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That Short Story Market Question

The Sci Fi Signal Mind Meld is running a question today that goes, "Q: Nobody questions the relevance of genre short fiction, but there is some debate about the health of the market itself. From your perspective, is the short fiction market in trouble? If not, why the debate? If so, what is the cause?"

Despite the fact that 'relevance' of genre short fiction is kind of ridiculous--relevant to what, then? A genre that prides itself on ghettoisation and a kind of second cousin elitism that every few months feels the need to ask why it isn't taken as seriously as literary fiction?--that's a kind of longer debate, and not really here at the moment.

However, in the responses, the one I liked best came from Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid):

While generally not possible to make a living writing short stories for genre magazines and anthologies — even Howard Waldrop teaches at Clarion occasionally — even when it was possible it was hardly anything more than a miserable existence. The "can't make a living" crowd makes the same error as a novel crowd: they are ultimately complaining that they cannot make a living writing just those stories they wish to write, at the rate they wish to write them.


A while back, when I was teaching creative writing a little more, I would find myself in a conversation with people about how I'd come to the opinion that writing was a middle class pursuit. This doesn't mean, of course, that anyone anywhere can't do it, but it takes time, and when you're working two jobs, struggling to pay your bills, and in debt, the choice to sit down and write isn't one that rates real high, and so I find that most people doing it are in fact middle class and above; in addition to that, there is an educational content to writing, and there is a difference between the educations given to those sent to private, catholic, and selective schools, than to those who are sent to under funded public schools because they live in the area. It shows in the opportunities you are given, the people you are exposed to, and the future that you are told you can have.

Actively labeling yourself as middle class is not something that a lot of people rush out to do, possibly because it has no social value. Me, I'm middle class, even if I don't have the money of it--but I have the education and, if I wished, I could take that, the skills I have, and so forth, and I could turn it into a career that pays more. I don't consider what I'm doing to be slumming it, in that way that rich kids rent shitty little apartments and buy their clothes from Saint Vincent de Pauls--a practice that I've always found kind of ugly--but I can't say that if the grind of what I'm doing got to the point where I simply hated it, I couldn't change. I'm an over educated motherfucker with more choices available to me now than when I left High School, and got told that a job in a hardware store was my future.

There is nothing wrong with writing being a middle class pursuit, really, except that what it means is that when questions like this come up, I always find myself coming back to the question of class, and the expectations of an acceptable living standard that goes with each.

(As an aside, I also think that the majority of speculative fiction has, in recent years, grown to reveal a middle class mind frame in its attitudes and styles and imagination, but like the point about relevance, that's a longer argument, and one I'd need a lot more time to think about. But if you were going to write an essay about it, I reckon you could, and that you'd get a fair bit of mileage out of it.)

I nicked the card below from Tessa's blog:

Comments

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catsparx
Apr. 17th, 2008 01:27 am (UTC)
I agree with both you and Nick M on this issue. I am also middle class -- something I feel no shame in.
benpeek
Apr. 17th, 2008 07:16 am (UTC)
there are worse things, i figure.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Apr. 17th, 2008 07:16 am (UTC)
joooiiiin us. there's brains.

well.

okay.

not really.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Apr. 18th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC)
here's the question for you, though, since you bring up the quality vs quantity--do you reckon the work suffers for having to write so much so quickly?

in my experience, it does, but i know others who'd say otherwise.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Apr. 17th, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Apr. 18th, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
no, i agree that people in any class can do it. that's not my hassle. it's just that in the early days, at least, you need the time to be able to do it--and i just think having that time, and the disposable cash, and so forth, all of which does feed into the writing career, is a middle class thing.

but yeah, the complaints of priviledged people don't do much for me, either, but on the other hand, i'm not rushing out to work in aid camps and help the truly suffering, so it's kind've a question of how hypocritical i can be.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Apr. 18th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
garykemble
Apr. 25th, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)
On making a living out of selling short stories...

http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=660
benpeek
Apr. 25th, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
scalzi's thing isn't really about that, i think. more about the using the net to make money thing.

anyhow, i would argue that scalzi can't be viewed as your average short story author floating round, either. i'm fairly sure i wouldn't get five hundred bucks through that system for my blog and work here, for example.
garykemble
Apr. 25th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC)
anyhow, i would argue that scalzi can't be viewed as your average short story author floating round, either. i'm fairly sure i wouldn't get five hundred bucks through that system for my blog and work here, for example.

Yeah, that's what I mean tho. Out of the thousands and thousands who read his blog, only 600 or whatever it was downloaded the story.

What hope has anyone else got!

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