How Short Fiction Died (and how it can come back)

If you want the deep read, check it out on JD Cowan’s blog:

The ultra-short summation is this:

Science fiction short fiction didn’t lose popularity like wearing bellbottoms, it was destroyed through the actions of a small clique of contemptuous busy-bodies who took over the scifi magazines and shifted their subject matter away from what was popular towards what they wished to be popular.

The result, of course, was a loss in popularity over time, but process repeated multiple times, until brands which were important in the 1930s are worn like skin suits by people who hate what was in them.

Now, we are at a point where short fiction is all but extinct. Not just that, but the readership that would read short fiction have been trained to ignore it by the cliques that control the magazines. In essence, everyone who remembers Weird Tales being good as been dead for decades. Newer readers who might dabble in some similar revival swiftly come to the conclusion that short fiction just isn’t for them.

It would be like the entire music industry was focused on concept albums rather than songs, but here we are with fiction.

There are few magazines out there (Cirsova, Story Hack, etc.) that print good stories, but they are fighting an uphill battle. To make another music analogy, it’s like recording bebop but being placed next to Kenny G in the store. You’re fighting the market at this point.

The current situation is the result of a limited number of potential fiction brands – there was only so much shelf space and market for fiction magazines – combined with the desire to control established hegemony to alter the market rather than serve it. Essentially, the clique believed it could change people’s tastes by changing what food it served them. It turns out, people would rather starve than eat their food – they’d rather read nothing at all than pick up the revival of Weird Tales.

It doesn’t have to be that way in 2020. It shouldn’t be that way. The current publishing landscape is so wide open there is every possibility of short fiction returning, so long as authors are willing to write it, albeit with small rewards to start.

Here are some things to consider:

  1. The old way of publishing magazine centered on an established brand (Analog, Asimov’s, Amazing Stories, Astounding… just to do the A’s) is not necessary for marketing fiction, but instead should be touted as an effective filter. The fact that most magazines are unpopular is probably a function of bad editorializing toward the market, that is, they don’t filter stories well for readers.
  2. Authors can publish their individual short stories themselves, with the author, rather than the magazine, as the brand.
  3. Authors should look outside the channels established to sell long fiction to sell short fiction. Pushing this content on blogs, youtube, etc. is viable for serving an audience or attracting one.
  4. Patron models can serve the creation of short fiction

Basically, we’re at a point where offering short fiction to people is like setting up a hamburger stand fifty years after hamburgers were found to be poisonous to consume. Nobody even remembers that hamburgers taste good. Expecting them to seek out hamburgers is not logical. Creators need to market the concept just as much as their own product if they want this to change.

So let’s get to it. You can enjoy some free audio versions of my shorter works here:

Ok, some of these are a bit morose, but they exist!

You can also read my “mini books” as a way to bridge the gap between the short story and the “novel” that readers have been trained to buy.

And of course, you can read this gigantic FREE anthology:

One Comment

  1. ” …it’s like recording bebop but being placed next to Kenny G in the store.”

    That line just made me happy.

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