Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Minor Leagues


At last year's Confluence, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel of short fiction editors with David Hartwell. In the course of that hour, he made a comment that has intrigued me ever since. Editors such as myself, who do the hard work of putting together small press anthologies and magazines, serve an important role within the speculative fiction field. We are the minor leagues, preparing writers for the pro circuit, which consists primarily of Analog, Asimov's, and Fantasy and Science Fiction, and various anthologies that are typically by invitation only.

This struck me as an "old world" pre-internet concept. It didn't seem to me that I had been developing individual writers for the big league, but rather that the whole field had been fragmenting for some time now. Great, ambitious works are found in the Big Three to be sure (and publishing in them remains my Grail), but it seems that more and more excellent work is being found elsewhere, in places like Clarkesworld, Apex, SubterraneanPress, Lightspeed, and many others. Triangulation: Last Contact (the anthology I edit for Parsec Ink), for example, garnered more recommendations (7) from Tangent Online in the short fiction category, than Asimov's, Analog, or Fantasy and Science Fiction for the 2011 year. What does this say about the minor leagues?

In the good old days, there did seem to be a cohesive structure to this process of honing one's craft. One would begin, perhaps, as a fan fiction writer, progress to the small press, and finally break through into the pro marketplace. The experience these days seems to be one of being thrown into the deep end of a pool so crowded with swimmers that it's difficult to find water. Craft is honed, voice perfected, and gradually, one's stories begin to gain some notice.

What is your take on this topic?

8 comments:

  1. I think the internet has really changed the influence of "major" publishers and opened up the market. You can read some amazing stuff in places that are classified as "semi-pro"--Shimmer, Stupefying Stories, Abyss & Apex, etc., and the stories are either free or only a few dollars for an instant download. If it's a strong story, it will gain attention no matter where it's published.

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    1. I'm not so certain. How many folks have heard of "God in the Machine" by Charles Patrick Brownson? It got a rave review at Tangent, and maybe 200 people read the story. Of course it probably wouldn't have even been published back when the big three dominated, so it's a net positive. My concern is that there's just so much out there, that some really valuable stuff gets lost in the deluge.

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    2. True, the major sites get more attention (and are the first places I send submissions) but I think minor league publishers will gain more positive feedback in the coming years. It would be nice to see them get enough attention that they can raise pay rates and be regarded as pro as well. One can hope, right?

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    3. Shimmer is headed in that direction. They just recently announced they're raising their pay rates from 1 to 3 cents/word with hopes of pro-payment in the near future.

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  2. Hmmm, a very interesting point Steve. There is so much great stuff published, but it's the major leagues that attract most of the attention.

    Yet it can happen. My story published in a small press venue, got reviewed in the UK national press. I notice that Lois Tilton has reveiwed the non paying, but excellent, Mirror Dance in 'Locus Online' And non-major venues crop up in the Hugo's and the Nebuala's.

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    1. That's a fair point. Lois Tilton is amazing.

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  3. I'm still shooting for the top 3, but I wouldn't mind ending up in any of those SFWA-qualifiers. I just need 1 more to be an "active" member...whether or not I actually shell out the $ for membership at that point. It'll be nice to say I could if I wanted to!

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  4. I definitely think of the top 3 as the major leagues. I almost always start my submissions with them and work my way down. True, lots of good fiction gets published in the so called "minor leagues," just like there's a lot of talent waiting to get called up out there in the farm clubs. Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun--that's a lot of talent, and they all played in the minors. Just hope to pay my dues and develop my talent, then get called up.

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