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 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.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “The Value of Short Fiction

  1. I turn on the ignition and roll the car forward. The rain falls at a slight angle because of the gale. I maintain a steady 20 mph. The old man re-appears in the doorway of an abandoned cinema. I can’t tell if he’s looking at me or the car or something on the other side of the street. I glance over; there is an old dog wagging it’s sopping tail, flicking rain behind it like a sprinkler. I see the man throw it something. The dog disappears out of view as I tap the indicator and pull the car around a corner.


  2. Damien, I’m always interested to see people shining a spotlight on short fiction. My personal feeling is that short stories can be economically viable and prosper in the modern world but authors and editors are going to need to play a great deal of catch-up before they can compete with their silent competitors: video games, mp3 music and endless streaming video from online sites like Netflix. It’s not hopeless though. Necessity is the mother of invention.



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