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Monday, December 28, 2015

Epistemic closure at Tor

Tor.com is now closed to the unelect:
Since its inception, Tor.com has prided itself on the strength of its original short fiction. For a long time our unsolicited submissions formed the backbone of our catalog. We’ve found some of our favorite, most innovative, and most surprising stories through slush. However, in recent years we’ve found that more and more of our stories have been coming to us from different sources. As more of our stories are being brought in by consulting editors, fewer slots on our schedule can be filled by submitted stories. As such it’s time for a change.

On January 7th Tor.com will close its short fiction submissions system. Our dedicated editors and readers will read through and respond to everything that is submitted up to that point, but we do not plan to reopen in the foreseeable future. We are thankful to the authors who submitted stories to us, and to the readers who read those stories, always looking for the next great undiscovered work.
Translation: the short fiction market is rapidly approaching the terminal point. It costs less to simply let the "consulting editors", who are mostly Tor writers using Tor.com as a marketing platform, to bring in short stories from their friends and publish them there. Where else are they going to publish them, after all?

(And before anyone declares this is a great opportunity for Castalia, I reiterate: the short fiction market is dying. No one wants to pay for the required vehicles; even a phenomenal collection like There Will Be War Volume X, with rave reviews, superlative non-fiction pieces, and some of the biggest names of the last fifty years of science fiction on the cover, won't sell one-twentieth as well as a Larry Correia novel. While both mil-SF anthologies do well enough to justify their existence, I don't see any convincing rationale for developing a short fiction site at this time.)

This closure to the unsolicited means that Tor is, to a certain extent, doubling down on its commitment to Pink SF and the SJW vision of its inner circle, as without a sufficiently close relationship with a "consulting editor", you're not breaking in via that particular short fiction market anymore.

However, based on my experience with both RTRH and TWBW, this is unlikely to harm them much. The slush readers for the latter went over hundreds of submissions and found us precisely two new writers, Shao, and Newquist, while Cheah was the only new writer discovered in the process of producing RTRH. Now, the effort was worthwhile in the end, considering that two of the most popular stories in Volume X turned out to be the Cheah and the Shao - "Flashpoint: Titan" is easily my favorite in the anthology - but it was an awful lot of work for everyone involved.

(And Vol X slush readers, I have been remiss in not sending you your copies yet. If you already bought one, email me and I'll send you your choice of an earlier volume or the forthcoming Volume IX.)

This change isn't going to affect Tor much, nor does it indicate anything terribly important about Tor having to cut costs due to its declining sales. It's not as if they actually paid their slush readers. Its significance is in the hardening of the battle lines that it represents, and the way in which the SJWs at Tor continue to gradually cut themselves off from the traditional science fiction that they've always hated anyhow.

So, in the end, this is just another example of social justice convergence in action. Boycott Tor Books!

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43 Comments:

Blogger Thucydides December 28, 2015 5:59 AM  

How are they going to discover the next "If you were a rapist, my love?"

Blogger Sherwood family December 28, 2015 6:06 AM  

So short fiction at Tor will only come from folks who are already Torlings? Endogamy has advantages in that it keeps wealth inside the family and is somewhat easier to deal with because all entities are already known quantities. On the other hand, if you do it too long it makes the kids retarded. It is especially bad when a lot of the kids already are.

Blogger Rantor December 28, 2015 6:07 AM  

Closing their doors and closing their minds... Oh wait they were already close-minded

Blogger Phillip George December 28, 2015 6:15 AM  

are boycotts sexist? they should accept submissions from well lawyered up victimologists - that's only fair.

Blogger Alexandru December 28, 2015 6:34 AM  

I love short fiction, I might be one of the few people that often buys short fiction collections and still reads a few of the magazines. I even tried to read a bit of the Tor.com stuff but 90% was just garbage by the same usual people. Whenever I came across something I liked it was written by a new writer.

To me the value of short fiction is that if I like a story it makes me want to go out and buy a novel by the writer. The thing is, most of the short fiction markets cater to writing workshop artsy fantasy rejects about transnormative bi-gender aliens. I remember one issue of Asimovs a few months ago where every single story had a main character that was in a homosexual relationship. It was like the writers had to check that box in order to get published.

If there was a online market for non SJW fiction I would be a dihard fanatic.

Anonymous NorthernHamlet December 28, 2015 6:46 AM  

VD

the short fiction market is rapidly approaching the terminal point.

As this is in the context of your SF post, is it your opinion that this is the case for all genre?

Anonymous Sensei December 28, 2015 6:51 AM  

A tor happens when a bit of harder rock persists while the ravages of time and terrestrial weather wear down the softer stone nearby. In other words, they are resilient. But not antifragile...

Blogger Scuzzaman December 28, 2015 6:54 AM  

Even in the West, reading has always been a minority sport.

Now the West is actively discouraging the thinking that is necessarily promoted by reading about history, ideas, science, etc, it is only a matter of time until various genres and sub-genres die.

Boycott Tor books?

I have always been at war against the (Ch)Tor.

Blogger Mr.MantraMan December 28, 2015 7:01 AM  

Short scific has always been my favorite bit of the genre.

Blogger pdwalker December 28, 2015 7:32 AM  

I only bought 12 books this month. Not one of them was from Tor.

I'd buy more from Castilia house, but I don't think the publisher is whipping their writers hard enough because their production rate doesn't keep up with my reading rate.

Blogger 2Bfree December 28, 2015 7:44 AM  

VD - Your long time relationship with Bruce Bethke, the original cyberpunk, and his short story writing site gives you more than ample experience with the short story part of the market. Castalia House's marketing of not only Their Will Be War and RIDING THE RED HORSE, but also Sci Phi Journal etc. clearly indicates you have experience with anthology publications. The sad fact is that because of TOR and other lame stream publishing houses having ruined the genre, I've gone back to reading anthologies from my youth. Since the Gutenberg Project, I've almost given up on purchasing new fiction of any kind. There is literally years and years of good reading available, and trying to find a nugget of new stuff in the mountain of vampire-porn feminized trash now published was almost impossible. When bored and to lazy to search for a new read, one can always fall back on a Howard, ERB, or Heinlein book I haven't read in a decade.

Now that Castalia House is actually publishing some new stuff worth reading, I may have to revert to searching for new stuff once again. but . . . Gonna take a long time to get through all the stuff at the Gutenberg Project

Blogger Positive Dennis December 28, 2015 8:01 AM  

I guess I reflect the typical buyer today. As much as I like Butcher I have not purchased his Dresden novella. I just want longer stories. On a personal note, the water is rising here in Branson mo, like the old Johnny cash song it is 6 ft high and rising. We are ready to evacuate.

Blogger Nate December 28, 2015 8:23 AM  

" I reiterate: the short fiction market is dying. "

I really don't get this. sci fi and fantasy short story collections would seem to be perfect for today's short-attention-span burst organized society.

I mean we don't take time for anything. Everything we do, we do in short bursts. Got a few minutes? read a short story.

The only theory I have for this is rather than reading short stories people would rather shout inanity at each other on twitter.

Blogger Nate December 28, 2015 8:26 AM  

" As much as I like Butcher I have not purchased his Dresden novella. "

I haven't either... but if there were a collection of Dresden short stories that was novel length.. I'd buy that.

Anonymous 334 December 28, 2015 8:40 AM  

I read more detective fiction/thrillers than SF. One of the things many of the major writers of those genres are doing is releasing short stories for $1.99 on Amazon on a regular basis. I have no clue how these fare sales-wise, what the margins are like, or whether there's a big enough base in SF to do the same thing, but I've bought a bunch in the last couple of years.

Blogger TheRedSkull December 28, 2015 8:42 AM  

I dislike short story anthologies because so often burned by uneven quality and worldview. Skipping between authors also feels schizophrenic. In the digital cacophany there is no mind space to actually remember the individual authors unaided.

Hugh howey solved all these issues with his excellent beacon kindle select series of short stories. Antholigization of short stories is simply no longer technically necessary. The winnowing can be crowdsourced and algorithmed.

Blogger VD December 28, 2015 8:49 AM  

As this is in the context of your SF post, is it your opinion that this is the case for all genre?

I don't quite understand the question. I think short fiction of all genres is in trouble. I think the mainstream publishers are contracting in general. But there is plenty of room for the mammals to prosper as the dinosaurs fall.

Blogger Positive Dennis December 28, 2015 8:49 AM  

there is a collection of Dresden short stories, I read it on audible.

Anonymous NorthernHamlet December 28, 2015 8:52 AM  

VD,

You got it. Thank you.

Blogger Nate December 28, 2015 9:00 AM  

"there is a collection of Dresden short stories, I read it on audible. "

oh yeah... actually I did get that too... its the one that has short stories from the perspective of other characters. I forgot about that one.

Blogger BassmanCO December 28, 2015 10:01 AM  

Nate,

Butcher is coming out with another collection of Short Stories (I believe this year), including one from Molly's perspective and one from Marcone.

Blogger lubertdas December 28, 2015 10:19 AM  

Tis a shame the short story market is failing... In my youth, short stories were the "gateway drug" to an authors longer works. Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, Asimov, Clarke, Anderson, Pohl, the list goes on.

Some authors seemed at their peak in the short story format: Harlan Ellison, Robert Sheckley, and a lot more I can't think of right now...

It is indeed a shame...

Blogger tweell December 28, 2015 10:32 AM  

Once upon a time, science fiction and fantasy magazines published short stories by the score. My uncle had subscriptions to Analog and Asimov's SF magazines, but no one read them. He couldn't, and I gave up trying to find a decent story in them. Now that he's gone, they go straight to the recycle bin.

As a lad, I prized my Analogs, eagerly awaiting each issue and enjoying every story told in them. Now I treat the magazine worse than the weekly store ads - I'll at least glance over those. When, not if, Analog and Asimov's close down, the epitaph should read 'Killed by SJW political correctness'.

Blogger Skylark Thibedeau December 28, 2015 10:41 AM  

Most Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short fiction today is nothing of the sort. Most is 'magical realism' which is for the most part plotless and surreal. Look at Tor favorite China Mieville's newest anthology. Most of the stories make no sense at all.

Blogger Nate December 28, 2015 10:57 AM  

"including one from Molly's perspective and one from Marcone."

That's awesome. Marcone is a great character

Anonymous Leonidas December 28, 2015 11:06 AM  

The slush readers for the latter went over hundreds of submissions and found us precisely two new writers, Shao, and Newquist, while Cheah was the only new writer discovered in the process of producing RTRH.

Speaking as one of those, I appreciate the effort. But I also completely back your claim that short fiction doesn't sell, even in anthologies. It just doesn't. Frankly, I've been completely amazed at how well There Will Be War: Volume X has been selling (even without access to sales figures, I've sold enough on Amazon to know that getting it into the top 300 Kindle items store wide is a major feat, and about what that entails). And yet even so, it's already starting to taper off and will continue to do so rather quickly compared to a novel.

And this is probably going to be one of, if not the, best selling anthologies over the next 3-4 months. This is just the reality of short fiction.

@14: I haven't either... but if there were a collection of Dresden short stories that was novel length.. I'd buy that.

There is one. It's called Side Jobs. It's worth the purchase.

Anonymous Leonidas December 28, 2015 11:09 AM  

Whoops, someone beat me to pointing out the anthology. Sorry about that.

Blogger Skylark Thibedeau December 28, 2015 11:20 AM  

They are moderating replies to the policy change. Can't have any badfeels over there. Someone said they were surrendering to capitalism and I said it wasn't capitalism but Sovietism at it's finest with only the Nomenklatura being allowed to be published.

Anonymous Jill December 28, 2015 11:58 AM  

Such a shame. I love reading, editing, and writing short fiction. Scifi, comedy, magical realism...such a great artform. Hoping it will be revived someday.

OpenID anonymos-coward December 28, 2015 1:10 PM  

I really don't get this. sci fi and fantasy short story collections would seem to be perfect for today's short-attention-span burst organized society.

The "today's short-attention-span" meme is total bullshit. Look at the facts -- the books that are popular today. Stuff like 'Game of Thrones', 'Harry Potter', 'Hunger Games', etc.

See a trend? They're all thousand-page-long interminably endless novels. GRRM's novel is longer than two 'War and Peaces' and three Bibles combined, and it's not even close to being finished yet.

If anything, modern technology makes it easier to consume reading material daily, and the 'endless novel' format is just a simpler and more comfortable format for that kind of habitual reading.

Anonymous Leonidas December 28, 2015 1:31 PM  

See a trend? They're all thousand-page-long interminably endless novels.

The data clearly show that (at least in the e-book market) longer books outsell shorter books, books in a series outsell books that aren't in a series, and books in a longer series outsell books in a shorter series, and any novel length book vastly outsells short stories and anthologies.

I won't go quite so far as to say that the "short attention span meme" is bs, as you did, but it's clearly not the only game in town. I suspect that the culture is becoming bifurcated - the short attention span crowd and the heavily engaged intellectual crowd.

Also, I suspect that today's environment allows people to turn away rapidly once they discover that something is BS or once they've gotten the relevant information out of it. Both of those can have the appearance of "short attention span" at a glance, when in reality they're just optimization of time usage.

Anonymous KoranBurningFaggot December 28, 2015 3:16 PM  

How are they going to discover the next "If you were a rapist, my love?"

It will be on the Tor editor's casting couch.

See a trend? They're all thousand-page-long interminably endless novels.

How much is people buying them only to say they bought them while not reading them? Obviously most SJWs didn't read GRRM;s rape red wedding. Possibly just reading enough to get a gist of the world. "Hey I bought this book with Mary Sue girl power characters, click like please"

Anonymous VFM #0189 December 28, 2015 3:18 PM  

It is easier to write a very good short story than it is to finish a bad novel.

Blogger tweell December 28, 2015 3:54 PM  

Leonidas is on to something there. The folks with short attention spans aren't reading, period. They're watching videos and playing mini-games instead. Angry Birds is as intellectual as they can manage.

A grandson was going that way, but I managed to engage his attention with my Robert E. Howard collection. When he started complaining about the Hobbit movies hot elf love triangle, I congratulated him on his development of taste and gave him a gladius (flaming swords are hard to come by if you're not the ELoE).

Blogger Alexandru December 28, 2015 5:01 PM  

Im gonna jump in and agree with Leonidas. The attention span nonsense is nothing but baby boomer complaining. People are very much into long series not only in fiction but in movies, videogames, and TV shows. I think what you have is a desire for immersion in fantasy worlds that can't be achieved in short form. Is this a bad thing? I dont know. But you can see it in the popularity of binge watching entire shows on Netflix, the only way to watch TV IMHO.

Anonymous JI December 28, 2015 6:16 PM  

I have boycotted Tor since Vox brought out the problems with Tor a couple years ago, and have been wondering lately if there have been signs of improvement. I guess not, so my personal boycott will continue until I see Vox write that all-is-well at Tor. Sure, I guess I'm just a follower, and not one of Vox's "Ilk", but I don't have time or inclination to look deeply into this stuff and so just follow Vox's lead.

Blogger GK Chesterton December 28, 2015 6:19 PM  

I agree with the general sentiment here about attention span, but shorts in SF are a great fun to read and I'm sad they are dying. It would be interesting to know _why_. My guess is the short market has become so insular and hates their core customers so much that it has died of suicide. Of the world of Vox's that have been published my heaviest buys have been in the shorts.

Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit December 28, 2015 6:52 PM  

If you still enjoy reading short speculative fiction, take a look at the sci-phi journal. Link is here: http://www.sciphijournal.com/

Starting in January, one can read new stories on the website, free. Subscribers get the monthly compilation in e-reader or P.O.D. format.

I always find one or two new stories and essays that I enjoy, John C. Wright, Jagi, Mike Flynn and other puppy authors may be found therein as well.

Anonymous Leonidas December 28, 2015 7:25 PM  

It would be interesting to know _why_.

I think it's because the market for short fiction historically has been magazines - and the magazines are all dead. Not just sci-fi magazines, but all magazines. No other market for short fiction has really taken its place. A few people (such as the aforementioned sci-phi journal) have tried to create online "magazines" to replace it, but it's extremely difficult to generate a sufficient income stream online to keep one going. And that's even running at the dead-tree world's payment rates, which were terrible.

I was at a panel at DragonCon a year or two ago where an older author put it in perspective. I think it was Larry Niven. If it wasn't, it was someone close to his age. As he put it, when he first got into writing, short fiction paid about 5 cents a word. In the modern era, if you're lucky enough to find someone who will actually publish it, short fiction pays... about 5 cents a word. Back then entire careers were built on short fiction because you could. But the market for it has been dying for decades.

I think there are a lot of people out there who would still read it - especially if it were part of an ongoing series that they regularly read anyway (such as Nate and the Dresden Files, as mentioned above). But there's no existing marketplace that can generate enough revenue from it to make it worth an author's time to do a lot of it.

A lot of people thought that e-publishing would save the short fiction market, but (at least on Amazon) the economics aren't there. If you price something below $1.99, you get a 35% royalty instead of a 70% royalty. And on top of that, people just don't buy them. At Silver Empire, we put out an anthology this summer... and despite lower unit sales, it made more money than all of our individually published short stories combined. Again, the economics just aren't there to publish short fiction on Amazon.

There are a handful of exceptions. John Hartness has had reasonable success with the "Bubba the Monster Hunter" series (which are a blast, btw - many of the Ilk here would greatly enjoy them). The series is entirely short stories rather than novels. But then, I suspect that most of his money comes from the anthology bundles he puts out every so often. And there are a good number of them now. But he's an exception, not the rule.

If I had a good idea for a way to resurrect the short fiction marketplace I'd be game to give it a go. But I really don't see a workable business model in it right now.

Anonymous Leonidas December 28, 2015 7:43 PM  

As he put it, when he first got into writing, short fiction paid about 5 cents a word. In the modern era, if you're lucky enough to find someone who will actually publish it, short fiction pays... about 5 cents a word.

To put that into perspective, according to his own bibliography Larry Niven's first short story was published in 1964. According to this inflation calculator, that 1964 $0.05 is worth $0.38 in 2015 dollars - a 7x decrease in the value of it.

The submitted manuscript for "The Fourth Fleet" was 8,017 words (including the title). At $0.05 a word, that would've been $400.85. Period. No royalties, nothing. In 2015, that's crap. I make that in a day at my day job. Adjusted for inflation, though, that would have been the equivalent of $3,068.91. One of those a month, which you could do back then, and you could make a living. Maybe not a great living, but a living. One of those a month in 2015? That wouldn't even pay the grocery bill for my family.

Anonymous Leonidas December 29, 2015 10:56 AM  

Took me a while to remember my source for the claims I made above, but it is here. Actual hard data from Smashwords sales.

OpenID Jack Amok December 29, 2015 1:08 PM  

See a trend? They're all thousand-page-long interminably endless novels. GRRM's novel is longer than two 'War and Peaces' and three Bibles combined, and it's not even close to being finished yet.

This isn't entirely incompatible with short attention spans. A book or a series has a known setting, so once you pay your "entry fee" of learning the characters and background, you can read a little bit at a time, put it down, and jump back in later.

Anonymous No Comment December 31, 2015 5:06 PM  

For myself I like reading long series because I usually get really invested in the characters/world space and I want to stick with them as long as I can. (Not that I actually read a lot.)

And I haven't read too much short fiction. I've checked out a few anthologies from my local library's ebook collection. Some of the stories I just didn't like. Some felt too short or incomplete to me. And sometimes they felt like they were jumping too much too fast in the story. And some of them did feel like complete stories and left me feeling pretty satisfied at the end. But even with all that, a lot of the stories left me wanting more. Some of them felt like they could have used a little bit more. And others I wanted to read whole series of it.

Maybe part of it's just the quality of the stuff I was reading. But I'm sure a lot of it has to do with my own personal preferences.

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