Friday, January 29, 2016

2015 Short Fiction Reading: A Summary

First things first: this is not a post about fiction published in 2015. Rather, these are my thoughts on the 445 short works that I read in 2015, from just over 100 different venues including magazines, collections, anthologies, and author websites.

I started on January 1, 2015, with the goal of reading at least one short story every day for a year. The "rules" I set for myself meant that I could catch up when necessary, but I couldn't read ahead. So if I missed two days while away for a weekend, I had to make up those dates. But if I was caught up and still felt like reading a few short stories on any given day, those did not count towards future dates. Hence the 445 stories in a 365-day year. While the number sounds impressive, I feel compelled to mention that a lot of the stories I read were flash fiction, which I define as under 1,000 words.

Another "rule" was that stories had to be published, so the dozens of unpublished stories I've critiqued for both online and in-person groups were not counted.

I had two main reasons for doing this. First, I hoped that reading so many short stories would allow me to absorb some wisdom that I could incorporate into my own writing. Second, I wanted to become a more informed voter for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. I feel as though I definitely accomplished the latter, although I'm also hopelessly aware that these stories are barely a drop in the bucket compared to what's out there. Whether my own writing has gained any benefit from this experiment, I can't say. I'm submitting and selling more than ever before, but I think that has more to do with how much I'm writing rather than how much I'm reading. That said, reading can never be bad for a writer, and I do not understand writers who say they don't read other authors' work.

In any case, because I love data, I kept very detailed records. Here are some observations:

What I Read Most

The publication I read the most was Daily Science Fiction, with 76 stories. The second most was QuarterReads (47 stories), but in a way that doesn't count, because QuarterReads wasn't doing any kind of editorial oversight and most of the works had been previously published elsewhere. (In fact, there was a distinct difference in quality in that I didn't like most of the stories original to QuarterReads nearly as much as the others). The third most was Every Day Fiction, another daily flash market, with 37 stories. Other magazines for which I read at least seven stories included Perihelion SF (12), Clarkesworld (10), Strange Horizons (9), Crossed Genres (9), Lightspeed (8), One Teen Story (8), Diabolical Plots (7), and Nature's "Futures" (7).

Favorite Publications

Before running the numbers, my memory and instincts told me that my tastes seemed to align best with those of Crossed Genres and Diabolical Plots. In looking at those magazines for which I read at least five stories, my average ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 were: Flash Fiction Online (4.08), Clarkesworld (3.80), Diabolical Plots (3.79), Lightspeed (3.69), Strange Horizons (3.67), Nature Futures (3.50), One Teen Story (3.38), Daily Science Fiction (3.31), (3.30), F&SF (3.20), Crossed Genres (3.17), Every Day Fiction (3.05), and Perihelion (2.71).

It's worth mentioning that these are all actually good ratings. If I rate a story 2.5 stars, that means that I think it was average, and the things I like and dislike about it are about equal. So anything above that means better than average. I also had at least one 4 or 4.5 star rating for most of those publications. Most, but not all, were science fiction or fantasy.

It's also important to note that this is by no means random. I'm always listening to other people's recommendations, so if someone has described this great story that they read on Lightspeed or Clarkesworld and I like the sound of it, it has a much better chance of pleasing me than a story I've picked at random from a small publication. And that's OK -- this reading is for me. Finally, I should mention that lots of magazines ended up with even higher average ratings, but they were based on only a couple of stories.

New Favorite Authors

I'm developing a list of my favorite short fiction writers. Ted Chiang was already on that list (duh!), but I now deliberately seek out short stories by Caroline Yoachim and Ursula Vernon too. That's not to say I love every piece by every one of these authors -- there are even a few Chiang stories that don't do it for me -- but I'm excited to read their new work and I enjoy it more often than not. (And the best part is that Caroline and Ursula both have tons of work I haven't read yet!) Finally, I want to get back to Hannu Rajaniemi's collection -- I loved some of his stories and would have included them as favorites in my monthly round-up posts, but decided I wanted to do a post on the entire collection. That's on the to do list.

Story Length

I've learned that I definitely prefer shorter stories. Not necessarily flash, but a story has to be brilliant for me to want to keep reading past, say, 6,000 words. I'd say my sweet spot is probably about 3,000-4,000 words. But speaking of flash, if you're ignoring it because you think it's all gimmicks, you're missing out. I have nominated a few pieces of flash for either the Hugo or the Nebula (or both), and will continue to do so when warranted.

A Few Dead Markets

I was extremely disappointed to learn that both Crossed Genres and QuarterReads are no more. I adored the way Crossed Genres did themed issues, one per month, and then published three stories, one of which was always by a debut author. And QuarterReads was such a fun concept: pay a quarter to read a story, with the option to tip the author if you really liked it. Unfortunately, this venture only lasted about a year, and although the proprietor said he plans to pay authors what they're owed, even if they haven't yet reached the $10 threshold, I am not holding my breath. As a reader, I also feel short-changed, because I can still use my remaining quarters (I just tested it), but no new work is being added. Oh well.

What I'll Do Differently in 2016

For this first part of the year, my intention is to read as much 2015 work as possible for award nomination and voting purposes. That's my intention, but I have to admit that when a Daily Science Fiction story shows up every day in my inbox, it often catches my eye and I read it. And if I then get busy, well, I've already read a story that day and have less incentive to go looking elsewhere. I'd also like to spread my reading around a bit more, but at the same time, I want to read a lot of stories from the same markets. Maybe I should be going for two a day....

Data-wise, I'm now keeping more careful track of story word counts so that I don't have to scramble later, trying to remember if it's a short story, novella, or novelette. And I'm keeping the spreadsheet as I go, so I don't have to spend all of January next year compiling a year's worth of information! I also want to be able to easily run the numbers for how many stories I read that were published in a given year.

One thing I won't change: in my monthly posts, I talk about my favorite stories of the month. I list everything I read, but I have no plans to discuss stories I didn't like. I think the closest I might come is if I love most of a story but one thing breaks it for me -- but even that I'm not sure about. That said, if I list a story as read but don't discuss it, that doesn't necessarily mean I didn't like it. In fact, I might like it a lot. I may just not have anything to say about it.

So yeah, it's been fun. You know that recent meme on Facebook? Here's my version:

This is Amy. Amy reads lots of short fiction. Amy is smart. Be like Amy.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is fascinating, and really cool to see your reading stats. :D Thanks for sharing this!