Monday, March 03, 2014

The Future of Short Fiction

When I first talked to small press owners about anthologies they all had the same advice "DON'T."


The stories they told me varied, but themes emerged. The complaints came down to three basic replies.

1. You will lose your investment because nobody buys anthologies, book stores won't carry them, there are no reviewers, they're impossible to market.
2. It is hard enough to deal with one author's ego you have to be crazy to take on trying to satisfy multiple authors.
3. Small presses don't have a pool of name authors who write consistently solid stories.

Wow! The ways publishers lost money on anthologies gave me pause. I listened to all of them, knowing that these experienced publishers were telling me true stories of what happened when they published anthologies. Somewhere in all those tales of woe another theme cropped up, "we love short stories." Inevitably the statement was followed with the word "but." Another tale of woe began.

I love short stories. I love reading them, plotting them, writing them, and telling them. I have discovered many of my favorite writers because of a gem they had written for an anthology. There used to be tons of venues that carried short stories, magazines, newspapers, and books of short stories. I once wrote one that was printed on cans of coffee. What happened?

Many of the pulp magazines have folded, a lot of those left are struggling. Authors who write short fiction are finding fewer paying markets. Many shorts are going paperless, selling directly to e-venues. Some authors are posting individual stories and collections to Amazon. I don't have sales numbers or a clear picture what, if anything, works. At the moment I don't think any single place can be considered the definitive destiny of short fiction. Publishing in general is uncertain of its future.

On the other hand, librarians tell me that short stories are still checked out of libraries. Readers tell me that they enjoy reading shorts.

If authors like writing short stories and readers like reading them, how do we go about bringing the two together?

I think it is going to take some effort from all sides of the industry. The short story needs to be taken seriously. We need more awards and attention for the form. After having worked as both a coordinater and judge for the Derringer Awards, I am aware of the difficulty in doing awards. I am also aware of the limited place short fiction is given in the writing community.

There is a crying need for short story and anthology reviewers. There also need to be sites and ezines dedicated to short fiction reviews. Readers need a way to find the kind of stories they love. They also need to create book clubs that share those stories with other like minded readers. Amazon is not the answer for book reviews of any kind and certainly not the place for short fiction reviews.

Writers need to be able to make money writing short fiction. Publisher's need to be able to make money publishing short stories. In today's marketplace that's a tall order. I believe it can be done. Mystery and Horror, LLC is experimenting with an advance and royalty system. We are too new at this to know if the experiment will succeed. We would love to hear what other publishers and authors are trying.

The future of the short story may be headed for another golden age, but only if we care enough to make it happen.

No comments: