As I wind down the last issue of Hardluck Stories, the question of whether web-zines or a good or bad thing thing for writers is something that I'm still struggling with. On the positive side, having a story published on a zine will give the writer exposure, maybe help in some way in landing an agent or a book deal, or in providing advertising for their books. I know that some industry people--critics, agents, editors, do look at Hardluck. So all that can be good for a writer. But the sad fact is the stories tend to only get 500-1000 hits when they're first published, and maybe another few hundred over their lifetime, so they're not getting the 1000s of readers I would've hoped. Although I did publish one story that receives 1000s of hits--Graham Powell's "Cutting Diamonds". Graham bought advertising on a web-page recommendation site, and another site picked up the link, and the number of hits were amazing.

And now for the thing that has me really struggling over this--Hardluck is a none paying web-zine, but even with the low paying ones--are web-zines doing a crime fiction writer community a disservice by devaluing short fiction? If you're setting the price to $0 or even $25 for a story, that has to be a bad thing for the community, right? At some point that has to bring down the price for stories in print. I know there's a history for literary magazines to pay with contributor copies, but that's hasn't been the history for crime fiction. Anyway, this has been something I've struggling over before deciding to shut Hardluck down (although I have other reasons for doing that) and I'd like to know what other people think.

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I spend a great deal of time on a short story. You might say that, comparatively speaking, more attention goes to the story than the novel. Yet novels pay much better, again comparatively speaking, and give the author more exposure. I write only for a paying market, AHMM, to be precise. One reissue runs on Amazon Shorts, and while it has stayed among the best sellers for well over a year, my income has been less than $20.00 so far. But then I use Amazon Shorts for publicity and not for income. As far as I can tell, short stories have their own readers who prefer the format to novels, but their numbers are much smaller. Certainly, having any sort of venue encourages new writers who are passionate about the art.
As a reader, I really like the convenience and variety I find in online fiction. I couldn't read a whole novel on my computer (I downloaded the free version of Charles Bock's "Beautiful Children" but then had to read the actual book - it's terrific, by the way), but I can read short stories. One of the main things I like about online short stories is that they aren't censored in any way. Pretty much all the print magazines have rather strict (I think) guidelines. Online magazines are also a great way to get a sample of a writer's work - and I prefer a self-contained story, even a flash, to a sample chapter.

As a writer, I really like online magazines because they're a place for my stories that otherwise doesn't exist. My writing simply isn't appropriate for places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock, but I really enjoy writing them and without online magazines I guess I wouldn't bother. But it's a great way to test out characters and settings and work on your voice as a writer.

Money is important, sure, but if it's all you're in this for there are plenty of professions with way more money to be made. As IJ says, if you're passionate about it as an art, then the having venues is very important.
I was just taking a look at this and doing some thinking. I have heard that some agents/publisher's are "not" impressed if you've done anything in the way of e-books. I haven't got a clue if that's true or not, I do have a small press publisher and they're fine with it...but I don't know how NY feels. I do like the points you raised though, of getting out there and having more visibility. You have to start getting your name recognized somewhere don't you:) I do agree though, that non payment is setting a precedent we may all regret...because as for any talent, whether it's voice, painting, etc. you do need some compensation. Otherwise you're creating a public that developes a taste of something for nothing....and it actually hurts the author who is charging.
I was impressed that you can kind of write as you wish, in the e-zine, again, I haven't travelled there yet, so I don't know...and as far as trying to read a novel presented as an e-book, I'd have to order one of those things by Kindle or something to do that....which I think ultimately may become the going thing.:)
I had a reasoned, well thought out comment ready to go (yes, me), then saw John beat me to all the best points. I don't see a major downside to having the stories published for free; it's not like the online competition has driven a lot of paying print mage out of business. Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen pretty much had the market to themselves and, like John, what I write doesn't quie meet their guidelines. I've had several stories published for no compensation (although I did get a nifty tee shirt from ThugLit that I like a lot); I consider it part of my apprenticeship.
I am eternally grateful for sites like Hardluck Stories for allowing me to have an outlet for my stories. I don't mind that I don't get paid at this point. What I do mind is having nowhere to send stories to. If I were 25, I might feel differently but since there are so few paying markets, this is an essential outlet for writers. Maybe mostly new ones, but still writers. You did us a great service. I loved seeing my stories with fantastic illustrations. You put out the best zine anyone could ask for. I couldn't have been happier. Thank you so much.
Patti, I appreciate the comment. To be honest, it bothers me when I look at the quality of the stories I've been publishing knowing that the writers aren't getting paid what they should for them. At least for one issue I was able to get them paid--the Western noir anthology is on track, but I wish it had worked out for more of the issues. And I keep struggling with the thought that web-zines like Hardluck are damaging crime fiction writers by devaluing their work. It's a tough call. I can obviously see the value of having more venues for writers, but when you're creating this situation where people are giving away their work, or selling it too cheap, it just can't be good. When I started Hardluck, I thought I'd be able to figure out a way to generate income with it so I could make it a paying market, and pay writers a good rate, but it's clear with the web that's not going to happen. Anyway, that's only part of the reason I'm shutting Hardluck down--it's more that after 5 years I've run out of steam with it, and just not enough time with other things I need to do.
Five years is more than anyone should have to give considering you're the one who most deserves to earn something for your work on Hardluck. Starting late like I did, money was not much of a consideration for me. But I'm sure I'm in the minority with this. Hopefully others will pick up the baton. Maybe you'll return some day as Neil has. I can't picture more print magazines coming on the scene with the way things are. I hope I'm wrong but I can't see it happening.
Dave,
As I said earlier, I've yet to go to an e-zine...but I am considering entering a contest in one...(for the first time:)..there is payment if you win, nothing breath taking but it would be a nice thing to have:) That in no way is to minimize what you did over the past five years...it sounds like your dedication and motivation were both very amazing. I really know little about the topic...other than it was discussed at my last writer's group meeting...and several of us there who had published, liked the idea of people having a place to begin, but they were concerned because they are writing dilligently and find it difficult because they sometimes face the re-action of "why don't they do it for x amount?"...Having been around two groups of burgeoning writer's, it does eventually become necessary if they are going to continue in the field to receive compensation. But again, everyone does understand that it is a kudo behind your name to have something that has published (if you have an agent/publisher that isn't averse to e-books)
That was a long comment I know...sorry:) I'm just trying to say, I can understand the benefits but also see some of the issues that writer's who are new in the field are struggling with....there is a LOT of time and energy involved not only in the writing...but then in marketing....and if they can go to an e-zine that offers some form of payment, it does help...bringing up websites, having bookmarks with your details on them, money for transportation to events where you sell, all take money...and so, we're grateful for any form of payment we receive:)
I'm not sure exactly what the downside to e-zines is (other than a massive time/energy suck for the editor/s). New writers have a chance to get a cred, more established writers can submit a story just 'cause they wanna, short story fans have more to read. Of course, all that is dependent on having a decent e-zine with a good editor. Most of the crappy ones fold pretty quick - 5 years is a helluva run!

Yeah, the pay, or lack thereof, sucks. But so what? If a writer is looking to get paid, s/he should try a paying market. And there are places that at least pay a little. The exposure, though, is totally worth it, IMO. Often, if there's a new(ish) author I haven't read, I'll check out their short fiction before shelling out the moolah for a novel. So...I like 'em!
You know, in some ways I think this idea of the pay is a bit of a red herring. How much do you get, exactly, for a story in AHMM or OQMM? A couple hundred bucks? I don't want to sneer at that, but it shouldn't be the deciding factor for writing the story or not. Let's face it, this isn't the fifties, no one is paying the rent with short stories. Precious few are paying the rent with novels.

And, in terms of the content, I think there's been a growing interest in noir/hard-bioled - whatever you want to call it - fiction with adult content, swearing, sex, violence, etc., that the print magazines won't touch but publishers of novels will and I think web-zines have been an important factor in this increased popularity. I believe one of the reasons that I have a publishing deal is because these web-zines proved there was interest in this kind of story - there certainly aren't any (or very, very few) print magazines for my style of writing.

It's too bad the contributors and editors of these web-zines aren't benefiting more directly.
Re pay at AHMM (or EQMM): It's per word. I write long stories, almost novella length). I earn usually between $ 800.00 to $ 1,000.00. Agent takes 15 %, IRS takes 40 % of the remainder, and I have spent at least 2 months full time on it. One bonus: there are no revisions and galleys to slave over.

As for content restrictions by AHMM and EQMM: I have never been aware of them. The short story format restricts me to plot and characterization. Unless you talk about gratuitous sex, violence, bad language, I have a hard time getting those kinds of things in. :) In general, I have trouble now selling to women readers because I do have violence and sex in the novels. F-words and other slang are much rarer in other cultures.

While I don't pay much attention to possible censorship by publishers, I have noticed that the editors of both magazines have made some recent changes in content which address the interest in hardboiled mystery fiction. They're in the business of selling magazines.
I'd like to confirm what IJ is saying about the content of AHMM and EQMM--they both publish noir and hardboiled, you just have to cut out the profanity and tone down the sexual explicitness. AHMM has published a couple of very noir stories of mine, one of which, "Closing Time", while written in a light, bantering tone, is darker and more noir than most of the stories on Hardluck. EQMM has also published one hardboiled story of mine, and in a future issue, will be publishing a hardboiled novella, both of which content-wise could show up on hardboiled- webzines, accept length-wise, they're far too long for that.

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