Sunday, July 15, 2007

A New Age for Short Fiction? –Part 2 -- by Larry D. Sweazy

So, the short story has firmly landed on the Internet. It’s been there for a while. Long enough for things to shake out a bit. Is it a good thing for the readers, and is it a good thing for short story writers?

This week’s post concerns the reader. Next week and the following weeks we’ll talk about writers.

When I speak of readers, I’m not talking about writers who are readers, traveling from one web site to the next, reading to see if their style fits with that particular web site so they can submit to it. That’s a different animal. I’m talking about a real reader, you know, the kind of the person who goes into a bookstore and buys a book or an anthology and reads for pleasure. That mysterious thing we writers call Our Audience.

I’m talking Internet readers. And to be honest, I’m not convinced that there are a lot of them out there.

OK. Let’s say our imaginary reader wants to read a mystery short story. If I Google mystery short stories, I get 5,410,000 choices. That’s a lifetime of searching. Who’s going to do that?

Now, there are a few well-known web sites that provide free short stories. I really think these are equivalent to the small press days, labors of love, professional attempts, but the publishers aren’t making money and the writers aren’t being paid. Or if they are, not a lot. I’m not gigging anybody here. In my post last week I said I was paid $5.00 for a story in Hardboiled. I’m still glad to have that credit. But it means something to me—I’m not sure that it means anything to a reader. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Some times the story a reader reads on free web site is edited and formatted in a professional manner. There are passionate publishers out there, passionate editors, who want nothing more than to promote the genre of their choice, and help some authors gain name recognition. But in a lot cases, the stories are not edited, or they are self-published. These sites are pretty easy to spot, and mostly, readers shy away from them. Or, the readers don’t know about the really good sites. And that raises, a really, really important question:

How do readers find out about short story web sites?

I don’t know the answer to that. I just don’t think there are legions of Internet readers like we (writers) wish there were.

So for the Internet reader here are some of the pros and cons as I see them:


* There are more choices now than ever before.

* Specific genres can be found and read almost immediately.

* Specific authors can be found and read almost immediately.

* Constant availability.

* Readers can comment on a story, and see that their comments arrived at the intended place. They can interact with dizzying speed and provide feedback.

* Readers can read for free.


* There are more choices now than ever before.

* Inconsistent quality.

* Readers can read for free.

* Dedicated readers are not aware of the quality web sites.

The pros here outweigh the cons, and I’m sure I missed some of both. These were just off the top of my head but the conclusion I came to is that Internet is a good thing for the reader. Not a great thing. Yet. But a good thing.

A few of the pros and cons are the same, like there are more choices. If you have too many choices you decide not to decide, you’re overwhelmed. I think this is true here. And what about reading for free as a con? In most cases, I think you get what you pay for. Web sites that are free usually don’t have editors or writers that are paid, and it shows.

There are exceptions. Mysterical-E, Hardluck Stories, and MouthFullofBullets, come to mind as being the exception. I’m sure there are more free web sites that I don’t know about. On the above named web sites, the value the reader gets for their time is worth it. But a lot of free short story web sites are not.

OK. Agree. Disagree. Fine. This is how I see the Internet from a reader’s perspective.

Next week we’ll look at the Internet, and the value of it to a short story writer.


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Michael Lockridge said...

I am one of those self-publishers. I exist in obscurity, but I am having fun. Just blogging some very short stories, seeing what happens. They were just sitting in a drawer, but now they are OUT THERE. Or soon will be.

For me, the benefit is to be writing again. I am also learning more about the Internet as a result of this project. Eventually, someone will read these stories, and perhaps enjoy them. That, however, is icing on the cake.

A New Age for Short Fiction? We shall see. The whole Internet adventure is new, and largely unknown. It sure is fun, though.

MLockridge, on Blogger

Larry D. Sweazy said...


I mean no offense to self-published writers. I'm interested in how readers finds short stories, and how writers benefit from the Internet.

Good luck with your stories. I hope you find an audience. We'll talk more about the writing side in the next few weeks.