Wednesday, January 16, 2008


VD writes:
...what I'd like to see more of here is your old short stories, accompanied by a technical analysis of why you think it worked or not, and what you would do differently if you wrote it again now.
In hindsight, what worked best for me was something that can't be reproduced now. When I first set out to get serious about getting professionally published, some thirty years ago, there were six pro magazines on the market, most of which were monthlies, and at least two dozen semi-pro mags, some of which paid decent word rates but didn't just didn't have the circulation to count as "pro" markets. In those days SFWA's criteria for determining whether a magazine was a pro market combined both the word rate and the circulation, and the big dog in the marketplace, Asimov's, started at 5 cents a word and reached a paid circulation of 100,000 copies monthly.

Things change. Most of those magazines are gone, and those that remain of the old guard are thinner, either semi-monthly or quarterly, and busy watching their circulation numbers drop like concrete Stukas. By the rules that were in effect when I first joined SFWA, even today's Asimov's would no longer count as a "pro" market. So when considering what made some of my old short stories successful, there is a certain element of the "In a hurricane, even turkeys can fly" principle at work.

Things change, and people and institutions adapt. A few weeks ago I had dinner with the editorial troika that runs one of the new up-and-coming pro magazines. They're bright, likable, creative people, brimming with ideas and ambition. Their magazine is getting great reviews and building a terrific reputation. They pay 6 cents a word for fiction, which by SFWA's current rules makes them a professional market. Their most recent issue sold 100 copies.

There were drinks. Alcohol loosens tongues. I asked how they could possibly survive on those sales numbers, and the short answer is, they don't. The editors all have other jobs. The magazine has what amounts to a corporate patron who's pumping in money for pure love of literature, with no hope at all that it might ever become profitable.


Confession time. For the past year or so, K&B has been looking into expanding into small-press publishing. No matter how we crunch the numbers, though, the business case doesn't work, and every plan we come up with nets out to being an enormous time- and money-sink. Moreover, the more we study others who have become successful in this tiny sliver of the market, the more we see that those who succeed don't give a fig about growing their market by publishing stuff that people want to read. The survivors are those that go the 501(c) non-profit route, and their real business is not selling publications but attracting foundation grant money.

Those of you familiar with my history might remember that the reason why I quit doing music twenty-some years ago was that I got tired of all the petty politics and ***-kissing involved in playing the non-profit foundation grants and commissions game. I'm not eager to go back into it.

Your thoughts or suggestions?