Saturday, May 5, 2018

Do You Really Want to Publish a Magazine?

In the ten years I've been posting on this blog I've seen so very many magazines come and go.  And very few that stick around for more than a couple of years.  Back in 2011 I wrote a post about starting a new zine.  What I said back then still applies so I thought I'd repost it.  Yes, some things have changed as there are more paying markets and with Amazon you can get your zines on Kindle or in print.  With the closing of Crime Syndicate, I'm sure that someone will step up and decide to start another zine, so here are a few tips:

I'm a huge fan of the online zines. They provide a place for beginning writers to cut their teeth by learning how to submit, deal with editors, and learn about rejection. And yes, with a few exceptions, they are looked down upon by many of the professional writers out there because they're not, for the most part, paying markets.

In the last few weeks I've found two new online markets, La Criminophile and Icemedia, for crime fiction. The blogs were set up and the calls for submissions issued, then bam, they were gone. No explanations, just vanished.

I was really excited about La Criminophile because I really believed that the people behind the zine had a great idea. Icemedia, I found a couple of days ago but didn't mention. Why? Because the editor had published one of her own stories as an example of what she was looking for, but reading through the story I found several misspellings. If she didn't care enough about her own work to edit it properly, how could she respect ours?

It is so easy to set up an ezine. Get an idea, set up a blog, and post a call for submissions. And this is the problem with many new zines. There's no thought put into it before the subs do or don't come rolling in. These are all things I look for when searching for new markets, you can almost tell who's in it for the long run and who's just starting up on a lark. And yeah, sometimes, they fool you.

I've been in on the beginnings of several new zines. The editors asked for feedback on their ideas. My first question has always been, "Are you sure you're up for this?". Zines are a lot of hard work, from setting up the pages to editing the stories and writing rejection letters. You're also going to have to put up with a lot of shit from writers who don't have a clue how to act professionally.

To start, you need to have a vision of what you want your zine to be and stick with it. You need to surround yourself with a support system of people who are willing to help with the work, especially if your zine takes off. You need to know that running a zine is time consuming and will eat into your writing time and your family time if you aren't careful.

If that doesn't scare you and you're still willing to get into the zine business here are a few tips that might help.

1. Run your zine like a business. You're offering a market for writers so be as professional as you expect them to be. Set up guidelines that say more than, "send me your best shit" but don't get so nit-picky that you scare off potential contributors. Set up a page that explains who you are and why you're getting into the zine business. If you're a weekly, monthly, or quarterly set the pub dates and hit them. People will only show up to read if you're there on time. They won't come back if your weekly issue turns into a whenever-I-feel-like-it issue. And writers get tired of their stories being held in limbo until you finally decide to put it up. Your new zine is a business, you're self-employed, and if you don't do the work it won't get done and you've failed.

2. Most zine editors are writers and you have a circle of writer friends and writers you admire. Tell them what you're doing and ask for submissions for your first issue. Most of them will be glad to supply a story, either new or a reprint. Once you've got your issue ready, post it. With this issue you've given new writers an example of what you're looking for, you've set the tone of your zine, and writers looking for markets know that you're taking this new project seriously. Don't believe me? Take a look at Needle magazine and Beat to a Pulp, that's how they got started.

3. Have fun with it. Yes, it's work, but it's also your "baby", so to speak. If you're having fun putting it together, it will show. Readers and writers both will respect the trouble you've gone to for them and they will spread the word. That word of mouth will be the best advertisement your zine will get to help turn it into a success.

There are probably a million other things that you need to know if you go ahead and start a new zine. What I've posted here are just a few basics I've learned along the way. Enough to know that I don't want to be in charge, but has given me a healthy respect for those who take on the job and succeed.

Here's a link to the original post if you'd like to take a look at the comments.  There was more good advice there.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

And this is interesting timing as Michael Pool has shutdown Crime Syndicate Magazine and has said he would consider working out a deal with the right person to take over. Having been an assistant at several zines, it is a task not be undertaken lightly.

sandra seamans said...

No it's not, Kevin. People should look long and hard at all the hard work that's involved before stepping into a project like this.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I know I couldn't do it, not with my other responsibilities, but I applaud those who undertake doing a zine. A lot of them do pay. So it's a good idea to check before submitting. Sandra, an excellent article and certainly worth reposting!

Thomas Pluck said...

I've considered it for years, but decided it was too much work, and as a writer, I would prefer to write. I know some you can juggle editing and writing, and plenty who cut their teeth doing it, but I am not sure I could produce a magazine I would be proud of, hold down a full time job, and write at the speed I want to.

The other thing that sinks magazines is seeing the same 5 names in every issue. Needle used to 500 submissions in a day. (this isn't about them, they had great variety) I'm not sure if the newer smaller mags get that volume, but if they do.... You're telling me the best 10 stories are by your pals?

sandra seamans said...

I, too, have considered publishing an ezine, but I don't have the computer skills needed for such a project.

I agree with you, Thomas, about the lack of variety in the stories that are published. Not only the same names, but the stories tend to run together, especially in the noir category. I wish the zines would publish a better mixture of crime stories. The mystery/crime genre has so many subgenres yet each zine sticks to one type of story over and over again. Using a better variety could draw out other readers. Just some things I've been mulling over lately.

Rusty Barnes said...

It's a hard thing to do well and write a lot,too. I can only speak for myself, though.

Problem with variety is, I only get maybe 50 stories a month, if that, and the same people tend to submit. I publish the best of what I get, or what I like the most, and I don't know how to get, nor could I handle, 500 subs a day. A hundred a month might be nice, though.

I've heard recently from other small-journal editors they don't get many subs either. Maybe some will show up here and say.

Rusty Barnes said...

I'm just beginning, though.

Matt Gomez said...

Running a magazine is a lot of work. Yes, it takes away from time to be working on your own writing. As for getting submissions, well, maybe because the magazine I'm running does offer a payment (okay, okay, it's only $15, but still), we don't have an issue with getting people submitting... even if a significant percentage can't be bothered to read the guidelines.

It does help to have a "team" of people. Okay, so it's just the two of us doing everything, but it still helps. Also realizing you don't have to put out material every week. We publish once every three months, and open to submissions for a limited window. There are plenty of facebook groups out there to push into to get the word out you are looking for submissions. The harder part? Getting readers.

As for the "same five authors" are you talking in the same magazine across issues, or across indies in general?

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to The Corner Mr. Barnes. ThugLit had much the same problem in the beginning. I remember Todd Robinson saying he had to publish a few of his own stories to fill out his issues the first year. After word of mouth got out about his zine he had more submissions than he could handle.

For some reason mystery writers don't seem to trust the online zines and I don't know why. For many of them EQ and AHMM are the only markets they care to submit to no matter how long the odds of getting published in one of them is. Many writers won't submit to a magazine, online or otherwise, until they're MWA approved markets so they can submit their stories for the Edgar Awards. The reasons are a mystery to me.

I wonder sometimes if it's a trust issue. Some of the magazines come and go with the blink of an eye. The ones that publish only once a year just vanish off the marketing radar. Others promise quarterly issues and only manage one or two a year instead. It's not easy to give your story up to an editor if you have no idea when it's going to be published.

And I do hope some other editors will add their thoughts. A good conversation between writers and editors couldn't hurt. :)

sandra seamans said...

I forgot to add that building up good word of mouth always helps a magazine stick around longer.

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to The Corner Mr. Gomez. As to "the same five authors" for me, it's mostly the noir zines where you see the same names popping up time and again, but EQ and AHMM also have a core group of authors that they've published consistently over the years. I'm not saying that they're not good writers, but it would be nice to see a better variety and it might encourage writers to send stories if they thought they had a chance of getting published.

As for readers, for myself I got tired of reading the same blood and guts that many of the online flash crime zines publish. But I'm old and that sort of thing doesn't appeal to me anymore and I tired of writing that kind of story myself. I think readers don't quite trust the magazines enough to stay in business long enough to invest in a subscription that might not be filled. As I said before, the best thing for a zine is to get the word of mouth out that you publish quality fiction that's worth reading. And maybe getting a better variety of stories from across the genre, spice it up a bit with a good thriller or tone it down with a fun cozy. Crime stories don't all have to be about murder. Of course, you have to convince the writers of this first :) before the readers.

Tom Barlow said...

As an author of noir that is a bad fit for the mags that pay professional rates, I've come to admire and depend upon the more narrowly targeted journals that run my kind of fiction. I know better than to expect more than a token pay, but I still get a kick out of receiving (even if I have to spend that token payment to purchase) print versions of my stories such as offered by Switchblade, Pulp Modern, Mystery Weekly and (in the works, I believe) Tough. I don't have a feel for the cost and work involved, but from my perspective it makes a big difference in my eagerness to submit stories.

Rusty Barnes said...

Tough's first print compilation will appear in July, and right now each writer will get a contrib copy. If it ends up costing me too much I may change that, but for right now that's the plan.

I don't want to publish my own material, though, nor do I really want to branch out into other subgenres right now. I like what I publish, and if I remain small in stature, so be it. I had high hopes the day after I announced Tough would have a story in Best American, because we got 16 stories at once, but then they slowed to a trickle again. We'll qualify for MWA in July 2019.I'll be patient.

J.D. Graves said...

What a great conversation to have. Forgive my addition to it.

To begin with, the discovery of this blog helped launched my own publishing career as an author. I've been very fortunate this year in that regards, so thank you for having My Little Corner be such a wonderful place for writers and publishers alike.

When EconoClash Review launched last fall, it started merely as an unoriginal idea. We wanted to publish pulp fiction. First and foremost we wanted the journal to be a fun and fresh read. Second, we wanted each story to have its own unique artwork. Third, we wanted to be a legitimate indie market. The third goal is our moon shot.

Like it's been said previously on this thread, there are numerous fly-by-night disorganizations that appear and disappear. After cobbling together our first issue, we now understand this is a tough gig to execute. I believe Thuglit in its death throes complained the complaint we all know too well--and Matthew previously verbalized, there seem to be more authors than readers. For our second open submission call, we rejected three times the number of stories that we sold copies of Issue #ONE.

So why start up? Because A.) We didn't know any better. B.) We had no choice. The same compulsion to write fiction is the same one driving our publication of other people's fiction. C.) Both A & B are not mutual exclusive.

We know people turn their noses up at us, once they see we're a token market. Oh well, we will stay here as long as we can, with our dirt water shoes and bedroom teeth. Places like Pulp Modern, Switchblade, Tough, Broadswords & Blasters are fighting the good fight. By the way everyone should read those four markets if they don't already.

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Great article, Sandra. Two of my first published short stories were in online 'zines/blogs years ago, and they are still there to be read. I like that, because I can easily give someone the link to a free story and they see a sample of my writing.

Most 'zine editors reply faster than the others, too, and that's always a plus in my book.

I think writers don't sub to those types of publications because many of them don't pay, and understandably, we like to get paid for our work. :-)

I've had more luck subbing to anthologies, so far.

bobbi c.

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Oh, and as for the variety of stories, I agree with that. There are many who wish there was a market for the more cozy-type mystery stories. As in PG rated. ;-)

bobbi c.

Michael Bracken said...

There are reasons some writers appear regularly in some publications, and it isn't just that they're friends with the editors (though, of course, that can't hurt, everything else being equal).

Writers whose work appears regularly in some publications likely do the following more often than not:

1. Submit material that fits the guidelines (length, subject matter, etc.).

2. Submit work that needs little, if any editing.

3. Respond promptly to editorial requests for revisions.

4. Turn around copyedits and page poofs in a timely manner.

5. Act professionally.

Sadly, a great many writers and would-be writers seem incapable of doing these simple things. As managing editor of a non-fiction magazine and as an editor of crime fiction anthologies, I know there are writers whose work will bounce to the top of my submission pile and writers whose work will not because of these things.

I've sold more than 1,200 short stories in a variety of genres, and in nearly every case, I was unknown to the editors when I made my first submissions. I tried to ensure that the first time those editors encountered my work I managed to submit something appropriate that required little editorial work, and my hope is that when my work was accepted I followed through on points 3, 4, and 5. I think I did because I have repeat sales to several publications.

Some publications (the Bouchercon anthologies, the Malice Domestic anthologies, a couple of periodicals) try to eliminate the advantages of friendship and name recognition by having a blind submission process. Chances are some writers still keep showing up in those publications simply because they know their market.

And even if it appears the odds are against you because a publication keeps using the same writers, that doesn't mean it really is. What it means is that you have to work a little harder to break in.

Rusty Barnes said...

Michael brings up a great point. Follow guidelines and actually read some sample stories. In Tough's case, they're freely accessible.

Thomas Pluck said...

I said what I said- AHMM and EQMM do have "regulars" who are fan favorites, that is different than three issues in a row with stories by the same 3-5 authors and some new ones.
I try to get the word out to authors about Tough and other magazines so you get more submissions, but Sandra is right- sometimes there are a lot of the same kind of story, too. Crime is a broad subject.
Michael, thanks for the advice to new writers- professionalism goes a long, long way.
Rusty, congrats on the story in BAMS- which one is it?
My story in D&O will be listed as an "Other Distinguished Mystery Story" in the next one, and I'm thrilled. It also means that the folks at Mysterious & co are reading these magazines, like they did with ThugLit and Needle, which is a good sign.

Rusty Barnes said...

Tom--I couldn't get a mention in BAMS, this one is in BASS. I nominated the same stories for each, but I think being online only at the time hurt my chances with BAMS.The story is The Brothers Brujo by Matthew Lyons.

I appreciate you spreading the word on Tough. Congrats on the Distinguished Mention too. It's a goal of mine.

Tom Leins said...

Interesting discussion - thanks!
Over the years I have always enjoyed far better luck when submitting to themed anthologies than print zines, so I always gravitate towards them as a result.
I like the parameters - thematic, subject matter etc, as it gives me a good jump-off point for the story, and allows me to get closer to the editor's vision.
I think one of the most common complaints leveled at anthologies is that the constant switch in voices is jarring, and I guess the same could be said about crime zines?
As a reader, I love flash fiction and I love novellas, but reading a well-constructed 3,000-4,000 word short story can be one of the most satisfying experiences.
It's good to see the current crop of zines fighting the good fight, and ensuring there is a receptive home for fiction of this length.

sandra seamans said...

I just want to thanks everyone for stopping by. It's made for a great conversation.

sandra seamans said...

And that would be thank. I always forget to check my comments for mistakes :)