Tuesday 21 August 2018

The Flash Fiction supply chain


More Flash is being written than ever before - by poets (realising that they already write some Flash), by story writers (who can't find markets for their usual pieces) and by an increasing number of specialists.


Literary magazines are increasingly willing to print Flash, and the number of specialist magazines is increasing. The market's big enough to support genre outlets like Flashback Fiction. Short story books often include Flash nowadays, and some authors produce books of Flash.


My impression is that both poetry and prose readers are more receptive to Flash nowadays. If a poetry reader says they like Armitage's "Seeing Stars" or a prose reader likes Borges they can hardly turn their noses up at Flash.


What are the limits to growth of this chain? Are there too few respected outlets? Is the market saturated? Firstly it's worth pointing out that many Flash readers are writers, so it's more of a loop than a chain. Limiting the number of writers will limit the number of readers. Also, Flash grew when the web was already mature, so Flash readers are used to the idea of the best work not necessarily being on paper, so the cost of producing paper magazines isn't a constraint.

An experiment

During August, Spelk has printed a piece of Flash daily, at least doubling its output. I don't think quality has been diluted, and judging by the Comments and Likes, the market is far from being saturated. So perhaps the bottleneck is distribution. Maybe there's space for more Flash magazines, even though Everyday Fiction already prints stories daily, and many other magazines already exist.

Friday 10 August 2018

Who do you write for?

When you're pondering over whether to keep a line in a poem, do you ever ask yourself if the editor of "Poetry Review" would like it? Or perhaps you wonder what your poetry workshop colleagues would say? I can imagine people disliking this, describing it as "writing for the market". It sounds grubby, but in the poetry world, "market" doesn't have capitalist implications. Essentially, the market is composed of your peers. Pre-empting their criticism is better than belatedly learning from a history of failure.

The phrase "target audience" also has unsavoury associations. For at least part of the writing process I have a target audience in mind. It comes into play for example when I'm wondering whether to spell out an allusion. This "target audience" is perhaps nothing more than a personification of my inner critic - self-criticism is no bad thing.

Perhaps you just enjoy writing for its own sake. It gives you pleasure, the way that singing in the bath gives pleasure to some people. You might decide that you enjoy performing, so you try reading at an open-mic. You don't go down well. You go to workshops and soon gain the impression that your style is old fashioned. You can't get into magazines. If you were really writing for the fun of it (being "true to yourself") such a reception shouldn't deter you from writing on, but there might have been a lingering hope that you were an undiscovered talent. Of course, if you don't keep up with the work of your peers it's no surprise that your quality assurance isn't like theirs. You don't read other people's stuff in case it affects the uniqueness, purity, and authenticity of your voice. But where did you get your voice from if not from other poets? By reading other poets you can discover your influences - maybe even break free.

Singing in the bath may mean that dishes are left unwashed, but you wash them later. Self-indulgence is only a problem when others are involved. I think people need to be somewhat public spirited at workshops if they're going to get the most from them - interested in others' work and open to the possibility of changing one's own poems.