(No, this blog is not about to turn into a sordid and prurient confessional.)
There was a conversation this morning on Twitter that involved users @jasonsanford, @SFDiplomat and @lavietidhar and myself. Beyond the interesting content (which I'll summarise in a minute), what struck me was that as more people became involved and were CC'ed in the comments, there was almost no room left in the 140 character tweets for any argumentation. This also highlighted for me how, although you *can* get sophisticated ideas across in this short form, it is also highly prone to misunderstandings and violent agreements.
This conversation began with the concern that many small short fiction venues have very few readers (except for hopeful authors, who to be fair should not be dismissed from the legitimate audience), leading to a perception that short fiction publication means very little to a writer's career/reputation. I wondered if the solution (in the fantasy world in which any of us could execute such strategies) would be to make publications more selective--and therefore smaller--or to reach out further to a new readership. A third option was offered: to stop considering short fiction as marking a "published author", but rather something that any hopeful can do. This led to a side argument, based I think upon some misunderstanding of the tone of that suggestion, about the value of short fiction, and this is about as far as the conversation got so far.
I think this is a valuable discussion (although not, of course, a new one), and I hope we'll get the chance to take it forward sometime. The question is not that short fiction is worthless, of course (at least, we'll not waste our time on anyone who argues that), nor that we should be policing who is a serious author or not. I'm not too concerned that people with lots of publications in tiny venues have resumés that look more impressive than they are (I think we can all tell the difference, even in the rare occasions when we need to look at such indicators). But if there really is a problem with the genre short fiction market being "saturated", then the solution is either to increase capacity (potential readers) or reduce flow (publish less stories). The first is more desirable, but obviously hard. The latter would involve more selectiveness (no bad thing), but is actually impossible, since the Internet allows anyone to publish anything and everything.
Selectiveness would have to take place at the point when we look at the resumé and decide what we think it means. We could apply rules such as the SFWA do: that only certain venues qualify as "professional" (although I'd prefer to see a rule involving how selective a venue is rather than how much they pay--or is the size of readership a better metric). Coming from an academic background, I instinctively cringe from all such metrics, knowing as academics do how meaningless they are. A self-published essay or blog post can be just as important and influential as a peer-reviewed and print-published chapter, and no metrics can take account of that. So we're back to where we started--we judge an "author" by what they write, not where they've been published. I mean, do we need to judge or label "published authors" at all, anyway?