By Kevin Moriarity
Managing Editor, FewerThan500
This is a wonderful time to be a flash fiction writer!
The period between the 1920s and the 1940s were a golden era for short fiction. Many “pulp” magazines existed for writers of short-form works, paying writers for both short stories and serialized novels.
Michael Ashley, author of “The History of the Science Fiction Magazine,” wrote:
“The Second World War paper shortages had a serious impact on pulp production, starting a steady rise in costs and the decline of the pulps. Beginning with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1941, pulp magazines began to switch to digest size; smaller, thicker magazines. In 1949, Street & Smith closed most of their pulp magazines in order to move upmarket and produce slicks.
The pulp format declined from rising expenses, but even more due to the heavy competition from comic books, television, and the paperback novel.”
The number of magazines that published fiction (and paid writers) dwindled and only a handful exist now.
The digital publishing revolution and evolving reading habits, however, have changed everything for flash fiction writers!
Traditional publishers still have a very limited interested in story collections from new writers, but it’s never been easier for a writer to create and publish their own collection of flash fiction.
There are two major factors favoring a resurgence in short-form writing.
Short Attention Spans
Lifestyle and technology have caused attention spans to decrease drastically. People are busier than ever. Technology has gotten smaller – more and more people read almost exclusively on mobile devices. In an article published in the October 28, 2013 edition of The Wire, Alexander Abad-Santos wrote:
“Our ADHD-ish lives are helping this recognition along too. In addition to TLDR disclaimers, we’re also a people who have developed strategies to avoid watching commercials during hour-long shows, and rely on brief text messages instead of phone calls. Smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices have all equaled the playing field…”
TLDR – that means “Too Long, Didn’t Read.” In the age of Twitter, that acronym pretty much says it all.
A short attention span, combined with the digital publishing revolution provides an excellent opportunity for flash fiction writers to publish in the Technology Age.
Julian Gough wrote in an article published in The Guardian:
“Writers can seldom express ideas ‘at their natural length’, because in the world of traditional print only a few lengths are commercially viable. Write too long, and you’ll be told to cut it (as Stephen King was when “The Stand” came in too long to be bound in paperback). Worse, write too short, and you won’t get published at all. Your perfect story is 50 pages long – or 70, or 100? Good luck getting that printed anywhere.
Hence the revolution. Because the new length exploits this hole in traditional publishing.
The hole has existed for 500 years; it’s baked into the print model. The high fixed overheads of book production – printing, binding, warehousing and distributing a labour-intensive physical object – have tended to make books of fewer than 100 pages too expensive for the customer.”
E-books to the rescue!
Roberto A. Ferdman wrote in Quartz:
“For evidence, look no further than the rise of digital publishing. The most prominent example is Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, launched in 2011, which has proven popular and lucrative for Amazon and authors alike. The program, which publishes both fiction and nonfiction short enough to be consumed in under two hours, allows authors to pocket up to 70percent of royalties, compared to the 8 percent to 15 percent traditionally paid for novels.
In May (2013), the Times reported that Amazon had sold nearly 5 million Kindle Singles in just over two years since its launch. Roughly 28 percent of Amazon Kind Single had sold more than 10,000 copies as of May; nearly 8 percent had sold over 50,000 copies.”
And since 2013, more and more authors are writing even shorter stories and opting to self-publish their work electronically. According to an article published in the Huffington Post in June of last year, most short stories are typically 5,000–30,000 words (flash fiction is less than 1,500 words, but collections of flash fiction could easily be in this range) and are priced from $0.99 to $4.99. Traditional publishing simply cannot get stories to readers at that price point. Electronic publishing simply makes more sense for the short genre.
It helps that it has never been easier for writers to create an e-book. Amazon provides simple instructions for Microsoft Word users. Other products, like Scrivener and Sigil, make it easy to create e-books without using any coding languages. Writers can very simply create an e-book and upload it to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where it is immediately available for sale. While reaching a mass market is still an immense challenge becoming a published author has become fairly effortless.
I’m encouraging all writers, especially those who write flash fiction, to get their work out into the world. It’s never been easier and the market is ripe for this short genre!