Report on “State of Short Fiction”

I had the opportunity last night to attend a panel discussion hosted by The Baltimore Science Fiction Society on the “State of Short Fiction.”

Society headquarters is located at 3310 E. Baltimore Street and you’ll know when you are there.  Seriously, the rooms are lined with books by oh-so-familiar authors: Piers Anthony, Lackey, Jordan, McCaffrey. A darlek stands in the corner looking down on the rows of seats (and on humanity).

If anyone knows me, you know my impressive ability to get lost despite the most state-of-the-art nav systems.  But, the panel was star-poweringly-amazing enough to make me leave my house and search out this gathering.


Left to right: Writer Erica Satifka, Jonathan Landen (Daily Science Fiction), Moderator Sarah Pinsker, Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld), Norm Sherman (Drabblecast), Bill Campbell (Mothership)

Here’s the good news:  The panel agreed that the internet has made two huge improvements to the state of short fiction for science fiction and fantasy writers.  The first is the diversity of both characters and authors.  Gender, race, economic status, disabilities, etc. are becoming more equally represented.  International readership and submissions are on the rise.  The second improvement is the internet’s ability to provide information.  Now, more than ever before, writers have access to niche markets that either weren’t around or weren’t easily accessible.

Here’s the bad news:  I let my introvert nature prevent me from proper networking. I listened to the panel, but I should have pushed myself.  Here are the two questions I should have asked:

1)You (editors) told us what you don’t want to see.  What is a topic or area you WOULD like to see in a submitted story?

2) The editors discussed podcasts of their accepted stories.  How often do you let authors read their own work?  Would you consider having an author record their own work.

Yup, I should have raised my hand and not minded when people looked at me (of course you look at the person who is asking the question).  I probably would not have stuttered.  If I did, the moderator (Sarah Pinsker) probably would have just asked me to repeat the question.  And, the information to those two questions would have made me feel like the trip to Baltimore was worth it because I’ve submitted to three of those publications and I would LOVE to be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  LOVE IT.

So, I stayed through the discussion and here’s a fun list of currently overdone submission topics:

Zombies, stories that start in a fantasy tavern, playground with children that is God creating the world, stories that start with waking up, dead body-turned -detective stories.  **It was acknowledged that any of these COULD be published if done excellently and with focus on character.

Anyway, I didn’t ask my questions, but surely I stayed for the reception and shook the hands of these editors in charge of the publications where I would like to see my work find a home?  Yeah….No, I didn’t.  But, you might say, what about Scott Andrews.   Didn’t you recently write a story JUST for Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  Yes, I did.  And I got a personal rejection and an invitation to submit a different story.  How was I going to work that into a conversation without looking like a complete weirdo?  Just ignore that factoid and act all fangirl?  So, I left.

But I have a whole page of notes and I’ll share announcements:  Balticon 48, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction Convention, will be held May 23-26th at the Hunt Valley Inn.  And, you can find the Baltimore Science Fiction Society on Facebook for events and networking.  I’m sure you’ll do a better job than me.

If you were there last night and have anything to add, please write it in the Comments section.  I’d be interested to know what other people in the audience considered ‘highlights.’  If you weren’t there, what are some questions you would have asked the editors?  Help me make a list of questions to take with me to the next panel or conference.




11 thoughts on “Report on “State of Short Fiction”

  1. And I would have answered…

    1)You (editors) told us what you don’t want to see. What is a topic or area you WOULD like to see in a submitted story?

    That’s a know it when I see it thing. If I had a specific idea in mind, I’d probably commission it. Mentioning it publicly would poison my slush pile for months. 🙂

    2) The editors discussed podcasts of their accepted stories. How often do you let authors read their own work? Would you consider having an author record their own work.

    Kate has been narrating all of our recent podcasts, but in the past we did have a few authors record their own stories. I can’t see why we wouldn’t consider doing it again in the future. That said, we’d expect certain standards for the quality of the reading and the audio. Kate and I would make the final call.

  2. Have you read over Strange Horizon’s Submissions Guidelines? I get a kick out of the “Strange and Interesting Miscellany” section on the bottom. 🙂

    I might try to make Balticon. I try every year, but this year I should actually be free!

  3. I agree that the stories that really move us (Michele and me) are rarely what we’d expect. Topic isn’t destiny (for instance, we have published one of those many playground God stories at DSF, and have been impressed by what talented authors like Lavie Tidhar and Cat Rambo can do with the zombie trope).
    The field has always been and probably always will be hungry for hard science fiction that is compelling and beautifully written. I absolutely agree with Norm Sherman that you write the story you’re compelled to write, then find the best possible home for it.
    Thanks for attending, and for posting about it. Come talk one on one afterwards next time if you don’t feel comfortable asking in front of everybody.

    • So cyborg mermaids aren’t immediately ruled out? I’m kidding. Unless you like that idea and then I’m not.
      Seriously, thank you so much for coming to the panel discussion and for answering my question here.

  4. Thanks very much for coming! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’ll chime in along with Neil on my answers to your questions:

    1)You (editors) told us what you don’t want to see. What is a topic or area you WOULD like to see in a submitted story?

    It’s not an area or topic so much as a style or setting, but I wish I saw more Weird West. I like the many various mixes of Old West and the fantastical or paranormal that we’ve done over the years, and I wish I saw more of that.

    But that’s just a surface interest. I agree with Norm and Jonathan–write what moves you. If you make that impact come through in the fiction, it will move other people too.

    2) The editors discussed podcasts of their accepted stories. How often do you let authors read their own work? Would you consider having an author record their own work.

    Only one time in our 125 podcast episodes have we had an author read their own work, and that was an author–Tina Connolly–who is also a podcaster; who hosts the Parsec Award-winning podcast Toasted Cake (which Erica mentioned on the panel).

    That sort of situation is probably the only case where I would consider it. I would need to know not only that the author is a great reader but also that they have the audio technical skills to record a high-quality recording.

    As for being concerned about mentioning a rejection letter in conversation with an editor, Neil actually has a great solution to that –he carries business cards that say “I was rejected by Clarkesworld,” and when someone tells him that, he hands them one. 🙂

    I personally always appreciate the thank-you’s that we at BCS get for our personalized rejections, which we write for every submission. It takes a lot of time to do that–no other pro-rate mag that I know of does it–so it’s always great when people tell me that they appreciated it.

    As for acting all fangirl/boy, I once made a blithering idiot of myself to Ted Chiang–“Story of Your Life” is one of my top two or three short stories in the history of the universe–and I was pretty much shaking when I introduced myself to George Martin at the Hugo reception.

    Most editors, certainly all those on this panel, are regular people too; we put our pants on the same as anyone else. 🙂 (When Norm wears pants, at least…) Feel free to say hi. If it ends up hitting awkward silence, you can always wrap things up by thanking them and moving on.

    I hope you will try it out on me at Balticon. 🙂

  5. Hi Sherri,
    You’ve got your own mini-panel happening right here! I actually deliberately didn’t ask the question “What is a topic or area you WOULD like to see in a submitted story?” Mostly because I know that most editors say either “If I told you, I’d be inundated with that type of story” or “A good story, well told.” I wouldn’t have minded if somebody asked from the audience, though. FYI, I think they have me moderating some variation on the same panel at Balticon, so you can have another chance to ask if you’d like.

    • I’m so surprised that the panel guests answered my questions here — very kind and generous of them. I do think it would be funny, as an experiment, if someone had said they wanted something really off-the-wall like an invasion of carnivorous butterflies and then see how many submissions roll in over the following six months or so. Great job moderating — hope to see you at Balticon!

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