The Renaissance of Short Fiction Revisited

Back in February, I wrote a post on this blog about how the internet and the e-book revolution have brought about a renaissance of short fiction. Since so far, all of our e-books here at Pegasus Pulp are either short stories, novelettes or collections (though there are some novellas or even full length novels coming up), this renaissance of short fiction does of course make me happy.

Now May 2013 is apparently the first international short story month (following international poetry month in April), so it’s time to revisit the subject. Plus, I recently came across two good blogposts about the resurgence of short fiction in this new world of publishing, both from Anne R. Allen, whose blog is chock full of great writing advice.

Anne R. Allen’s first post from last year about why short stories are suddenly viable really resonated with me, because it matches my experience so closely, even though we write in different genres. Those teeny literary journals with more or less silly names that didn’t even pay in anything except prestige and whose editors still behaved as if their teeny tiny mag was The New Yorker? Trust me, I’ve been there. Hell, I even worked for one of them – newleaf, the English language literary magazine of the University of Bremen (and for the record, unlike many other small journals, newleaf was an excellent mag almost from the start and not just because they printed my first published short story in their second issue). In fact, working for newleaf is where I gained much of the publishing experience that helped me get Pegasus Pulp Publishing of the ground.

I also understand her point that until fairly recently, writing short fiction was not really a viable prospect outside certain genres such as the trinity of speculative fiction, which managed to maintain an active short fiction market even after magazines died off left, right and centre in other genres. But if you wrote mystery or romance or historical fiction or western short fiction, your prospects were very bleak indeed.

However, unlike Anne R. Allen, I always wrote a lot of short fiction alongside my longer works. I partly wrote short stories, because short fiction sized ideas kept ambushing me, partly because I took all the creative writing classes I could at university, where even 3000 words were considered excessively (rudely so, as one of my least favourite fellow students informed me with reference to a 1600 words short story, which is collected here, by the way) long, partly because my first writing love was still the SFF genre, where selling short fiction is still considered a viable way of breaking in. However, I didn’t just write SFF shorts, but I wrote in other genres as well. For example, I wrote a lot of short crime fiction, since self-contained crime shorts were (and still are) a staple in the backpages of German general interest magazines, so I figured they’d be easier to sell, because there obviously was a market for them. Of course, I made a fatal miscalculation, for while there is a market for short crime fiction in Germany, I wrote in English, where there was hardly any market for short crime fiction at all. Eventually, I took all of those crime shorts I had accumulated and collected them in Murder in the Family.

This also echoes another point Anne R. Allen makes in her post, namely that all of those long out of print backlist short stories published in mags with tiny circulations never mind all of those unsold short stories gathering virtual dust on our harddrives are suddenly not just viable but valuable. And I certainly had a big inventory of out of print and unpublished short stories and novelettes lying around. In fact, I wasn’t even aware how big until I went through my files and did a tally. Now not all of those stories are gold. Many, particularly the early ones, are either completely unsalvagable like that heavy-handed story about racism and an interracial relationship in 1960s Mississippi (Argh, what was I thinking?) or so dated to be unpublishable such as that otherwise neat romance about a couple parting at the airport, where the guy pretty much crashes through the security check to persuade her to stay, which would only get him arrested or shot in this post September 11th world, or only publishable with some very heavy revisions. In fact, I’m currently in the process of revising a post-apocalyptic SF story first written almost twenty years ago. When I’m done pretty much nothing will remain of the original except for the plot (which I still like even twenty years on) and some snippets of dialogue (I was always good at writing dialogue, even very early on). But enough of the many, many stories I wrote over the years are actually pretty good. And quite a few of them are already out there, earning me money (some more, some less), instead of languishing unread on my harddrive.

Now Anne R. Allen has written a follow-up to her post from last year listing ten reasons why short stories are hot and also included some links to legit contests and webzines publishing short fiction. And if your in the mood for more numbered lists, Doug Lance also offers five ways short fiction can boost an author’s career at The Creative Penn.

Finally, here is another post from last year that’s still as pertinent today as it was back in the summer of 2012, namely Dean Wesley Smith explaining how you can make a living writing short fiction. Now I cannot produce fifty new short stories in a year, in fact I cannot even get fifty existing stories edited, formatted and published in a year. Nonetheless, Dean’s post is immensely inspirational, because even if you cannot produce on the schedule he proposes, he is still correct that having a lot of short fiction for sale (Pegasus Pulp currently has 35 e-books available altogether) not just increases your digital footprint at the various retailers, it also tends to add up.

That Dean Wesley Smith post I just linked to proved to be unexpectedly controversial and led to a vehement multi-page discussion on the Kindleboards (which has since then vanished into the ether, which is probably for the best) in which plenty of people claimed that what Dean Wesley Smith was proposing was flat out impossible. Even after various writers chimed in stating that they were having a lot of success with short fiction, plenty of people still refused to believe them and worse, accused them of lying, because they wouldn’t publicly share their sales data. One poster in particular was calling the idea of writing and selling a lot of different short stories a “scam”, a “get rich quick scheme” and called prolific short story writers “content farmers”. Other people call those selling standalone short stories “scammers” in general, especially when they – gasp – dare to charge money for their hard work. Of course, those are also invariably the same people who will sell their full length novels for 99 cents.

Now I fully understand why someone doesn’t want to read short fiction. We all have disparate tastes. For example, I flat out hate memoirs and have no idea why anybody buys, let alone reads them. But I don’t mind the fact that there are memoirs available out there, since plenty of people obviously do like them, even if I don’t. However, those that don’t like short fiction would just love for it to disappear altogether or at least be banished to collections, anthologies and magazines, where they don’t have to see it.

I really don’t get this vehement hatred for short fiction and serials (which certain people hate almost as much). It’s almost as if some people feel offended by the very idea that standalone short fiction exists at all. Perhaps it’s also the idea of writing fast that offends some writers out there, at any rate discussions about fast versus slow writing pop up all the time on the Kindleboards and other writerly forums.

Nobody has to read or like short fiction or serials, but calling those who write them “scammers” or “content farmers” is just plain rude IMO. May is international short story month. So why not give the format a chance and read a short story or five?

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5 Responses to The Renaissance of Short Fiction Revisited

  1. Pingback: A Big Dump of Mixed Links | Cora Buhlert

  2. Thanks so much for the shout-out. It’s wonderful that my post resonated with so many people. I wish I’d been smart like you about writing short fiction all along. But you’re right that there’s always been more of a market for short SFF than short crime fiction or rom-coms. I wish you lots of success with your stories.

  3. Pingback: The Resurgence of the Novella | Pegasus Pulp

  4. Pingback: A German Perspective on Serials and Novellas | Pegasus Pulp

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