Thoughts on Dell Magazines Publication Schedule Change and the Role of Short Fiction

AFF_JanFeb2016_400x580This isn’t any breaking news, just something I’ve been ruminating about lately.  Back in November, Dell magazines announced that their four fiction magazines would be going to a bimonthly schedule.  Those magazines, in case you’re unaware, are Analog, Asimov’s, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Up until a few years ago I picked them up on the newsstand since I didn’t like how the USPS tended to tear things up.  (I learned this because F&SF wasn’t always available on the newsstand, so I had and still have a print subscription.  My copy came today, partially accordianized.)  When digital subscriptions became available, I switched over.  (Shelf space had a lot to do with it as well.)

Now, instead of ten issues per year, two of them double, the magazines will have six 208 page double issues.  The current schedule already contained two double issues.  I can remember when Analog published thirteen issues a year, two of them double issues IIRC.  But then I’m a dinosaur.  Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s, has said this will allow them to add 16 pages more than their current double issues as well as holding subscription prices steady.  I suspect cost more than anything is behind this move.

F&SF went to this format some years ago.  Same reasons.  One the one hand, I’m hoping to read more short fiction this year, and maybe having a new issue show up on my ereader every other month will help me keep from getting behind.  Otherwise I may end up letting my subscriptions lapse.  I can’t justify paying for them if I’m not going to be reading them.  I’m including the electronic magazines in this statement as well.  (I may let some lapse simply because I’m not interested in their contents, but that’s a different post.)

AHM_JanFeb2017Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the role of short fiction in the current science fiction and fantasy field.  I’m afraid we’re heading in the direction of the mystery field.  Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock are the only two mystery short fiction magazine markets left in the US, as least that I know of.  Those are pretty tough markets to crack.  According to, AHMM has a year’s response time.

It’s not much easier to get into Analog or Asimov’s.  Ditto for the online magazines, which to me seem to publish many of the same authors over and over.

There was a discussion across several venues the other day, and I’m not sure where it started, maybe email, maybe Twitter, about writing novels rather than short fiction.  The general consensus was that short fiction wasn’t economically feasible right now.

While I recognize that this is the case, I’m not entirely happy with it.  I grew up reading short stories, and I still tend to prefer them to novels.  For one reason, I can usually finish one in one or two sittings, depending on whether I sit down with the intent to read or am reading while waiting in line or for my son to get out of school, etc.  Novels have been a lot harder to finish lately.

I believe short fiction is the lifeblood of any field, be it mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or horror.  And while I don’t entirely buy the line that short fiction allows writers to learn their craft before moving on to novels, because the two forms are very different in their execution, they are a good way for many people to break into the field.

Anthologies still seem to be fairly healthy, but many of those are harder to get into than periodicals.  And since Martin H. Greenberg passed away, I don’t see nearly as many anthologies as I used to.

Where am I going with this?  I’m not entirely sure.  Like I said in my opening sentence, I’ve been ruminating on this lately.  There are a number of periodicals, mostly online, that pay a pittance, and some of them have some good fiction.  They’re hardly worth the time.  Dean Wesley Smith advises new writers to try the markets that pay pro rates.  If your work is rejected, then publish it yourself.  It’s hard to argue with that.

On the other hand, I think my fiction, what little I’ve been able to write lately, is at the stage where it needs a good editorial eye.   Would I be better served long-term by submitting to some of these markets and getting feedback if my work makes the grade?  I dunno.  I do know that the field is undergoing some changes, and if I want to develop a writing career, even if it’s only on the side, I need to be prepared to change with it.

What do you folks think?

16 thoughts on “Thoughts on Dell Magazines Publication Schedule Change and the Role of Short Fiction

  1. Paul McNamee

    As a (budding) writer, personally I’m not moving away from short stories in favor of novels for economic reasons. In fact, I’m not planning to move away from short stories. I am just not concentrating on them for a little while because I want to get novels under my belt and learn the discipline.

    Once I get the hang of producing a novel in a proper time frame, I will feel better about working both formats. Right now novels are taking me too long and short stories are shiny distractions.

    As a reader, I just haven’t given magazine (and ezines) the attention I should. Swimming in unread books, I hesitate to pile on unread magazines, too.

    I think we will (and have) seen more self-published stories as the markets shrink. Like you, though, I feel my skills still require an editor and second set of eyes (especially after taking that workshop.) I suppose you could add editorial service costs to the startup costs of self-publishing along with nice cover art – if you can afford to pay for all that.

    I do like that eformat potentially can pave the way for novellas. The quirky thing there is that I think the success of e-novellas has lead to more novellas in print lately. Look at TOR of some indie presses.

    I think most of the writers I know are considering double-barreling their publishing their current publishers and then someone to handle the blacklist and if there are holes there, self-publish what they have the rights to.

    I think short fiction is important. I like that Stephen King champions the form with collections every now and then. I think some novelists write a chapter and put it out and call it a story. They’ve forgotten or don’t understand the form. So, it needs to be kept alive and fresh.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Excellent thoughts, Paul. Thank you for posting.

      I’m a pantser much more than I’m an outliner. The few novella/novel length things I’ve finished have been more because that was the length of the story rather than any intention on my part when I started writing. I need to get those things polished up and self-published. Ironically, the novel length thing that is clicking is rejected short story from an anthology I submitted to last year. I realized that I had taken the first chapter and what I initially thought was the last chapter (but is probably only the end of part I) and tried to make a short out of them. It’s a little different than anything I’ve done before, so we’ll see how and where it goes.

      That being said, I think my natural length at the moment is the novelette/novella. I’ve got some ideas for some that are part of a larger story arc, but those are the lengths I seem to be drawn to.

      I’ve tried to support magazines/electronic periodicals but I’m probably going to have to cut some of them out. As you say, too many piling up unread. My intention has always been to study them and get an idea of the editor’s tastes, but that hasn’t happened.

      Your mentioning King reminded me that somewhere he wrote that he would write something short while waiting to hear on a novel submission. This was when he was first starting out, so I don’t know if he still does that. I’ve got a couple of projects I’m bouncing back and forth on at the moment. Hopefully one or two of them will see the light of day.

      I’ve got a short collection of horror stories outlined, with the first done and the second nearly finished. There are at least two more to write. I’ll put the collection up on Amazon when I get them done. I don’t expect to sell many, being a collection by an unknown, but the practice should be beneficial. Finally, I’m thinking of submitting a few of the trunk stories to some of the online semi-pro markets for the feedback and exposure.

  2. Adrian Simmons

    In comparison to the “Golden Age” it is pretty obvious that the market for short SF/F has fallen pretty far. However! There are still (depending on how you want to count it) three strong flagship magazines (Asimov’s Analog, MoF&SF), as well as several other high-end markets (Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, spring to mind), several good semi-pro markets (Giganatosaurus, HFQ, Skelos, and others).

    That said, you are correct in that getting into these venues is not easy. There is a lot of competition. And an outfall of that is that the odds of getting any feedback on your work is pretty small. I can’t speak for everyone but here is how it works at HFQ.

    Using a baseball analogy- we only engage with the third base hits. Even then we don’t try to get them all to home plate, but it’s got to be a 3rd base hit before we send anything other than a form rejection. So if you’re looking for feedback you’d have to get feedback rejections (3rd base hits!) from at least two venues and they would have to hit (roughly) the same points for them to do you any good!

    I also think (although I cannot prove) that the same 2-5 pages that we are going to judge your 5,000 word short story on are the same 2-5 pages that someone is going to judge your 150,000 word novel on. I have SEEN this happen at a couple of conferences (“agent survivor”)– AND those were agents, something else that has to be factored in if you want to pursue novels– an agent certainly helps.

    As far as financial viability goes… man, that’s a total crap-shoot. On the one hand, I get it, we all want to get paid a non-insulting amount for our work. On the other… chasing the money is a guaranteed recipe for heartache. Most of the happier writers I know view it as a hobby. You want to do it, you want to do it well.

    All that said, I am coming to believe more and more that short story/novella writing is a better investment of time and energy all around. I feel that a beginner writer who grinds out 10 10K short stories will get better and get better faster than the writer who grinds out 1 100K novel. Also, well, I’ve seen people get incredibly invested in novels in a way they would never do with a short story.

    Of course, I’d love to point to my long list of short-story pro-sales to back all this up, but as that hasn’t happened, I can’t.

    …it may sound like a I’m anti-novel, I’m not really. I understand that the art of the novel and the art of the short story only have a little overlap. But I think that given the limits on time and energy and money, short stories seem to be much better investments.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Adrian. It’s always good to hear from an editor.

      I agree with you about chasing the money is a guarantee for heartache. I’m still a hobbyist.

      I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I posted this, especially since I responded to Paul. I think you are probably right about short fiction being a more effective training than novels for learning the craft. You raise some good points about getting invested in novels. I heard a story one time about a ceramics class where the instructor divided the students into two groups. One group only had to make one piece all semester, but it had to be as close to perfect as the students could get it. They spent all semester trying to get their one piece perfect, much like the novelists you mention. The other group would be graded on quantity. The more pieces they produced, the higher their grades. Quality would not be considered. At the end of the semester, the group that had produced the most pieces (bowls, vases, etc.) were also producing the better pieces.

      I’ve always written, even if it was just journaling. (Note to self: burn those before I die and my heirs find them when they go through my stuff.) Since I’ve always made up stories in my head, I might as well write them down. If people will pay me for them, even better.

      To that end, I want to be the best writer I can. I’ve written fantasy, science fiction, horror, and noir, including many of the subgenres of those categories. Yesterday I wrote poetry. I think writing across multiple genres will only serve to make be a better writer in the long run. Each subgenre has its own challenges. I’m up for the challenge. What I need to focus on is finishing what I write.

      So my goal for this year is to finish and submit one story a month, on average. I’ll also work on a couple of novels that are in various stages of completion and try to get at least one finished this year. I may not succeed, but I’ll do my best.

  3. Adrian Simmons

    Finishing a story can sometimes be pretty difficult, honestly. The early stages, the “idea” stages– that’s where the fun is. But the more you write, the more you get locked into one particular idea and it slowly transitions from “fun” to “work”.

    You’d also think that if you write a story with idea ‘A’, you could turn around and write it again going with idea ‘B’. You’d think wrong! For myself, when I’m done with a story I’m pretty much done with it.

    I, too, in spite of my dogging of novels earlier, have two novels that I peck at now and then. At least, I think they are novels– I’ve actually made myself not think or outline too much (see the fun/work ratio above), but they are big stories and I have no real desire to get them all done in a hurry.

  4. Woelf Dietrich

    Long gone are the days when pulp-writing could earn you a living. However, technology opened up new channels and ways of making a good run at it. The problem now is finding enough eyeballs willing enough to pay you for your writing.

    I’ve been doing this now for a few years and I still can’t support my family. But that is my fault. I should produce far more than I do now and more quickly. I’m not writing as much as I should. The more you produce, the more you increase your chances of being noticed. Writing a solid story is, of course, inherent to the process.

    So my strategy this year is to submit short stories to online magazines, of which “Beneath Ceaseless Skies” is the first one. I won’t wait for a reply. I’ll start working on the next one, and the next one, and so on and so forth. If I get rejected I’ll just self-publish the story and move on. I’ll do this on top my other projects with Kosa Press. The problem is my personal projects that I’m not getting time for. They are all novel-length works and take a lot of time and a tremendous amount of research. And I need to make time for reading. There is a balance here somewhere, I’m sure.

    As for making a living, I think if you can get your stories in with the online magazines while writing other things, it will help you find more readers. If you keep doing that, something good is bound to happen. Or so I tell myself.

  5. David West

    Just for me, I love short stories. I’m going to keep reading them, new ones, rereading old ones I love; but for my own work I’ll be cutting back to work on punchy short novels.
    I’m envisioning a E-repeat of the 70’s paperback heyday. So my personal writing goal is to get out several fun action/speculative fiction novels this year. a little longer than novella’s but not by much.

    That’s just my own interpretation of the market so that’s where I’ll run with it. That and I just don’t have the patience to want to wait a year to hear whether I got an acceptance or a rejection.

    Still, if someone would put together a call for the right anthology (hint, hint) I’d sure submit something.


    I dream about putting together an old school S&S collection, but I’m just not a good enough editor – I need more eyes just like Paul said.

  6. Keith West Post author


    That’s the strategy I’m going to take. I may try a few of the semi-pro markets just to see what happens and maybe get some editorial feedback if I can make the cut.

    I’ve read some of your work and have really enjoyed it. I wish you the best of luck.


    I’m kicking some long novella/short novel ideas around. I’ve got a fantasy mystery and a science fiction mystery I need to make another pass at it (notice a pattern?) as well as what I hope to be the first in a sword and planet/hard science fiction series that is almost done. I also hope to outline the humorous fantasy novelette/novella/short novel/? over the next few weeks. Then there’s what I refer to as the deep space disaster novel which is going to involve some research, as a breeder reactor is key to the plot, and those are outside my field. I’ve also got part of a crime/noir story sketched out which could turn into a novella or short novel.

    I submitted a crime short to Ellery Queen last year, and it seems to have made it past the first reader. I’m toying with sending it to Alfred Hitchcock, but they have a year response time right now. I may just write a few more crime stories and publish a small collection. If I get cracking, I could maybe have that out in a year.

    As far as the S&S anthology, I wish someone would put one together. Maybe we could form our own… I realize you may not have meant that, David, but still…

    1. Woelf Dietrich

      Thanks, Keith. We’ll just keep writing. The most stubborn will win.

      As for the S&S anthology, I’m game. Just thought I’d put it out there, you know, in case people want to consider it… I know some editors. We could chip in for a cover artist. I can search for someone awesome to write the Foreword. It’s all doable.

        1. David West

          I’m all for a partnership etc in that venture. I think we’ve all got some skills that could be utilized.

          The Eldritch collections that were done mostly with my Utah pal’s have done reasonably all right (I would say “Gods in Darkness” has made me about a grand or so) and I think I’ve learned quite a bit when it comes to the marketing angle etc – I just know that “I” am a piss poor editor. I know what I like when I see it – but I couldn’t be trusted to sneak us past the grammar nazi’s.

          1. Keith West Post author

            There’s a lot to consider. I can handle the grammar. It’s the other aspects I don’t trust myself with. There’s a lot to consider from a legal/financial angle to this type of venture. Just what would be a learning curve for me. But that’s not a bad thing.

            I say we give it some thought, take our time and do it right, and put together the best project we can. Then see what happens.

          2. Woelf Dietrich

            I don’t trust my own editing ability but then I also believe that editors keep a writer from making an ass of himself. Having said that, I find myself excited about the prospects of such a project. Writing old school S&S… Man, that’s awesome!

  7. Paul McNamee

    You know I’d be in for an anthology.

    Outside of s-&-s, I was staring to ponder a shared pulp adventure world and novellas from multiple authors. Probably because I’m in the middle of a DOC SAVAGE read right now. Still pondering that one. It’s my newest shining distraction but I have other things to finish first.

    Maybe by summer I can really give it some deeper thought.

    1. Keith West Post author

      You were first on the list of people who hadn’t chimed in that I was going to tap to participate if this thing takes off.

      The shared pulp adventure world is a good idea. DOC SAVAGE is on my list to read, hopefully in the next few weeks.

      Another thing I think worth considering is an anthology series where each contributor has a recurring pulp character or set of characters. There could be a science fiction/sword and planet character, an old school S&S series, a hard-boiled detective, a mystery man or hero character, etc. Each volume would have a certain number of stories/words. The contents could vary depending on each contributor’s schedule. For instance, author A might only be able to have his character in every other volume, while author B would have a story in each one.

      Like you say, by summer…


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