Abdicating from the short story marketing dance

One thing that has changed in my writing process since the pandemic is that I find myself no longer willing/able/interested in writing short stories based on prompts. I think I sensed the rising issue with short stories even before the latest raft of attacks on the sustainability of magazine publication–the flooding from generative A.I.-written stories, Amazon discontinuing their magazine subscription service, and so on. Things were getting tight even before 2023, however. Back in 2020, however, I had a 50% ratio of stories I submitted that either had the magazine die while the story was under submission there, or else just–disappeared. At that point, I decided to suspend my short story submissions because with that 50% ratio, the time and energy spent finding markets just wasn’t worth the effort. I held out the option for responding to submission calls, but–at that point my focus was more on a rather ambitious self-published novel series that is still continuing in side spinoffs.

Time went by. I wrote some short stories for anthology calls, with limited success.

In the fall of 2022, I started sending stories out again. It worked well for a few months. Then I started seeing submission restrictions become more common and longer–requests to wait a week before sending in a new story after receiving an acceptance or rejection stretched out to a three-week period. Or a month. The strategy I had created in order to stay on top of submissions management got blown all to pieces, because it was based on being able to send work out once a week. With these new restraints, that meant a change to once a month.

But then there was the whole issue of writing to a prompt or a call. That’s an extreme form of writing-to-market, and rather limited because if you don’t sell to that particular prompt or call, then you have to put the story aside for a certain period time. Otherwise, you just join the flood of other writers who got rejected from that particular prompt or call and the editors know said story is a reject from that prompt or call.

I’ve had limited success in writing to prompt/writing to market. Most of my short stories sell ten years or so after they’re written. It was telling when I sat down to create a spreadsheet of previously published stories (as well as unpublished work) to group together as a potential collection. I ended up with enough material for several collections, in some cases requiring the writing of new stories to bolster what was already written. Dates of publication were also revealing, as was the number of stories sold per year. I’ve never sold a lot of short work, and, again, that ten-year interval between drafting and sale shows up multiple times.

The other thing is that I’ve never done well in writing a quick response/reaction to current events. I need to chew over something for a while before I can turn it into fiction without it becoming a diatribe or polemic. The stories I’ve drafted in such response tend to be didactic and not that good, and since I don’t care to read such response-type fiction, I obviously don’t want to write it (no shame to those who do this and can do it well–it’s not my yum and I have no desire to yuck someone’s yum). If I want to address a social issue, I somewhat want to do so as a subplot in a longer work rather than try to draft the type of thoughtful, mindful zinger of a short story that will resonate with the reader and linger in their thoughts.

Obviously, I’m not your person when it comes to writing-to-market. I flounder about when it comes to identifying the specific genre of my long-form works. I’ve finally settled on “science fiction western romantic” to describe the Martiniere books, because that comes the closest to making people understand what it is. Not romance necessarily, because I don’t hit all the tropes and points of a typical romance work. But romantic in the sense that relationships are involved in the works, and are part of the overall thought and consideration of things. And while I love the term “agripunk,” it’s just too confusing for too many readers and reviewers.

It’s too bad about the writing-to-market and the short story situation, really. Is my lack of interest/ability a reflection of aging on my part? Hard to say. I follow writers on social media who are capable of turning out those quick short stories in response to an event, a prompt, an incident. They’re able to turn them into stories quickly. Then I think about what I was doing in the days when I was turning out short stories in response to daily life and events. I was working full-time at a rather stressful job and had a lot going on. It was easier to focus on the short stories. Simpler to sketch out a response and draft it. I did not possess the attention span needed to create the worldbuilding and backstory for a decent novel during that era, so short stories were more doable then.

Does this mean I’ll stop writing short stories? Absolutely not. But from now on, my short stories will either be series worldbuilding stories (oh, I have a few of those sitting on my hard drive) or part of an interrelated collection of short stories that I self-publish. I plan to put out a collection this fall of my, for lack of a better term, fabulist short work that has already been published (with some unpublished works). At the same time, I plan to expand on my Teacher-of-Dragons short story world. I already have a second story in that world, and can do more to fill out a collection–in fact, I intend to draft Tales of the Raven Alliance as a Kindle Vella serial work, to be later released as an ebook and perhaps a paperback. As the rejections come back, I’m slotting those stories into specific future collections, depending on what type of story they are.

But I’m not getting back into the short story submission dance. That part of my writing life is done. I guess you can thank A.I. for that.

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