SciFi and Fantasy Book Club discussion

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Short Story Discussions > Why aren't there more short Sci-fi and Fantasy?

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message 1: by Elle (new)

Elle Lapraim | 19 comments As a short sci-fi and fantasy writer, i find it hard to find other people like me. All my reviews have been great except everyone always ask me why I don't make my stories longer. I always reply "Because they are short stories". Why do you think there are not more short stories being written in these two genres?


message 2: by Pat (new)

Pat Whitaker (whitakerbooks) | 56 comments There's no real answer to that. Partly it is personal taste and partly it is fashion.

Over the last couple of decades there's been a trend toward ever longer books and, indeed, series of books that could more correctly be described as volumes of the same (very long) book. Publishers favour large books for the sad but valid reason that they have more 'presence' on the shelf - important from a marketing point of view (not that they'll willingly admit to that).

I'm afraid you'll just have to live with it - but I strongly believe you must write how and what you want - not what someone tells you will be more commercial - or you will never do yourself justice.

Remember, it's your story. Pat.


colleen the contrarian  ± (... never stop fighting) ± (blackrose13) | 1323 comments Considering the plethora of short story anthologies in both genres, I never thought that there was a dearth of them.


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris  (haughtc) | 808 comments Pat wrote: "Publishers favour large books for the sad but valid reason that they have more 'presence' on the shelf ..."

Yet we've been told that the bookstores hate the big books because they take up too much space on the shelves.


message 5: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (Tantara) I haven't noticed a shortage (heh...) of short form sf/f. I follow several online magazines and sites that very regularly publish short fiction in these genres, and there are a solid number of both single-author collections and multi-author anthologies released each year. As my perception of the issue has not aligned with your own experience, I don't know if I can give a satisfactory answer to your question.

However, if there is in fact a scarcity of short spec-fic, my instincts tell me that the publishing industry's lust for trilogies+ has a lot to do with it. They can't make as much money off short stories (or standalone novels, for that matter,) so they aren't as likely to publish them. Many indie authors, however autonomous, also seem to be self-publishing with an underlying hope of being picked up by a major publisher someday, so they often stick to the trilogy model, as well. (At least that's how I perceive it. I certainly don't have a collection of hard data on the subject.)

Another completely-unscientific thought comes to me: Perhaps the current ascendancy of speculative fiction that has been injected with a surge in young adult readers and ya readers who have just moved past ya and into more adult spec-fic is marked with those readers' preferences? Many of them cut their sf/f teeth on Harry Potter (a huge epic series, of course) or any of a whole shelf of other long series aimed at that demographic, and perhaps that is what they are looking for now that they are older, as well? Perhaps they fell in love with long form stories, so that is where there allegiances lie? Maybe they aren't used to/familiar with stories that peak and resolve so quickly? Perhaps they (not just ya/prior ya readers, for that matter, but also many long-time sf/f readers) have become accustomed to a long, drawn-out dramatic build-up with complex world-building and don't wish to explore other styles? Again, this is pure speculation on my part. (I love short fiction and prefer my novels to be standalone, so I am definitely on the outside looking in regarding such hypothetical preferences.)

Good luck to you!


message 6: by Elle (new)

Elle Lapraim | 19 comments Pat wrote: "There's no real answer to that. Partly it is personal taste and partly it is fashion.

Over the last couple of decades there's been a trend toward ever longer books and, indeed, series of books tha..."


Thanks Pat. Very interesting. I hope since I sell my books on the Kindle, I won't have the shelf problem, but we shall see.


message 7: by Elle (new)

Elle Lapraim | 19 comments Pia wrote: "Hi, I write short and long and in between. Actually, the seeming declining short-story interest has bothered me a lot because I've always enjoyed reading short stories and have always had more prob..."

Thanks Pia, that is very helpful. I have noticed that people seem to not respect that short stories are an artform as well.


message 8: by Pat (new)

Pat Whitaker (whitakerbooks) | 56 comments Chris wrote: "Pat wrote: "Publishers favour large books for the sad but valid reason that they have more 'presence' on the shelf ..."

Yet we've been told that the bookstores hate the big books because they ta..."


Bookstores yes, publishers no (other than the extra production costs).


message 9: by Pat (new)

Pat Whitaker (whitakerbooks) | 56 comments Candiss wrote: "I haven't noticed a shortage (heh...) of short form sf/f. I follow several online magazines and sites that very regularly publish short fiction in these genres, and there are a solid number of bot..."

I think there's a lot of truth in what you say. The ascendency of Fantasy is important as the genre lends itself to the epic.

Personally I, like you, prefer stand-alone stories and exclusively write novels of between 45,000 and 55.000 words. The reason is quite banal - I'm a reader who hates to put a book down (even a bad one) and that's about what I can read in an evening or Sunday afternoon.


message 10: by Silvio (new)

Silvio Curtis | 211 comments I prefer long novels and series myself, so I can't be to worried. I'd link to think publishers and authors are aiming for tastes like mine. But since the decline of short stories is happening in all genres, like Pia says, I'd guess there's some economic factor other than reader taste that's against magazines.


message 11: by Silvio (new)

Silvio Curtis | 211 comments Wikipedia says "pulp fiction declined . . . due to the heavy competition from comic books, television, and the paperback novel. . . . The collapse of the pulp industry changed the landscape of publishing because pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories. Combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, writers attempting to support themselves by creating fiction switched to novels and book-length anthologies of shorter pieces."

Do people think that's enough to explain why there aren't as many short stories as there used to be?


message 12: by Andrea (new)

Andrea (andreakhost) Short stories were a declining market for a long time. They're picking up again thanks to ebooks.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch (who has published many a SF short story) has a post about it here:

http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/22/the-...


message 13: by Andrea (new)

Andrea (andreakhost) Vignettes are definitely a somewhat different thing to a short story.


message 14: by Denae (new)

Denae (whimsicalmeerkat) Colleen of the Crawling Chaos wrote: "Considering the plethora of short story anthologies in both genres, I never thought that there was a dearth of them."

^ what she said


message 15: by Robert J. (new)

Robert J. Sullivan (RobertJSullivan) | 10 comments I'd say it was a confluence of different factors - declining pay leads to less interest among writers leads to declining quality, a downward spiral. I was reading about magazines around 1900 and one magazine paid $500 for a science fiction story and $1000 for a mystery story. (Think about what that would be adjusted for inflation.) I spent 6 months revising and resubmitting a short story (they were very slow to respond) to an e-zine only to have them fold. They were offering $10 for the story.

I've been dipping into Analog and Azimov lately and frankly, not one of the stories has grabbed me.

Roger Zelazny said he switched from short stories to novels because novels worked harder. I remember "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth" better than anything I've read in the two A's in the last year and I read those stories thirty years ago.


message 16: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (Tantara) I just read an article regarding this subject which I thought might be of interest: How Technology Has Transformed Short Science Fiction and Fantasy


message 17: by Al (new)

Al (alkalar) | 287 comments I suspect that most short story readers are subscribing to the appropriate magazines. Even good anthologies seem to languish in sales. And of course, is the anthology a collection by a single author you "follow" or several authors collected by some editor?

For instance, AKW Books (an eBook publisher) brought together 34 great "hard" SF shorts, The Complete Alpha Dreamer, edited by Al Philipson. It's received great reviews by the few people (including me) who've reviewed it (5 stars), but even in eBook format (lower cost than paper), it's a slower seller than their better-selling novels (especially novels in a series).

By the way, you might want to give that collection a look (shameless promotion here since I work for AKW). But don't take my word for it. Read the first 20% (free) on either Amazon or AKW's site and judge for yourself.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Al wrote: "By the way, you might want to give that collection a look (shameless promotion here since I work for AKW). But don't take my word for it. "

Just had a Reading Rainbow flashback, Al.

butterfly in the sky...


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Saw this today and thought maybe some of you short story writers would be interested:

Short Short Story Contest by Esquire Magazine.

78 words, that's just crazy.


message 20: by Denae (new)

Denae (whimsicalmeerkat) Esquire is not the magazine that jumps to mind when I think literature.


message 21: by Al (new)

Al (alkalar) | 287 comments Denae wrote: "Esquire is not the magazine that jumps to mind when I think literature."

Nor science fiction . . .


message 22: by Denae (new)

Denae (whimsicalmeerkat) I don't find the categories mutually exclusive. There's definitely overlap.


message 23: by Al (new)

Al (alkalar) | 287 comments Pia wrote: "...I'm hoping (I think maybe) Al actually meant "Esquire is not the magazine that comes to mind when I think science fiction." Because, to me, science fiction and "literature" (as in "classically w..."

I was thinking of "literary" fiction. Sorry.

But I still don't think of Esquire when I look for SF.


message 24: by Rod (new)

Rod | 2 comments Seems to me that digital delivery can quite possibly make short stories more popular. I love the opportunity to buy a single story; it may be an author that I already read or a subject that interests me. The Kindle singles and the Atlantic series are forays into this territory (though a little pricey). But there are, for instance, backlist mystery stories (e.g. Ross MacDonald, Lawrence Block, etc.) I love short stories. I hope that more are offered outside of anthologies where I might only read one or two stories.


message 25: by Al (new)

Al (alkalar) | 287 comments Pia wrote: "I wish they'd make a strong comeback someday. But to me it seems like people increasingly want longer books centered around only a single narrative. ..."

There's another factor here. Short stories are harder to write (at least with any degree of quality). The author has fewer words to create a "real" character and build a plot and background. Novels allow a certain amount of "elbow room" for these things.

I think it was Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) who was asked how long it would take him to prepare a 5-minute speech. He estimated 3 weeks. "Well, how about a 15-minute address?" Sam estimated a day. "And what about a one hour talk?" Sam answered, "I can start now."


message 26: by Abhay (new)

Abhay | 30 comments Short stories are a great, currently market does not favor them like it use to do back in early 20th century

But still some great stories can be found in anthologies and online short story magazines.


message 27: by Sarah (last edited Sep 02, 2011 06:51AM) (new)

Sarah | 212 comments The current market is EXCELLENT for short stories. Much better than ten or fifteen years ago, when it was just the big three magazines. E publishing saved the genre.
Current good quality SF story magazines off the top of my head:
F & SF, Asimov's, Analog, Weird Tales (though I'm sad that Ann VanderMeer is leaving), Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Daily Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Strange Horizons, OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show, On Spec...and there are many others!


message 28: by Elisa (new)

Elisa Nuckle (enuck) | 11 comments I have to agree with Sarah Pi. Ebooks and magazines will make it so science fiction and fantasy shorts are more common, and I'm really excited for that, as I love to write both short and novel-length fantasy stories. You should show me your work some time! Love to read it.


message 29: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Chater (ChaterPublishing) There's been a huge resurgence of sci fi short story venues since the year 2000. I was told the short story was dead by Esquire back in the late nineties when a lot of magazines stopped buying them, now there are dozens of really good places to submit online. Clarkesworld, tor.com, lightspeedmagazine, baen.com, and the writers of the future anthology. Short fiction is here to stay, but I have to agree, one of the reviews I often get for my stories is that they are too short lol.


message 30: by Will (new)

Will Todd | 7 comments ± Colleen of the Crawling Chaos ± wrote: "Considering the plethora of short story anthologies in both genres, I never thought that there was a dearth of them."

I agree with "Colleen of the Crawling Choas" above.

I've read dozens of anthologies, particularly in SF, and feel like I've only scratched the surface.

It's a genre that seems to lend itself particularly well to the form.

Todd


message 31: by Chris (new)

Chris Kelly (darkcell) | 34 comments There is no shortage of short stories in the genre, but I do think that there's a great deal of disincentive towards writing them as one becomes more of a professional writer. It seems that publishers are hardly even interested in stand alone novels (never mind short stories) preferring instead to focus on long, open-ended series. I think this has made the short story market one that writers use as sort of a "farm system" where they are just using the medium of short fiction in order to build a name for the more profitable novel, or series that they hope will bring them fortune and fame. In the process, more seasoned writers tend to bypass shorter work once they've made a name for themselves.

A glaring exception to this is Ted Chiang who has never published a novel, but who is, in my opinion, one of the great science fiction writers of our time. It's too bad because some of the greatest writers have done their best work on the short. Borges, Lovecraft, Poe, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Tiptree Jr., and many of the great early sci-fi writers have shined more brightly in their shorter work.


message 32: by Simon (new)

Simon | 3 comments Many SF authors start out submitting short fiction to magazines, but once they're getting regular acceptances they usually start on a novel.

It's partly a matter of time, and also a matter of finances.

However, the advent of the 99c ebook on Kindle & Smashwords may be changing things around. With a story published in a magazine you get paid once (maybe a couple of times if it's reprinted.) On the other hand, a short story published electronically can earn the author income indefinitely AND it also increases your footprint in the Amazon/Smashwords system. E.g. if you have a novel on Kindle it can get lost in the noise, but if you have a novel and 12 short stories you can become a lot more visible.


message 33: by Trike (new)

Trike | 1236 comments Al wrote: "I think it was Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) who was asked how long it would take him to prepare a 5-minute speech. He estimated 3 weeks. "Well, how about a 15-minute address?" Sam estimated a day. "And what about a one hour talk?" Sam answered, "I can start now." "

...and that's why Twain was America's greatest writer.

It is ludicrously easy to write a novel, but maddeningly difficult to pare down what you want to say into just a few words. Anyone can crap out a 200-word blog post; it's takes real talent to write a 5-word bumper sticker.


message 34: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 212 comments Most of the authors whose short fiction I enjoy continue to write short fiction throughout their careers. In addition to Ted Chiang, Kelly Link is another writer who has put out several story collections but no novels.
And then there are those like Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Mary Robinette Kowal, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, Jeffrey Ford, and just about everyone I can think of, still interspersing stories and novels and novellas.


message 35: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 853 comments Also, many writers have a natural length. The way many horses have a natural race: steeplechase, quarter mile, one mile. Take a Kentucky Derby winner out on a cross-country race and he will not do well. If your natural length is the novel, you may never write a short work in your life. Kate Elliot is an example of a fantasy writer who instinctively writes long; she feels she is hitting her stride around 200,000 words. Nancy Jane Moore, on the other hand, has written so many Twitter fics that she's put out a volume of them.


message 36: by Sue (new)

Sue (suelange) Hi Brenda.


message 37: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rcraft) I tend to "finish" my story at about 90,000 - 100,000 words on the first draft of a novel. On the second draft, I tend to add anywhere from 10,000 - 20,000 words. The novel I just released is 114,000 words.

So, in reality, that is actually kind of short for fantasy. You see a lot of epic fantasy that is much longer than that, while my novel is just under 500 pages in a paperback.

As Brenda mentioned, it's all about the natural length for a writer. I just can't see myself telling a fantasy story in a 3,000 word short. Maybe someday I'll give it a whirl, but I write fantasy because I love that sprawling plot and character development that spans the course of multiple novels.

I also love reading novels like that as I often feel disappointed when I get to the end of a novel and find out that there's nothing else coming. I, like many other readers, look forward to that wait for the next novel, chatting about what may or may not happen with friends, and making predictions. That's half the fun right there.

If you can write short fantasy, that's terrific, and I fully support whatever anyone wants to write - but, writing short fantasy is just not something I can feasibly do right now. :)


message 38: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Potter (michellepotter) I don't know much about the market in general, but I can say the following from my experience as a reader.

First off, I would rather read a good short story than a bloated novel that feels like someone shook out a thesaurus into it just to increase the word count.

Secondly, if I am reading a short story, I want a story -- not a thinly veiled attempt to draw me into the series that an author normally writes. I've seen a lot of anthologies that are one story each from several popular authors, and it's clearly little more than marketing for their regular books.

Third, I prefer a collection of stories that are all from one author. Maybe it's just me, but when it's multiple authors, it always seems that I only like one of them.

Finally, I don't understand why a collection of short stories should cost more than a novel of similar length. There was one I wanted to buy recently, several stories all from one author, but it was more than twice what her novels normally cost. That's really put me off of reading short stories.


message 39: by Sue (new)

Sue (suelange) Michelle, Do you have any examples of short story collections that were worth the money and not a thinly veiled attempt to get the reader to buy the author's series?


message 40: by Hugh (new)

Hugh Howey (hughhowey) | 8 comments I've had the same experience. People love my short stories, then ask why I didn't make them longer. Maybe because you wouldn't like it if it was longer!

Often, people don't know what they want, they just know what they like. And when they like something, they want more of it. I do know this: I'm having more success with my short stuff than my novels, so I think the demand is there.


message 41: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 853 comments You will hear knitters say sometimes, that the yarn told them what a project wanted to be. ("It just refused to be knit up into a hat, but the moment I began a tank top it was fine.") Stories too know what they want to be -- or so it seems. You have to find out, by writing it -- unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a more efficient way!


message 42: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 212 comments Michelle wrote: "I've seen a lot of anthologies that are one story each from several popular authors, and it's clearly little more than marketing for their regular books. "

I'd be curious about some of your examples of this. The only ones that I can think of that I'd call blatant are the anthologies that some publishers put out to introduce you to their stable of authors. It's the literary equivalent of a label's sampler CD. I don't see anything wrong with it. If I read a mindblowing story in an anthology or a magazine I will absolutely seek out the author's other works. If I end up skipping his or her story, I may keep that in mind in the future as well. Either way, it helps me choose my future reading material.


message 43: by Faith (new)

Faith McKay (faithmckay) | 5 comments I read a lot of short stories and whenever I really like one I always look up the author and see what else they've done and if they have other short stories or novels I always pick them up. Using them as like a labels sample CD sounds smart to me.


message 44: by Bridget (new)

Bridget Bowers (bridgetbowers) | 10 comments I think the biggest issue with short stories in fantasy and scifi is that readers expect a lot of world building in that genre. You can't do a lot of world building, plot and characters in a short story. I'm not saying it can't be done to a degree, but it just isn't on the same scope.

The publishing industry, I'm sure, loves the series because it can take a lot less marketing to continue to promote the "next book in ABC series" rather than having to come up with a whole new marketing plan for a short story, stand alone novel, etc.

I enjoy reading short stories and series. Depending on my mood, I'll pick up something for a quick read or something I can dive into and get lost in for days.


message 45: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 853 comments Some ideas need 200,000 words, and others need 2,000. Writers learn, by practice, about how much weight a concept can bear. I am sure we have all seen books that seem to be one joke, slenderly spun out to inordinate length. Other times you run across a short story that obviously demands much more. It is easy to write more; alas that it is difficult to go back and boil a flabby work back down.


message 46: by Hugh (new)

Hugh Howey (hughhowey) | 8 comments I love anthologies. The Year's Best Military Science Fiction is still one I pick up and read from. Short reads fit more and more nicely with our distracted lifestyles.


message 47: by Thaddeus (new)

Thaddeus Howze | 1 comments I enjoyed the commentary on the short story format and the apparent lack of thereof. I do not see our current age of writing having this be as much as a problem as it was in the past. With e-readers being as ubiquitous as locusts on a wheat field and as about as voracious, short stories seemed poised to make a comeback bigger than miniskirts on a hot summer day.

As a writer of short stories, I can say writing a story particularly of science fiction where you can pare it down to the essence of the story and still have a meaningful tale can be a challenge. Part of the problem can be the short attention span of the readers but I think there is a greater issue as well. It is a cultural meme that our science fiction should have a complete feel to it, so few want to challenge the idea of not creating a complete world to tell a story in, especially in light of epic long-form stories such as J.K. Rowlings, Harry Potter series or the apparently never-ending Wheel of Time series by Jordan.

But I still say most writers could do with the practice of creating short stories as a way of learning the true essence of writing: telling a compelling story and making me believe it. As one writer said, many novels feel as if they are simply an exposition-filled thesaurus dump, with meaningless wandering of the main protagonist. Successful short stories do not, indeed, cannot indulge in that luxury.

Good short stories espouse the idea of living fast, dying young and leaving a messy corpse that people will want to poke over and see how you died again and again. And you can't do that in 78 words either. (I have an extreme and likely irrational distaste for flash fiction.)

I like writing short stories and my goal is, no matter what else I may write over the course of the year, my minimum of short stories will be one a month, every month.

Why?

To keep me honest and reminding me that writing a story is not about how long I can keep the hero from finding the solution to a problem before page 300.

Thaddeus
@ebonstorm


message 48: by Kernos (new)

Kernos | 386 comments There are more SFF short stories out there than I could ever read. They go all the way back to the pulps.


message 49: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 853 comments There seem to be no lack of writers of short SF, nor reachers. Where there is a gap is a way to make any money thereby.


message 50: by Ravi (new)

Ravi Veloo (RaviVeloo) | 8 comments I have always enjoyed the punch way Arthur C. Clarke ended his short stories with a kicker. Sometimes it was a twist to the action, sometimes a chiller of a line. And he ended several of his novels with a line like that too.

Is there somebody you would think uses this technique as powerfully today?


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Complete Alpha Dreamer (Alpha Dreams, #1-2) - No longer available (other topics)
The Silk Code (other topics)