Updated July 18, 1997
Last time, I talked about the contraction of the market for the pro SF/F magazines. Fortunately, this is somewhat balanced by the growth in the semi-pro field.
Before I get too far, I'd better define what I mean by semi-pro. *My* idea largely concerns how the magazine is run. If it's largely backed and run by a single person or small group, generally as a sideline to their "real" lives, then I include it here. Additionally, it must pay the authors for their work -- at least 1 cent/word. As with any definition, there's a spectrum of those that fit bleeding into the adjacent categories of pro and small press.
What makes the semi-pro field so interesting is that it's relatively easy to jump into it. Sophisticated desktop publishing is available to anybody with a computer, and commercial printers can work directly from disk at a reasonable price. This is both good and bad.
It's good because someone with a relatively small bankroll and a lot of drive can create a new outlet for talented writers to show off their wares. Each new magazine is a new opportunity to catch a rising star in the field. Each editor is a new pair of eyes to spot a writer with a unique voice to add to the SF/F chorus. Often, the editors of smaller magazines can give personal attention to writers with potential, can nurture the talent through the rough spots early in a career.
On the other hand, the lower barrier to entry can mean that a publisher/editor hasn't given proper thought to the endeavor. Soon, the crush of manuscripts becomes unmanageable, and the financial burden of paying authors while saving enough to print and mail the next issue becomes untenable. Deadlines fall by the wayside. Messages and queries go unanswered. The death of a magazine can be ugly, and that's a shame, because the people involved are usually nice, but just in over their heads.
So where does all this leave us readers? Personally, I think the greatest rewards often come with the biggest risks. I like the opportunity to sample things before the masses get a chance to trample over it. If I like the sound of a band's first single, I'll buy the CD and hope I'm not disappointed. Usually I'm not, since I have certain yardsticks I measure that first song against. Often I'm one of the few to appreciate the act -- you should see how many "one-hit wonders" I have in my collection.
Same goes for magazines. Usually, I'll see a new mag in a bookstore, pick it up, then subscribe because I like what I see in that issue. Writing that check is often an exercise in blind faith, though. I bought Expanse #3 off the newsstand, subscribed, then never received another issue (though I did get a refund). However, I never "expect" anything once I drop the sub in the mailbox -- I consider it an investment in the genre. If I eventually get the issues due me, I'm happy. If not, I'm certainly disappointed, but I'll live.
I waited out the Aboriginal SF hiatus, and when the first new issue came out last year, I knew immediately why I waited. There was simply something different about the style of stories in Aboriginal that I can't find elsewhere. And that's the payoff -- finding something different and off the well beaten path of the main line publications.
It's the thrill of the hunt and the ecstasy of discovery. Nothing quite like it, and that's enough to keep me sifting through all the new entries to the field.
Jim Bailey [7/18/97]
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