The Value of Short Fiction

Gordon van Gelder, editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, has started a debate about the value of short fiction, specifcaly questioning whether it is being finacialy devalued by the increasing number of online venues distributing stories for free, venues such as Futurismic which have also taken up the debate.

As a writer of short fiction, I’ve never prioritised the finacial reward of creating stories. When I’m considering which markets to submit stories to, my first priority is the reputation of the editor (working with good editors is IMHO the most important benefit of writing short fiction), followed by the quality of the readership of the publication. Rate of pay comes a very distant third. Even the highest paying markets offer so little financial reward that rating one market over another on that basis makes little sense to me, although the steadily increasing rates at new online markets like Clarkesworld or Tor.com are starting to change that equation (both of which distribute online, for free (and yes, Baen and Medecine Show also pay better but are subscription markets))

For me, the value of short fiction is not measurable in financial terms. Some of our best writers do their best work in the short form – Kelly Link, Ted Chiang, M John Harrison – I could write a long list but won’t. Whilst there are still many ‘casual’ readers of short fiction, the energy that makes it an interesting creative arena comes from the core readership of writers, editors, critics and fans who follow short fiction. Its the arena where the genre talks with itself, develops new ideas and discovers new talent. Until recent years that arena existed in the print digests. But with the arrival of webzines like Strange Horizons and Fantasy, that arena is shifting to the online world. It seems to me that, whatever the financial consequences, that is currently making short fiction a much, much more exciting experience for readers and writers alike.

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