Your opinion on a short fiction and novel question

Presented with as little comment as possible.

If you look at the new Active SFWA members since July 1, 2009.*
14 joined with short fiction
66 joined with novel sales

I am interested in your theories on the difference in numbers.

*(I can’t track prior to that because the information was not gathered with any consistency. What data I have suggests that it’s fairly consistent.)

Edited to add:

Two interesting things pointed out to me.

  • SFWA has 17 qualifying short story markets and 40+ qualifying novel markets.
  • Total number of qualifying slots in short fiction is approximately 550-600 per year.ย  Total number of qualifying novel slots is approximately 5000 (Amazon actually lists 9,343 SF & Fantasy new releases in 2009)

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36 thoughts on “Your opinion on a short fiction and novel question”

  1. I must admit I find that surprising. I would have expected the numbers to be closer. I guess more novels by new writers are being published than I realised!

    I’m hoping to gain eligibility this year, and if I do, it’ll be through short fiction (since I have two of the three necessary sales already – arguably I have three, if a sale to IGMS and then being paid for the same story in the IGMS anthology counts – not clear about that).

  2. Going purely by how I feel about my own writing, perhaps folk feel somehow less valid if they write short stories rather than novels, so don’t like to put themselves forward for consideration? Like they’re not a “real writer”? Maybe that’s just me: I always feel like I need to have written something of greater length before I can call myself a writer, even though I enjoy reading a good short story every bit as much as a novel!

  3. Goodness that’s surprising. I’m mean you’d think it would be easier to break in with short fiction. Perhaps novelists are more interested in SFWA membership than short story writers? I can’t think of a reason that should be, but it would be very odd to think it’s easier for a new writer to sell a novel than short fiction. Though come to think, how many new novels are published every year as opposed to how many short stories? Is the novel market better perhaps?


  4. Just a guess, but could it do with the new website? Once people saw SFWA was updating, people who had not considered before ended up applying? SFWA looks like it’s trying reinvent image-wise and it might be drawing people in.

    Also — 3 short stories to qualify vs 1 novel.

    Not a whole ton of qualifying short story markets accepting general submissions.

  5. I tweeted this already, but thought I would gather it together here for you (and expand it a bit):

    I suspect that’s been the case for a while. I suspect that new writers ignore short fiction due to low pay, low exposure, diminishing readership, etc. Also, the “big 3” don’t publish many new writers, compared to other SFWA pro magazines which new writers might not know as well as the big three. And perhaps, short fiction writers don’t see any benefit to joining SFWA and it’s something they consider after a novel sale?

  6. A) Novel sales are much simpler in terms of eligibility requirements. If I publish short fiction somewhere I don’t know if it necessarily applies. If I publish a novel I am A) much more likely to be aware of the intricacies of the publishing market (including SFWA) and B) much more likely to know I’m eligible for SFWA. I’ve sent out stories to short fiction markets for publication but I don’t have any agent or anything of the sort. Selling a book on the other hand is much more difficult and much more involved.

    B) People selling novels have a much larger time/financial investment in their work and are more interested in networking and other opportunities presented by SFWA. I might publish enough short fiction to qualify but I’m not necessarily prioritizing SFWA membership. Short fiction sales don’t weigh heavily on future success. Novel sales do. When you are writing novels you are also more likely to be calling yourself a full time writer than short fiction.

    C) Jay Lake writes 95% of the short fiction in today’s writing landscape and he is already a member

    1. Actually, now that you mention it, a LOT of the qualifying markets seem to publish a higher majority of authors who are already members of SFWA vs. “newbies.” I’m sure that plays a role as well.

  7. I wonder if some of those novelists have short fiction sales, but not enough or not at the payscale required for SFWA membership? I realize many people (possibly more people) sell book-length manuscripts first these days, but I wonder if part of the skew is that a greater percentage of novel markets are eligible than short story markets and, as Kate said, 3 versus 1.

    I also wonder if there’s a science fiction vs. fantasy difference. I believe more fantasy novels sell than science fiction, and it’s my perception that short fantasy is harder to sell than short science fiction.

  8. Well without any more data that 2009, it won’t be a very interesting theory, but hey…

    Theory: Novels are still the accepted path to being considered a serious author.
    Second theory: Reemergence of the short story market via the internet is making it easier to make the requisite three sales. Also authors are becoming more aware of the value of those markets.

  9. My guess would be what Kate said: 3 story sales vs 1 novel sale.

    Not that selling a novel is remotely easy, but you only need to hit once to qualify. Selling thrice to Qualifiying Pro Markets may be just as difficult (if not relatively harder) – says somebody who isn’t trying to get published.

    Historical data would be interesting to see if this is anomalous or not, but I know you don’t have that.

  10. [reposted from facebook]

    Hm. My quick stab: for a newbie, selling a short story to a Pro market is hard. Selling a novel is also hard (probably harder). Still, qualifying via short fiction requires Doing a Hard Thing three times, whereas qualifying via a novel requires Doing a Hard Thing ‘only’ once.

    On the other hand, it might just be that, for whatever reason, novelists are more likely to join.

  11. Livia Llewellyn

    Just a few theories:

    1) A novel sale means an advance that is (most often) considerably larger than the average pro sale – maybe having more money makes it an easier and quicker decision to join.

    2) People may want to join at an Active level, and, while waiting for a third story sale, end up selling their first novel.

    3) Adjacent to #2, sometimes during the course of racking up three story sales, a certain unorganized author might, er, misplace or lose one of their contracts and to date have been unable to get another copy from the publisher, which means that they might not be able to join as an Active until they actually make a fourth pro sale, which just takes That. Much. Longer… [::whistles innocently whilst facepalming self::]

  12. I’ve sold one short story, one novelette and one novel, none of which qualify for SFWA at this point because the market (Hadley Rille Books) is not yet an approved market. I think the current guidelines tend to make it more difficult for small presses and their authors to break in. I’ve earned an advance and now royalties for my first novel, have positive reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, and steady sales, yet I haven’t earned the minimum amount to qualify for membership.

    I agree with those above that getting three short story sales, all to qualifying markets, is also a difficult guideline to achieve, especially since the competition is so high for the top markets.

  13. Someone mentioned that maybe more novelist are aware of SFWA than short fiction writers. Assuming that is true, the natural question is why?

    I suggest it has to do with agents. I imagine there is a correlation between those who sell novels and those who have agents. On the other hand, I imagine that new short fiction writers do not have agents. An agent (one would imagine) would look to increase the genre’s awareness of a given author and one way to do that is encourage membership in an organization like SFWA.

    So bottom line, my guess is that there are more new active members from novels because of agent encouragement, which is probably missing from short fiction writers.

  14. Of those 550-600 short story slots, I expect that full 20% of them (maybe more like 50%, I’m not a big short-story reader outside of the zine I work on, Flash Fiction Online, which is a SFWA market) are sales to previously-published authors, including not only recent SFWA members, but also big names, which help sell magazines/bring readers.

    I’m not surprised at the conclusion, as it’s one I’ve recently reached–I will have better luck selling my novels than my short stories. I think people are reading short fiction less, though there’s a possible uptick of extremely short fiction due to ease of finding/reading it online. People are reading less in general, but the SF/F market has had some recent big wins with mid-grade and YA titles via HP, Twilight, and Percy Jackson. Say what you want about the books, they’ve brought a tremendous amount of readers to the genre, including crossover readers who are adults reading down.

    At Flash Fiction Online, where we read blind for 95% of the stories (we do sometimes get big-name submissions and usually read them knowing who wrote them,) we get upwards of 300 subs/month and publish 3 stories a month. That’s a hard wall to crack your head against (staff subs are occasionally published, though they are also read blind. They skip the first half of the slush pile, but they’re read blind and subjected to the same rigamarole that other stories are.)

  15. Well, I sold two short pro-stories last year, but I will not consider applying until I have three because of money issues. If all you are publishing is short stories $80 is a big chunk of change. I’d also like to learn more about what SFWA does. Question: what’s the “mentoring” part of the SFWA?

  16. I totally think it has to do with SFWA’s strengthened internet presence. I’ve seen mentions of SFWA crop up more often in children’s writing communities in the last year, than in previous ones–and those communities are by and large visited by novelists.

    How do the percentages of adult and children novels compare?

  17. I wonder how this relates to readership. Most of the readers (everyone in my reading group, half the people in my critique group) I know read exclusively novels. I read short stories more than any of my friends, and I vastly prefer a good novel to a great short story.

  18. My first thought is simply that a lot more people try to write SFF novels than to write SFF short stories (further, three or more short stories). I don’t know if that’s actually true, though.

  19. Not at all surprising, considering the collapse of the big circulation paper magazines. While the short story market is thriving online and with small press print anthologies, and other POD publishers are doing a good job getting some great writers started, the outdated requirements of the SFWA that are tilted toward big publishers will always keep most short story writers out of the club.

    I may sound bitter but I’m not. I’ve sold about a half dozen short stories over the past few years that would not qualify for one reason or another, but ISFWA deliberately sets the bar high on their payment requirements and keeps the qualifying markets restricted, because they’re not an organization to help beginning writers. There are other groups for that. 14 short story writers accepted? I’m surprised there are that many.

  20. Do you have the dates the qualifying sales occurred? It might be interesting to look at the data from the perspective of how long the author waited to join.

    1. Hm. That is an interesting question. I think I can pull that data, but I’m not sure how to crunch it in any sort of meaningful way. Also, it will only show the sales they chose to put on their form, which are not always the ones that made them eligible.

      In general, and this is just my sense, short story writers tend to join the moment they make the third sale. Novelists seem to join at somewhat more random points.

      1. Speaking as someone who qualifies for Active SFWA membership on short sales, but who is not a SFWA member, here’s some thoughts:

        I have considered joining SFWA, and after meeting several people at Montreal’s WorldCon, I’ve been thinking about this even harder. However, 80 bucks is 80 bucks, which is a significant portion of the sale price of one story, at current pro market rates. I’m someone who does not sell regularly (I work slow and I’m picky. Sue me if you like, but really, if you want my comics collection that badly, I’ll just give it to you.) Therefore, the payback strikes me as below the threshold of reasonable returns.

        If, on the other hand, I ever sell one of my novel projects, I will likely join immediately. I will ‘have arrived’, as it were. Also, I would consider a novel sale to be the hammer that crushes all of my other dithery reasons not to join.


  21. Not all of us are in the USA, even if we have a writing presence there. My short fiction has tended to appear in British publications: it can be very tricky to work out whether these qualify or not. SO I waited until I was sure — which in my case meant a novel contract with a US publisher. I’m not alone in this situation, either.

  22. My unedumacated opinion.

    If the SFWA-rated short markets — like the digests — were once considered “break-in” territory, where a newbie like me went to get on the first rung of the ladder, they’ve now become a visibility and marketing tool for established pros looking to ‘keep current’ in an era of attention deficit.

    Thus I’ve got to compete with a large number of Name authors for a very small number of available slots. The stats quoted back that up. Only a few hundred annual slots for SF and F short stories per annum, but potentially thousands of novel slots for SF and F per annum.

    On the one hand, I don’t mind that because it means a sale to someone like the digests has a little extra prestige — you’ve beaten a Name to get a slot. On the other hand, it sucks because the chances of beating a Name for a slot are so low, it sometimes seems like an exercise in futility trying to send anything to the short markets at all.

    Anyway, since there is more money in novels — potentially — than shorts, that might explain it right there. Certainly everyone I know who is writing and sending out short material is invariably working on — or will be working on — novels at some point, because trying to live off short sales alone is an enormously difficult task, compared to 40, 50 or 60 years ago. Some of the Grand Masters were around when you could make a living on shorts. Now, due to lack of slots, lack of markets, diminished buying power of the penny, etc, it’s not really an option.

    So, doing stuff in the short range is a combination of hobby-marketing for many pros, and you have a few bass ackwards fellows like me who are still trying to come up into the genre The Niven Way. (smirk)

  23. I was amazed. It has seemed much harder for me to sell my novel than it has my short stories. In fact, I’ve gotten so discouraged that I stopped working on long fiction for several years. I would love to publish another novel. And by George I will.

    This discussion has been very enlightening to me.

    1. Oh, another thing: because new anthology markets open regularly, it’s hard to say there are just a few short story markets. At the same time, very few new major novel publishers open their doors to writers, and the obstacles (have to have an agent, etc.) are more arduous to overcome.

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