Marketing short fiction

Douglas Cohen has posted about having a subscription drive for short fiction genre magazines. Now, working on a small press magazine, Shimmer, I certainly support the idea of wanting more people to buy our magazine, but I think that the subscription drive is a matter of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause.

The problem is that fewer people are buying short story magazines these days. As Doug says, “…the short story market is dying. ” The question I don’t see anyone asking is: Why aren’t readers buying short fiction?

I’ll tell you what I think. I think it’s because genre fiction markets tend to be poorly designed and marketed. They tend to have people running them for the love, and not with any understanding of marketing or business. When an editor answers the question, “What’s your target market?” with “I don’t know, I just buy what I like,” that’s an editor who is not going to sell magazines. I’ve heard editors say this. It makes me crazy.

Look people. I made my living for the past seventeen years selling puppet shows. I know about marketing things that people don’t think they want. Things that people have preconceptions about. I’ll tell you that I’ve seen theaters run as non-profits and as for-profits. You know what’s interesting? The for-profits make money. Those folks who say, “I’m not doing this to make money,” won’t make money. When short fiction markets are run as a business with the intention of making money, then you will see them make money. And you will see changes.

Allow me to voice something that I have thought for a while and that no one else seems to be willing to say in public. And lord knows it will not make me popular. Here goes… The design of F & SF is dowdy. It is old and it will not appeal to young readers. It looks the way it did when I was in high school — twenty years ago. Have you picked up Asimov‘s? Analog? Do you see anything that will make a teenager want to own it? Heck, even want to be seen carrying it?

No.

It’s not that I think these magazines need to cater exclusively to teens, but all markets need to recognize that what their target demographic finds appealing changes as new generations grow into that demographic range. Fashions change and we, as a genre, aren’t keeping up with the times.

You want more readers for short fiction? Then answer this question for me: Why don’t you buy short fiction magazines?

Now answer this one. What would it take to make you change your mind about reading short fiction?

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39 Responses

  1. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Thanks, Dad. If it makes you feel better, I did run it by JJA (F&SF’s assistant editor) just to give him a head’s up before I posted it.

    Now answer the questions for me. Why don’t you buy short fiction magazines? What would it take to make you change your mind?

  2. Neil

    I think there are a few mags showing it can be done in the US. I think Realms of Fantasy is pretty good, and then smaller venues like Shimmer and Apex, but I completely understand your frustration, both from the perspective of someone who works in magazine publishing, and as a writer looking for markets.

    In the UK there’s the TTA stable and Postscripts, both independent and relatively modest. That’s kind of it. Crime fiction is so huge over here, it’s puzzling why there aren’t bundles of mags from mainstream publishers producing it. If marketed properly (in the way other consumer magazines are, like lifestyle titles are), I reckon they would be gobbled up.

    I think the problem is probably that fiction publishing is alien to most magazine publishers and book publishers haven’t the attitude to successfully produce regular magazines.

    One area where there is crossover between the two mediums is in children’s publishing, with publishers producing both books and mags to high degrees of success. (Dutch publisher Egmont being a good example in the UK.)

    Someone needs to take a punt, and it would make more sense if it was a magazine publisher.

  3. Nancy Fulda

    clapclapclapclapclapclapclapclapclap.

    Bravo, Mary! I’ve been thinking something very similar, but didn’t know how to say it without coming off the wrong way.

    I want the short fiction market to survive, but I want it to survive as a vibrant community that earns its money fair and square, not as a charity organization like Save the Whales.

  4. Karindira

    I don’t buy short fiction magazines in ANY genre, so the design dowdiness of F&SF magazines isn’t an issue for me. The death of most of the literary short fiction magazines over the last 20 years shows me that this is an across-the-board phenomenon. The problem for me is that I enjoy short fiction the way I enjoy magic tricks. They are very clever, but they rarely offer me what I’m looking for, which is a lengthy, nuanced reading experience. When I do read short fiction, I prefer collections by one writer (if you’re wondering who I like, Lorrie Moore, Munro, O’Connor). I can watch how the writer plays with ideas, returns to themes, varies in style. When I was younger and read lots of F&SF, I enjoyed “year’s best” or themed collections. I enjoyed the issue of “Shimmer” you shared with me because it has stylistic coherence and therefore it offered me a lengthy exploration of beautifully written fantasy works. And it was pleasing to hold. All short fiction magazines should be published in book-sized format, if you ask me, which I think you are. Story always was… Glimmer Train is… I think that works.

  5. Cat Rambo

    I do subscribe and buy, so I can’t speak to that, but I wanted to say what good point you’re making — I rarely see marketing in the F&SF world that seems particularly effective (although there’s some) and sometimes it seems as though people are making choices that would make a professional marketer scream and tear her/his hair out.

  6. Jenna

    *slow clapping building to thunderous applause*

    I’d say more, but my experience as a subscriber to genre magazines is sadly out-of-date mostly due to the fact that I got bored with what I was receiving in the mail every month. I let the subscriptions lapse because I didn’t and don’t see the point in supporting an allegedly avant garde genre that fails to change with the times.

    There are a few magazines that seem to get it, though, and while I’m not going to support the stagnant, perhaps this is the time to subscribe (and not just buy in the stores) the magazines I think are doing things right.

  7. Jeremy Tolbert

    I agree completely. I think they’re failing for other reasons too, but if they did what you’re talking about, I don’t think they would be failing so badly.

  8. -d-

    The last book I bought, and the first since “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” is “Numerical Recipes in C++.” That should give you a clue as to why I don’t buy short fiction. The only time I have to read fiction is when I’m waiting on the dentist or the doctor or the mechanic, and then only because I don’t have a laptop. Oh, and in airports, which is where I bought “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” I still haven’t finished that book, but not because it isn’t fascinating, but because I haven’t flown that much lately.
    Also, longer arms or better eyes would help.
    But; when I do read fiction, I prefer short fiction because I hate putting a book down in mid story. Putting down a non-fiction book is easy – it usually falls to the floor just as my chin hits my chest.

  9. Aliette de Bodard

    Yep–definitely agree (also about the post not making you new friends)
    I’m not a big fan of the design of F&SF either (though the main reason I’m not suscribing is that the stories they publish don’t appeal much to me). Well-designed mags? Among those I’ve seen, Interzone, Shimmer and ROF are the best.
    Now answer this one. What would it take to make you change your mind about reading short fiction?
    Er, mainly cheaper post and package…A subscription to France is 1.5 times a standard one minimum). For me, it’s not really a design issue (but keep in mind that I don’t pay much attention to appearances–whether in clothes, books, magazines…)

  10. Brad Beaulieu

    I agree with you, Mary, that marketing (physical packaging, at least) is a cause, but it’s certainly not the only one, or even the biggest. I want to say that the biggest cause is competition. There are many, many more venues fighting for people’s entertainment dollars than there were even fifteen years ago, and that trend is only going to continue. Also, I believe people’s allotted time for entertainment has also gone down (though I have no facts to back this one up). In addition to those problems, the competition inside the industry has gone way up. There are many, many more niches in fiction than there were in the golden age, and each niche has many more titles to choose from.

    Here are some interesting stats from Tom Doherty, quoted from this interview on SciFi.com:

    When we look at why people read books, a Gallup poll said that 27 percent buy because of the author, and 26 percent buy on the recommendation of a friend or relative, and 24 percent on physical packaging. From there, it dropped way down to 8 percent for bestsellers. A lot of people want to read what’s in, or they figure if it’s that popular it must be good. Six percent for advertising, that broke down 3 percent for magazine, 1 percent each for radio, television, newspaper. OK, if you’re going to market a book and you get 1 percent for radio and 24 percent for physical packaging, you want to put that package in front of a lot of people.

    I realize that these stats are for novels, not short fiction, but I think it shows the mindset of buyers when it comes to fiction in general. It’s interesting (and in support of your point) that packaging accounts for 24% of the reason for purchasing a novel. The other statistics also mean that the package is really the only portion of marketing the publisher has reasonable control of (other than choosing their authors wisely).

    Doherty goes on to talk about getting that package that you spent so much time and effort on in front of enough customers so that it can do its thing, i.e. sell itself.

    So how do we change people’s minds about short fiction? I don’t have a good answer for that. As they say, if it were easy… I don’t think, though, that better layouts are enough. There is still the problem of getting the product in front of the customer, which is a much tougher problem to solve. And even then, there is a bias against the short form. I’m not really sure why this is. Based on the Gallup poll’s stats, it’s easy to see that the author plays a large part in why you might buy a particular product. A short fiction market might have a draw by having a big name on their cover, but the buyer is also going to have to “risk” their money by getting a large percentage of unknown authors along with the one they’re interested in. If I could buy a zine filled with seven authors for five bucks or a novel from one of my favorite authors for eight, which one am I going to buy? Probably the novel. I have no idea how to overcome that hurdle, but I do know that the beauty of the product is not going to sway me. That’s not to say that the design won’t sway me when I’m ready to buy short fiction, only that it doesn’t help when deciding over long vs. short form.

    I do like your point on marketing to the younger audience, though. Isn’t that why large companies spend so much money on the younger age brackets, so that by the time their buying habits are set they will have incorporated Brand X into it? Cross marketing could be useful here. Maybe short fiction could be given away with some other product, like computer games, it might help. That kind of model would have to be a loss leader style of marketing, though, because I don’t think anyone would pay extra for a piece of fiction along with the latest Halo title.

  11. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Well, for a post I was nervous about making, this isn’t a bad set of responses. The thing I want to make clear is that I don’t think it is simply a matter of fixing design and marketing–I think that’s a big step. The bigger problem is that we haven’t been asking the right questions.

  12. David de Beer

    g’lord, I’m just off the flea-king’s blog about this issue, what is this? the new hotbutton topic? (I better make a blog, don’t want to be left behind!)

    agreed with Aliette re: cheaper postage. I pay almost 1.5 times what US readers do.
    That would help; incidentally, Shimmer, Asimovs, ROF and F&SF are the cheapest of all the mags, to me.

    Far as I’m concerned, you hit the nail 100% on the head re: target markets.

    It’s not just a matter of marketing, it’s also for me when I read -what does mag A give me that mag B doesn’t? If I am satisfied with mag A, why would I look at B?

    Know what the most impressive thing about Jason Sizemore and Brett Savory is? To take a look down history lane and see how they’ve managed and grown their magazines (Apex and ChiZine).
    Those two have a chance to still be around when a lot of other hotshots are done and dust.

    I’m willing to wager a few things:

    1) The short fiction field is tottering on the edge of the abyss about as much as Norman Spinrad’s obituaries predict the entire SF field is;
    2) Nothing can be learned about the health of the market due to the excessive failure of numerous magazines right now -most of them are managed by pea-brained twits;
    3)this is not really new;
    4) The wheel turns as the wheel will;
    5) short fiction is simply not as popular as novel fiction;
    6)advertise, marketing, advertise, marketing.

    there’s a post earlier which had me in stitches:

    >the way I enjoy magic tricks. They are very clever, but they rarely offer me what I’m looking for, which is a lengthy, nuanced reading experience
    > can watch how the writer plays with ideas, returns to themes, varies in style

    hehe, this is exactly what most people so far are accusing short fiction of doing too much!
    oh, what a world we live in!

    incidentally, I think you’re being overcautious here. There’s nothing you’ve said here that could possibly offend GVG or JJA anymore than some of the flak they’ve had to field this year. Sides, I am not certain that they are, in fact, averse to people takin an interest and making suggestions on how to improve their magazine. It’s just that often it turns out to be artillery attacks on them. Or at least on Gordon.

    “And lo! in the year 2075 SF writers sat around and, as is their want, bemoaned the state of affairs. ‘Gordon van Gelder is upon us!’ they growled. ‘Who’s Gordon van Gelder’ asked a young whippersnapper. And the oldsters laughed, patted him on his head and said, not unkindly, ‘Oh, it’s not a person. It’s an old school SF slang term that we use to describe when stuff is not to our liking.’And the youngster ohhhed! and then sat around and listened to his elders pine for the good old days, when stuff was so much better, and publishing was so much easier, and editors were kind and merry and took youngsters under their wings and nurtured them, and actually *le gasp* edited. And, on that note, they settled down to critique and kicked the youngster out to fetch the crumbs.”

    >The design of F & SF is dowdy

    to date, Mary, you have said the only criticism that I fully agree with, and do not feel the slightest measure of doubt in. The design could use an overhaul.

  13. Reader

    (posting anonymously since I have submissions out!)

    Last year, after not having read short fiction in ages, I subscribed to F&SF, Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, just to get an idea of what the market was like. One issue of Asimov’s was enough to convince it wasn’t a magazine I would enjoy (it was a hard sell anyway since I rarely read SF these days).

    I read three issues of F&SF, and I enjoyed only 2 stories out of the three issues. Now I have a pile of unread issues, and I’m not renewing my subscription. It’s not that I’m not a reader. I read about 80 books a year. It’s that I wasn’t enjoying what I was reading.

    Realms of Fantasy is the only magazine I always read. Its stories are more to my taste. Usually I’ll enjoy 2 stories out of each issue, not a great track record and not enough to make me favor the magazine over a novel, but enough to keep me reading. I like the feel and look of the magazine, and I like that the stories are illustrated.

    F&SF and Asimov’s are unpleasant to read because of their format. No illustrations, small print. These things matter to me.

    Format issues aside, the real problem with all the short story magazines is they tend not to print the kind of stories I like to read. I like fun, pulpy stories, and no one seems to publish those. Has the market for them vanished? The stories that are getting published strike me as a hybrid of the SFF and literary genres. They are idea-based rather than character based, and they’re often dark and depressing. Where’s the fun? If I want depressing, all I need to do is open the newspaper. Where’s the escapism? That’s what I want, when I read fantasy, and these magazines don’t deliver it. (Realms of Fantasy comes closest, of the three.)

    It surprises me that the short story market is so radically different from the novel market, which is still heavy on fun and escapism.

  14. David de Beer

    > I like fun, pulpy stories, and no one seems to publish those

    Jim Baen’s Universe
    Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
    (these are the best bets, it is exactly what they do most of)
    Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
    Blood, Blade and Thruster
    The Town Drunk
    Spacesuits and Sixguns
    Alienskin

    Shimmer is worth a look (print payment)
    and so too Abyss & Apex (online and free)

    Lone Star does this sometimes.
    There’s also something called Space Opera, or something, go to:
    http://benpayne.livejournal.com,

    search for the links to Last Short Story, and scroll until you find the references. The 4 reviewers love that mag.

    there are others, they do exist, more so than ones leaning towards complex & literary themed.

  15. Slushmaster

    Well my post led to yours, and you haven’t made any enemies here. In fact, I applaud what you’re saying. It’s good that we examine the market in various ways and ask the right questions.

    We all know that of the people that are subscribing now some will let their subscriptions lapse come next year. But some of them will find some magazines they want to stick with, and that’s great. So I’m happy with my choice to make my post, ESPECIALLY when someone like you comes along and makes the post you do. A subscription drive of this sort is more than just about subscriptions. It’s about calling attention to a problem. And you’re elaborating on what some may view as one of the chief problems. Obviously you care about short fiction a great deal. And in the long-term, should people choose to heed your words of wisdom, you may be helping a lot more than little old me.

    Kudos.

  16. Patrick

    I admit that I have almost zero time to do the marketing I’d LIKE to do for Talebones (since I’m just one guy) and although the mag has been around 12 years, but it’s always been an issue to issue struggle to keep on top of it, and to make it grow.

    Readers ARE slow to subscribe. There’s no doubt about it. I’m the same–I dropped a few subscriptions because I wasn’t reading them. (Ha, reading the first few pages of 100s of other stories instead!)

  17. Mary Robinette Kowal

    David and Aliette: Part of the reason Shimmer offers an e-version of the magazine is precisely so we had a low-cost option.

    Anonymous Reader: I hear ya. I’ve got several subs out right now. You’ve raised an interesting point–I wonder how many of the magazines are catering to the industry rather than to their readers, you know? I mean, to win awards one thinks of publishing “groundbreaking” and “original” work, but that’s not necessarily what people want to read. It all goes back to knowing who your audience is.

    And David de Beer has given you an excellent list of other fiction markets (thanks for mentioning Shimmer).

    O’ Slushmaster Doug, it is good to see you here. I think the subscription drive is a good idea, because despite my “ask the right questions” post, you are right that the people in the industry need to support it. We were all readers before we were writers, I’ll wager.

    Patrick: When you are settled in the new house, let me talk to you about ways to increase manpower and marketing.

  18. Mr Radley

    Yes, Mary, understanding your audience is critical. But let’s step back a moment and consider–snazzy graphics and layouts aside–that perhaps the real issue is television and movies appeal to far more people than books and short story collections do. That, and people are not making the time to read, or they simply don’t have much time. I work with too few people who read for pleasure. It’s very sad.

    Furthermore, the internet is fast becoming the source for printed text and video — blogs, vlogs, facebook (if that counts as media, and I think it certainly does for many young people). Shimmer, with her fantastic graphics, has her low-cost, electronic PDF option, of course, and it actually looks just fine on my PDA, but so few people do any real reading on a PDA, and reading Shimmer on a computer screen pales in comparison to reading the printed version, which I can take with me anywhere I go. But even still, kids these days want to interact more with their purchases. They want to feel a part of the product, like they do with blogs, and YouTube, as if their opinion counts. Magazines, even electronic ones, without that capacity for user interaction built in, are old-fashioned to them. Graphics isn’t going to help.

    If you live in big city with ample public transport you can read while travelling, but everyone else has to drive to work, up to an hour and sometimes more; since it’s incredibly daft and dangerous to read a book or magazine while driving, the “reader”, if she wishes, must listen to their stories on CD or similar. When I lived in the States, my journey from home to work was one hour and fifteen minutes. That was two and half hours where I couldn’t read. Such a waste of time. Editors and publishers should consider doing a hard sell for car pooling if they want to sell more mags. But you can’t listen to graphics and fantastic artwork.

    We also live in a super size fast food culture. Everyone expects massive quantities of product for next-to-nothing prices.

    So, nowadays, magazines with the greatest content in the world will simply be unable to compete for people’s time when the “audience” hasn’t much time to give them. Because people are spending their time on the computer, or in front of the TV watching inane reality shows to satisfy their voyeuristic urges, their attention spans dwindling by degrees every day to the 6 minutes between commercials.

    Graphics and layout only goes so far to catch the eye and snag new customers; it is vital, yes, but you need to first convince people to change their habits.

    Or the magazine industry simply needs to change itself and produce a product that the majority can consume easily and cheaply, rather than supplying product to niche market. There is no one good solution. But en masse, magazines are failing to understand their audience, because their audience is failing to understand the magazines propensity towards old-fashioned entertainment. I don’t like that, but I can tell you it’s how the younger people I know feel about books and mags. Unless of course, it’s a teen mag that all about nothing at all. They always have time for that tripe.

  19. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Mr. Radley: I totally agree that graphics are not the whole answer — which is why I talk about “design” and “marketing.” The graphics chosen are part of that, but only a tiny part. Design covers format, medium, and the other aspects than just graphics.

    But en masse, magazines are failing to understand their audience, because their audience is failing to understand the magazines propensity towards old-fashioned entertainment. I don’t like that, but I can tell you it’s how the younger people I know feel about books and mags. Unless of course, it’s a teen mag that all about nothing at all. They always have time for that tripe.

    Yes, exactly, this is my point. And you’ve brought up another one. Teen mags have excellent marketing, as do lifestyle magazines. People will buy magazines about “nothing at all.” Now, consider this, that the summer blockbuster films tend to be SF or F. People are interested in the genre, but the option of choosing a short fiction magazine as their distraction rather than say, “Real Simple” doesn’t occur to them because the marketing is failing. If attention spans are shrinking, then the desire for short fiction over novels should increase or at least, it’s a good angle to play while marketing.

    I’d also agree that audio fiction is an increasingly important area. One of the things I think people tend to forget is that fiction used to be largely read aloud. The trend to audio books isn’t a new fad, I think, I believe it’s part of the way we are wired. How do most of us start out with stories? Our parents read to us.

    As you say, there is no one good solution. What I’m saying has so little to do with graphics and layout and so much more to do with understanding the audience.

  20. Dave Robinson

    Some very interesting points on here. The one I found most interesting was the repeated point of people putting the digests down and ignoring them, while reading Realms of Fantasy. To put matters in perspective, I’ve got subscriptions to the e-versions of all three digests, but rarely read RoF.

    It’s not that I don’t support RoF, I remember looking for it and buying the first issue when it came out. What’s stopped me from reading it are primarily design and layout issues. I find it’s just plain hard to read. The digests may have small print and insufficient illustrations for a young reader, but the print is legible. RoF does things like put a story in the middle with thin white print on black background, which my eyes just can’t read.

    We need to find a happy medium in design, something that can grab the younger readers: If the golden age of the genre is thirteen, we need to grab thirteen year-olds. Having said that, we can’t forget the only way to have the stories read is to print them legibly.

    Thanks.

  21. Mr Radley

    I see your point. Teen mags do have excellent marketing, very much tied in with the subject matter they cover. One could argue that it’s the subject matter that ultimately draws them in. One also wonders what that says about people in general…

    Still, I may have read too much into your comment about SF&F’s design. I always kinda liked it for its dowdiness (I might be old-fashioned — heck I really like old Victorian mags), though I doubt I even noticed. I suppose they could do with a bit of a spruce up. Cynically, even if the SF&F does try a new marketing angle, it’s going to be a very long struggle to win people away from their TVs.

    I’m unsure if telling people that their abysmally low attention spans are ideal for reading short fiction, though. 🙂 I mean, I like it, but ya know, it could backfire. I’d try to appeal to the “busy” people, those who have little time, say, for instance, those with only 3 to 5 minutes when commercials are on… But hey, I know next-to-nothing about marketing. Still, as a man, I generally understand what many men want in a fiction a magazine:

    1. Hot women on the cover, real photos or drawn artwork, doesn’t matter.
    2. A pull-out centerfold with one or more hot babes.
    3. Something ideal to read while on the toilet–i.e. something that will rest comfortably on my lap, keeping my page in place without my assistance, and it shouldn’t slide off while I’m reading a great story about a guy who saves the day and gets not only the hot woman on the cover but her hot friend(s) in the centerfold as well.

    Bathroom reading. Could be an angle for marketing short fiction. Of course, I doubt that would work as well for women. 😛

  22. Anonymous

    I must stay anonymous too, but as a neo-pro writer with subscriptions to four F mags, I’ve thought a lot about the declining magazine readership in F.

    For me, like for “Reader” above, the major problem with the F magazines is the stories they print. I live for character-driven adventure F, but there are only 2-3 stories a year in F&SF or Realms that deliver that. Black Gate’s quality is too rough for me, and I prefer paper mags over on-line ones like IGMS and Baen’s Universe. Realms and F&SF in general seem more interested in publishing artsy or literary F, the kinds of stories that win awards, even though there are many niche mags like Lady Churchill’s that already cover those styles.

    I think the perfect counter-example of this problem with the F mags is Analog. They print a narrow SF subgenre that no one else cares for. They don’t print cutting-edge or artsy stories, and they win way fewer awards than other mags. But they’ve consistently had the highest sales and subscription #s in the entire SF/F field, for over a decade. The fans of that subgenre know they can count on Analog to provide that kind of stories every month, regardless of whatever trends may be winning awards.

    Where is the Analog-style, narrow-subgenre magazine for epic F? Realms was originally founded to be that, but it has morphed into a junior F&SF. Where is the Analog for swords & sorcery? Black Gate is trying, but their consistency still isn’t pro level. Where are the F mags with a subgenre focus that might appeal to the hordes of epic F novel readers? If a F mag could tap into that huge market, this declining subscription trend might turn around.

  23. Slushmaster

    You don’t have to subscribe to or like Realms of Fantasy, but please don’t say we’re something we’re not. Realms of Fantasy is meant to explore all areas of fantasy, hence the magazine’s title. Shawna gave fair warning about this in her editorial for the very first issue. We were never meant to be a magazine for strictly epic fantasy. And not all the stories in the first issue are of this sort. Having read more than half the first issue (working on the other half), I know this for certain.

    And we’re not a junior F&SF. The fact that we’re full-sized glossy, provide color illustrations, only publish fantasy, are bi-monthly instead of monthly, and our non-fiction tends to focus almost exclusively on fantasy makes us a very different market from F&SF. You can’t compare two magazines going strictly by their fantasy stories, when both offer additional content and present themselves in very different ways.

    Apples and oranges. And I say all of this as someone who’s favorite kinds of fantasy are epic and s&s forms. Slush for a magazine sometime and you’ll quickly discover how hard it is to find quality tales of these sorts in the shorter form …

  24. Dave Robinson

    I have to agree with Anonymous above. I’ve been reading the mags for thirty years now, and thanks to the magic of back issues I’ve read a lot of earlier stuff, including the entire decade of the fifties for Astounding, Galaxy, and If.

    Having said that, I’ve found that over the last three decades, Analog has provided the most consistently enjoyable reading experience of any magazine I’ve read. Both F&SF and Asimovs have been much spottier in my experience, as has Realms of Fantasy.

    I’m another unpublished, as yet, writer but feel this is important enough that I don’t want to remain anonymous.

  25. David de Beer

    Doug, it is worth thinking on that for many people there is a misperception that epic fantasy=fantasy; this, is perhaps something I am more in favor of actively addressing, re: epic fantasy as sub-genre of fantasy, not fantasy entire.

    On another note, while I respect the fact that people are commenting anonymously, nothing any of them has said looks to me like it could possibly give offense. And yet, the fear is there, as I have mentioned in other places and times. The fear that editors mark your names when you give feedback that is critical and negative.
    The net result being that a blanket of silence is cast over short fiction. Again, this is something more worthwhile addressing.

    And, I am going to have to say that when the term “literary” is equated with Asimov’s and F&SF, that also represents a misperception of both literary as well as magazines that genuinely publish literary SF.

    Although they may overlap, there is still a vast world of difference between Cemetery Dance and Chizine; Asimov’s and Trabuco Road, or F&SF and Ideomancer. Fantasy magazine, vs ROF for that matter (neither of these two I have read, but this how I understand the guidelines, and from what people have said about them).

    All those magazines fill roles and niches, and have target audiences; those audiences can and do overlap. They do not, all the time, do so.

  26. Slushmaster

    Dave,

    I agree with everything you’re saying. I’ve already mentioned on my blog that I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me on these issues, so their fears are unfounded, at least with me. And seriously, most editors are not vindictive people. Two years at Realms of Fantasy and my shit-list comprises a whopping two people.

  27. Slushmaster

    Oh, to clarify, I’m agreeing here with David de Beer. There were two Daves posting back-to-back.

  28. David de Beer

    I do have much too common a name. Have been thinking I should change it to something more catchy, like Fluffles McCoy.

  29. Stephen H. Segal

    Mary — well, you know that I agree with you. These ideas are driving a lot of what we’re doing with the big revamp of WEIRD TALES that’s started this year and continuing into our 85th anniversary.

    There is a fundamental truth that affects ALL subscription-based entertainment series, from fiction magazines to symphony orchestras to theater companies, and it is this: Attrition is a bitch. Your existing audience can only get smaller if you don’t consciously reach out to make effective appeals to new potential audiences.

    With WEIRD TALES, what that means is that we recognize the importance of our current readership, but at the same time we also recognize that there’s a couple entire generations of goth kids and fantasy lovers who’ve never had the opportunity to notice the magazine and fall in love with its awesome stories like they should, because if they ever did see it in a bookstore, it looked too much like a relic from 1950.

    That’s why we’re determined to rebuild the magazine into something that still showcases the sorts of fiction that WEIRD TALES has always been devoted to — but, at the same time, makes it feel and taste and look fresh and new and urgent. Like something that would be stocked and sold at the kinds of stores where younger people shop. Not giving up on the history — just continuing to move it forward.

  30. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Dave Robinson: Thanks for commenting. I’d totally agree with you. I, personally, find Realms of Fantasy overdesigned, but I tend to be a minimalist in design.

    Analog keeps coming up as a satisfying read–I think part of that has to do with the relatively narrow focus of the magazine. It’s much easier, I think, to describe the type of stories Analog is looking for and so if you like that type of story, then you’re more likely to be satisfied with every issue than with a magazine with a broader editorial stance.

    There’s nothing wrong with targeting a narrow market.

    I’m glad that Stephen brought up Weird Tales. I was going to point to them and Fantasy as magazines that I think are doing a good job of being forward looking. Weird Tales, in particular, is doing a fairly smooth transition that seems to be opening it to new audiences without alienating the old. I’d be curious to know how your numbers are doing since the redesign — if you can share them.

  31. Slushmaster

    I’ve also been particularly impressed with the redesign of Weird Tales. I have every intention of ordering what will be Ann’s first issue. From there, assuming I like the issue (and I have a feeling I will) it’s almost a certainty I’ll subscribe to WT as well. Hell, Conan brought me into the genre and that character first appeared in WT back in 1930. And besides Robert E. Howard, the magazine also gave us H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Lieber, and countless others. I can’t wait to see who they deliver in the 21st century, and in this nice new design. Long live Weird Tales!

    And as long as we’re discussing design, I think Andy Cox is doing a tremendous job with Interzone. I’d feel this way even if they weren’t publishing me. 🙂

  32. Stephen H. Segal

    Mary: It’s way too soon to be able to tell anything about our newsstand sales — circ reports come in dribs and drabs over time — and in any case the real proving grounds will come over the next year as we work to get the revamped mag into entirely new venues. That said: When we ran our half-price subscription deal online this spring, based around our announcement of the redesign, we saw monthly subscription orders increase sevenfold over the previous year’s average. And that was just marketing to the dedicated SF fanbase. When time comes for our Halloween promotion, we’ll be ready to reach farther afield with the publicity effort.

  33. Stephen H. Segal

    Doug: Thanks, and I want to enthusiastically echo your opinion of Interzone. (They’re NOT publishing me.) To my eye, it’s far and away the most smartly conceived and designed science fiction magazine currently on newsstands.

  34. Mr Radley

    Interzone definitely appeals! Much could be learned from them…

    (I was only joking about the bathroom reading thing, by the way.)

  35. Slushmaster

    I’m also very curious about the premiere of Black Static, Andy’s dark fantasy/horror magazine, that used to be The Third Alternative

  36. David de Beer

    can everyone do me a favor? when Ann’s Weird Tales comes out, can y’all do a quick blog, just a rundown on what the mag is about, and the kind of fiction it does, and how it looks?

    I’m very interested in WT, but hesitant since I am not sure what it is that they publish.
    “Phantasmagoric, gothic fantasy for the 21st century” doesn’t tell me much, I’m afraid.
    thanx.