For the love of online fiction magazines

I’ve had my work published in just about every medium in which fiction can be published. I’m very proud of that. My novels are in print, ebook and, very soon to be released, audiobook. I’d love to see them make it into graphic novel and film. Maybe one day. My short fiction has been published in print and electronic magazines, print and ebook anthologies, podcasts and online magazines. And one of my stories is currently being adapted into a short film. There was a time when print was considered the only “real” publishing and everything else was a poor cousin at best, an exercise in vanity at worst. That’s changing dramatically.

To be clear, I love my brag shelf. That’s the part of my bookcase which houses all the magazines and books that feature my work. It’s a thing of beauty. I’m a bibliophile and I love to hold books and feel the pages. I love the scent of ink on a glossy magazine page. But, as a writer, I want to be read by as many people as possible. I want people to enjoy my work, talk about it, get something from it and share it with their friends. And I can’t help thinking that we’ve moved to a place where that isn’t best achieved with print any more.

There are numerous ways to get “published” these days, and that in itself can be a problem. I use quote marks there for a reason. Just because a website will post your story on their garish page, pay you nothing and, probably, don’t really care about quality, doesn’t mean you should be dancing in the aisles. It’s quite likely that nobody is reading that page beyond you and the other contributors. And ask yourself, did you read any of their stories?

Of course, anywhere that an editor of any kind chooses your work over someone else’s is cause for celebration – congratulations, you are a published writer. But we should all aspire to higher things. Personally, I aspire to being paid for my work, ideally being paid well, and being read by as many people as possible.

This is where online magazines are really starting to earn a place of reputation. There are many online zines now which are run just like a “proper” magazine, with editors only choosing the best work and actually editing it. With pay scales that venture well into pro-rates, recompensing authors for their painfully extruded word babies, and with a readership numbering into the many thousands. All these things are great for a writer’s career – recognition, payment and readership.

Many of these magazines are using technology to its best advantage, and making themselves into a kind of hybrid model. For example, they may start with an online edition but also make each issue available as an ebook for people to read at their leisure on their Nook, iPad, Kindle or whatever marvel of reading technology they favour. Some sites also produce limited print runs of each issue, or chapbooks, with added value – signed and numbered, maybe – that readers can collect. Some also produce an annual anthology of their stories, or a Best Of the year anthology. Others use a combination of online text and downloadable podcast. All these things can also help to generate income for said online zine and keep it alive and keep it paying its authors.

All these things are getting the blood, sweat and tears of us crazy writers out to the hungry minds of readers in a variety of ways, of which print is arguably the least important. And they’re doing it with those two most important criteria well in evidence – payment and editing. As a result, hopefully, they garner a wide readership.

The other advantage of the primarily online model is the ubiquitous and permanent nature of the thing. If you read a great story in an online magazine, you can tell a friend pretty much anywhere in the world and that friend can instantly access the story themselves. They don’t have to track down a book or magazine, or pay expensive overseas shipping rates. Bang! One new reader, maybe one new fan. With social media, it’s as simple as tweeting a link to spread the magazine joy out among people well beyond your circle of actual friends and family.

Of course, should the website ever go down or get deleted, the work goes with it. Should that friend I mentioned not have an internet connection, they are excluded. That’s one reason I’m a fan of the secondary print/hybrid option (chapbooks, POD anthology, etc.) as that means the work is preserved, in however a limited way, beyond the inevitable EMP that destroys civilisation. Plus, authors get something for their brag shelf. (We’re petty, vain creatures. Love us and love our work, please!)

On that front, and as a slight – well complete and total – tangent, I’ve recently paid fifty bucks to put all my short fiction to date (around 200,000 words of it) into two Print-On-Demand hardcovers. They’re just for my own shelf, a preserved hard copy of my work. It’s easy today with sites like Lulu automating the process. After all, I back up everything I write on hard drive, memory stick and cloud storage. Now it’s easy to back up in print too.

Online magazines are starting to be recognised industry-wide, pulling in all kinds of awards for themselves and the fiction they publish. More power to them, I say. It’s never been easier for writers to reach more people, though of course, it’s still bloody hard to get work accepted by the really high-echelon, pro-paying online zines. But there’s that aspiration again. I plan to continue submitting to those places and thereby continue to support them by offering my work as well as reading the work of others they already publish. And I’ll tell as many people about them as I can. It’s good for me, my career, the magazine in question, and all its readers and fans. In a future post I intend to list a run-down of my favourite online fiction magazines, which is why I’ve avoided mentioning any specific ones here.

Well, I’ll just mention one. My new novelette, The Darkest Shade Of Grey, will be serialised over four weeks at The Red Penny Papers, starting in a week or two. I’ll be sure to let you know when that’s up. As the publication is so imminent, I couldn’t resist a quick plug.

In the meantime, what are your favourite online fiction magazines? Let me know and I’ll try to include them in the future post I mentioned. Do you read much online fiction? Prefer it over magazines? Buy the ecopy later? Share your habits.

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7 thoughts on “For the love of online fiction magazines

  1. My brag shelf consists of author-signed copies of works; soon this will extend to 2 shelves and eventually to a whole bookshelf. This is one advantage of paper over electronic, however electronic publication is readily accessible for most people. These days it would be unusual not to have home access to a computer with internet but most people in western society would have access to either internet cafes or libraries (libraries being the free option to download and read non-pirated content). Another advantage of electronic publication is that it costs relatively little to publish: hundreds a year instead of thousands per issue.

    My zine isn’t fiction so it doesn’t fall in the category you mentioned, nor does my zine make any money so I’m not in a position to offer remuneration for work yet, nor even to hire a graphic designer for layout, and yet I’ve had people approach me about Print on Demand. I looked into it to discover that a non-profit version would cost about $60 or so for each issue. Interestingly enough, when I shelved the idea for the time being, some contributors decided to cease contributing. They appeared to see paper as the only legitimate form of publishing.

    A catch 22 arises because people want publications such as DMF, they don’t want to pay for them and yet want to be paid to contribute. This is the most difficult aspect of online publishing I have had to face as an editor. I realise that people want to be paid for their efforts: I am looking for a day job myself, as DMF is a drain on household finances. I also recently received a charming email informing me that DMF is a hobby and suggesting that I reduce the quality/quantity or fold altogether.

    I guess the questions are: are you in a position to expect to be paid at this point in your career? (You obviously are, but others may not be.) If you aren’t making enough money out of freelancing then do you love what you do enough to put in unpaid hours in the hope of future payoff? (I am and I’d like to think other people might be too.) Putting unpaid hours into a project intended to help build networks, raise profiles of subjects (e.g. books) and participants (e.g. interviewees, reviewers) and hopefully earn a living down the track in an industry I enjoy is not a hobby, it’s an investment. I’d like to think other writers and editors feel the same way.

  2. Yeah! Online fiction magazines rock!

    I’m the editor in chief of eFiction magazine. A little mag I started while getting my degree in Creative Writing. I realized while in school that I needed to figure out a way to make some money with my degree. And while a fiction magazine isn’t usually understood as a way to do that, I’ve worked really hard and made it happen. Thanks to Amazon’s Kindle Periodicals program, my costs are next to zero and I can charge monthly subscription dues. That’s what makes it work.

    We’re about to transition into a paying market in two months, our second anniversary, and I’m super excited to finally be able to pay the writers who contribute so much to my magazine and make my wonderful job possible.

    Thanks for highlighting online fiction mags! More people should be made aware that they exist and that they’re lots of fun to read!

  3. Ecopy for me. Buying magazines like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed for Kindle has revolutionised my reading habits, and made me realise how much I love short SF/F fiction. In the old days I never read many magazines in the genre as the price of a print copy and postage often came to nearly as much as a big fat book from a bookshop, and being perennially broke and a fast reader I always prioritised the latter. Then you could read online but I never found it relaxing sitting at my desktop reading. Now I can actually afford to buy magazines (& anthologies, too) as ebooks and read them on my e-reader and I feel like a lot of the stuff I was missing out on in the genre I can now get to, and it’s great! I can’t rave about Lightspeed, in particular, enough – the quality of stories there is incredibly high. I understand now that I always loved short fiction a lot more than I realised; it was a problem of access, not preference, that made me neglect it.
    I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting used to it but I find it easier to read from websites now too. If I’m feeling uninspired I just open up the archives of The Journal of Mythic Arts and can lose myself happily for a long time 🙂 The online version of Clarkesworld feels very user-friendly to me and I like the fact that you can join in discussions about the stories. I shall be sure to check out The Red Penny Papers too.

  4. Dark Matter Fanzine – It’s true that fanzines have ever been a labour of love, but if you can grow to a point where you can pay your contributors and yourself, that would be a great marker of success. Good luck!

    Doug – I’ll be sure to check out your magazine.

    Laura-F – You’re a perfect example of why online zines are finding their stride. I’ve always been a fan of short fiction, but I’m reading a lot more now too, for the reasons you mentioned. And I’ll definitely be including Clarkesworld and Lightspeed in my round up post. They’re two of my favourites.

  5. Alan, in general I believe electronic magazines/books are the future of reading, but I don’t think hard copies will ever go out of style. Or at least not for a long while, probably well after all of us are dead.

    I am interested in some more of your POD thoughts and maybe I should surf around your blog a little. You mentioned Lulu, I assume that’s what you used to print the two hardcovers you discussed? How have you found the quality to be? I’m interested in investigating POD for my fiction e-zine but haven’t been sold on the quality of the product yet. I should probably just order one for myself and see how it turns out.

    As for favorite magazines–I’m of course partial to my own–and Clarkesworld is great; I also really like Lightspeed and Redstone. Corvus is new but I enjoyed their first issue, and they seem to be concerned by the same issues I am (as is Redstone). eFiction Magazine is good too, although not specific to SF. There are tons of them out there, though.

  6. Hi Sam

    You’re right – hard copy isn’t going anywhere, but e-reading will be the main form of consumption before much longer. Lulu do a decent job, but if you’re a publisher you can set up an account directly with Lightning Source and save a lot of money. I’d look into that if I were you.

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