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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Name This Column

by Bruce Bethke

We have a scattershot smattering of topics for this week and a profound shortage of time in which to write about them, as evidenced by the fact that this column is posting on Tuesday and not Sunday, so without further ado:

Medical Updates:
After a prolonged hospital stay, Audrey (Mrs. Henry) was released on Saturday, only to need to be readmitted for a transfusion and observation on Monday. Many profuse thanks to everyone who contributed their kind thoughts, prayers, and positive energy during this ordeal. Henry is hopeful that this is only a minor setback and that she will be coming home this afternoon.

The news re Karen (Mrs. ~brb) isn't what we were hoping for. In addition to the original breast cancer, several lymph nodes removed during her surgery three weeks ago also proved cancerous, so beginning next week she starts a regimen of "aggressive" chemotherapy. Her attitude is positive and her spirits are definitely up. She's going into the hospital tomorrow to have a chemotherapy port—or as she calls it, her "Harkonnen heart plug"—installed. Apparently this first round of chemotherapy involves drugs that are so caustic there is the possibility of some pretty nasty complications if they use her arm veins, so they prefer to pump them directly into her vena cava.

After this initial two-month round, they'll switch to a four-month regimen of some other, milder, drugs, and sometime during that same four months, depending on how she's tolerating the chemotherapy, they'll begin radiation therapy. So it appears that her journey is only beginning, and it's going to be a long one.

Many, many, thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Story-a-Day project, and especially to Kersley for coming up with the idea and organizing it in the first place. While our comments have been sparse, believe me, your stories are appreciated. Thanks.

Industry Updates:
Changing topics with neck-snapping alacrity, Realms of Fantasy magazine has folded the tent and called it quits. If you had a story out for submission at ROF, you may consider it released for submission to someone else, as you may or may not hear back from the magazine. However, the publisher of Realms of Fantasy, Warren Lapine, has written an interesting farewell -slash- state-of-the-market article, and if you have the time, you might want to read it. Join the discussion...

Ditto for Futurismic. Well, it's not quite dead. Not yet. But the editor/publisher, Paul Raven, has written and posted a similar exit soliloquy, and it's also interesting reading. Join the discussion...

Meanwhile, SFWA has voted to add Would That It Were to its list of SFWA-qualifying professional markets—which doesn't do any of you much good, as WTIW ceased publication in 2006, but for people like, say, me, who had fiction published in it, this is almost meaningful.

As happens, I've stayed in touch over the years with the editor/publisher of WTIW, Don Muchow (whose motto should be, "I was steampunk before steampunk was cool!"), and while he'd like to revive the magazine, it would require stupid amounts of OPM (Other People's Money) to do so. In fact, in our discussions Don has come up with what he feels are the critical requirements for starting up a successful ezine, and these are, in no particular order:
1. Unless it’s a ‘for the love of it’ ezine, whoever sets it up needs to have a business plan. Most ‘zines serve a pretty narrow market, made narrower, not broader, by the Internet, primarily because of “noise”. A ‘zine can’t survive without finding a way to keep tapping its fan base for revenue. These days, a good ‘zine needs to include blog entries, have good content and art, and actively form and engage a social network in interested in its subject matter.

2. To tap that fan base, a ‘zine is not enough. You have to have emails with a little content and clear calls to action, and ideally gather meaningful demographic and consumer demand information along the way. WTIW could have done much more if it had seen itself not as a Steampunk publication but more as a “watering hole” or “campfire” around which Steampunk-related stuff happens. It would have increased the traffic, further defined the customer base, and given folks a reason to keep reading, keep returning, and keep clicking.

3. It helps to pay market rates. As of a few years ago, SFWA defined a professional publication as one that pays a minimum of $0.05 / word and had a certain minimum circulation (it’s on their site and I’m too lazy to get it - J) and frequency of publication. Partly as a result, I could nominate writers for Nebula awards.
Muchow clarifies: SFWA told me that if WTIW qualified as a professional market, I could do that [nominate writers for Nebula awards]. But until now, it never did... nor did most other 'zines.
4. Another reason it helps to pay market rates: quality of material submitted. The more we paid, I found, the less “crap” I tended to get. I realize that at first a lot of wannabes sent in material and I was flooded by horrible material from greedy writers (some of which I am embarrassed to say I published – due to an initially un-ambitious image of WTIW), but oddly, they seemed to self-select out.

5. If the ‘zine isn’t run by just one person, then give people tasks and deadlines, and make sure stuff gets done. I found that I was constantly missing deadlines and putting off the things I wasn’t good at. And the ‘zine suffered as a result.

6. Buy good art from professional artists. It makes a subtle difference to industry types, and if your ‘zine looks like it is limited by your own poor HTML and graphic skills, people will think less of it and not take it seriously.

7. Put up a set of writers’ guidelines. Otherwise you will get material that is 4x your desired word length, way off topic, and written by someone for whom English is not the primary language… or worse.

8. Make your terms and conditions clear both on your web site and in your offer letter. NEVER let the disposition of someone’s intellectual property become an issue.

9. Make sure you have good contact info OTHER than the author’s email, and make sure that the people you buy stories from KEEP you up to date on their contact info. Recently, I tried to publish a “Best of WTIW” book, only to find that I could not reach most of the authors who had contributed stories.
There's more—Don is an interesting fellow with quite a lot to say—but this seems sufficient for now.

Site Updates:
And now we come to the crux of the biscuit. As has been obvious to everyone except, apparently, me, I have been operating below crush depth for thirteen months now, and the seams and rivets are starting to come apart. Henry did a brilliant job of stepping in and keeping The Friday Challenge going in the first months after Emily's death, and Kersley has been an extremely valuable and critical asset to the team, even if she hasn't been as high-profile as me or Henry. One more time: I can't begin to thank Henry and Kersley enough for all that they have done for this site, and for the readers of this site. If we were meeting in person I'd have them stand up now, for a round of applause from the audience. Since we aren't meeting in person, we'll just have to take the applause as given, and move on to the next point.

Specifically, that I'm looking at a hellish next six months of dealing with OTOGU, Henry isn't much better off, and Kersley is also getting stretched pretty thin. As evidenced by the erratic postings of the past few weeks, absent more guest columns and greater reader participation, keeping a daily blog going has become difficult.

So what do we do next? Change formats to an ezine and launch The Friday Challenge Monthly? Cut back to two posts weekly—a challenge and a decision—and call that good enough? Or is it time to admit that this fellowship has served its purpose (whatever its purpose was; I distinctly remember that we thought we had a purpose when we started out), and fold the tents and close the show?

Your thoughts, comments, and observations, s'il vous plait.

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