Your influence on the world of written fiction?

Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine is running an interesting poll.

Its often posited that there are more writers of science fiction than there are readers. I presume this poll will skew that direction given our user base, but Id love to get as wide a response as possible.

Where do you fit in?

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!

12 Responses

  1. Matt Kressel

    Interesting poll. But I wonder if it might be a bit skewed based on the fact that GUD is a relatively new market and therefore might only be known by writers.

    It would be much more interesting to see the big three or four conduct this poll. I still believe there are more readers than writers, but the ratio is diminishing.

  2. Joe Sherry

    I agree with Matt for much the same reasons, but I’m not sure the ratio is diminishing. I have a hard time believing that there are as many writers as readings.

    But I think that online websites and polls may be skewed because the readers and writers online might be more active in discussing and answering polls.

    I was reading SF/F for years before I felt even a little urge to write.

  3. David de Beer

    it’s hard to say, since I’ll agree with previous comments that the most active people online tend to be writers, but I don’t think the ratio is as big as all like to think.

    What I feel almost like saying is a fact, is that of the shorts writers, there are more writers who only write than there are writers who read shorts as well.

  4. -d-

    I believe that there have to be more readers than writers because all writers were readers before they were writers. If they weren’t, then how would they know that they wanted to write? This would apply to any genre, not just S/F. In order to stay on top of their game, they must still read, then if there is just one reader out there who hasn’t started to write yet, then that makes the statement true that there are more readers than writers.

  5. Matt Kressel

    It’s all speculation (no pun intended) until we see statistics. And these are the questions that people always ask: how many people are reading vs. writing? What is the gender division among readers and writers? Etc. Yet we never seem to do the demographic studies.

  6. David de Beer

    that’s true for reading and writing as a whole, not necessarily shorts specifically.

    So let me rephrase that, since my initial assumption is that GUD was more directly interested from a shorts perspective – for reading/ writing as whole and novels, then yes, there probably are more readers than writers. I’m willing to bet on this being the case in long-form.

    In shorts, no; a common piece of advice given to aspiring writers is to practise writing shorts first, and to keep writing till they get their 3 short fiction sales, since then they can join SFWA, have “broken into” the genre, and can now settle down to the serious, grown-up business of writing novels.
    Following various discussions this year, and a very disappointing turnout on a poll I posted in a number of places, it does seem that there’s significantly more writers who have a lot to say about writign, and they write shorts, but don’t really read them beyond sussing the market.

    In order to stay on top of their game, they must still read,

    not necessarily, that only gives you an idea of what’s out there. There are a number of writers in different genres who are succesful and don’t read the genre they write in (there’s a fantasy romance author specifically, succesful as a writer but dislikes reading it, can’t think of name at present unfortunately). Charlie Stross, someone mentioned to me, doesn’t read all that much, says it’ll take up his writing time. That my be false in his case, but is probably true for a lot of writers.

    Also, there is a case to be made that if you’re not intimately familiar with the genre, only the bare bones, and don’t immerse yourself in current output, you have the advantage of not being influenced by trends and/ or conversations and of course not knowing what’s being done, and what has been done is a kind of freedom as well.

    The current crop of urban fantasy novelists has predominantly not a clue as to the roots and development of their genre, but they’re all published, some are doing very well, and not a few of them will likely set the bar for the next generation.

    In order to stay on top of their game, writers must write; reading is a luxury, not a necessity.

  7. Matt Kressel

    Also, there is a case to be made that if you’re not intimately familiar with the genre, only the bare bones, and don’t immerse yourself in current output, you have the advantage of not being influenced by trends and/ or conversations and of course not knowing what’s being done, and what has been done is a kind of freedom as well.

    This is so true. Quite often, I see in short fiction the same re-hashing of stories we’ve seen a thousand times. But I think these authors genuinely believe they’re being original. Part of it is this regurgitation of themes our subconscious picks up in our reading and watching of genre. Some of it, I suspect, is an author’s genuine naivety, e.g. the author who believes that a story about a dead loved one communicating from beyond the grave by telephone is a “new” idea. But in some sense we can become “locked” within the thought patterns of genre when immersing ourselves in it, which is I think what’s happened with certain aspects of fantasy and science fiction. How do we unlock ourselves? I think the first thing to do is to read outside of genre, read outside of things even remotely related to what you write about.

    Personally, I don’t read much science fiction anymore, but I love to write it. I think this gives me the (dis?)-advantage of approaching the genre with a fresh eye, though I do run the risk of repeating plots, themes, and archetypes.

  8. Kai Jones

    I don’t write, I’ve never had even the hint of a hope of wanting to write. I’m a reader. I’m grateful to writers for entertaining me, and I express that often, both by buying their work and by telling them so in person.

    But I do love to hang out with writers! And I’m usually willing to buy a round as my contribution to the pleasure.

  9. Kaolin Fire (GUD Magazine)

    Thanks for sharing this! I do think the context of the poll should skew the statistic towards there being more people who write short fiction than not, but that should still go some ways towards answering whether people who write short fiction also read it (largely) and also buy it (less so)–so far. Having the big three run the same poll would be wonderful, though I don’t think they’d have much success running it online, given the state of their websites. While GUD is a newish market, we have a fairly significant web presence; and I’ve also tried to tap into a number of writing groups and lists, including the strange horizons contributors list, backspace, absolute write, imaginaries, and anything else I could think of, plus less writerly places such as myspace (GUD has 5000+ “friends”).

    Interesting to me is that while there are an almost overwhelming number of people who say, “of course everyone who writes is a reader!”, there are still those who speak up and say, “not me, so much”.

    I think David de Beer pretty much knocked the nail on the head, above.

    And I’d love to see more (and better) studies done. I see this as the sketch on the back of a napkin at a bar to see how valid the questions might be, and what other questions might come out of the woodwork.

    138 votes as of 2007-11-14, 11:08am pacfic time. Any word-spreading folks are up to would be much appreciated. 🙂

  10. BuffySquirrel

    I would love to believe that writers were readers before they became writers, but I see a lot of evidence in slush that goes against this hypothesis. Firstly, I see many many many homophone errors. These come, imo, from hearing words spoken but not seeing them written down. Some contributors are patently trying to spell a word they’ve never seen written down. Secondly, I see writers endlessly reinventing the wheel–trying to bring to me as fresh and new ideas that were mined out years ago. They’re not familiar with the canon cos they don’t read the canon.

    This does not make me happy.

  11. Wordly

    Yay, Kai! That’s a great comment, definitely worthy of a drink for you, preferably something pretty and with an umbrella in 🙂

    I’ve only recently learned that poeple writing SF short stories don’t necessarily read them or even like them. It’s a stunning revelation.

    It’s as if they think the short form is merely a crippled long form, when they are completely different things. I don’t understand the attitude at all.

    All the complaints and things that are listed as bad to do with SF shorts would also pretty much qualify for any other genre, so that’s a little hard to argue with, I must say 🙂

  12. Mary Robinette Kowal

    One of the things that I’m finding interesting, watching the poll, is looking at the ratio of short fiction writers to short fiction readers vs. novel writers to novel readers. While the poll is coming from a limited and somewhat self-selecting group, it is fairly telling.

    I’m also going to cop to not having a lot of patience with the philosophy that avoiding reading short fiction will help you write better short fiction. I hear actors talk about this all the time, about how they don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s performance.

    Why the heck not? If someone else does a brilliant thing, why wouldn’t you want to internalize it and use it? Knowing that they’ve done this thing means that you can make it your own, instead of being accidentally derivative.

    Now, I’ll grant that I had this realization when I was performing in Wizard of Oz. The movie was coming on and the woman playing Dorothy was talking about how she didn’t want to be influenced by Judy Garland. I started to go right along with that and then thought, “Wait a minute. I’m playing Toto. Maybe being influenced by a real dog would be a good idea.” It’s not like I slavishly copied Toto’s performance, but I was able to consciously use the things that worked well.

    I think that, in general, avoiding reading short fiction on the idea that it will somehow enable you to be more original is more than passing strange.