(Not) a Short Fiction Market Renaissance

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Science Fiction Fantasy Writers Association Qualifying Markets Word Cloud, Image Source: KLWagoner.com

I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and one of the presenters mentioned that there is something of a short fiction renaissance market happening right now.  The presenter mentioned that there were more fairly well paying markets for short fiction (speculative–sci-fi/fan) right now and that in the past there used to be only the big three (such as Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog).  As someone who is currently “in the trenches,” I have to take a bit of an issue with that characterization of the market.

With all due respect to the presenters on the podcast, they are named authors.  They don’t have to worry nearly as much about the fierce competition from all of us unnamed authors trying to earn recognition and money in this system.  No matter how much people may say having a recognizable name doesn’t matter, it does.  I received another rejection letter yesterday (it noted that the story was well-written, but the publisher decided not to publish it (one of these days I may do a postmortem on a rejection letter in a blog post, but I digress).  That lowered my average acceptance rate (tracked via Duotrope) to 7.9%,.   Try going to your boss and telling him or her that you have succeeded in 7.9% of your tasks and because you’re doing more than others, you deserve a raise.

Also, what the presenters on the podcast don’t realize because they are both named authors and they don’t have to try to make a living at selling short fiction/this isn’t their primary “gig” so to speak, is that only half of the markets are available at any given time. Sure, there are a lot of markets, but many of the higher paying markets that they are alluding to are either “on hiatus” or “temporarily closed,” or worse yet, “permanently closed.”  Some even have fairly ludicrous submission requirements just to limit the number of submissions that come in.  Nearly half of the places where I’ve submitted stories to in the past are currently unavailable for submissions and those that are available either pay little to no money or are brand new on the market place (& usually can’t afford to pay writers or pay them very much as they have no audience yet).

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Fantasy Scroll Mag Cover (currently listed as DNQ on Duotrope at the time of this writing).  Image Source: nerds-feather.com

For example, Lightspeed, a well paying market is temp. closed and has been for most of the year.  The Leading Edge (where supposedly a couple of the named authors on the podcast got their start as listed in mag’s description on Duotrope) has 0.00% acceptance rate of authors who have tracked their submission through Duotrope and currently has an astounding 444.9 day(!) response time to authors who submit stories to them.  That’s a year and half (approx.) for short-fiction.  Imagine waiting 444.9 days for your next burger and fries!  One magazine is only open for submission 4 weeks out of the year (one week in Apr., June, Sept., and December) and if you miss those periods, too bad.  One magazine is only open for submissions between for about 24 hours every Monday/Tuesday, and I could go on.  Looking at my list of submissions, I see so many Temp. Closed, On Hiatus, Closed, Defunct, and Does Not Qualify (DNQ–the publisher has made some change, no longer lists guidelines, no longer accepts submissions from unagented writers, etc) listings that it gets harder and harder to find places that I haven’t sent the story (that actually pay money).

So, while I enjoy listening to the podcast and I have learned a lot about writing, and being successful in writing, I simply must take issue with the characterization that we’re in short fiction market renaissance.  I respectfully submit, having been in the trenches for way longer, that the waters are as turbulent as ever for writers trying to make a name for themselves through short-fiction markets so as to make the jump to the more lucrative novel writing profession.

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1 Dollar = Four Quarters, Right?

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Dollar Bill and 4 Quarters Image Source: Leeds Radio

So, I just want to make sure that the rules of US commerce haven’t changed?  1 dollar bill still equals four quarters, right?  No one loses money in the exchange–you’re just changing the same amount of money from one form to another, correct?

My question is rhetorical as I know that this is still the case.  I’m just trying to decide when American businesses decided it was not in their interests to change money from one form to another.  I currently have tire with leak–the tire is due for replacement when I take the car in for major surgery (service) in about 2 weeks, so I’m trying to “nurse” the leaky tire along as best I can by making sure that it is filled with air.  Now, when I travel back and forth from school, I try to make sure that the tire is filled because one of the major causes of highway blowouts is under-inflated tires (a tire gets fairly hot at highway speeds because of friction).

Yet, this morning when I stopped at a Service Station in Murfreesboro to fill up the tire, I was told by the cashier that there wasn’t any change in the register.  Not to call the attendant a liar, but having worked retail and having worked at a library’s circulation department that handles money due to fines, fees, etc., I KNOW for a FACT that you don’t start the day without any change.  If it is the fact that you’re afraid to open the register because you might be robbed (as I had to fill up the tire earlier in the week on Wednesday), then you need to take out all services that require COIN-BASED transactions, such as AIR.  I need $1.50 in QUARTERS to complete the transaction, but if I have $1.00 bill AND .50 cents in Quarters, I CAN’T BUY your product even IF I have the money to do so.

THIS is what businesses get wrong, both small and large, mom-and-pop stores and corporations.  They treat the CUSTOMER as some sort of HOST that they can “leach” money off of in order to fatten their bottom line, but then turn around and treat us as the PARASITE to be when we aren’t fulfilling our “host” duties.  The air machine is located on their property.  Even if they don’t see a direct profit from the vendor of the air hose, there is a contract in place in which the gas station sees a small “kickback” for allowing the vendor to place it on their property.  This is how most vending machine operations work.  However, most vending machines today can accept dollar bills and coins, and some, like the ones on campus, can take debit and credit card transactions.

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Air Machine (Coin Operated Only) Image Source: Long Island Weekly

So, even though I had the money to complete the transaction because of an unhelpful (or fearful) attendant and lack of modern technology on the vending machine/Air Machine, I had to risk a highway journey on an under-inflated tire, knowing full well the risk that I was taking.

Don’t Be Evil.  It’s a simple concept that American businesses large and small have simply lost and can’t seem to understand.  It would be far cheaper to make the transaction than risk a lawsuit if something untoward had happened during the journey.  I’m not looking to rob the store with a dollar bill in hand–I’m looking to make a transaction to convert the money that I have from one form into another so that I can use the service that you provide (it is on their property, they advertise the cost, but deny access when the form of the money you have doesn’t match the form that the machine takes, and then deny access again by refusing to change money via a one-to-one equal transaction.

And then businesses and corporations wonder why they then must hire “image/reputation clean-up firms” to massage their online and real world reputation because of their self-damaging practices.  There’s a reason that Comcast Xfinity isn’t just simply Comcast–as the owners so burned customers that they had to “rebrand” the service in order to attract new customers and stay “competitive” in the cable market.  For my part, the gas station has lost a potential customer as I will make sure that I never spend a dime at that particular station again.

You want customers to come back time and time again to buy your products?  I’ve got one simple rule for you: Don’t Be Evil.