The Demise of Markets?

In all the blogosphere hullabaloo last month over the June closings of Lone Star Stories and Talebones, my posts included, and perhaps even more timely now with the recent closings of Farrago’s Wainscot and Baen’s Universe, I came across one really interesting comment. The stalwarts decrying the sky-is-falling mourners were almost as predictable as the mourners themselves, but this comment had a seed of insight I hadn’t seen before.

Lois Tilton, short fiction author and reviewer for The Internet Review of Science Fiction, in the preface to her July column, wrote:

But what I found most telling about all this discussion was the fact that, universally, the reactions I saw were decrying the demise of markets. Not venues where readers could go to find good stories, but places for writers to sell their fiction.

Fiction magazines should be about reading stories. They should exist for readers. Not writers. I don’t believe that a magazine can thrive when its readership is comprised entirely of writers trying to be published in its pages. Yet it seems to me that this is increasingly the case in the field of SF short fiction. I think we are coming to the point where we will have no readers, only a circle of writers feeding on themselves.

I think she’s absolutely right. I have thought for years that SF/F short fiction may already be at the point where its audience is almost exclusively other writers. This very state is suggested by the common derisive story subgenre label “award winner” to denote the type of stories that other writers love and therefore are more likely to win awards but that readers in general don’t understand or find entertaining.

In fantasy especially, I think this is related to the divergence between the readership of short fiction and of novels. Fantasy short fiction has become increasingly “literary” over the past few decades, yet fantasy novels with the traditional quasi-medieval settings and plot-based narratives are still bestsellers. Many writers and short fiction fans scoff at those novels, but they are clearly entertaining far more readers than fantasy short fiction is.

This was part of my reason for starting Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Not only do I really enjoy “literary adventure fantasy” short fiction that is both literary and traditional, I also wanted to try to bring some of that popular fantasy vibe back into short fiction, with stories that would hopefully impress other writers and also entertain readers.

Only “some” of that popular fantasy vibe, mind you–I must admit that some of its plainer aspects don’t appeal to me. But I do think that in great “literary adventure fantasy,” there is enough overlap to entertain both writers and sophisticated readers.

How well is it working? Visit Beneath Ceaseless Skies, read a few stories, and see for yourself. :)

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2 Responses to “The Demise of Markets?”

  1. Ridler Says:

    Hey Scott,

    I agree that the most vocal minority on the demise of short fiction venues, a demise that I’m not sure I agree is happening, has been from writers of short genre fiction, not readers.

    Outside of Tilton, who is a former genre writer, I haven’t heard lots of “fans” of short fiction decrying their is no place to great stuff. But then again, fans of the short stuff are not organized like fans of the long stuff, where you get legacy fans to a series or a trilogy over the long haul. Few readers, I think, have “brand” loyalty to genre markets, with perhaps the exception of the old/big three print ones. Or at least, not in the same way as their are fans of Fire and Ice or Robbin Hobb or the Grand and Lord Impertor of Dune/Star Wars/Star Trek. And maybe that’s just the nature of the biz. During other “crisis” moments in short fiction history, I wonder if it ever was the fans, not the writers, fighting to save the markets or decrying their loss. People losing their a place to make cash tend to make a lot of noise. When fans make a lot of noise, it’s for the big entertainments (TV, movies, etc). Writing in when a series is canceled, etc.

    Closest thing was Dave Schwarts’ memoiral for Sci Fiction, which I contributed to, and so did many others. Couldn’t tell you how many were fans or writers. Since writers are also fans (one hopes) these waters are muddy indeed.

    But the point is well taken. Still tons of places to read great stuff. Including BCS!


  2. scott Says:

    I agree that the most vocal minority on the demise of short fiction venues, a demise that I’m not sure I agree is happening, has been from writers of short genre fiction, not readers.

    And it totally makes sense that writers would be vocal about the loss of short fiction venues, since writers are of course looking to sell to them and also are often fans of short fiction in general–perhaps the last remaining ones aware of it.

    Interesting point about fans and “brand” loyalty to specific markets maybe not being there in short fiction. I think today’s situation for short fiction is so wilted that it may not be a good example. I wonder what it was like in the 70s? If there were dedicated fans of each mag? Or if people were fans of several mags because many of them were publishing similar stuff.

    I bet the answer is both, just like fantasy novel readers are these days. I know some people who only read GRRM and Robin Hobb and I know others who will devour anything with a dragon on the cover. It’s a shame there aren’t more of the latter type for short fiction anymore.