August 18th, 2007

More Subscription Drive Thoughts

So it seems a fair # of people have taken the need for this drive to heart.  Cool.  I hope you all find magazines you'll enjoy for years to come.  But as is inevitable, I've noticed a # of offshoot conversations/ideas branching out from my original post.  Nothing wrong with that, but I do want to address some of them:

1) "Short fiction isn't dying.  I've been listening to that for years and it hasn't gone anywhere.  That's not about to change."

It's called a slow death.  Back during the golden age age of the pulps, Weird Tales' circulation never topped 50,000.  Considering that the most successful pulps topped 1,000,000 back in the 20's, 50,000 wasn't exactly an overwhelming number.  Today any of the speculative magazines would be thrilled to have a circulation of 50,000.  People keep hearing about the death of short fiction because the numbers keep dropping.  They won't drop forever.  Eventually there will come a time when the magazines will cease.  Will new ones start?  Probably.  They always seem to.  But very few of them last.  If anyone has solid statistics I'd love to know about them, but once you move beyond small press, how magazines last beyond five years?  Very few.  And there is nothing wrong with small press.  I have friends that run small press magazines, and there are a # of small press magazines I highly respect.  But short fiction should be more than just about small press.  Small press implies that it will only reach so many people.  People have also cited anthologies.  Sure, these will be around too, but no one seems to talk about how anthologies used to be a lot more common as well.  As to online fiction, again, I'm all for it.  And while it is everywhere, how much of it lasts?  How much of it is any good?  How many of them are making $$$?  The answer is very few indeed.  Support the ones that can make a difference.

2) "Besides subscriptions, I think people should also consider making donations to places like Strange Horizons and Ideomancer.  We should also support those places that depend on our donations."

I couldn't agree more.  Check out places like these.  If you enjoy the fiction, drop a little something in the cookie jar.  Wish I thought to mention this in my original post. 

3) "I can go to a great venue like Subterranean and get my fiction for free."

Nothing wrong with that.  It's great that Subterranean is putting out a quality product.  I hope they do it for a long time.  But remember they're using the short fiction to promote their company.  I'm not saying they're going to cancel their short fiction or have plans to cancel it (must beware of the rumor monsters), but just remember that none of us expected Scifiction to have its plug pulled either (except my defunct critique group, who'd discussed this possibility in passing the night before it happened).  If you want to make sure a short fiction venue you enjoy sticks around, you may want to consider subscribing or donating somewhere.       

4) "The editors are picking stories that cater to writers.   The writers are writing stories that cater to other writers."

Do some stories published in some of the magazines appeal more to writers than readers?  It's a fair argument.  But really, just about all of us editors pick stories we like (a lot, quality permitting).  Other than posting our guidelines, editors have no control over what stories the writers send us.   Do some of them writer stories that other writers appreciate more than readers?  Undoubtedly.  But I imagine most writers will tell you they're simply trying to write the best possible story as they know how.  Also, I'm growing rather tired of the argument  that editors need to stop picking what they like and start catering to what the reader likes.  Um, hello?   So what is it we're supposed to do?  Pick stories we don't like?  Trust me when I tell you that if a short fiction editor started going against his/her tastes the magazine would put out an inferior product.

And for the record, the only thing I want when I read a story is to be engaged.  How you engage me can happen any number of ways.  Look at my profile page.  I like all sorts of fantasy stories.  I have never and will never pick a story that I feel caters to writers.  I will pick what is in my estimation the best of the best from the submissions pile.   If it happens to be what some would term a "writerly  story" that can't be helped.  But for me, the most important thing is an enjoyable story.  If you read Realms of Fantasy, I'd be rather curious to know (as would the writers of these stories, I think) which of the stories I've fished out are catering to other writers.

5) "Only other writers are reading these magazines."

An emphatic "No, wrong!" is necessary.  I can't count the number of cover letters I've read that incorporate this line: "I've been a long-time reader of Realms of Fantasy, and now I'm finally trying my hand at writing."   Most of these people remain readers, because the majority of them will only submit a few more stories at most, and poorly written at that.  There is a big difference between a writer and someone who tries his hand at writing.  The Ted Chiangs of the world, i.e. someone who writes very little but always produces something that is both published and well received, are a rare breed.  Most people who write little don't get published, give up after a few rejections, and go back to being strictly readers.  And lots of people will remain long-time readers without even dabbling in writing.  It's a little egocentric to assume that only other writers would subscribe to these magazines.  Not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction makes it their passion.

6) "You can't expect to save the magazines by only having writers subscribe to them."

I don't.  See point # 5.  I think more writers should subscribe, sure, but I've been saying all along that I'd like more speculative fans to subscribe as well.  A lot of them have never tried short speculative fiction.  A % of them will enjoy it if they give it a chance.

7) Some people have made this just about the print magazines.  It's about short fiction in general, and I've said as much from the beginning.

8) "I've tried a few magazines.  They're all the same.  I never enjoy them."

You've tried a few magazines, huh?  And how many novels by different author have you tried?  The editors to short story magazines make their presence felt to readers a lot more than the editors to novels (this is not to say they're more important).  When you try a magazine, you're not only trying the authors that happen to be in that issue, you're trying the editor.  If you've tried 10 different magazines ( a rough #) with different editors and haven't enjoyed any of them, I think it's fair to say short fiction isn't for you.  If you've tried 3  or so different magazines and have come to this conclusion, try another.           

9) "I can just get a Year's Best anthology."

These anthologies provide a wonderful service, but if the short fiction markets dry up it stands to reason these wonderful editors will be hard-pressed to find as many wonderful stories each year.  If anyone can continue to put out such quality I'm sure it's them.  Still, it's something to think about.

10) I don't have a # 10, but 9 is plenty enough!