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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.


Jan. 1st, 2009 08:48 am (UTC)
Self Publishing
This site would be even better if you did add the section of unpublished stories. For $14.95 per Anthology, I would put all of my short stories up, 16 of which have been published by non paying markets and create my own anthology as a means of self publishing on a very affordable scale.




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