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The State of Short Fiction

I have too many friends writing too many books. davidjwilliams just saw the mass market release of his novel Mirrored Heavens [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]. His cat Spartacus introduces the book over on Dave's blog, mentioning it as "Iron Man meets Jason Bourne" and concluding "...my magic food bowl has refilled. And so have Amazon’s stockpile of the book. The two events are clearly related—so keep on buying it, humans!" You can read an interview with Williams here.

In other publishing news, most of my writing circle has already seen that Realms of Fantasy is closing down as of the April 2009 issue. Like most, I'm saddened by this news. Realms was a great market, and it was a huge milestone for me to finally sell them a story. They published three of mine, each time with a beautiful illustration to go with it. I feel especially bad for the staff, who weren't alerted to the closing beforehand.

Some of the responses I've seen grieve for both the loss of a great magazine, which I can understand, and also for the shrinking short fiction market. I'm not as sure about the latter. Markets come and go all the time. I was published in the last issue of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, a pro market from years ago. I remember watching Weird Tales go through several incarnations -- today it seems to be a much stronger market than when I started out. Science Fiction Age, the SF twin brother of Realms, disappeared years ago. (To my great disappointment -- they were another one with lightning-quick turnaround times.)

And that's not counting the shift toward online markets. SciFi.com is gone, but what about places like Clarkesworld, which pays higher than Realms or most other markets. Fantasy Magazine has been going for a while, and now qualifies as a SFWA pro market. Strange Horizons has been chugging along for about as long as I've been submitting. Baen's Universe. Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.

The short fiction field certainly isn't the same as it was 40 years ago. On the other hand, I'm not seeing the doom and gloom, either. Print magazines are struggling. Some will survive, and others won't. What else is new? But looking at the number of good, professional-paying markets in print and online ... well, it doesn't actually feel all that different than when I started submitting back in '95.

I admit I don't submit a lot of short fiction these days, so it's possible I'm out of touch and don't know what the heck I'm talking about. But I don't think the sky is falling just yet.

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
amysisson
Jan. 28th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
I'm not usually one to contribute too much to the doomsaying about publishing, but I am concerned that this is different than the usual come-and-go of markets. My husband and I have been getting a lot of calls from nonprofits for donations, and they're saying that very few people are giving anything these days. So I worry that it's going to get tough for markets like Strange Horizons. And I tend to doubt that Asimov's or Analog are in any better shape than Realms was, although I concede that what happens may depend largely on the parent company's... "personality" (for lack of a better word), as in how they view the value of the magazines.

Ah well. All we can do is all we can do.
jimhines
Jan. 28th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Publishing is getting hit by the recession just like everyone else. I've seen a lot of publishers laying folks off, and there also seems to be a push from hardcovers toward more paperbacks, all for economic reasons.

But I think there's a difference between publishing tightening its belt for the recession vs. "The End of Short Fiction", and I've read some of the latter recently.

My bad if that wasn't clear in my post.
melissajm
Jan. 28th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
My grief wasn't that the sky is falling. It was that my wishing star fell out of it. ;)

Plus I love ROF as a reader and forum member too. It's sad.

I do wonder what things will be like 10 years or so from now...
jimhines
Jan. 28th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
I'm bummed too. Between the artwork, the pay, and the great distribution, Realms was one of my favorite places to be published.
melissajm
Jan. 28th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
I wish it could've been one of mine. :wistful smile:
alanajoli
Jan. 28th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for listing some markets, Jim. I wasn't familiar with all of those, and it helps to have some additional ideas!

For SF folks, there's also Space Westerns.com, which is a paying market. It's still pretty new in the scheme of things (the ones you've listed sound older), but the editor is great to work with, and the magazine has published people like Cory Doctorow. So it's a good one to keep on the radar!

I've heard good things about Electric Velocipede as well.
jimhines
Jan. 28th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! I haven't been writing much short fiction lately, so I'm sure there are a lot of markets that aren't on my radar, but those are the ones at the top of my mental list.

EV gets a good deal of critical acclaim, from everything I've seen.
melissajm
Jan. 29th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
EV has good stories, and was nice to work with.
jimvanpelt
Jan. 28th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
Hi, Jim. I'm glad you see positives in this. The death of Realms can be seen as just a normal part of magazines' life cycles, but I think it's bigger than that. There's an evolutionary change going on that's driven by digital content. The short fiction print world is losing share while digital formats are picking up.

My sadness in this is not just the loss of a great magazine, though: it's depressing personally to see so much of the content go on line. I don't like to read on line as much as I do hard copy (especially beautifully produced hard copy, like Realms). I like the solidness of a magazine I can put on a shelf to look at later.

Although I submit to and sell to on line markets, if I have a choice, I'd rather sell to print markets.

Darn it. I want what I want.

Edited at 2009-01-28 09:01 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Jan. 28th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
I don't see positives in losing Realms of Fantasy. That's sad indeed. But I don't see it as a sign of the end of short fiction.

I think you're right about the evolution. Short fiction isn't going away, but I am seeing changes -- more and more of the "pro" and established markets are now online, which is a big change from 10 years ago.

I do agree with you about wanting something solid, though. How am I supposed to put a Clarkesworld story up on my ego shelf?
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jan. 29th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
::Blink:: Yeah, that'll do :-)

(I knew about the Realms anthology, darn it! Let's just pretend I wrote Fantasy Magazine up there instead of Clarkesworld.)
crinklequirk
Jan. 28th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
I, too, don't see the sky falling on the publishing industry - the tightening their belts analogy is a good one. Nice to hear another optimistic viewpoint. :)
norilana
Jan. 29th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
Great post, Jim. :-)

I want to remind everyone about the four regular annual anthology markets for short fiction from Norilana Books:

CLOCKWORK PHOENIX
LACE AND BLADE
MZB'S SWORD AND SORCERESS
WARRIOR WISEWOMAN

We only pay 2 cents a word at this point, so these are not SFWA-defined pro markets, but the quality of fiction and critical acclaim and prestige has been excellent.
opheliastorn
Jan. 29th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
And I for one hope you keep going strong!
norilana
Jan. 29th, 2009 03:05 am (UTC)
Oops, forgot, MZB'S SWORD AND SORCERESS does pay more, I believe....
thewallflower00
Jan. 29th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, a lot of economists are saying 2009 and 2010 will be difficult years, but good in the long run, because companies that were dying or drowning will go out of business. I wouldn't be surprised if Realms of Fantasy was one of those. I'm sure this won't be the last print magazine to announce a closure this year.

Mind, I'm not saying that their demise is a good thing, but I'm trying to put a global positive spin on it, and I don't think this is any indication of the state of the short fiction market.
margaret_y
Jan. 29th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Beneath Ceaseless Skies pays pro rates too. They are fairly new.

In the semi-pro, I like Reflection's Edge, Electric Spec, and Ideomancer. Lots of good things to read there.

I must gently and respectfully disagree with the "ego shelf" thing. If you're in one issue of a print mag, then the next month, it is gone. However, online magazines archive their stuff. That means that you can put a link on your website, and people can read it--most of the time for free--forever. My web page *is* my ego shelf.

jimhines
Jan. 29th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
The ego shelf may also be a generational thing. I suspect newer writers will have less trouble, as a whole, than the older crowd. (I don't know where I fit in that.) It's probably a personal preference.

And it certainly hasn't stopped me from submitting to the good web publications :-)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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