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Market Insights: Michael Ray, Redstone Science Fiction

June 19, 2011

When people find out that I invented a second job for myself by creating an online magazine, they invariably ask, “Why?” Well, now that we’ve been at it a year, the answer’s not simple, but it does have its own logic.

My latest day-job is teaching AP History, which is largely about teaching ambitious students how to write argumentative essays out of historical information and make their ideas clearly understood.  Immersed in this day-to-day (and reading The Baroque Cycle) it’s not surprising that, as so many of us have done, I took up my own writing again after many years away from it.  I wrote a simple heroic fantasy short story and I was hooked. (It was later published in a YA quarterly).  Learning the formatting was easy. It took a digital fistful of rejections to become familiar with the submission and rejection dance, but I learned the system and had a few (very) small publications.

I explored the markets and realized that there’s not much call for sword-based short stories and that there was at least some demand for science fiction.  But what would sell? I had been reading Cory Doctorow’s stories online, so I bought a recent Year’s Best with a story of his in it. This eventually led me to explore his website and discover the ‘secret world’ of recorded science fiction short stories. Between Craphound, EscapePod, and Starship Sofa my workouts were transformed with dystopian futures and trips to distant stars.  (I’m excited that we are going to explore doing audio versions of Redstone stories this summer). I became a fan of Charlie Stross & John Scalzi and consumed all the good stories I could find.

Encouraged, I dove into the SF field and began submitting to the top markets. I learned another hard lesson.  As recently as a couple of years ago there were very few real professional markets (has anyone really been published in Cricket or Cicada or Boy’s Life? I kid.). The Big Three were in print and a handful of websites, including Clarkesworld, IGMS, and the late Baen were online. There were also some topnotch semipros like Electric Velocipede, but altogether maybe fifteen top markets. So, maybe forty stories a month. That’s it. No wonder it was hard to break in, even if you were an outstanding writer.

As this was becoming clear to me, John Scalzi started a controversy by criticizing a small publisher who offered writers an (insulting) half-cent per word. Hell, I had begun submitting my lost children to non-pay sites by then, just to find them a home.  This revealed a large number of frustrated writers who could not break into the ‘monthly top forty’ of the big markets. While I had empathy for the writers, Scalzi’s argument made sense. Writers should get paid for their work, and if writers keep sending work to editors who don’t pay them for it, editors will keep not paying them.

Taken together these two things, limited market demand and a surplus supply of stories suggested a solution. (I teach AP Economics too). There were not enough paying markets for all the quality stories that were being written. Maybe if I started a market people might submit.  When I suggested this my wife looked at me, smiled the knowing smile, and said, “I wondered when you were going to finally do this.” I didn’t have any costly pursuits.  No hunting or fishing. No season tickets or bowling habit. Maybe I could make this work. But I needed someone who could handle the business end and loved science fiction as well. So I told my friend Paul, who is infinitely more practical than I am. He saw the fun in it immediately and jumped right in before I’d even really asked.

There are so many mechanisms out there that make websites and online magazines possible. WordPress, Google, and GoDaddy (or someone like them) are the keys.  I had been making old html websites for years, so I had a background, but we simply learned on the fly. We gave ourselves six months to establish a business and create mechanisms for finances and contracts. We created a process for story submission and rejection/acceptance and we built a professional website.  We used the emerging social media, Facebook and Twitter, and the market lists, like Duotrope and Ralan’s, to reach potential writers and readers in a way that could not have been done before. We took the SFWA-recognition requirements as our blueprint and we follow them to the letter. We also keep in mind one of my favorite modern aphorisms: “Be polite. Be professional. Be prepared to kill everyone you meet.” (The third part is metaphorical for us. I promise).

Despite all this work, we did not set out to make a profit or even break even (We knew better, but maybe we’ll get there). We are investing time and money in the field we love to make something that creates a demand for what seems to be an overwhelming supply. Clearly we weren’t the only ones to sense this. In the last several months there has been a wave of new or upgraded professional-paying SF&F markets. Publications and sites like Bull Spec, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Daily SF, AE SF, Chizine and EscapePod have greatly increased the number of quality stories that are being read and the number of writers who are being paid for it. We’re proud to be a part of that.

So, why did we start Redstone Science Fiction? We love the genre and we love good stories. We felt like there were more good stories out there than were being professionally published. We had the abilities and the access to the technology to make a low-cost operation that allowed us to learn more about the field and to get experience running a business.  The answer is, “How could we not?”

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynda Williams permalink
    June 19, 2011 11:11 am

    Wonderfully honest story of your enterprise. I recently made the comparison to sports teams. How many of them make money vs. cost money? Yet you rarely hear people saying they shouldn’t exist. Stories in SF and fantasy are an important way in which our culture processes its hopes and anxieties about the future, and those who read it often write it, so it is important to have quality outlets to inspire them.

  2. June 19, 2011 6:50 pm

    Thanks, Lynda. We have a great time doing Redstone SF and are excited to provide another out let for SF writers to reach their audience.

  3. June 19, 2011 7:11 pm

    Nice piece. I love all the online places I can read and hear great scifi stories now days. I’ll add redstone to my feed. I’m just starting to make headway as a writer too. I’ll be checking your guidelines to see if any of my stories fit what you’re looking for.

  4. June 20, 2011 10:42 am

    The key here is that Redstone SF has been professional in its actions from Day Zero. They keep things up to date, and let everyone know in advance when they are open (and closed) to submissions. There are lots of startups which are along the lines of those wacky 30s movies where the crazy kids decide to put on a show — and they are hard to deal with and often wither and die on the vine. Redstone SF has also impressed with their interest in being part of the community.

    We were happy to see them launch, happier to see their first anniversary. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  5. Marta permalink
    June 21, 2011 2:23 am

    Your journey is interesting. I am looking into marketing a manuscript about 180k that I am currently revising.
    I have a very unique protagonist who is the creator of a new humanity (no tin cans, no zombies, no vampires) but the very few who know about it say is the next rave in paranormal science fiction.
    I am looking into marketing it, not just as a story or novel but, as a trademark PRODUCT.
    Started doing a summary of the first fourteen chapters – 140 pages. It includes a genealogy, storyline and brief summary of every chapter. The story travels through time form the inception of the character in prehistoric age to the present and across the physical, and ethereal world. It is what I think science-fiction, paranormal, religion and fantasy.
    I say it is fiction, based on fact . I have research every inch of it since my most favorite occupation was research analyst and I love anthropology.
    I know for sure that it would make a great HBO series because I have dabbled in screenwriting and love movies.
    Until I am guided as to where to take it, without loosing the rights to it and without diluting it, I will continue to do the revisions. It would be great to have a co-author who has experience in marketing.

  6. June 27, 2011 10:58 am

    This was an interesting story about the origins of Redstone SF. Until I get published in a professional market, it would be most correct to say I’m a “prospective” short story author. Although I’ve been published in non-paying, token, and semi-pro markets — they don’t count with SFWA. While Redstone may not count yet, I wish them the best.

Trackbacks

  1. The GateTree › Clarion Call
  2. The GateTree › Redstone SF officially recognized by the SFWA.

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