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On Saving Short Fiction

Ok, I promised grndexter I'd post on this.

There's been a lot of talk lately about how to save short fiction as a literary form. Now, leaving aside the questions of (1) whether or not short fiction is really in danger and (2) whether or not it's worth saving, let's move ahead to the question of (3) If it is in danger, and it is worth saving, how can we do so?

There are a lot of answers to that question, and most of them are good ones. Here's one that I haven't seen anybody mention yet:

We save short fiction by unpackaging it.

What do I mean by that? Simple. Short fiction usually comes in a package: A magazine, an anthology, the back of an author's business card... Short stories come packaged along with something else. Why? Because it's not economically feasible to deliver them individually. It costs about as much to to assemble, print, and deliver 15 stories as it does to deliver one.

The unfortunate consequence of this is that the short stories we want often come packaged together with stuff we don't want. It's very rare for readers to like every single story in a magazine or anthology. The sheer bulk of them is a problem, too. One of the reasons I don't subscribe to many magazines is because they pile up faster than I can read them; the stories come in such mass quantities that it's overwhelming.

The increased availability of stories via the internet has done a lot to alleviate this problem. Between Fictionwise and the online magazines, readers are getting direct access to the stories they want without having to pay for extra clutter. But downloadable stories come packaged with something a lot of readers don't really want: an electronic format. You've either got to sit in front of the screen to read it or print it out on 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheets. Both options are awkward.

Now, we authors are willing to put up with a bit of inconvenience in order to get the stories we want. This is our industry, after all. It's important for us to know what's going on in it, even if that means reading a couple of stories that aren't our style, or sitting in front of a computer screen for a few hours.

But the average reader off the street? He doesn't put up with it. Why should he buy a grab-bag of stories that he may or may not like when, for the same amount of money, he could buy a novel by an author he loves?

Do you see what's happening? The way stories are packaged is killing their chances with the reader off the street.

It would be nice if we could unpackage the stories. Or rather, it would be nice if we could give the customers the ability to package stories however they like. That way, they could have the monetary benefits of an anthology or a magazine without the unwanted stories.

Enter AnthologyBuilder. Ok, so it's not total flexibility. You can't get the stories in pure electronic format, for example. But it's moving in the right direction. My theory is that as AnthologyBuilder and similar approaches become more widespread, we'll see an increase in short fiction reading, not just among authors, but across the board.

In the heyday of pulp magazines, variety was a benefit. You couldn't find much speculative fiction back then. Readers were hungry for a broad spectrum of possibilities. Today, variety isn't the issue. You can walk into any bookstore and find a whole bookshelf devoted to science fiction and fantasy. It's specificity that we need.

The world is changing. And the short fiction market will either have to change with it, or wither up and die.

Comments

nancyfulda
Dec. 20th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
>Question (and it may be there and I just missed it) How are you going to deal with overseas mailings?

Our printer has a division overseas. If international customers use economy shipping, the shipping and handling is less than $6.

>If it's OK I'll put it up on a few lists I belong to? Or would you rather wait until Beta testing is over?

If you don't mind, let's hold off a bit for now. I'm scrambling just to keep up with the publicity the site has already been getting. I didn't expect the idea to take off quite as fast as it has, and there are still some features I think the site ought to have.

Would it be all right if I just shoot you an email when I feel ready for more publicity?

>Have you considered talking to Eric about deceased estates?

Hadn't even thought of it. That's a great idea. Thanks!
davefreer
Dec. 20th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)
Nancy said:
>If you don't mind, let's hold off a bit for now. I'm scrambling just to keep up with the publicity the site has already been getting. I didn't expect the idea to take off quite as fast as it has, and there are still some features I think the site ought to have.

Would it be all right if I just shoot you an email when I feel ready for more publicity?
_______
Sure.
And while tossing ideas out -- I know a lot of artists from the Art Director gig at JBU. What about pay-per-use covers? Might cost a little extra for those who want it. A lot of my artists are selling reprint rights anyway... and this has side effect for them too. If they can say 'well my covers are chosen for 10% of the Anthology Builder sales' to the art director who is cover-artist hunting... It's a good advert for them. As a statistician the data on what people choose (colors, picture types) I would think would be information worth paying a lot of money for (But then I am fisheries scientist and author not a publisher. I don't really understand them at all.)

nancyfulda
Dec. 20th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
Pay-per-use covers are in the works--still tweaking the software.

But, silly me, it didn't even occur to me to tap into the JBU artist pool. I'll definitely drop a pebble in those waters as soon as cover art submissions are up and running.
davefreer
Dec. 20th, 2007 07:38 pm (UTC)
happy to do that for you when you are ready. I have made some good friends among them (the artist who did pastry run, for eg.) and also encountered a few I would be wary about. Most however are good value.
tchernabyelo
Dec. 20th, 2007 01:03 pm (UTC)
Re. deceased estates - It's certainly a great way, potentially, to get some back catalogues out, if they aren't still tied to a particular publisher.

You get some Zelazny stuff in there, forex, and I'm a very very happy man.
davefreer
Dec. 20th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
me too. I rate him as my favorite author. But I suspect you will only get some of the more obscure, older ones. And some of the agents/exectors can damned silly about money for that sort of material.

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nancyfulda
nancyfulda

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The Death and
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and other stories

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Backlash
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That Undiscovered Country
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Movement
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Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2011

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The Breath of Heaven
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In the Halls of the Sky-Palace
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Backlash (novelette)
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2010

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The Man Who
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Dead Men Don't Cry:
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Nothing This Fun Could be Good for You (article)
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Like Rain From Silver Skies
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Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe
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Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

Nancy Fulda is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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