Posts Tagged ‘SF/F’

Free Online Fiction—Good and Bad?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Some interesting comments recently about online short fiction from F&SF editor Gordon Van Gelder and novelist/ famous blogger John Scalzi. As the Publisher of an online magazine myself, I think they’re both missing a few subtlties.

Van Gelder, in an interview on, says:

…essentially publishers are using short fiction as a loss-leader for selling books. Perfectly good marketing, but not perfectly good publishing. could not sustain itself doing that. It has to live off the profits it generates from the sales of Tor books. I couldn’t do that with F&SF.

Strange Horizons gets by… I’m pretty sure they work off donations. … Scifiction… paid great rates, real money behind it. … Unfortunately I think they did more harm than good because it conditioned a lot of people to think that all online fiction should be free.

The great irony, as Van Gelder is aware, is this interview appearing on They are the poster-child for free online short fiction used as a loss-leader to sell books–given away, even though it’s losing the publisher money, to attract attention to those authors’ novels. That’s why every short story I’ve seen on has been by a Tor novel author– isn’t a magazine, they’re just one big web ad for Tor books. (At least they sure look that way to me–see the Comments for an assertion to the contrary.)

But the real reason online fiction has to be free in order to attract wide attention is the universal attitude among online people that content must be free, and that conversely any content that’s not free isn’t worth the hassle of paying for it. This attitude extends to all types of content–sports articles, online gaming, pretty much everything online except porn.

Van Gelder praises the subscription-based business model of Baen’s Universe, but I don’t know a single person among my short fiction colleagues who’s ever bought an issue of Baen’s Universe or IGMS. Yet they read Strange Horizons all the time, and listen to the free audio fiction from Escape Pod (the only SF/F magazine in recent memory successful at expanding the reader-base). The subscription-based model looks nice on paper, but I don’t think it will expand the audience into casual readers when those casual readers aren’t interested in paying.

That’s why the very first decision when I started Beneath Ceaseless Skies was that the content must be 100% free. Trying to draw readers to a new magazine, one with the unique niche of literary adventure fantasy, would’ve been impossible if they had to pay. The only current business model for that is the one Strange Horizons pioneered–a non-profit funded by donations. So that’s what I did. Strange Horizons has gotten by. Hopefully they will continue to, and BCS will too.

Scalzi replies:

Why did I write a story for …because they asked me to write a story, paid me a multiple of what I’d get for the story in most other SF markets (including his), and allowed me to submit my story electronically. …

The problem I have with print people blaming the Internet for their troubles is that …(it) allows them to ignore — and indeed, actively avoid — taking responsibility for their own acts that have contributed and are contributing to their current bad times.

I agree with him on the latter. Many of the most famous SF/F magazines still publish in the B&W format of the 50s, and that isn’t going to attract new readers. I also think they’ve lost some reader interest because of their generalist approach–publishing many different subtypes of SF/F rather than specializing.

But as for the former–where does Scalzi think that much higher pay rate he got for his story came from? How is F&SF, or any online market that likewise doesn’t have Tor Books’ profits from book sales, supposed to match it?

As a writer, I don’t blame him one bit for taking a high offer from the company that happens to publish his novels. But as an online publisher, trying to compete with for great stories even though my magazine already pays pro rate, I worry. If many big publishing houses start publishing original short fiction online at a loss just to promote their books, their huge financial resources may pull the best young novelist authors and their great short fiction away from the online magazines that are trying to draw reader interest and expand the audience.

Which I think would be a sad day. Which is more important for the future of the genre–expanding the reader-base for short fiction or selling a few more novels? Maybe I’m a hopeless short fiction fool, but I know my answer.

Wonderful Comments on “Ebb”

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

I was delighted last week to read a glowing review of my short story “Ebb,” which is in the current issue of Space and Time. It’s by Rob Santa, a writer and indie publisher of swords and sorcery, in the Firebrand Fiction column at Of all the stories in that issue, he said “‘Ebb’ is my favorite piece, a true standout.” Among other strong praise, he noted “Andrews gives each piece of this world a rich description, with enough emotion and character to chew on for days.” Pretty cool!

“Ebb” had a long and arduous path to publication, including several editors who did not understand the ending, so I was quite pleased to finally find one who did. But it’s even more rewarding to know that my vision connected with at least one reader, and just as powerfully as I intended it. Thanks very much, Mr. Santa, for the kind words!

The YA Are Our Future

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

A couple years ago I was in the checkout line at a Borders bookstore. Behind me was a girl, eleven or twelve years old. In her hands she had a couple CDs, maybe one PS2 game, and three YA novels.

More novels than either CDs or video games! I wanted to give her a great big hug right there in the checkout line. (Which, as an unshaven middle-aged man, probably would’ve gotten me arrested…. :) ) But with reading rates plunging and modern kids distracted by more other entertainment options than ever before, any kid who’s reading any fiction is fine by me. If they learn to love reading and/or the stuff they’re reading, hopefully they’ll keep reading fiction as an adult. And with paranormal and SF/F/H the hottest thing right now in YA, it’s even better for us writers of adult spec-fic.

Author and blogger John Scalzi has a great post today on this very subject. He notes that YA novels have been finalists and winners for several of the major SF/F awards this year. And he thinks it’s great too.

This is of course all market-driven–YA readers are buying paranormal stuff, so authors are writing it and publishers are publishing it. But behind that market trend are millions of young readers who hopefully will carry an interest in fiction into their adult lives.

BCS and Million Writers Award

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Yesterday I received great news about my magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. storySouth recently named BCS as the runner-up for their Million Writers Award for Best New Online Magazine of 2008, saying that BCS was “already a top online SF/F market.”

In addition, two stories from BCS were named among their Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2008: “The Crystal Stair” by Charles Coleman Finlay & Rae Carson Finlay and “Architectural Constants” by Yoon Ha Lee. These stories and the other hundred or so semi-finalists will be culled down to ten by May 15; then the public will vote top winners.

storySouth is an online literary magazine founded by writer and editor Jason Sanford. They tirelessly champion online literary fiction of all genres, including SF/F. Over fifty magazines were represented in the finalists for Notable Stories, so it’s a great honor to have BCS and these stories recognized among such great venues and work!