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The Birth of a Semi-Pro Magazine

  • Posted by Admin
  • August 9, 2012 11:41 AM PDT
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The Birth of a Semi-Pro Magazine by Teresa Keene (from The Market List #6)

 

What kind of person is your editor, that mysterious, faceless entity that bought or rejected your beloved story, asks you for rewrites, is sometimes horribly cruel, delightfully supportive, or, worst of all, completely indifferent to your wants and needs as a writer?

Who does that editor think he/she is, anyhow? What makes her think she can run a magazine? She's obviously, on various occasions, 1) Full of crap. Why else would she reject your piece? 2) A visionary. Someone who finally understands you! 3) Harried. Why a form rejection? and 4) Rude. Did you really need to hear that your story lacked a central plot?

She's all those things. At least I am, except for the form rejection part. I haven't gotten there yet, but my peers assure me that when my inflow of submissions reaches critical mass, I, too, will not have time to stroke my writers.

I'm a writer. I started my magazine against my own better judgment one day when my editor informed me that the small paper I worked for was going out of business. I was upset. I didn't get paid for my columns, but I loved that paper, and desperately tried to feed her all kinds of advice on how to keep it up and running.

"If you think you know so much," she snapped, "you try it!" I laughed. Me? I'm a writer! Oh, I did some contributor-editor stuff. And I'd just finished going through the extensive editorial process on my first book with the publisher's editor. And yes, I was proud of my ability to spot typos from 50 paces. But an editor? Yikes.

Five minutes later I was trying to figure out a magazine format on my computer, landscape, two column. I was designing logos, picking fonts and trying to figure out how to advertise it by the end of the week. As Carl Sagan likes to say, "What happened here?"

Passion happened. As soon as I hung up the phone, a million things raced through my addled head. Wow, wouldn't it be great to publish my own science fiction magazine? Science fiction, the love of my life! (Following my family, but still ahead of gardening). And I could read all the sci-fi I wanted! Heaven! Manuscripts would pour in for my perusal, and I could read, read, read to my heart's content! An added bonus: A few lucky writers out of each pile would get published. That gave my heart a big tweak . . . what a pleasure to be the one in position, for a change, to give some good writers a break! And by golly, I would write a kind, personal rejection to each writer I didn't pick, unlike how all those editors had treated me!

I went through my personal rejection slip pile, and drew out the best ones. There weren't many, maybe 6 out of 80. But they were grand. Supportive. I would be a nurturing editor, like Ann Kennedy of the Silver Web, who, although she never did take one of my stories, never ceased to send a kindly, handwritten note in response to all 8 of the submissions I sent her over a year's time. My sci-fi just didn't fit in with her magazine.

I then went through my pile (smaller, of course) of acceptance letters and contracts, and chose one I liked the best . . . Affaire de Coeur's, elegant in it's simplicity.

I mocked up a copy of Keen Science Fiction! (using all my own work for filler), to see if everything fit. I designed letterheads and forms for every eventuality.

One big decision I had to make involved payment. I was personally comfortable financially, so I could afford to pay something. On the other hand, I hoped to make the business support itself as much as possible, and that meant I couldn't pay what Asimov's or Omni does. I settled on a semi-pro rate of one and a half cents per word, an amount I could afford to carry until the magazine started making money. I inquired after printing services, paper costs and postage. After about two months of obsessive work, I felt ready for submissions.

But how to get to the writers? Advertise? Where? I know that as a writer the Writer's Digest books was the resource of choice. But they couldn't get me in until next spring! Doggone it, I wanted writers now! I racked my brain. How could I advertise for writers cheaply and quickly? How could I find experienced writers in this particular field? I looked again to my computer, and smiled.

I surfed the on-line bulletin boards for places where science fiction writers congregate and sent personal invitations to those who seemed clever and witty. They responded. Other avenues for finding writers have since presented themselves, but the BB's really got the ball rolling. And on-line surfers are a fun and interesting lot. That problem was pretty much taken care of for the time being.

So that left the business of editing a monthly magazine, replete with ego-massaging, tentative suggestions, reluctant cutting of stories for space and naughty language and all the rest. Also, I needed to find ways to get my magazine to readers. The writers were spreading the news via word of mouth, but what good are neat stories if nobody is reading them?

This was a challenge, as it continues to be, but I've found networking to be the answer. I talk to other editors, and they're kind to me with their suggestions. I've bought advertising space in other magazines. I've sent out subscription forms to everyone I can think of, plus lots of strangers and all the writers who have ever submitted to me. No stone is unturned . . . if your name comes my way, you'll be asked to subscribe. I've begged independent bookstore owners to put a few on their shelves. Their responses range from irritation to cheerful "why nots?" It's hard. It's time consuming. Sometimes it's humiliating, like the bookstore owner who sent me back a note stating simply, "Get Real." But that's okay.

My magazine is quite time-consuming -- more so each month as I develop new strategies to increase its circulation, and add new features. I was worried that my writing career would suffer, but it hasn't. I found that the break from the daily submittal grind was refreshing for my muse. (I hate that word, but what else can we call it?)

I find that I don't do this with any thoughts of personal fortune in mind. Now before I start sounding too much like Mother Teresa, I'll admit enthusiastically that if I happened to make a pile of money on it someday, I certainly wouldn't send it back. Mostly, I am driven to sell copies for my writers' sakes. I want people to read their stories . . . I want my writers to know that I care about their careers.

The writers. How I love my writers. Every month I pick six to eight stories out of my inventory and fall in love with all of them, plus the people who wrote them. I have no idea why this is; perhaps because I can relate to them as a fellow writer, but I suspect that's not the real reason. Maybe it's because of the stories they wrote, which made me grin and nod my head enthusiastically when I first read them. In them I saw a tribute to the thing I loved: Traditional science fiction. It's possible I sense in the erstwhile contributor a passion not unlike my own.

Whatever it is, I love them, and for one month, until I begin working with the next group of delightful scribes, they are my little darlings. I am fond, even, of those writers whom I reject. Those earnest cover letters. That outlay of postage and envelopes and paper. I understand them. I appreciate them. And even if I have to have to hire help to read all their submissions, they will never get a form letter from my magazine.

Teresa Keene, June 18, 1996

Copyright © 1996 by Teresa Keene. All Rights Reserved.

 

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