Surfing for Survival

FoxMaybe not literally, but as far as visibility and career are concerned. I’ve been thinking about the question of career survival because it finally occurred to me that I’ve been shifting gears a bit lately when it comes to my own writing, in that I’m doing more novels these days, and fewer short stories. Now, for many cases that’s just considered par for the course, and was once considered the only course—you started off writing short stories, with the intention of getting good enough to sell them to the major magazines, of which there were several. If you were planning any sort of career, then part of the plan was to build up your name recognition through short fiction and then use that visibility to transition to novels. Short stories were never considered to be an end in themselves in that scenario. Sure there were probably as many exceptions as not, and writers who started with novels from day one and were either barely or sometimes not at all aware that the magazines even existed. I wasn’t one of those. I discovered the magazines at about the same time that I started to write in the first place, and I began with short stories, and the first novel I ever wrote I thought was going to be another short story, until an editor took pity on me and informed me that what I had submitted was not a short story, but the opening chapter to a novel, and so it later proved. Regardless, the short story was my go-to form.

I really like short stories, and part of the reason is that the material that interested me at the time was a perfect fit—myths, retold fairy-tales, invented fairy tales. I wanted to write novels too, of course, but mostly because some stories simply wouldn’t fit into six thousand words. I always wanted novels to be an option when the material demanded them, and I did write a few over the years, one or two of them weren’t that bad, in my opinion, but they weren’t my focus. I spent fourteen years publishing primarily in Realms of Fantasy because Shawna liked to publish the kind of stories I liked to write. Again, I had other markets, but ROF was my go-to market. Unless you’ve been in that position, you don’t know how much the simple fact of knowing there was a likely home for something you wanted to write works as an incentive.

Well, we all know what happened next. Nothing good lasts forever because nothing does last forever. Realms of Fantasy folded its tent. I was disappointed of course but not surprised. I’d been around long enough by then to see the demise of several good—and bad—magazines. The field I’d come to know and love had already changed quite a bit by the time I was selling regularly, and only an idiot wouldn’t cop to the fact that change continues. This did leave me with a problem—ROF was the market for a type of generalist fantasy that I loved to do, and there weren’t any others to pick up the slack. After several months I had to face the fact that a lot of what I was writing was the kind of story that nobody wanted.

I mentioned visibility up at the top and for a writer to develop and keep any kind of career, it’s essential. I think it was Gardner Dozois (and somebody correct me if I’m wrong) that said that a short story writer had to publish at least four stories a year or their readers would forget about them, and I think that’s about right. I was managing maybe one or two for a while. Good work, in my opinion, but not nearly enough. And the type of story I could place had gotten very narrow. So in essence the short story form, ironically, had gone from being my most free and open form to the most confining, at least assuming that I still wanted to keep a readership.

Yeah, poor poor pitiful me and all that, but there were still things I wanted to do. By this time I’d published The Long Look with a library-oriented publisher, it was set in the same universe as my Laws of Power short story series which I’d always planned to turn into novel(s), so that seemed natural, and so there was Black Kath’s Daughter. I’d also placed the first Yamada novel, To Break the Demon Gate, with PS Publishing for a limited edition, and since Prime had done the first Yamada collection, they were interested in doing the reprint. So this is where I am at the moment. The next Yamada novel is nearly finished, and we’ll see what happens.

With, of course, the understanding that whatever does happen, it won’t last. Change is always on the way, no matter what you’re doing. The point is to expect the change, and be ready to surf it when it comes rather than being pulled out to sea.

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2 thoughts on “Surfing for Survival

  1. Thanks Serge, though I probably should clarify. When I said “nobody wanted” I meant that nobody wanted to publish. I did and do believe there is a readership for the kind of story RoF often published, just no venues. It’s one kind of story that I like to write that there was no longer a market for. I do appreciate all the signal boosts I can get. I have a talent for obscurity that I’m trying really hard to overcome. 🙂

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