have appeared on Hugo and Nebula ballots, but rarely; Hugo voters in particular consistently nominate stories from the print prozines (and print anthologies and collections).

And an established writer who's been selling to the print prozines for years has, it seems to me, not much reason to submit elsewhere. If writer X sells 90% of their short fiction to Asimov's, then it makes sense for them to keep sending their short fiction to that venue first. If something fails to sell to the print prozines, then they might send it along to an online venue--which may work out fine if the online venues really do have very different tastes from the print venues, but if what I like about writer X's work is the stories I've seen in Asimov's, then I may not be thrilled with their stories that get rejected by Asimov's. Sure, every editor has different tastes; I'm not saying this can't work out well. But I think it can be one factor among several that might lead to my rejecting a story by an established writer whose work I've liked elsewhere.
Feb 15, 01:23 by Lois Tilton
Thanks for your comments, Jed.

I want to emphasize, as you suggest above, that the set of authors I group as HNT does not simply mean "new authors". The difference is important. The HNT authors have reached the point where their work is likely to be solicited by [some] editors, very much unlike the typical new author who may but probably will not some day achieve critical temperature.

So a major part of my question is: what authors are the editors soliciting? Are they soliciting across the gap - in either direction - or only within the same pool? It's interesting to me that you say the earlier generation of authors has mosly declined to send stuff to SH. I suspect this experience may make it less likely for SH to solicit such authors, just as repeated rejections from a given market will lead writers to scratch it off their submissions list.

Although, speaking from the reader's pov, I would like to see more zines breaking out of their molds and trying something completely different more often. When I start to say, "this is a typical Name Of Zine story", the piece has already lost much of my interest.
Feb 15, 02:02 by Sean Wallace
I can assert that at least my experience with CW, FM, and LS that quite a lot of established authors have been approached, and that response rate from earlier generation of authors is abysmal, for whatever reason. It doesn't stop an editor for keeping up the solicitations, however, as something might drop in. Persistence is key, and in most of my solicitations, I make it clear that we'll wait on them, and sometimes I even email them every six months to see if they have something available. Alas, there's only so much outreach that you can do.

I agree with Jed. Most of the online magazines are more open to new authors, and don't create stables as much. Looking at my own numbers, about 197 stories published so far from 2005 to 2009, only three authors have had four stories published each, and eleven have published three each. I suspect that some will get up to five or six this year, based on current acceptances.

I don't know about any other editors, but frankly any promising author, whether HNT or not HNT, will be solicited for more material, because if there's anything editors like, it's discovering new talent, or new approaches, or new retellings. We like to be the editor to bring something new, something exciting, to our readers. And that can be something, actually, from an established or a new author. It has little to do with new or not new.

Which zines do you think need to break out of their molds?
Feb 15, 02:45 by Sean Wallace
Let me rephrase my question: in what way would you like to see magazines break out of their mold? (What is the mold?) And what is wrong with having a brand, on top of that? After all, you can tell the difference between, say, a NEW YORKER story, a FM story, an ANALOG story, a MZB's FM, and the like, all of which defines the brand, and makes it easier to introduce yourself to new readers, and retain current readers. Does breaking out of the mold mean possibly losing readers? Or possibly gaining new ones?
Feb 15, 03:14 by Lois Tilton
Sean, I think it may have been you who mentioned that a number of the online zines are now paying rates above those of the digests. This would seem to be highly attractive to authors, the sort of bait that would lure them from one set of zines to another.

But then I have the feeling that often there is a great pack of editors in pursuit of the same few hot authors, and I often seen these authors say that they simply don't have the time to meet these requests. Yet there are plenty of other competent professional authors, less fashionable and in demand, who might be happy to receive such a solicitation.

It's the new and exciting story that I'm looking for as a reader, and as you say, that story can come from either a newer or a veteran author. But I can only speak for myself, with my own tastes, which are in the direction of originality. It's a balancing act, I know, between the magazine's brand and the brand becoming something ossified. And I've very much aware of the readers who will reject the same story that I find most exciting and new, as being too much out of the mold that they find comforting, wanting only more of the same.

It's a dilemma, but I think ultimately that a periodical has to attract new readers with new stories if it wants to survive over the long run.
Feb 15, 17:54 by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Lois, you say that authors who refuse to submit to a magazine because it doesn't have an online submission system are foolish, but about what of us who are international authors?

When I was living in Mexico subbing from abroad with SASEs and IRCs was essentially mission impossible. Even now that I live in Canada I went to the post office to try and mail something to Asimov's only to find the employee telling me they don't sell IRCs anymore. Thus, off went the story to an online venue.

A market may have certain requirements, but I have a wide array of options and look for the most convenient one. After all, most of my sales will not cover the rent, so why bother going through all of metro-Vancouver trying to see if someone still sells IRCs?
Feb 15, 18:48 by Nader Elhefnawy
Overall, a great article, and a great discussion.
I certainly think Silvia has a point-difficulty of submission can be an issue, and at this point I'd like to bring up the point that we touched on the subject not long before, in the discussion started by the Signals 27 column from December 2009 (in turn, a response to the Scalzi-Schmidt debate some time earlier)-

http://irosf.com/q/zine/article/10612

This, too, seems to be one of those things that relative outsiders claim about-but get little sympathy or even acknowledgment on from insiders.
Feb 15, 20:40 by Lois Tilton
Silvia, I was trying to express generational dissonance. When I started out, email and other electronic mailing protocols simply weren't available to most of us [and editors even regarded photocopies with some suspicion]. So to me, a first reaction is to think it would be foolish to pass up a premier market for such a reason.

But of course it may not be foolish at all from another point of view, and older writers have to be aware that the markets we grew up thinking were the best may not be the best for other authors. And of course you are quite right about international submission. I have heard, though, that many editors will readily make exceptions for international authors. I would hope this is true of Asimov's.
Feb 15, 20:51 by Lois Tilton
Nader, yes, I was thinking of that exchange and other comments it spawned.

The comments from Silvia and Dave make the important point that writers have to decide what's worth it for themselves, and no one else can dictate what they must and must not do. Some advice, while it may be well-meaning, might be obsolete.

Feb 15, 20:57 by Sean Wallace
I think it's more than guideline hoops for newer authors. If a market shows various signs of ossification, and refusing to take online submissions is but one of several variables, it's not foolish for authors to walk away. The venues that don't get to see their submissions are punishing themselves, to a degree. How are the authors losing out since 1) other markets may pay more 2) other markets may get more distribution 3) other markets may be comprised of readers that appreciate their work more? Author gravitate to those markets that are welcoming, and that's always been the case. If younger authors feel more comfortable with online markets, or semi-pro print markets rather than the Big Three, then it's not foolish for authors, no. With regards to establishing an author's career, it's not necessary (and hasn't been) to have been published in The Big Three for many years, now. If you want to get a Hugo, maybe so that might be a benefit, but even that award system is showing some signs of ossification, and as recent wins show, it's not necessary to be aligned with The Big Three to pull things off.

Some print editors, yes, may make exceptions for foreign authors that they know, and solicit material from, but the majority of overseas authors submitting? No. I think REALMS OF FANTASY tried something new a few months ago, but I can't find the lj post detailing exactly what that was.

New authors, or old, should simply do what makes sense for their own careers, and there are many paths to relative success, as Jay Lake keeps pointing out.
Feb 15, 21:49 by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Hi Sean,

Realms of Fantasy started accepting replies to international authors via e-mail. So you still send a physical manuscript, but they'll e-mail you the answer back. It's the same deal at Writers of the Future.

This may seem like small potatoes, but it is a huge bonus for international writers and writers who don't have that much cash. The $10 to get an IRC (if I could find it) when I was in Mexico was a lot of money. It was four hot meals, almost a full week of lunch. The Internet opens a wider array of possibilities in such situations.
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