Market Insights: Michael Ray, Redstone Science Fiction
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?”