Realities of Short Fiction Economics

The economic reality of short fiction publishing that authors and editors are both afraid to admit is that supply outstrips demand on an astronomical level.  Even token markets get more subs than they can publish. Only editors who insist on fiction having value try to pay reasonable rates, even if in many cases it’s not economical for them. Even Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld has expressed some frustration with the financial realities of running a pro-paying magazine.

Authors want to be paid, of course, but authors also want to be published. Some (many) authors REALLY want to be published–they care more about having their story out there than making money. And the ratio of authors/stories to editors/publications? It makes it so that stories lack value in an economic sense.

There’s no scarcity.

At all.

Even when there is quality, there is not scarcity, so there’s not a lot of economic incentive to pay “pro” rates [especially given the often decent-to-high quality of fiction/authors willing to accept less].

The scarcity of short fiction comes in name recognition, not the fiction itself. There are a gorillion amazing stories, but for instance, there is only one Sky Hernstrom–with only one Sky Hernstrom creating a limited supply of Sky Hernstrom stories, the value on those stories becomes a premium. If I can pay Sky more for a story than another guy because I want to be the pub carrying Sky Hernstrom stories, then that’s where the value comes into fiction, not through the slush pile of great undiscovered and unpublished fiction we see every year.

The addendum to this is that if we’ve published you once, there’s a much higher chance we will publish you in the future, because a) we like your stories, b) your stories become part of our “brand” so to speak and c) if our readers like your stories, they will buy us to read them.

Some have suggested that the only viable option for authors is a sort of donation/patronage system for their writing. And that, I gather, is what Clarke and other SFF pubs are doing to keep themselves afloat–small donors, subscribers, and whales subsidize the many non-paying readers like the ones Clarke is struggling to monetize. For an unknown author, building that level of patronage may be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be the only option.

Truly devoted fictioneers have the tools available so that they can really scrounge for every publication out there they could possibly submit to–Ralan, Duotrope, and Submission Grinder are a few examples of such tools.

Publishing across many outlets is a great way of increasing visibility to the point where releasing periodic anthologies is feasible.

As much as I’d like to publish everything a few of our authors put out, it would be bad for them because it would restrict the visibility of their works to our audience.

If they published 4 stories with us, they would have 4 stories that were seen by the same set of eyes more or less, but if they published 4 stories in 4 magazines, they’d have reached as many as 4 times as many readers, including those who would be interested in catching up on what they missed in a collected anthology.

If you’re interested in submitting to Cirsova Magazine, we pay semi-pro rates at approximately .0125 per word for short fiction up to 10,000 words. We will be opening in Mid-October for submissions. More details are here.

Our latest issue, the Cirsova Summer Special is available now, and our upcoming Fall issue will be out September 16th. If you’re interested in submitting fiction to us, it will be helpful to read at least one issue to get an idea of the kinds of stories that we are looking for!

Cirsova Summer Special Out Today! + Tangent Online Review

Our Summer Special is Out Now!

Check out this review on Tangent Online.

The Ghost of Torreón
By EDD VICK and MANNY FRISHBERG
A strange experiment gone wrong has granted Professor Rigoberto “Beto” Caminante an extraordinary power—the ability to “ride” radio waves!

The Bullet From Tomorrow
By MISHA BURNETT
A mysterious visitor claiming to be from the future has a simple job for Private Investigator Butch Norton: sabotage an airplane to prevent World War III!

The Star-God’s Grave
By SCHUYLER HERNSTROM
A young sorcerer’s apprentice steals a starship from his master… only to be pressed into the service of a pair of space hussars to undertake a perilous quest!

Bleed You Dry
By SU-RA-U
A simple news assignment—talk to the reprobate son of an aloof dying billionaire—leads one small-town reporter down a trail of death and madness!

The Last Fortune of Ali al’Ahmar
By REV. JOE KELLY
No search for treasure is ever easy, but the hoard of a legendary pirate sought by a shifty client steeped in sorcery may prove tricky for even Sudah’s tough crew!

Halcyon
By CAROLINE FURLONG
An interstellar war has spilled onto the planet Halcyon, where humanity finds an unexpected ally in their fight against an alien race and their sinister masters!

front cover only

Best Short Fiction (Only Part of the Hugos I’m Gonna Get Mad About)

For the most part, the outcome of the Hugo Awards on Saturday did not surprise me. While I’m bummed that Ku Kuru Yo and Castalia House didn’t win, it was still expected, and for the most part, I wasn’t particularly invested in a lot of the categories.

Best Short Fiction was really the only point of outrage for me. I would have loved to see Chuck Tingle* take the prize in that category.  I would have been fine with one of the other stories winning, and even No Award would not have been as terrible, given the circumstances.  But the notion that Cat Pictures Please was the best that the Science Fiction field had to offer makes me want to dash my brains out.  It was almost kept off the ballot except that one Rabid Puppy pick withdrew their nomination, allowing Cat Pictures to back into a slot.

Now, for a minute consider this comment left on a Guardian article:

“Science Fiction is defined by Clarke’s Three Laws, Fantasy is defined by Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories.

That is the end of the matter.

If the right-wing want “swashbuckling fun”, they can create their own damn genre. No, sf/f has never been about “inclusiveness”. It has almost exclusively been left-of-centre visions. Right-of-centre visions are more often found in pay-to-pray megachurches.”

Ignoring the political idiocy of the Guardian commenter, the notion that SFF is not supposed to be swashbuckling fun MUST be pervasive given the support for this sort of stuff.  This change in short fiction was already well under way by the 1970s, as was apparent in some of the worst stories I read in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

And consider that Cat Pictures Please is a preachy little piece about an AI that outs a flimsy stereotype of a closeted gay minister cuz he’ll be so much happier out of the closet.  This is what is considered the best in Short Science Fiction? This is why, while it stands to have so much potential, especially in a tablet-happy reader market, SFF short fiction still feels stuck in a rut.This is why, despite my love of SFF short fiction, I don’t waste my time on the contemporary ‘big name’ publications.

It’s not just Cat Pictures Please, or the laughably bad If You Were a Dinosaur My Love – plenty of Puppy picks and favorites last year and this were twee, saccharine little puffs of winks and cuddles fit more for a volume of Chicken Soup for the SF Soul than to be called “Best Short Story”.  I’ve made no bones ::pun intended:: about the fact that my disappointment with some of the Puppy picks was part of what inspired me to try to promote Heroic Fantasy and pulpy Science Fiction.

Are we regressives? In the sense that we’d like to drag genre fiction kicking and screaming back to a place where it was fun and awesome, I suppose so. SFF at its best should be inspirational and aspirational. There is so much potential, as I’ve said, for this kind of science fiction. People are hungry for new stories, stories they can read in their spare time, on the go, on vacation, and on their tablets—short fiction is PERFECT for that.

By supporting Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, not only are you helping us fight back against the notion that science fiction and fantasy should not be “swashbuckling fun”, you are supporting authors who create swashbuckling fantasy and science fiction by enabling us to buy their stories while paying competitive rates.

*:Worth noting that Chuck Tingle’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion has done far more for mainstream gay acceptance within the SFF community beyond capital “F” Fandom than a thousand little softly bigoted pieces like Cat Pictures Please could dream to. Also, never forget that despite the faux show of solidarity, Tingle was No Awarded after having initially been bullied and told he needed to drop out by N.K. Jemisin who went on to win Best Novel this year.

Black Gate Magazine Spotlights Cirsova in Their Summer Short Story Roundup

Last we saw them, with Issue #1back in April, I wrote “If this is what the first issue looks like, I expect future ones will blow me away.” Having just plowed through the 108 pages of #2, count me blown away.

One of the ongoing conversations about writing these days is the place of narrative storytelling. Personally, I’m for more of it, and it’s clearly something editor P. Alexander favors as well. If you prefer stories like tone poems, or with deep introspection, this is probably not the publication for you. Action, adventure, and vivid scene-setting are the hallmarks of every story.

Read the whole thing here: https://www.blackgate.com/2016/08/16/summer-short-story-roundup-part-one/

Or better yet, back us on Kickstarter for issues 3 & 4!

Short Reviews – Mutiny, Larry Offenbecker

Mutiny by Larry Offenbecker appeared in then Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories. 

Exactly what it says on the tin, Mutiny is a story about a space-ship captain who is confronted with a mutiny while en route to deliver important medical supplies to Jupiter.

A young officer has been given his first command, and the first officer is resentful. First Officer’s old captain sailed the stars by instinct, while this new guy talks about how math and science are crucial to space navigation. He also thinks he should be captain because he’s been sailing the space ways much longer than this new guy.

Well, the first mate takes over, gets the ship damaged in a space storm, has to set down on a planet where the ship eventually starts sinking into quicksand. The captain’s quick thinking and sciency know-how is able to get them out of the jam. Luckily in the sci-fi navy, mutineers aren’t shot, hanged or marooned, so they’re all able to have a good laugh about it afterward, with the first officer declaring the hero to be the best darn tootin’est captain ever.

This one was pretty cheesy, but it did have one really cool scene: when the captain is stuck in the middle of the quicksand lake in his space suit, he uses his heat gun to melt sand into a long glass rod that fuses to a rock so he can pull himself out.

It also carries with it a lot of war-time subtext, reminding sailors both that math and science will be important if they want to progress through the ranks and have their own ship someday and that you should respect and obey your COs.

Larry died only a few years ago. He sounds like he was one hell of a guy.

 

Cirsova Issue 1 Update! (Submissions)

This is a pretty important update and I will change the FAQ accordingly.

I’ve received some great submissions!  Thanks to everyone who has been sending stuff in.  I’m reading and editing as quickly as I can and I promise to try to get to everyone in a timely manner.

Right now, I can safely say that I am good on Heroic Fantasy submissions.  I still need another good Planetary Romance or two.  If you send me something that is Heroic Fantasy, I will read it and I will consider it, but your best bet on getting bought right now is submitting a story about pirates on Saturn or Venusian gunslingers.

I won’t be buying reprints at this time; in the future, I may consider it, but for the time being, I’m getting enough original submissions that they will be taking priority.

I’ll be looking at acquiring 3 or 4 more stories.  I’d love to get more, but I want to keep cost on the first issue low enough that I can keep the price for print issues down.

So, here’s the plan:

  1. Acquire those last couple stories.
  2. Look into getting some illustrations; I don’t know that I’ll have money to commission illustrations for every story, but I’d like to have at least a couple.
  3. Tweak some layout stuff and figure out what I have in terms of adspace.
  4. Make the cover.
  5. Fill some adspace locally
  6. Kickstart for pre-orders and to fill more adspace.
  7. Make the darn thing and send it out to folks!

Short Reviews – The Martian Circe, Raymond F. Jones

The Martian Circe by Raymond F. Jones appeared in the Summer 1947 Issue of Planet Stories (Vol 3, No 7).

The more “old” science fiction I read, the further the scales fall from my eyes.  While I’m at the tail end of Gen X, I grew up on a lot of 60s and early 70s psychedelic music by way of my parents (my mom is more oldies & classic rock, but my dad is still all about the weird and out there stuff from that era).  So, needless to say, I’ve thought a lot of things in terms of “the psychedelic 70s”.  Yeah, I know the 60s had its share of drugs and psychedelic rock, but it was the SCI-FI psychedelic 70s!  Hawkwind was in search of space, Good Thunder’s moonships were spreading their sails, BOC (NOT Boards of Canada, mind you) were climbing a stairway to the stars, Bowie was praising the supermen of the stars, and Led Zeppelin were singing about Hobbits.

The shocking truth is that Rock & Roll was a good 20+ years behind Science Fiction in terms of psychedelia.  Where would we be if Glenn Miller had demanded of our grandmothers to not drop LSD under the Martian Sea with anyone but he?  The Martian Circe is the 3rd story I’ve read in as many months from the 1940s in which hallucinogenic drugs play a significant role.

Tell you what.  I’m not going to actually review or talk about this story.  I’m just going to show you this picture and tell you to read it.  NOW, GO READ IT NOW!

Martian Circe

Some Thoughts on “The Sad Truth About Short Fiction Magazines”

This article is somewhat disheartening considering my latest endeavor to launch a new Science Fiction market, but it’s certainly not going to stop me or slow me down.

As a one-man operation, I’m a bit limited in what I can do, but the primary goal is to create something that I can be proud of, the authors involved can be proud of and a sci-fi loving audience will enjoy.

Offering subscriptions is something that I can’t exactly do at the moment, and frankly, I would be loathe to ask for Patreon donations rather than sell people a worthwhile product; if people like what I put out, they can buy it to support it.  I’d rather someone buy 4 copies and give them to friends than someone kick a donation my way.

One of the things that the article points out is that most new publications are focusing on digital only to reduce overhead.  While I am planning on making the Cirsova anthology available digitally, I know how much some people love having something to hold onto.  I think that’s why I’m planning on going the less disposable route and going for something of a hybrid magazine and anthology.  Again, I’d point to something like Flashing Swords!, Swords Against Darkness or (to a lesser extent) Dangerous Visions as example of what I’d like to try to do.

Right now, the only real promises I can make are that Cirsova #1 will be a treasury of high quality enjoyable content and Authors will be paid for it.  Maybe not the rates of the big three, though I’d love to reach that point someday, but as the article points out, those are the only pro-zines out there that aren’t propped up by grants or used as loss-leaders.  Cirsova is coming out of my pocket, so I’d better damn well believe in it and go for being the best of the best with what I’ve got if I’m going to make this work.  So there will be quality.  Sustainability remains to be foreseen, but by golly we’re gonna try!

Later this week: Fortress Europa update, Problem Solving in Dungeon Crawl Classics, and I’ll finally get around to talking about The Martian Circe.