Short Story Anthologies: A Dying Breed?
I haven’t been much of a magazine reader as an adult and I wasn’t much more of one as a child. Most of the ‘zines I picked up over the years, whether is was focused on music or short stories or computers, contained too little of what I was actually interested in and too many ads and too much fluff. Apparently, and for reasons I’m pretty sure I’m beginning to understand, print ‘zines in general and anthologies in particular are on the way out. I don’t think that’s because people don’t like short stories or anthologies. I think they’re dying in print, in large part, because people are tired of paying for cologne inserts and pretty pictures. We, at Flying Island Press, have been congratulated for having the guts to fly in the face of that.
That’s the beautiful thing about the digital age. I think it’s possible that we’re in some sort of rebirth of this beautiful idea. I mean what could be better than someone sending you a file full of short story goodness every month or there about? Sure, not all of the short stories are going to be your cup of tea, but soon enough there will be more. And when you’re done reading them, you can either delete them off of your e-reader/mp3 player, or if they’re spectacular you can keep the ones you want and they don’t clutter up your bookshelf.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because I see new short fiction markets opening up all the time, doesn’t mean the rebirth will last. Just as many close up shop every week. It’s hard running one of these gigs, particularly if you want to pay your writers. There are piles of slush to go through (which can be a joy!), perhaps even more than our anthological ancestors had to deal with. Back in the day you had to submit via snail mail, but now anyone can email an RTF or drop it in the body of an email. You have to figure out a way to generate income to pay the wordherders that bless your ‘zine by sending you their babies. A way, I hope, that avoids an electronic version of the smelly sachets and non-sequiterial ads that populate our dead tree brethren. You then have to get the word out about your anthology, competing with all of the other content that’s floating around out there. It’s hard out there for a… publisher.
Perhaps that’s why we’ve been called brave (among other things) for launching Flagship. I’m not sure that brave is the right word, though. I’m gonna go with smitten. I’m in love. I love short stories. I think they’re an art and a craft all to themselves.To tell a complete tale in less than seven thousand words that pleases not just you and the editor, but that audience is a real challenge. There’s no room for info dumps or sloppy word choices. You don’t have time to find your character’s voice and tell them all about the challenges they had growing up. You have to get the reader in their head now and into the plot in paragraphs, not pages. It’s like making good whisky. You distill the story down to its essence. When that’s done right it’s magic. When it’s done wrong you might go blind.
I want to find the word magicians out there and I want to introduce you to them. Understand a few things about us, that is the crew of the Flying Island. We’re not pros. We all have day jobs. The same is true of our authors. We don’t have a single Nebula or Hugo award winner (not yet anyway) and in a number of cases we’ve been the author’s first credit, and we’re proud of that! So we’re, most of us, n00bs. I’m not making excuses. We’ve had some awesome stories. I’ve enjoyed every single one we’ve published and my hope is that you will too. I just want you to know that the reason we’re here and doing that voodoo we’re doing, isn’t because we think we’ll make a mint doing it. We’re not brave or crazy. (Contrary to the opinions expressed by any one of our crew on any given day on Twitter… Okay, maybe Jeff is.) We’re in love with telling stories and we want to share that love with you.
Now, I’m gonna be frank: love ain’t free. That’s as true when it comes to stories as it is with people. We started our publishing industry on the notion that a writer’s work is worth his salt. So, we set a price on our magazine. That’s because we want it to be ad free. We want to send you just the stories and editorials that we believe will catch your fancy. You won’t find paid ads either on our website or in our free podcasts. Maybe the day will come when we sell ad space, but I hope not. I want what we put out to be just as distilled as our stories.
So that’s it. Maybe we’re brave. Maybe we’re crazy. Perhaps we’re a bit of both. One thing I don’t think we are, is a dying breed. People will always want stories. Some of those are going to be short and someone will need to put them out there. Because people love stories as much as we do.
Scott Roche is an author, podcaster, and one of the founders of Flying Island Press, which is helping to carry the torch for short stories into the future. Currently they are also putting together a special magazine that will benefit Autism Speaks, and the submissions for that issue are open until the end of April.