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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By "other cultures" I guess you mean non-English speaking.

I have trouble keeping the gratuitious sex and bad language out.

I always find it odd that people lump "sex and violence" together. Sex is good, violence is bad - at least in my personal life.
Yes, that would be non-English speaking. The Brits (Aussies and Canadians ?) swear a lot, but perhaps not as shockingly as the Americans. I've never been the least bit shocked by an abundance of "bloody."

What sells is violent and kinky sex. Good sex (congrats!) tends to be boring for most readers. Of course, there is romance sex, which also sells, and is certainly seen as good, but you and I know that that stuff is repetitive, even in its excessive detail and inventiveness.

Violence can be presented as good in certain heroic encounters (and war books). I frequently deal with violence in attack and in defense.
You mean I owe my agent 15% of my Out of the Gutter T-Shirt — Oh, boy ;-)
Colman, thanks, I appreciate this. These stories in Hardluck's archives will also make you a fan of these writers--"One Step Closer" by Iain Rowan, "Beauty" by Ed Gorman, "Hell" by Bentley Little.
There are so many writers, producing so much material, I think the law of supply and demand means we will be paid less and less for our work, not more. Fiction-writing as a profession is for maybe a busload of superstars. Any exposure is difficult and worthwhile for writers. I know lots of people who will miss Hardluck, myself included.
I've had five stories in Hardluck, three that went on to be nominated for a Derringer by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

And yet ... I don't know how to answer this question.

There certainly is a difference between payments of $0 and $25. I'm running a business with expenses (paper, website, classes) that need to be offset by income. Exposure doesn't cut it.

Yes, web-zines are valuable for all the reasons others have mentioned. And maybe I missed it, but there's the additional benefit that the non-paying markets keep writers writing, and thus improving.

And is it obvious yet that I'm not sure where I stand on the issue? :)

And another thing. :)

I've worked my share of minimum wage jobs, bringing home less than I needed to pay my bills, and supplementing that income with second or third jobs. Not once did any of my employers say, "Since you can't live on what we're paying you anyway, you should just work for free. Hey, at least it will get you out of the house."

But as a free-lance writer, you are your own employer. So...if you occasionally work for free (i.e., submit to non-paying venues), that's your choice, right? There must be something you get out of subbing to no-pay/low-pay ezines that makes it worthwhile besides that much needed cash.

It comes down to a lot of readers not willing to pay for short fiction on-line, e-zines not making enough through ads, etc. to pay well (or at all), and a ton of decent writers who are willing to take no pay to see their work pub'd. So, y'know, it is what it is.

Again, I don't really have a problem with it. I've come across a fair number of new-to-me writers through on-line mags that I've gone on to buy their work. And I've come across several that I've kept my eye on to see if they do move on to novels. I get the frustration, but I'm a total Pollyanna on this issue.
Stephen, this is one of the things that I'm struggling over--do web-zines damage the crime fiction writing community by lowering the price of short fiction? Why shouldn't print venues lower the prices they pay if writers are giving their stories away free (or minimal pay (and in some cases, what turns out to be award-winning stories)? Or are the web-zines helping to create more of an interest for short fiction, and maybe even helping to create more of a market for print anthologies--because there does seem to be more of them these days.

I know the web-zines provide some benefits to writers--exposure and as you mentioned, a chance to get published, get feedback, and improve your craft--but what I'm trying to sort out in my mind is whether they're hurting or helping the community as a whole.
It's not like any writer is forced to submit his work to a non-paying outlet. By definition, anyone who submits to a non-paying ezine must have seen some benefit to it, or he wouldn't have done it.

I'm all for authors getting paid for their work; I'd like to make a living at it some day myself. That being said, we all know the public's willingness to pay for short fiction is extremely limited, and they won't start ponying up just because there are no more free outlets. Anyone looking to make a living writing short fiction is fooling himself. Without denigrating short stories, their current role in the business of writing is to provide exposure, or as a place for writers to hone their craft. There's nothing wrong with that.

I have no doubt Dave and his peers would love to pay their contributors more. The income from the market just isn't there.
Along the lines of Dana's comment, it's completely within an e-zine contributor's power to choose zines with good presentation, that he's proud to be appear in if/when someone who can help his career happens upon his work. In fact, because there is so little money in online fiction, it behooves a contributor to be choosy.
But is anyone really looking through zines in the interest of helping anybody's career? (Hardluck, with Ed Gorman and the other guest editors is an exception.)

I spent many years over on the speculative fiction side of the house where there are some very strong feelings that webzines are detrimental to writers because they allow writers to stay at a certain "non-professional" writing level while still publishing. Whether that's a valid argument is really what we're discussing.

I'm certainly not saying there's anything wrong with writing as a hobby, or writing something for a non-paying outlet just because a theme or challenge sparks a story, or experimenting and writing something that no subscription-based magazine would touch because of their committment to pleasing the paying customers.

I have and will continue to write stories that will only ever see publication in non-paying outlets.

As to whether that's "good for me," I don't know.


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