The Business Rusch: Short Stories
The Business Rusch: Short Stories
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
For the past several weeks, I’ve been talking about things to watch out for in traditional publishing from the writer’s point of view. The contracts and relationships in traditional publishing have changed dramatically, and many established authors, busy with their deadlines, haven’t noticed. I hope they read those blogs and realize what is going on before they sign their next contract.
One thing I haven’t discussed much in these blog posts is the one bright spot in traditional publishing, and this bright spot isn’t just bright, it’s luminescent. That startlingly bright spot is short fiction.
When I came into publishing in the 1980s, short stories were a difficult sell. The markets had condensed dramatically. The short story was the form for genre fiction for much of the 20th century. Heck, the short story was the form for fiction for much of the 20th century. Our best writers (according to critics and universities) wrote short stories. If you were Hemingway or Fitzgerald, your short stories appeared everywhere from Colliers to Scribner’s to an upstart magazine called The New Yorker. If you were Asimov or Williamson, your stories showed up in Astounding or Amazing Stories. If you were Hammett or Chandler, your stories appeared in The Black Mask or Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
The number of short fiction markets grew and changed, but for about four decades, there were hundreds of such markets, depending of your genre or your ability to shift genres. L. Ron Hubbard—yes, the guy who founded Scientology—made a fortune writing everything from adventure fiction to science fiction to mystery fiction to romance fiction for the pulp magazines. He wasn’t alone.
Then, in the late 1950s, due to a distribution crisis that I’m not going to go into here, the short fiction magazine market collapsed. Oh, there were some survivors. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction survived, along with Astounding (which later changed its name to Analog). Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine made it, and so did its sister publication, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (helped through those tough times by a little TV show called Alfred Hitchcock Presents). The Saturday Evening Post continued, as did American Mercury and Colliers and The New Yorker, but the list of survivors is pretty short when you compare it with the number of magazines that existed only a few years before.
What writers faced was a complete collapse of their business structure. Think of it this way: a hundred magazines that appeared 12 times per year needed at least ten stories to fill the pages. So there were, at a minimum, 12,000 short story slots available to writers per year. Many writers wrote under pen names, and filled entire issues of a magazine by themselves.
Twenty years later, there were only a handful of magazines that actually paid in each genre. Mystery had come down to three. Science fiction varied between three and five. Romance didn’t have any, although a few women’s fiction magazines published a single story per month. Literary mainstream had no big fiction-only magazines, but several magazines published one short story per month.
Instead of 1200 short story slots per year, the number had declined to maybe a quarter of that when you combined all of the genres (and excluded the pay-with-copies literary journals). Short stories became something you did for the love of it rather than something you could do to make a living.
I love short stories. I’ve published hundreds of them. Often my stories appeared in invitation-only anthologies, as well as the magazines. By the late 1990s, when the short story markets were at their nadir, I could have carved out a crummy living at writing them—maybe $20,000 per year, if I was aggressive, and if I got one big story per year that paid $1,000 or more.
But I wasn’t willing to put out that much effort for such a small return. A single novel paid me $20,000, and I could write four per year. I would still find time for half a dozen short stories, so I managed to maintain my love affair.
By the beginning of this century, the remaining short story markets were dying. Their circulation was declining dramatically, partly because finding them was hard. Newsstands had disappeared in all but the largest cities. So new readers couldn’t stumble on a magazine they hadn’t seen before, read it, fall in love, and subscribe. The genre magazines tried to solve this at conventions—the mystery magazines had booths at the major mystery conventions; the sf magazines did the same at science fiction conventions and Comic-Con.
But that was no substitute for having the casual reader stumble on an issue and buy it in lieu of a short story anthology. Early in this decade, it really did look like the magazines were going to die.
There were some glimmers. Several magazines started up on the internet and they paid well. From Baen’s Universe to SciFi, these magazines had large sponsors (the publisher Baen Books and the SyFy Channel before it changed its name), and the online magazines were considered a way of attracting an audience to the website. A few smaller magazines without large affiliations, like Strange Horizons, started as well and grew a core audience.
But a lot of readers didn’t want to read on their computer screens. Those readers didn’t come to electronic magazines until the rise of the e-reader two years ago. The Dell Magazines—Asimov’s, Analog, Queen, and Hitchcock’s—joined the Kindle revolution early and their subscription rates grew at an astronomical rate. New electronic magazines appeared, everything from Lightspeed to Electric Literature—and in a wide variety of genres.
These magazines pay well. And, even better than that, they buy exclusive rights to a story for a limited period of time.
What does that mean, exactly? While traditional book publishers are trying to tie up an author’s creation for the entire term of the copyright (the author’s life plus 70 years), the magazines only want exclusive rights—meaning the story can’t appear anywhere else—for six months to two years. After that, the magazine asks that it can keep the story in that particular issue, but it doesn’t care if the writer self-publishes the story or sells it to another magazine or puts it in a collection.
Magazines are periodicals. The definition of a periodical is a magazine or journal published at a regular interval be that interval a week, a month or every quarter. That interval thing is important, because magazine publishers look on their work as ephemeral. They’re closer to a newspaper or an evening newscast. They know that what they produce might be forgotten a year from now. They’ve already moved onto the next new thing as well. But they also know that people will want back issues, and they want to keep that issue available.
The attitude of a periodical fits beautifully in today’s marketplace. Readers get a download or a paper copy of their favorite magazine, read it and move onto the next. Readers like that about magazines. It helps the reader discover new authors while getting a little enjoyment out of their day.
Right now, new professional magazines are appearing almost daily. By professional, I mean magazines that pay their authors—and not in copies, but in actual dollars. Twenty years ago, a science fiction short story had to sell to one of five markets or get retired. Now, a science fiction short story has a dozen markets or more. There are so many markets in my main short story genre that I’m not even familiar with all of them. And that doesn’t count markets in mystery, romance, horror, and mainstream.
Because I can barely keep up with my commitments to the short story magazines that have published me for years, I haven’t needed to learn some of these new markets. If you know of some, post them below—but make sure these markets pay their writers money. I won’t post links to pay-in-copies magazines or royalty-only magazines. I only will put down the links to magazines that pay the writer before the story is published.
(There is a copyright reason for that. If the writer’s story gets published and the writer never gets paid, those first serial rights are exercised and can never be returned. The writer will have lost value in the property as well as getting screwed by not being paid. If you don’t understand what this means, then get thee to the Copyright Handbook.)
This multitude of markets benefits both the indie writer and the traditional writer.
First, let’s start with the traditional markets. As book markets get more and more commercial, unwilling to take anything that even ventures a half step outside a genre, a writer can expand her skills and broaden her literary output in the short form. Want to cross genres? The mystery markets sometimes take mystery stories with a touch of the supernatural or a hint of a fantastic world. The sf markets buy mysteries set in sf worlds all the time.
Even the mainstream magazines from The New Yorker to Glimmer Train take cross genre work. Glimmer Train has published stories I consider straight mystery fiction, while in the past two years, The New Yorker has published everything from ghost stories to science fiction stories. Not hardcore genre stories, but stories with genre elements.
The other thing a short story sale does for a traditional writer is broaden her audience. With chain bookstores diminishing their stock, and independent bookstores closing, it gets harder and harder to discover a new writer. Reading a short story by a writer who is new to you the reader doesn’t take much of a commitment, particularly if that writer’s work is in a magazine with other writers whose work you like.
It’s like being paid to advertise. The traditional author will find a whole new audience, and if she does her job, that audience will venture over to one of her books. If the reader likes that book, he’ll move on to other books. It’s a great way to expand your readership. Instead of paying $500 to buy an ad in a magazine that people might or might not pay attention to, the writer is getting paid $500 to publish a story in that magazine. The reader will look at the story longer even if the reader doesn’t read the story than if the writer had an ad in that magazine.
Will a traditional writer always sell the stories she writes? Heck, no. Magazine editors edit for style and taste and for the constraints of the magazine itself. Just because a bestselling author sends a story to a magazine doesn’t mean the magazine will buy that story. The magazine’s editors have other considerations, not the least of which are the expectations of the magazine’s readership. If a bestselling romance writer sends a story to a science fiction magazine, then that story had better be sf in more than just name only. The sf has to be integral to the story for the magazine to consider buying that story even if the author’s name will sell more copies of the magazine. The last thing an editor wants is to anger her readership. She doesn’t want the readers to think she bought a story simply because the author was famous.
But that same editor will give the bestseller a bit of extra time, knowing that if the story works, that author’s name can sell more copies of the magazine and bring new readers into the magazine. Just as publishing a story in that magazine brings a new audience to the writer, publishing a new story by a bestselling author will bring some of that author’s readers to the magazine, readers the magazine never had before and hopes to keep.
It’s a win-win situation.
The other win for the author? Magazines, as I mentioned above, don’t have draconian contract terms. Within nine months to two years, the author can resell that story or e-pub it herself and continue to earn money on that story for years.
And if the traditionally published author writes a story that somehow doesn’t fit into any of the myriad magazine fiction markets that now exist, that writing time is no longer wasted. The traditionally published author can e-pub the story, charge for it, and eventually earn more than enough to make up for her time.
The e-pub/indie publishing market has opened other opportunities for the traditionally published author. Let’s say she has a series of books, and wants to explore a side character. She can do that in the short form, and then publish that for her fans. Romance writers have started to do that. They’ll write codas to their romance novels, or short stories set in the same world.
Last year, Tess Garritsen wrote a Rizzoli & Isles short story to put on TNT’s website for free to celebrate the start of the TV show based on her novels. The idea was to have content on the TNT website to draw people to the site, but also it was an easy way for people who liked the show to start reading the books—without committing to the purchase of an entire novel.
Then, a few months ago, that same short story showed up for free as a downloadable e-book on Kindle. (I don’t know if the same offer appeared on other e-readers.) Again, that one short story became a free introduction to Garritsen’s work.
A good short story can be a gateway drug for the reader, getting them into a writer’s work without a lot of commitment.
And if the writer is under time constraints—say she wants the story to appear in conjunction with her latest novel—she can either try to sell it to a magazine market or e-publish it herself, to advance interest in the novel.
Or she can do both.
The traditionally published writer can use the short story markets in a myriad of ways.
So can the indie writer.
I know a lot of indie writers pride themselves on staying out of the traditional publishing markets, but those writers might want to reconsider when it comes to short stories. The reasons to do so are pretty much the same as they are for traditionally published writers. The indie writer will gain new readers with each traditionally published short story. The indie writer loses nothing in trying traditional markets first on certain stories. Sure, it might take extra time to have the story published, but the advertising value alone will make up for that.
And since most traditional short story markets buy only the rights they plan to use, instead of the ones they believe they can grab, the indie writer will be able to publish the story herself in a year or so after the first appearance.
One side note on short story contracts: a lot of the established magazines have a contract for authors selling to them for the first time that does try to take everything. You can easily negotiate that contract to the contract that more established writers get. You just have to be willing to ask.
Once you get the established-writer-contract, most places will continue to give you that contract for each story you sell to them.
Finally, let’s look at unpublished writers and the traditional short story markets. A lot of writers remain unpublished in today’s marketplace because those writers are uncertain as to whether they’re ready for prime time. Is their writing good enough? Will they embarrass themselves?
These writers don’t trust the marketplace, and don’t really believe that the readers, after sampling, will pass over a truly bad story. These writers believe that the readers will hate them forever when, in truth, the readers probably can’t remember the name of the author whose story they liked the week before.
Anyway, some writers want a gatekeeper, someone who will validate their work, someone who will tell them that they are ready for prime time.
Rather than beat their heads against the wall that is traditional book publishing, these writers would be better off on all levels writing short stories. Short story editors respond quicker. Short story editors are always looking for new writers and buy from new writers every single month. And short story markets have good contracts, so there’s no need for an agent/IP lawyer.
(And, honestly, even if you signed a bad contract on a short story, you’re only down one short story. You lose a week of your writing time, a tiny portion of your output, instead of years. Chances are you will probably only lose (over the lifetime of the story) a few thousand dollars instead of tens of thousands in earning potential.)
The rapid growth of the short story markets means that the editors are in the market for good material. Short stories are more than a vanity project for writers these days. I believe a good, fast short story writer who works in multiple genres could probably make a mid-five figure income these days or more.
But…while everything else is in flux from agents to traditional book publishers to the growth of the e-book marketplace, the traditional short story market has become the brightest spot in the publishing firmament.
And I, for one, think that’s spectacular.
Honestly, these blogs probably cost me one short story per month. I’d like to make up for that loss to my income through donations. So, if you find these posts useful, encourage me to continue by clicking the button below.
“The Business Rusch: Short Stories” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
[…] Kris Rusch wrote an excellent article on Friday which should be read by anyone with a passing interest in writing short stories. great overview of the history of short story magazines and the current rude health of the market. […]
Adam Walker wrote: “9) Romance didn’t have any magazines in the 1970s? What about TRUE ROMANCE and its companions TRUE CONFESSIONS and TRUE STORY from the McFadden group? Even before it went under earlier this year due to Dorchester’s implosion TRUE STORY boasted a 250,000 paid subscriber base.”
The magazines Adam lists published a particular subset of women’s fiction known as “confessions,” not romances, though some of the stories did contain romantic elements. After Dorchester purchased the magazines from McFadden, the published stories grew more romance-like, but still don’t actually meet the genre definition of “romance.”
While Dorchester may have imploded earlier in the year, two of the magazines Adam lists still existed as of a few weeks ago. I have stories in the July 2011 issues of TRUE CONFESSIONS and TRUE STORY (both available on newsstands now) and have signed contracts in hand for stories scheduled for the August 2011 TRUE CONFESSIONS.
As a related aside: I’ve been writing for the confession magazines since the early 1980s–have, in fact, written so many confessions I’ve been labeled the “King of Confessions”–and I have watched the genre shrink from more than a dozen magazines to the two that remain. While other genres of short fiction may be booming, the confession genre continues to shrink.
I don’t know where you get your numbers from, since the list I have goes from the actual circulation statements from the magazine itself. In 1991, paid subscriptions had dropped from 56,000 down to 44,000. In 1992, it was 47,000. In 1993, it was 43,000. It didn’t change in 1994. In 1995 it dropped dramatically to 38,500. It continued to drop in 1996, to 32,000. In 1997, when you finally left, it was 27,000. So F&SF lost 20,000 subscribers in only six years. I simply don’t know where you’re getting your 90,000 figure from. In no time during its history has F&SF had 90,000. Ever. The closest was 1982, with 64,000 paid circulation. And we won’t touch newsstand sales, because frankly, statistically there was little change, except for a minor drop. So I don’t see the impact of distribution changes during those years, unless your pull was really high, with subsequent lower sell-thru percentages.
You made the claim that there’s professional fiction markets being launched every day, and by your definition that means five cents a word markets. I simply don’t see it. Where are you pulling these claims from, on what basis? You then fall back on mentioning mystery magazines, but the online mystery magazines I’m aware of don’t pay anywhere near five cents a word. Most are basically a penny a word markets. So . . . where are these mystery magazines that pay that much?
Without knowing contex and, without knowing historical sales growth, for digital sales, we actually don’t know how well the magazines are doing, because they’ve always had digital subscriptions, since 1999, when they were with Fictionwise. So the growth is . . . exactly what? We don’t know. I’m not arguing with your basic points, mind you, but I think there’s a lot of exaggeration built-in this post, which makes me a little leery of taking some of the statements at face-value.
Adam, you don’t understand the difference between those circulation figures and the way that readership is calculated by magazines. Since you seem to believe that Locus reports things accurately, look at their readership figures for the same period. They’re double the numbers in the back of the magazine. As I said before, those numbers in the back of the magazine are actual copies that went through the US mail. Subscription copies and newsstand copies go through the mail to get to the supplier. So your numbers reflect the distribution collapse in 1995 because subscriptions fluctuate according to newsstand availability. (Someone reads a single copy, likes it, subscribes, doesn’t like the year’s worth of issues, lets the sub lapse; someone else reads, subscribes…they get the single issue from a newsstand. Right now, the web is our new newsstand, but from 1995/96-2005, there were no real newsstands outside of major cities.)
From time immemorial, readership has been calculated as 2 people per issue, minimum. Some magazines commissioned studies and found that each issue had four readers. So readership versus copies produced in print calculations are two different numbers. At the time, for example, I believe Analog was the highest seller with [if my memory is correct] 110K readers. So my number of 90,000 is confirmed by your circulation number of 43,000 because that number doesn’t account for the copies sold at conventions that did not go through the mails. You also don’t seem to understand that a steady readership rate, with no losses, is highly unusual for any magazine, at any time in its history. When readership grows as it is in the Dell magazines right now then that means that management and editorial are doing the right things.
As for my “claims,” it’s pretty clear you’re not following markets outside of genre. What about Electric Literature? Or all the things that McSweeney’s has been doing? Or or or…there are more new literary/mainstream magazines each month, most of them paying high rates.
There is no exaggeration built into my post. If anything, I was cautious. I’m not sure why you’re unwilling to believe things are good in short fiction right now. But the fact remains: Things are very, very good.
A bit of clarification: 1) didn’t LOCUS start reporting the ebook sales for the Dell Magazines this year? I’m certain they did in their February issue 2) the subs aren’t huge, by any stretch of imagination. Last I heard it was around three to five thousand, against losses of 15k-20k over a ten year period, with print subscriptions continuing to drop at a regular clip. I was under the distinct impression that LOCUS does want the digital sales, but it was never provided before by Dell, not through any contrived machinations of Locus 3) where did you get 90,000 from? According to THE HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE-FICTION MAGAZIEN total circulation in 1991, when you took over it was only 69,000 paid circulation. It then dropped to 35,000 paid circulation by 1997, in six years. 4) This is nitpicking, but in the 1950s AHMM wasn’t a sister magazine at all to ELLERY QUEEN’s, as it wasn’t acquired by Davis until many decades later. 5) “Science fiction varied between three and five.” Um . . . The 1970s were a hotbed of semipro and pro magazines, and there were a lot of markets. It only accelerated through the 1980s with the advent of desktop publishing. 6) “But a lot of readers didn’t want to read on their computer screens.” Based on what? I think I remember a panel discussion in which Ellen Datlow indicated that they had enormous readership for SCIFICTION stories, and this was before ebook devices. I’ve heard similar from other online markets, since. 7) “New professional magazines are appearing almost daily.” Excuse me? Can you clarify this? Maybe we have different standards for what professional is . . . which contradicts SFWA’s definition. 8) For those who care, American News Company is what happened to most magazines in the 1950s, but most magazines were aware of what was going on, and had already moved to other distribution channels. 9) Romance didn’t have any magazines in the 1970s? What about TRUE ROMANCE and its companions TRUE CONFESSIONS and TRUE STORY from the McFadden group? Even before it went under earlier this year due to Dorchester’s implosion TRUE STORY boasted a 250,000 paid subscriber base. 10) I think it’s way too soon to be cheerleading the success of ebook sales or subscriptions, not when there’s a broader picture, no?
I don’t know about Locus & e-book sales this year, Adam, because I stopped subscribing this year. Their prices are ridiculous (including the price for an e-sub), and I found I was only reading the obituaries because all the news was old. I get more accurate, fresher news on the web. Plus that news on the webzines/sites covers the entire genre, something Locus never did. (Don’t get me started on its treatment of media fiction/gaming/paranormals/multi-media and Analog.) I was told by the editors themselves that Locus would not take the digital numbers. I do not know why, but I do remember the frustration from my editor friends over this.
When you compare statistics of one year against statistics over 10 years, you’re manipulating the statistics. The growth is excellent on e-book sales and e-book subscription rates–and honestly, a growth of 3-5K over 1-2 years “against a loss of 15-20K over 10 years,” well, do the math. That’s a loss of 1.5-2K per year in print over 10 years, and the growth in the last two years is covering that loss now, and will overcome it as the years progress. So compare apples against apples, please.
The numbers reported on F&SF for 1997 are from the end of the year. I left in June. Subscribers always leave when an editor does. It happened in 1991 when Ed left. I grew the magazine to higher numbers by the middle of my editorship. I know the 90K. I was editor at the time. I had access to the actual numbers. The sub rate was lower when I took over, highest in 1994, when the numbers were purely mine. And, um, in 1995-1996, there was another distribution collapse, which cut our newsstand sales in half. But the subscriptions were still growing in those years.
As for your nitpicks, yeah, of course. But I’m not going to go into the details that have nothing to do with the point I was making. It’s easier to identify who owns the magazine now, so people can follow the point.
I judge professional by pay rate. 5 cents per word and above. I do not judge SFWA as any accurate indication of anything. Also, I am writing an article about all fiction magazines. Have you seen the growth in literary magazines–some paying as much as 1K per story? Or the online growth of mystery magazines? Or magazines in foreign countries?
I did not, however, know the history of the confession magazines. Thanks for that tidbit. I do know that several SF magazines avoided the collapse for just the reason you name. But again, I wasn’t writing a history article; I was giving a bit of history so people could understand how things change.
Thanks for this article Kris, I’ll point my blog readers here.
While I have been encouraging people to self-publish short stories to learn the ropes, I have also tried to tell them that they could set up a great system, if they were organised: sell to a magazine, then when the rights revert, reprints/anthologies, then, self-publish. I think it’s a boon in the product description when you can say the story was published by X magazine or picked up by Y anthology.
Dave, thanks for your point. I too think it helps e-book sales when you can say that it was previously published, etc. You’re right on the system: that’s the one I use on my short fiction.
Kris, thanks for this post. I had wondered specifically about this, especially since I saw the advent of so many web-only magazines that paid within the last year.
This is not only good news for writers, but hell, for READERS as well. I sometimes cannot budget the time for a novel, in part because it would get interrupted so much, reading during commutes, lunch breaks, etc. But I can read an excellent short story in a single sitting.
Could you give us a few titles of the best ones you’ve ever read? Of any genre?
One of my favorites is “A Son of the Gods” by Ambrose Bierce, which is available online from numerous free sources; he was in the Civil War, and wrote about it from experience. Whenever I re-read it, it feels more like going under hypnosis than reading.
School us, Kristin, school us!
[…] Another link is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog on short stories. […]
While SF and mystery magazines may not be trying to grab rights, the same can’t be said of markets for erotica short stories. I have turned down too many contracts because the publisher wanted exclusive right to my story in all languages and in all formats (including those not yet invented) in perpetuity. (And, I’m hardly a first-timer with twenty short story sales and three published novels. Some markets will negotiate, some won’t.)
Coincidentally, I’ve written a guest blog post about this and why I’ve started self publishing my short stories on Smashwords that will appear on http://eroticaforall.co.uk/ Sunday.
My advice to writers reiterates what Kris has been saying in her blog posts. Even if the contract is only for one story, READ it carefully. And be prepared to walk away unless the promotional/advertising opportunities outweigh the permanent loss to the rights for that piece.
Thanks, I.G. Great post. Exactly. Some markets don’t negotiate. I’ve found that more often with non-fiction than fiction, but I don’t write for the erotica markets. So IG’s point “be prepared to walk away unless the promotional/advertising opportunities outweigh the permanent loss to the rights for that piece” is excellent advice.
I first got into ebook publishing by only selling only non-fiction articles and continue to succeed. I call it “kindle care” because it will be paying my health insurance soon.
I’d thought of this, myself, and I’m glad to see it wasn’t me being a silly young goose.
Now, to find some magazines that like what I write, because I’ve been ending up in that borderland of personalized rejections. 🙂
Thanks for those links, everyone! (And that foreign market database? Ooo!) I used to use Spicy Green Iguana—got one short published that way, when I was in college—but since SGI’s death, I’ve been using Duotrope.
Personal rejections are the step before sales, Carradee. So keep sending to those editors as well as new ones. Good luck!
Locus . . .
This is good news.
Thank you, Kris!
As you know, with me, you are really preaching to the choir!
Keep up your great work in behalf of the beloved short story form!
Thanks for this, Kris. I love short fiction, even to the point where my novels tend to be episodic. (But then I can sell a few chapters as short stories…) Particulary so in SF. (A few of us were discussing this last week with Connie Willis — I agree with her that shorter works are the essence of SF as a literature of ideas. Heh, notwithstanding her (award winning) Blackout/All Clear double door-stop).
This was particularly timely because my last couple of submissions were, not rejected, but not bought either because, essentially, I was blocking the available slots with other stories I’d sold to the same market. (Editor said he’d hold it and please notify him if I sold it elsewhere.) That’s what I get for writing too much to-market, perhaps. (Of course the nagging voice of insecurity suggests that the story just wasn’t quite good enough for him to buy it regardless. I tell it to shut up, at least it wasn’t a rejection.)
Time for me to go look up some new markets and send out a batch of submissions.
This post surprises me. I had seen the spiraling sales rates of the bigger SFF magazines for years, including the multiple defibrillations performed on ones like Realms, and figured they were all almost dead, clinging onto life with nothing more than will and donations. Silly me for assuming. Do you have a source so I can go read to see the actual climbing sales rates for the various big pubs?
John B., you’re following the Locus numbers which only track paper copy sales. And yes, while magazines like F&SF are declining–down to 9K from the 90K when I was editor–the Dell magazines are growing. Why? They have electronic editions. The subs are huge. My sources are my friends: the editors of the magazines. There is no public documentation because the only place that tracks in SF, Locus, never wanted the electronic numbers. Only the print numbers. How’s that for bias? I’m hoping that will change now that Locus has its own electronic edition. But I doubt it.
The numbers reported in the back of the magazines in the December issues, btw, are there to follow a legal code to get a certain kind of US mail rate, and again, only track physical copies, not e-copies.
I love short stories too and really appreciate this post. You and Dean have led me into the wonderful world of indie publishing, but I write a lot of short stories and always like to try the traditional markets first. I just want to mention a fact that many may not be aware of. There are a lot of markets but there are also a lot of writers, so don’t expect your stories to all be accepted with wide open arms at first. You need a thick skin and to get used to rejections. Editors don’t always reject a story because it isn’t good – often it just doesn’t meet the needs of the magazine. Keep trying; be persistent. Often I have submitted a piece again and again to various markets, and finally have come across an editor who thinks it’s just perfect for his project. And apart from the magazines mentioned, there are quite a few anthologies that pop up from time to time – not the invitation-only kind but the open call kind, and those are good markets too. You can find them in Ralan’s anthology listing.
Yes: short stories. Love to read ’em, love to write ’em. Thanks for the post.
Your post has interesting timing for me. I was perusing Duotrope a couple of months ago and saw some folks trying to launch an online magazine, Digital Science Fiction (http://digitalsciencefiction.com/). They accepted and published a story of mine and paid full pro rates. They were also very easy to work with.
I don’t think they could have existed five years ago, and so I think they fit your description of short fiction magazines that are enabled by the new world of publishing. I hope they make it and I hope we see more like them.
Great article Kris! I’m curious about the trad. authors who have been writing tie in stories to their novels. What do publishers usually think of that? I know that James Rollins’ publisher was resistant to him epublishing a short story based on one of his series a while back.
There are a lot of them, Livia. I see them mostly in romance. Julia Quinn has an entire series of them, published through her publisher. I know there have to be others.
Nancy, is Spicy Green Iguana still live? I haven’t been able to access their site for at least 18 months. It was such a good resource, too.
Beautiful! Thank you for this. I’ve been so wrapped up in discovering the world of e-publishing that I didn’t realize all this good stuff was going on. I really appreciate you, Kris.
Really enjoyed this article. Well done and insightful.
Short stories are also a way for indie authors to get into professional organizations. Even if you want to stay away from traditional publishing for novels, it can be very nice to have access to a good professional writing organization. (Those same orgs are also great places to find lists of short story markets.)
For example, one of my short stories, “White Knight, Black Horse,” first sold to an anthology by ebook romance publisher, Ravenous Romance. But then Ravenous sold the anthology to St. Martin’s Press. Presto-chango, I’ve now been published by St. Martin’s without having to wrangle an invitation to one of their anthologies, and that also qualified me for an associate membership in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). (Paranormal covers so many genres, muahahaha.)
Granted, that doesn’t happen all the time, but by keeping your eye on the markets and the trends you can certainly increase your chances. And the money doesn’t hurt, either. You can also look at it as getting paid to see what other people in the genre are up to.
Great point, Mercy. Thank you for that. It’s true. It’s a way of joining organizations, of getting in year’s bests (although many are becoming open to e-pubbed items), and of getting on award ballots. (Awards are not generally open to indie-pubbed work.) So I hadn’t even thought of all that, but you’re right.
Kris, great post. I don’t think it’s been mentioned in any of the comments yet, but http://www.ralan.com remains the best source for short fiction market info in the spec fic genres. And it’s free. It’s maintained by Ralan Conley, a writer himself, and he’s been doing this for over a decade. It’s well organized into pro, semi-pro, anthology, audio markets, etc.. Another good source is Duotrope, also free, but I’ve always found that just checking Ralan’s site periodically is the most efficient way to keep up on new markets.
And further to your comments about what you can do when you get the rights back for a story, another option is to sell to foreign language markets. I maintain a list of markets that accept stories in English and translate for free, many of which also pay. It’s found money. The list is at http://www.smithwriter.com/foreign_market_list.htm, along with an article about subbing to these markets at http://www.smithwriter.com/FML_article.
Doug, thanks for the mention of foreign sales on short fiction. For the rest of you, Doug’s website is a heck of a resource. Check it out.
Thanks for the good news, Kris *grin*
There are a bunch of good 5 cent a word or better short fiction markets. The newest one I discovered is publishing monthly anthologies, 6 months exclusive, 5 cents a word on acceptance- “Digital Science Fiction”.
Daily Science Fiction, which was mentioned in another comment, pays 8 cents a word on publication and keeps exclusive rights for only 3 months. I mention both these because I know from firsthand experience that they are excellent to work with and reliable about payment.
Another poster mentioned Duotrope as a great resource for mags (and I agree :-)), but there are also 2 other ones: Ralan’s (http://www.ralan.com/) and Spicy Green Iguana (http://www.spicygreeniguana.com). I think every one of these(including Duotrope) list all genres and by market (Pro, SemiPro, etc.).
You mean you aren’t always doom and gloom? And here we were about to rename you “Raven” Rusch.
It’s always good to remind us of the good things happening out there. And there is a lot of it. We talk so much about the dangers of a market in flux, and yes, that’s true. But a market in flux is also where smart, patient people usually build empires as well. I’d like to be one of those people.
You’re welcome, Loren & Wesley. Michael & David, thanks for the lists!
I am, not so coincidentally, teaching a short story workshop right now, at this moment. (Which is why stories are on my brain) But it’s also sucking up a lot of my time. So I’ll be slow to answer this week. Keep posting. I’ll get to things eventually….
You contradict yourself, Kris. After spending quite a bit of space telling readers how getting short stories published is great advertisement, you write “in truth, the readers probably can’t remember the name of the author whose story they liked the week before.” So, which is it?
I’ve been writing and selling short stories since the late 1970s, have sold close to 900 short stories in various genres under various bylines, have had one or more short stories published each month for 96 consecutive months, and that “mid-five figure income” you mention eludes me. While it may be possible, I doubt that it’s probable. Only a tiny percentage of writers can realistically make that kind of money writing nothing but short fiction.
Even so, there is money to be made writing short stories and there are many good reasons to write short fiction in addition to the money. Just don’t do it expecting to earn a mid-five figure income.
(Of course, if anyone wants to prove Kris right and me wrong by driving my writing income into the mid-five figures, several of my short stories–most of them previously published–are available for Kindle and Nook individually and in collections under the bylines Michael Bracken and Rolinda Hay.)
You’re right, Michael B. I did contradict myself. Let me be clearer: when a reader likes a story a lot, the reader makes note of the writer’s name and then actively searches for the writer’s books. So yes, that reader might forget the name of the author of the very next story she reads, but the story she loved–well, she wrote that writer’s name down and will search for more from that writer. Which means that not every story brings you new readers, just like not every ad will bring you new readers, But the story can realistically bring you more readers than an ad ever would.
I hope that clarifies.
And as for mid-five figures, I was also counting e-book sales in collections, stand-alones, reprints, etc.
Thank you for this post. This is just the information I needed to throw myself into writing and really go for it. Informative and inspirational. Thank you.
Others might have already posted these, but you are right, there are a bunch now. “Fantasy Magazine” is the fantasy counterpart to Lightspeed (same editor John Joseph Adams, same pay rate 5 cent/word). Clarksworld 10 cents word, F/SF/H, responds in about a week. Weird Tales now pays pro rates 5 cents/word. Apex, “dark” SF/fantasy/horror, 8cents a word. “Spinetingler.com” is a mystery story market that pays $25 flat fee, been around for awhile, but recently received Edgar Award eligibility status from MWA (I’m biased to include this because my story “Scaffolds” will appear there in early July). I don’t know of any pro paying mystery markets beyond the Dell mags, and what you said about general fiction markets. Duotrope.com is a searchable database of fiction markets, which depends on donations and on writers reporting response times, is a good resource the search for paying markets by pay rate, response time, etc.
I remembered writing something about the pro markets I send short stories out to (i.e. The Churn), so I dug it up to see if it was still relevant: http://davidalbarron.blogspot.com/2011/01/nothing-happened-today.html
It boiled down to: Asimov’s Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine and Strange Horizons. Seven reliable markets (and reasonably fast too), that I also read. Good stuff.
Fascinating article. This sounds like a great way for indie writers to build a name for themselves while earning some money. I have a question, though: for a beginning writer who has focused mostly on writing novels but has very little experience with writing short stories, what sort of advice can you give for how to learn the craft? (Besides reading and writing a ton of short stories, which is fairly obvious.) Is there a lot of overlap between the two formats, or are they entirely separate arts? If so, what sort of difficulties can a novelist expect to encounter when learning the short form? Is it worth taking a month or two off to focus exclusively on short stories?
Thanks again for the excellent post! I also look forward to reading about the new short story markets in the comments thread.
Joe, you’re welcome. You’re right: short stories & novels are 2 different skills. You really should enjoy short stories to write them. But you can learn how to do it, mostly by reading a lot of them to learn the form.
I’m teaching a short story class right now, hence the post. 🙂