There are essentially five major publishers. That’s it. If you have one hand, and all your fingers intact, you could count them all. The most prominent novels tend to come from these organizations, and their subsidiaries are responsible for most fiction in just about every genre. However, the bleeding heart of innovation in fiction has long been short stories.
Short-form stories are what gave writers like Ray Bradbury their start. H.P. Lovecraft never wrote anything longer than a novella. And they both started out by publishing in pulp magazines. This kind of work was a rite of passage for many upcoming authors.
In many ways, that hasn’t changed. The difference is the magazines and their viability. There are many reasons why they struggle, but the times are not rosy for publications specializing in short stories, especially genre fiction.
A couple examples are Apex and Locus. Both have gone through, or are going through some struggles. Apex recently went on a hiatus when a member of staff had some medical issues to work through. Back in 2020 Apex announced its return, and they’ve had two successful subscription campaigns to keep the magazine going. It’s a positive sign.
The more surprising of these two magazines is Locus. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen several articles that were basically pleading with people to subscribe to the magazine to keep it going. One of the most stunning was published on Tor’s website. When a rival publisher is putting the word out to help you, then it’s clear that something is up. There is real value in the outlets for writers publishing short stories, and pretty much everyone understands this. Hell, Locus even offers it’s own respected awards.
The larger publishers may see these magazines as a sort of farm system for writers. Someone else, such as Locus or Apex can spend the money to take risks on lesser-known authors. Once those authors have a proven fanbase, they can be offered contracts in exchange for books. It’s an established formula. However, in the digital age with so much content out there, it’s hard to keep some of these old models afloat.
This brings us back to the precarity of the two publications mentioned. When Jason Sizemore had issues he had to deal with, the publication shut down. Without one person, Apex couldn’t keep going. Additionally, Locus is in a situation where it might not continue because it may not hit its budget for the upcoming year That is extremely delicate financially, but hopefully, it will keep going. They’ve been pleading with people to back them for a few weeks now. (Adding this note here, I do not receive any incentive for writing this article. A brief write-up such as this one is my own way of helping the cause.)
From its earliest days, short fiction has been the first tentative steps of many revered writers. That won’t change as long as there are outlets for their work. Short stories matter. No matter how many celebrated novels there are, there are countless tales numbering just a handful of pages that are the fiction’s foundation. The stories matter, the authors matter, and so do the publications that give them an audience. Once a reader gets past the big five, the publishing landscape changes dramatically. It’s can be risky to take a chance on these unknowns, but it’s absolutely worth it.
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