I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between short fiction and innovation in fiction, both in the styles of individual authors and in fiction styles as a whole.
In Speculative Fiction, there can be said to be four primary movements within the 20th Century–Pulp, Hard SF, New Wave, and Cyberpunk. Each of them was largely driven and nurtured by a robust market for short stories.
Pulp, by its very name, belongs to the Pulp magazines of pre-WWII magazines. Hard SF grew from the pages of post-War dedicated SF Magazines. New Wave flourished during the “socially relevant” phase of adult magazines, when Playboy and Penthouse were paying top dollar for short fiction in order to prove that they weren’t all about the nekked ladies, and slicks like The New Yorker followed suit to prove that they were still relevant. Cyberpunk was born in the renaissance of science fiction magazines in the 1980s spearheaded by Omni.
The internet and the ease of downloading text has drastically changed the magazine market. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a print magazine that wasn’t a specialized technical trade journal.
Novels are great, and I love reading them and writing them. However, novels require a substantial investment from both the author and the audience. Certainly innovation and experimentation are possible in novels, but the nature of the form encourages caution. You can take risks in a novel, as a writer, but they are, well riskier. More is at stake.
Short stories, by their nature, allow for more freedom. And some subjects are naturally self-limiting. Stories that would be bold in 7,500 words become tepid when stretched to 75,000. Short stories can be uniquely satisfying for both the writer and the reader. Sometimes they are the best way to play with a particular idea or to evoke a particular image.
The question is how to get short fiction to market in the Age of Amazon.
Cirsova is doing it. And doing it very well, paying authors and artists well and producing a consistently quality product to schedule. The publisher has made a significant commitment to the reviving short fiction market. Others are stepping up, and it will be interesting to see how the market continues to adapt.
Another model that is emerging is what I call the peer-published anthology. (There are a few examples on my Buy My Books page that I have contributed to.) Generally one author puts out a call for stories to fit a particular theme, and the contributors also act as editors to produce a single volume anthology. It’s a format that is still in its awkward infancy, but I have hopes that it will evolve into a viable publishing model.
It’s a model that I would encourage people to explore. I started one such project, Fauxpocalypse, (although in the end I left the actual publishing of it to Dave Higgins) and have just started another, 21st Century Thrilling Adventure.
I want to encourage other self-published authors to attempt putting together an anthology. I think they can work, and work well, but I, personally, don’t have the skills needed to promote and market them. I think that while self-publishing is already well established, what I am calling peer-publishing is just beginning and has a lot of room to grow and expand. But it needs people who are willing to stand up and try out things, take risks, and be willing to fail.
Somebody has to be the first lemming over the cliff.