“Are you going to do something, or just stand there and bleed?”

I never thought I’d find a way to work that quote into a valid & related subject header.  God bless you, my friend.  From "What Are You Going to Do, Bleed On Me?":

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (a decrepit and
anachronistic organization if ever there was one) defines a
professional short story publication as three cents a word, a laughable
figure which hasn’t changed in decades. As for "literary" short
fiction, the number of publications which pay decent rates for it can
be counted on the fingers of one hand — The New Yorker, Harpers,
Playboy, Esquire, and once a year the Atlantic Monthly. Did I forget
anyone? On the other hand there are an ever increasing abundance of
"literary magazines" with circulations in three or even two digits,
published by universities or the equivalent of two guys in a garage.
Nothing wrong with that, per se, but it’s incredibly obvious that today
having a "career" in writing short fiction and reaching out to a large
audience on a regular basis simply isn’t possible.

Let’s be clear: I like short stories and I both read and write them. But we wouldn’t need a Save the Short Story
campaign if it wasn’t in trouble. Let us not play pretend, let us not
close our eyes and stick our fingers in our ears and make believe the
art form that once provided an income for a multitude of professionals
isn’t becoming (or hasn’t become) irrelevant to the population at
large. The short story is not a healthy art form, but rather a once
mighty appendage of the greater literary body that’s been gradually
severed off and reduced until all that remains is a single lonely
ligament, desperately clinging for all its worth.

Thus the Monty Python Black Knight reference that follows.  And thus my subject.  What is it, exactly, that we’re all doing wrong?  Depending on how you look at the form, and the criteria you then choose for whether it’s "healthy" or "smells like someone died" (yes!), it’s easy to argue.  More people writing stories?  Check, or at least probably check.  Fewer "big" magazines paying good coin for the stories?  Check.  More "garage" magazines publishing stories?  Check.  Double digit subscriber lists?  Check.  Back and forth we go.

But it’s hard to get around the fact that many fewer collections of stories come out each year than novels, and that those story collections rarely see the same sort of sales numbers as even your midlist literary fiction authors.  Why?  Why didn’t The Dead Fish Museum sell like mad?  It’s excellent, through and throughWhat is it about stories that don’t make you reach for your wallets?  Do we blame the publishers, with misguided/lackluster marketing?  Because: if you want to reach a population not interested in choosing reading over more immediate, short-attention-span-supporting pastimes, wouldn’t a short story be a good start?  We can also blame ourselves: what did you buy more of last year?  What can you find more of, for free, on the internet?  Why are we making it available for free?  Nobody sensible will read all of Beautiful Children in a PDF file, but a three to five page story?  Absolutely.  Nearly all of the new stories in a new collection (of old and new stuff) forthcoming can be found in various places online, either right there or lodged in a Google cache.  There’s the entire "maybe" audience gone; all that’s left is the hard core dudes that would buy the thing anyway. 

Anyway, this is leading nowhere in particular, except that I simultaneously feel that pain and am disgusted by it; I wish short stories would become popular, but like you, am standing around bleeding.


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