Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bah Humbug!

So, what? You've never seen a Scrooge before?

On the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Lovin' Blog, I wrote an article about magazines, specifically "Dark Wisdom" ( In the article I mentioned that short story markets are drying up and changing. In another comment on an earlier blog, SQT asked: "What do you do if you have a story and no real market?"
William Jones, in a comment on the aforementioned blog wrote (which I have edited a little to match it to this site, but you can check it against the original on the other blog):

Many bookstores have difficulty selling "literary" magazines (short fiction magazines) of any genre. The reason is because they are not considered entertainment, such as magazines like XBOX, and Entertainment Weekly, which do not require a large investment of time, and usually give a quicker return (in knowledge or pleasure). Reading short fiction is a bit tougher. The result is bookstores have difficulty moving such magazines.The answer might rest in online magazines, but if the above concepts of entertainment magazines apply, the problem isn't fixed, it is simply shifted to a new medium.There seems to be far more short fiction writers than there are readers

Is that true? I made a comment about poetry on another site, stating it was dead. Stating that most people who read poetry also wrote poetry, and that as a whole, I considered it a dead art form. I stand by that. But are we reaching a point in our multimedia culture where we start to make the same comments about short fiction?

I don't have the answers, just more questions. Still, I believe there will always be storytellers and always be people who enjoy hearing their words, or reading them.

Eventually I would like to try and publish an online magazine. In some way this blog has felt like a magazine to me. It has offered short stories, essays, and some personal portraits. I've tried to keep it entertaining.

So now, that I've rambled in this direction and that, let me answer SQT's question. What do you do with your stories if there is no market for them? You keep finding places to tell them. Give them to friends, publish them online, whisper them in the night. Keep them alive. The stories will only die when the imagination dies, and when creativity is replaced by mundane acceptance of reality in black and white.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I love the idea of any kind of forum for short stories. I nearly cried when "Story" Magazine closed. I felt personally affronted.

Telling stories has been a part of human culture since the advent of speech. I think there will always be those of us who prefer to read, no matter what is on TV.

SQT said...

You know Stewart, if you do start an online magazine, that might be a place where people like me can send our stories.

It could be a good way for unpublished authors like me to get exposure and maybe a larger audience so that when we're ready to print something longer, it might be easier to sell.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Hey Stewart,
I used to go to Borders on M-59 to check out their small literary magazine rack. They got rid of it; replaced it with a comic book rack. Oh sure, they still have a few small literary journals face out amongst the better selling mags, but it's not the same.

Did you know that after numerous rejections of the short story, "It's A Wonderful Life," the author sent it to family and friends as a Christmas gift? The rest is history. Can you name the author?

I disagree that the short story form is a dying art. It takes more concentration than reading a novel, so I'm not so sure the internet will be its so-called "savior."

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you are familiar with Duotrope Digest, but there are literally dozens of niche publications springing up each week, according to Duotrope. I have so many places I can send stories, I often don't know where to begin. More people may be writing, but not necessarily writing well. I had the dream, too, of publishing an online magazine after my favorite one went belly up. I also ran an online flash fiction contest for several weeks until NaNoWriMo started. Several of my competitors (myself included) did NaNo and I couldn't resurrect it after December 1. Here is the link, if you want to check it out: I would like to revive it as a 50/50, where half a dozen writers commit to doing 8 flashes for 8 consecutive weeks. Everyone puts in $15 or $20. Then they all vote on each other's pieces. At the end of the eight weeks, the flasher with the most points wins half the money. That's what I'd like to do. What do you think about that, Stewart? Is that anything you might support or take part in?

gugon said...

I think people in general are so saturated with media, they have very little time to devote to reading shorts.

We have video games, the internet, DVDs (people are watching a lot more movies), iPods - it seems anything a person could want is almost instantly available. It can be really overwhelming.

It seems people have so little leisure time, if they are going to devote time to reading it's going to be the latest high profile novel so at least they can stay current with trends.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I agree hearts...telling story is part of who and what we are. I'll argue that graffiti, even as annoying as it is, is part of that need for expression.

sqt...If I do the magazine thingy, it will be in the summer. I am still trying to decide. The Michigan Horror Writers were going to do it as a group, sort of..but then there was a nasty splinter and now the group is really no more

I agree with you JR...the short story is alive and well. However, as your comment illustrates, the markets continue to dry up.

Gem, your comment interests me. I will check out Duotrope. Your words are pretty positive. A good thing. As for the flash fiction contest, I think that would be fun..but I'd like to hear more about it. I'll go to the link and comment again..although not until much to the mall now...other people...what do you guys think about gem's idea?

deslily said...

*gulp* ok, before someone puts a burning bag of doggie poop at my front door, let me explain something.

I'm not a lover of short stories.. and there is a simple reason.. I am very character driven in my readings.. if I like what I'm reading, I don't want it to end! Which is why i love Trilogies ..when I like the characters, you can't write enough with them in it to satisfy me! I always want more!

I envy those who can get into short stories, because the way my life is, that is what I SHOULD be reading. Not long ago I bought a book by Anne McCaffry that had a few short stories in it.. I loved and hated it! Loved the stories but was depressed there wasn't MORE!

So, please.. no burning bag of doggie poop at my front door?!

Miranda said...

Stewart, I think the problem is that too few people are exposed to shorts except at the same time they are exposed to poetry.

As many have pointed out, the complexity of short stories require a greater commitment on the part of the reader. Readers are already being pulled in many directions.

I do think that moving short story publications online will be the way to save the genre. First of all, the costs associated with printing and distributing print media make short story publications unprofitable.

Second, most of us with "fringe" interests have largely accepted that we must find fulfillment online. While I do find things at certain boutique type book stores, most of what I would find interesting comes from the internet.

Finally, I think more and more people are getting fed up with the packaged content available from more mainstream sources and I am hoping this leads to a greater interest in things literary.

(Thanks for stopping by my site, Stewart, and making me laugh this morning.)

Susan Miller said...

Jim Cramer says to make investments in corporations that produce the products you use...look around you and invest in the things in front of you. I can't say that I watch him, but I like that concept when speaking of financials.

So you and me? We're reading short stories. If nothing else, we're reading each others.

BUT, you knew there would be a BUT...we are living in a time and a place where this is not the norm, or at least I don't think so. For this reason a revival of sorts will be an uphill battle, challenged by the fact that most people seem to be running away from too much thinking. They're just trying to get to the television show or the next sports fix....and I have been just as guilty as the next guy.

SQT said...


Don't worry, no flaming poop.

Actually, I'm like you. I like the story to continue for a while.

But I think short story writing would be good for me. I need to spend more time writing and keeping the story short will force me to be a better story teller. My goal overall is of course to write and sell a novel -- hopefully more than one. But practice is what I need right now.

I would be game for the weekly flash contest.

Charles Gramlich said...

Short stories often seem the best way, to me, to express "ideas," especially in SF and horror. It'll be a real loss to the reading world if we lose them. But I hope the internet will presere a place for them. It just likely means we won't get paid much for them. Jim Sallis talked in an interview about selling a story for 300 bucks back in the 70s but that he couldn't sell one for that now. He writes novels from economic demand. Sigh!

deslily said...

whew! no flaming poop! now that's a Christmas present! lol..

I thought more on something you said sqt, either here or on your blog about why bothering to write if not for potential publication...

I think anyone writes because the story is in them. Be it writer or not. And of course one never knows if you might go back to it one day and make it publish worthy, or get yet another idea for writing from it?..

ok I'm done now.

SQT said...


Maybe I misunderstood a bit. I've always written in some form or another. I've often kept journals and stuff like that. And I often write to express what I'm thinking.

But when it comes to storytelling I'm a bit different. If I'm moved to write a story I hope to share it at some point. So I guess I make distinctions between public and private writing. I write fiction with a goal in mind. Private writing is for me to work through personal issues and I guess I never thought of it as real writing but rather the ramblings of my disorganized mind.

SourDad said...

Hi Stewart,

I don’t think the shorts are dead, but they are certainly on life support. Is any writer of shorts making a living at it? Luckily we don’t write for the $$$ or the shorts would be dead. On-line journals like Thunder Sandwich may help the shorts to regain some readership. I’ll be looking for your journal both as a reader and maybe as a submitter.

There are so many lit journals out there, and yet the rejection rate is over 90%. I guess there are more writers than readers, and that’s a funky math problem being that you’d expect that at least the writers are also readers making the equation at least a zero sum game? Add to that the fact that one can read a story much faster than one can write one, and there should be a demand for stories even short ones. If at least the writers were reading... So what’s going on? I subscribe to two lit journals and I share others with a friend, but I admit I don’t read them cover to cover.

gem, Thanks for mentioning Duotrope. It should be a big help.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Susan, I can't watch Cramer. I want to throw things at the screen. Him and Susie Orman are the two most annoying people in the universe. And Miss USA, she's really annoying, especially when she starts faking tears.'s Cramer, Orman, and Miss USA. Those are truly the most annoying people in the universe. They're the worst.

And....Paris Hilton.

Okay, so it's...Cramer, Orman, Miss USA, and Paris Hilton. That should cover it...and maybe Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. But if you ....

I forgot the point I was going to make.

Stewart Sternberg said...

WOW...what great discussion is going on here. Seriously.

deslily..I know what you mean. Character is really everything in fiction, it's what draws the reader in and helps keep them there. In two thousand words or so, it is difficult to get too deeply into a person's psyche.

sourdad..this is going to sound strange, but I think people going to your blog may be confused..they may think they are reading what the kids are writing, and are cautious in their responses. It took me a moment when I was there.

Charles, you're one is going to be able to quit a day job through short story writing. Novel writing isn't that profitable either, unless you get really lucky or know someone. Remember that Paris Hilton actually wrote a book, kindof, and got it published.

deslily said...

oh wow! Stewart isn't leaving any flaming poo either!! woohoo!

Ok stewart, then answer me this(no i'm not the riddler) about this statement: In two thousand words or so, it is difficult to get too deeply into a person's psyche.

I'm certainly not argueing this point.. but then how can it be that a agent or publisher only wants to see maybe 3 chapters of a story??? Can they really judge the whole on that? Sometimes stories start slow and build nicely.. so how is it a fair look at someones hard work?

Stewart Sternberg said...

Short story is a different beast. While you don't have the luxury of slowly unfolding charactr, you instead have to use inference, metaphor, etc. I hate comparing it to poetry, but in a short story sometimes the character is distilled. It's about the essence.

Editors or agents want to see three chapters, or the first fifty or so pages, to get a good sample of your writing style. What they ask for is a synopsis, a chapter by chapter outline. The synopsis is difficult to write because in a brief few pages, you're painting characters and selling yourself.

And while some stories or novels may start slowly...they better be able to hold a reader's attention. In a novel, you have about fifty pages before the reader walks away. In a short story, you have about two or three paragraphs.

The hook in a short story is sometimes everything. Funny...on a message board we have been discussing opening lines. One person mentioned Shirley Jackson's opening for Hill is the creepiest opening of all time. Anyone reading that, and then able to put the book down, just isn't normal.

Another person mentioned the opening line of The Shining by King. While it did nothing for me, it obviously spoke to him. I believe it was something along the lines of " Jack thought: You officious little prick"

Me? I used House of Usher by Poe to show how an opening can grab someone and beat the crap out of them.

And here was my opening line for The Collected: A small man, with large deep-set eyes that rarely blinked, he would occasionally disappear for an hour or so, but Vicky could only guess at what he did down there.

That one line was used to grab the reader, establish tone, and set up immediate tension.

Kiyotoe said...

my buddy Deslily pointed me in your direction Stewart and I see i've stumbled on quite the discussion.

i'm in a very similar position as sqt where I absolutely love to write and have been doing so for as long as I can remember. (loved it so much mistakenly got a degree in journalism thinking it would satisfy the craving to constantly write......oops).

But anyway, I've gotten so discouraged at times by the whole submission process (short stories, screenplays, poetry) that these days I find myself writing things that end up only in the hands of my friends and family.

I can't help but write when I am moved to do so, but it would also be fulfilling to have my stuff reach a mass audience (witness....the power of blogging).

So i agree, an online e-zine for short fiction would be welcomed. (now please hold on while I go back and proofread this comment. Deslily gave me a bit of an intimidating description of you and your blog.)

Stewart Sternberg said...

kiyotoe, I was going to get a degree in journalism and instead ended up with a regular old fashioned major in english, minor in history. However, I managed to get a job as associate editor out of college, then a job as the editor of a weekly newspaper.

But it wasn't what I wanted. I understand. I also understand your frustration about submission. You'll have to let us know what it is that you write.

SQT said...

I got a degree in Journalism partly because I was heavily encouraged to by teachers who felt my writing lent itself to that style.

It wasn't a calling though. I could do it without trying too hard, it isn't brain surgery. And though it leaves me cold most of the time I suppose it's something to fall back on if I need it.

Kiyotoe said...

stewart, the toss up for me was between journalism and english, and similar to sqt, i was encouraged to go the journalism route. Fresh out of college I landed a job at the newspaper in Atlanta writing obituaries, one thing led to another and the money led me to advertising where I am today (completely off track).

But I've written a collection of short stories (science fiction) that describe the future as a dark place, a direct result of the issues we deal with today (politics, neglect, racism, crime, etc.)

And for the last few years I've really been concentrating on screenplays, just finished my fourth one and I'm a member of Triggerstreet where I get critical feedback and helpful ideas/pointers from people who are far more polished than I am.

So basically, I write whatever it is that moves me at that moment. Mostly, screenplays and short stories these days.

SQT said...


That's funny, the same thing happened to me. I was working at a newspaper and was offered a job in the advertising dept. The paper I worked for was king of a rinky-dink affair, so I didn't stay there long. I worked in TV for a while after that.

Good luck on your screenplays.

Chuck Zaglanis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chuck Zaglanis said...

The problem for lit. magazines (besides the general decline in readership everyone is suffering) is that writers tend not to subscribe to the markets they hope to break into. Subscriptions, not magazine rack sales, decide whether or not a market can stay in business because it is the only income a publisher can count on.

There are markets dying every day because of a lack of subscription base. Genre magazines are a beast that must be fed, and rack sales and advertising don’t come close to covering the cost. We’re a well respected, internationally distributed product, and every issue we have to debate whether or not we can afford to publish.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you find a market you like-especially if you would like to be published there-do yourself a favor and subscribe. You’ll get a feel for what kinds of stories the editors publish and you’ll save a few bucks off the cover price. I know for a fact that Stewart puts his money (and occasionally his foot) where his mouth is, if more people followed suit then magazines could publish monthly and more writers could get that “Happy happy, joy joy” feeling of vindication.

Pythia3 said...

Hi Stewart . . . no, I am not a dead blogger, a dead poet, perhaps. I will be back!
I have a lot of reading and writing to catch up on.
Thank you for the Holiday greetings and I wish you all the same.
I am happy to have met you and gotten to know you this year and I look forward to the coming year and your friendship, advice and shenanigans.
Happy New Year, Stewart. See you soon.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I agree with Chuck..and I also think people would do well subscribing. In many instances, a subrscription is a large discount over the newsstand rate.