Sunday, August 03, 2008

Warren Ellis on Short Fiction Circulation and Quality

Warren Ellis weighs in on the state of SFF short fiction publishing and pulls the circulation numbers from the most recent Dozois Year's Best SF anthology. (via Elizabeth Bear)

It's interesting to note the declining sales of the Big Three (Asimov's, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction) and how this can be and has been used as proof positive about the "death" of short fiction or perhaps of SFF in general. Not something I'm really going to get into here, though if I cared to, I'm sure I could pull up a whole host of posts covering the issue with more in depth knowledge than I possess.

Elizabeth Bear has a theory on the current short fiction marketplace and community (from the above link):
I think SFF short fiction is turning into a club scene, hothouse, by writers for writers. I think it serves an important purpose as that club scene. But I'm not sure how many non-writer readers it attracts anymore. This is the film festival stuff.

Yeah, maaaaybe. Or, at least to an extent. I think the most visible (read: online) conversation about short fiction IS coming from writers talking about other writers. This may stem from workshops where groups of writers all come up together, reading each other and already talking about each other and as they get published the conversation becomes more visible.

In that sense, yeah, I think there is a club scene aspect of short fiction publishing today (and perhaps always, but that's more info I don't have). I think this is something of what Jennifer Evans was talking about on the "Advice from New Writers" panel at Fourth Street, which to sum up: young writers want to see what other writers are doing, how they are pushing the boundaries of fiction, to take that fiction and springboard it into something else and likewise have their work used as a springboard - an ever evolving world of fiction driven by excitement and ideas.

That's the club scene and it provides a vibrant community for writers to thrive in and also for the exchange of ideas within the community. But, it isn't the entire community. It can't be.

Can it? Do I feel this way because since I don't write (much) / publish short fiction nor do I consider myself a writer but I do read short fiction that I'm projecting my own experiences here? Am I the aberration claiming simply that because my experience doesn't match what is perceived as the norm, that their norm is wrong?


I don't like that idea, but it might be right. I just want to believe that the readership of the club scene is broader than Bear thinks it is, that there are just as many reader-readers of short fiction out there as there are writer-readers. I don't know why this matters to me, but it does.

So what do I read?

I had a six issue subscription to Asimov's but I let it lapse when I realized that the Asimov's stories were, as a whole, not nearly as exciting or even as interesting as I wanted them to be (the 30th Anniversary Anthology notwithstanding). I did not want to spend my money on the magazine, despite having had a great deal on the subscription.

I confess it, I've never read an issue of Analog. What I find most interesting here is that despite having sales numbers of Asimov's and F&SF combined, I never see anyone talking about Analog. It doesn't pick up Hugo, Nebula, or World Fantasy award nominations anymore. How does a SF magazine with the highest subscription numbers have such a small online penetration? Or, do I just read the wrong websites?

F&SF? Nope. I received a single issue to review a few months back and wasn't impressed.

I did have a trial subscription to Weird Tales at a good price, but the subscription lapsed and the price jumped back up. This is the one major print mag that I want to subscribe to and have every intention of renewing when I have some extra funds. I was quite impressed with the issues I've read and I like the direction WT is heading.

So what do I read?

Mostly online zines, with the occasional single issue purchases of smaller print zines.

I really like Electric Velocipede. I've bought several issues of EV and plan to purchase more. The crazy thing is that if you look at EV compared to Asimov's, on an issue by issue price, EV is more expensive than Asimov's. It's only published a couple times a year so throwing $5 at John Klima twice a year hurts less than throwing $20 for six issues of Asimov's. I know this doesn't make much sense, but there it is.

I've tried Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and need to give it a second shot. I'm not sure it's for me, but we'll see.

What is for me, however, is the proliferation of online zines. Below are some of my favorites and even though I may not read as consistently as I want to, these are the markets I turn to when I want to read a story. I'd recommend them to you.

Strange Horizons
Lone Star Stories
Apex Digest

There are other zines out there which I'd like to read, but the above seven are where I turn to first. There are a lot of good stories out there and what I've read from the above seven (plus EV), it's just as good (if not better) than that which is published by the Big Three. The names just aren't as well known (both the zines and the writers).

1 comment:

Terry Finley said...

Short stories are rebounding.
More are writing them, and more
are reading them.
Thanks for this information.

Terry Finley