Blathering, Aisle One

Instead of blogging yesterday I was all over the rest of the Internet running my mouth about what I see as the state of the short crime story currently. It generated some heat and I don’t know that everybody got the whole picture because I was spouting off in so many places. So, today, I present you a one stop shopping experience for my thoughts on the issue.

It started with this post from Steve Weddle at Do Some Damage about a supposed renaissance in short crime fiction. I  posted the following comment:

There may be a renaissance in people writing short crime fiction and finding places to publish, but I have serious doubts there is a renaissance in people reading short crime fiction.

Even as all of these new markets pop up and these short story collections clog the ereaders, the amount of paying markets is still abysmal and short story collections are out sold by novels by substantial margins.

This continues to be a novel-driven field and as such, that’s where readers choose to spend their money. I don’t see this changing either as more and more authors adopt ebook technology and find out how cost prohibitive short stories really are.

Well that got one blogger upset and she posted a rant decrying my stupidity that got the attention of Spinetingler Magazine who commented about the rant on Facebook. By the time he commented though, the blogger had pulled down the post so Spinetingler commented on that on Facebook. And because people are curious naturally everyone wanted to know what the post was about which prompted this comment exchange. I’ve left off the names of the commenters but I’ve bolded the comments that are mine:

(Blogger) was reading the riot act to some dumb-ass who thought short stories were useless. It was a thing of beauty. 

I think she may have misinterpreted what that dumbass was actually trying to say. He didn’t say short stories were useless he said that while the number of places publishing short stories has increased, the number of readers for short stories has not. While he said that short stories were great training for novels he did not say that’s ALL they were good for. 

Bryon, thanks for clarifying. She didn’t link to the “offending” bit, so my information was sketchy.

I’ve been quoted many other places saying how much I love short stories and how instrumental they were in finding by true voice. But I’m also a realist and haven’t seen much to indicate that there is a strong readership for them. If there were a strong readership for them then I think there would be more paying markets. There’s also the possibility that there are a lot of people reading crime short stories but they don’t want to pay for them. I think that might be worse.

 http://bryonquertermous.wordpress.com/2007/09/06/dear-contributor/

http://bryonquertermous.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/the-short-con/

I’m prone to a misinformed rant or two myself so I don’t judge. I just feel bad if someone sees me as foe to online short stories when I’m not. I really, really wish there was a robust, paying readership for crime short stories.

I’m going to throw these two pennies into the conversation keeping two things in mind, we pay and are Edgar approved. 

Penny #1 – We *are* a paying market and places like Needle gets 5+ times as many submissions as we do (not knocking them just observing). This leads me to believe that writers would rather see their name in print then get paid.

Penny #2 – Think of all of the well known writers in the short crime fiction scene. Most of them do not submit to us. 

Make of that what you will.

I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I don’t think $25 for a 3k word or more story is a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. If there really were a renaissance in short fiction readership (which is what the whole blog post was about anyway) there would be enough readers for an established and well-regarded zine like Spinetingler to pay more than $25. Similiar quality zines in the sci-fi and horror marketplace pay professional rates of $0.03 to $0.05 or more per word because there is a readership there to fund it.

So that’s the Facebook portion of the conversation. There was also a continuation in the comments of Steve’s post where I made these further comments.

We’re insulated to it because we’re smack in the middle of it but I think all of the zines and blogs and print journals like Needle all have the same 40-50 readers who are, not coincidentally, the same 40-50 or so contributors. That’s great for community but it’s not a viable business model.

Maybe it’s 75 but I think that could be stretching it. I don’t think that’s all the crime readers there out there, but that’s my point.

We see all of these new markets popping up and all of these people publishing short stories in those markets and in short story collection ebooks and we say “Hey there’s a renaissance in short crime fiction.”

But look at the editors of those new markets. They are also contributors at several of the other markets. And the contributors to all of these markets are the editors of the other markets. SO everyone gets on Facebook and Twitter and blogs and talks about these stories and shares them and we have this great community.

But then go to a major mystery convention like Bouchercon where there are 2000 broad mystery fans and how may of them read these markets? If there were a true renaissance in short crime fiction at least half of those attendees not affiliated with the online zines or their community would be reading the zines and that’s not the case.

And finally, the blogger herself post about taking down the rant and the comments again from her and others painted me as a short story writer hating troll only looking to egg people on for my own amusement. I posted this comment:

 I had no idea you had such a low opinion of me and my respect for short stories, their writers, or the online crime fiction community. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE for their to be a healthy market for crime short stories where writers can be read and make decent money. 

Before that can happen though we have to HONESTLY asses the current state of crime fiction and why there is such a big difference between it and science fiction and fantasy when it comes to the amount of professional paying markets and respect from professional organizations. I believe it’s because there aren’t as many readers of crime short stories as some may think there are. How does that make me bitter?

If we can figure out why there aren’t more readers of short crime fiction then maybe we can propose solution to the problem. I believe one of the reasons there aren’t more short story readers is because mystery fiction, since the decline of the pulp magazine, has been a mainly novel-driven field. Again, I don’t say that to belittle short stories or the impact, it’s just my opinion from more than a decade in the field as a writer, an editor (both for my own sights and for Random House), a fan, and an observer.

I know you were unhappy with my running of Demolition and Flash Pan Alley but at the time I saw a need in the marketplace that I tried to fill. Obviously I don’t have the attention span or personality to run a professional zine. Does that mean I shouldn’t be able to contribute to the conversation still?

Taken in whole, do these comments really paint me as a hater or as someone genuinely concerned about the future of short crime fiction looking to find a solution?

5 thoughts on “Blathering, Aisle One

  1. I believe the readership of short fiction in general is small. Maybe poetry is even smaller. I think shorts may be more similar to poetry than novels, in fact. You have to love words in the short form. Love a good phrase or sentence. I have very few friends who like short stories of any kind although they all read a lot. That tells me quite a bit. They always think they are paying me a great compliment when they say this would make a great novel.

  2. Thanks for commenting Patti. You more than anyone I think knows my passion for short crime fiction. Maybe my delivery isn’t always the best but that would be SO boring if all discussions were like board meetings.

  3. I think your take is pretty accurate. I love reading and writing short stories, but I don’t see a lot of love outside of a relatively small community. The short story panel as last year’s BCon, for example, was pretty poorly attended.

    Another data point: Earlier this year I put out a short story collection on the Kindle. When it came out I hyped the hell out of it, and as a result it briefly moved into the top 100 paid Kindle mystery short story collections.

    By selling all of 10 copies.

    I DO, however, think it’s important that there IS a short story scene. First of all, for selfish reasons: I get to read a lot of cool short stories. Second, because things can fester in the underground for a long time and then erupt into the mainstream (i.e. Seattle music, 1990). So I don’t think the short story market is big, but I don’t think it’s ever going away, and could someday see a return to prominence.

    I think the key, though, would be more major writers writing short stories. Not much incentive, especially for people who are already writing as fast as they can.

  4. I agree with you completely.

    I think there’s a couple more things to consider about markets for crime fiction, especially when compared to the markets for Sci-Fi (which often includes Fantasy and Horror). First, I think Sci-Fi has a long and vibrant history of active and engaged fandom. It’s something you get into when you’re a kid and probably like well into adulthood. I can’t think of too many kids who are into crime fiction. Plus, the fandom is visible at a broader spectrum of places: Sci-Fi conventions, gaming conventions, comic conventions, and even video games conventions. If you’re into crime, your options are a lot more limited.

    Also, you need to consider tv/movies as an outlet for what people are into. If Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror is your thing, you’re pretty much limited to movies. There are only a couple of those types of shows on television at once. To get your fix, you go elsewhere. However, there’s not a night of the week that you can’t turn on the television and watch some form of crime show.

    As far as the online markets for short crime fiction, I think variety is big problem. Go check out a science fiction mag and you’re gonna get a hard sf story, pulpy space opera, an alternate world piece, a time-travel tale, a socially-conscious futurist story, and maybe a sword and sorcery adventure. The online crime zines, from what I’ve seen, tend to publish the same types of stories. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to one of the online crime mags and in a single issue had the option between reading a police procedural, a cozy, a whodunit, a Black Mask pulp tale, gritty hardboiled noir, and maybe something funny. I think, besides David being such a standup guy, that’s part of the reason why Beat To A Pulp has done so well.

  5. I think you make a great point about variety Chad. The online zines are very splintered which prevents building a broad readership. Part of that problem I think is that many of these online zines were started out of a desire to publish stories that were outside of the mainstream. Man that’s just a great point that I don’t think has been discussed enough. Thanks.

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