Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Death of Print Magazines

I've been going through some of my old short stories to put together an ebook and as I edit them I've noticed a pattern that spells death to the old print magazines that I loved as a child.

In a modern short story the reader wants, well developed characters, a good description of the setting, an interesting plot, and a great overall concept.

What a print magazine wants is a story under 3,000 words.

How can those things work together? Not easily.

In the old days, when we walked two miles to school uphill both ways, the writers would cheat. You would have floating heads, just two characters talking with nothing to let the reader know what they looked like or even where they were. One dimensional characters and stories that were thrown together to bookend an interesting idea. I loved them.

Today readers want more and although it is possible to put all that in 3,000 words, it's not easy. With most of my work I can easily see where I sacrificed some of the elements readers want in order to stay under the word limit.

With my work in order to incorporate all those elements I need to go more towards the 5,000 word range. I've had some of my stuff held by magazines for two or even three cycles because the editor liked it, but they would have to bump two other stories for it.

Now it would be possible to write an excellent 5,000 word story and carefully trim and trim and then trim some more until it was a mediocre 3,000 word story but then writing and revising time would shoot up from a couple days to several weeks and even the biggest magazines don't pay enough for short stories to be written on that type of schedule, and why go through all the extra work to make something worse.

So I have a feeling that on-line magazines are going to be the way to go. On-line it's just as cheap to publish a 5,000 to 7,000 word story as it is to publish a 3,000 word story. These stories that are longer than the print magazines can afford will be better than what can be put in print because they will be written to length the story needs to be and not the mandatory 3,000 word limit.

It's a shame, I loved the quirky stories that the old pulp magazines published. Stories where an awesome idea or image was the focus of the story and everything else was just an afterthought. But times change and I'm sure there will be a place where those quirky tales will find a home.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Alien Thoughts

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