Sink or Swim, but be Swept Out to Sea

The day after I announced that I would be working with the folks at SciFan Magazine, they announced they were shutting down.  It was a shock to me, they didn’t warn me it was coming.  It just sort of happened.  But, when a magazine shuts down, that seems to be the case.  One day they’re there, the next day they can be gone.

Magazine publishing is very much a sink or swim business and, as my headline states, you are swept out to sea.  Not only are you trying to swim, you are getting hit by wave after wave.  Money problems, competitive market, unexpected expenses, standing out in the crowd, being discovered; wave after wave hits.  To get above the waves you need a boat.  And building a boat while you are trying to keep your head above water just doesn’t work out often.

Plasma Frequency was very successful as a semi-pro publication.  We were on the low end of that “semi-pro” pay rate, but we attracted great authors and put out great stories.  We tried to be innovative in the way we communicated with authors, and we attracted good people to our editorial staff.  And then a huge wave of financial woes hit us.  We’d just patched the raft we’d created when the next one hit.  And we sunk.

I spiraled down into a depression and there was no recovery for me until very recently.  But even through my worst times, I missed doing it.  And now I find myself strongly considering publishing again.  But this time, I’m trying to build the boat before shoving off into the sea.  I am taking the things I’ve learned from Plasma Frequency, and I am going to apply them to the design.

Plasma Frequency is not returning, I’ll make that clear.  That boat sank and it is time to move forward.  I also must be clear that I could very well decide this boat isn’t seaworthy and not pursue this any further.  But, I can say that I am getting very close to testing the waters and I am eager to see if it is possible to happen again.

Advertisements

From the Editor’s Desk: The Cost of Running a Magazine

money bagsThere is a cost to just about every business. What surprises me is how many people don’t realize the costs of running a magazine. There is also an assumption that running a magazine is a money making venture, and for most of us it is not.

This was something I was surprised to learn. I knew that my magazine had lots of costs. I pay the writers. I pay the cover artist, I pay Submittable to manage our submissions and GoDaddy to host our domain. There are printing costs, shipping costs, and the cost of office supplies (to print and store contracts). There is a lot of little costs in running a magazine. And I haven’t even talked about marketing expenses.

But I thought I was one of the only people trying to run a semi-professional magazine around my day job. And I thought for certain those that own the professional markets didn’t have to work a “real” job just to make ends meet. But I learned different real quick. What’s rare is finding a market that pays for itself and the owner doesn’t have to work a day job. I’m the common one.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from starting a magazine. But what I am saying is to be prepared for the costs. Don’t expect to get rich with an overnight success. Expect to put in a lot of work, and money, if you want to make it. And, in the interest of transparency, I’ll break down my current costs.

Writer Payments:

I currently pay authors 1 cent per word (and I will be getting to how I plan to increase that below). I budget 25,000 words in each issue (over 10 stories) and there are 6 issues in a year. Total $1500

Artist Payments:

I currently pay $150 for cover art for six issues a year. Total $900

Web hosting and Submittable:

Now, I am lucky. Submittable has raised their rates, but I am grandfathered in so I have the old rate. That is until I need to upgrade (which will be very soon). So right now I pay $10 a month for that.   I pay another $9 per month to host Plasma Frequency‘s two domains which cost me $15 a year each (not to mention another fee on that).  Total: $258

Miscellaneous:

There is postage, printing costs, proof copies, and office supplies. Total $400 a year (YTD 2014)

Grand Total: $3048

Now you notice that I have left off marketing. To be honest, other than my trips to the conventions, I don’t do a lot of marketing. I need to do more, and so that will no doubt be in my future budgets.

Now I bet some of you are thinking $3,048 a year isn’t all that much. And for some it may not be. But, lets not forget I have had to come up with that through two job losses and a move from California to Washington. Add that to the fact that, like most Americans, I live paycheck to paycheck. I have no savings account, no retirement account.  I am raising three boys who love to eat (and they haven’t even hit the teen years). So, $3,000 is a lot of money for us.

And, YTD for 2014 when it comes to magazine sales and subscriptions I have made $326. Not even enough to pay for one issue.

So why bother with running a magazine?

I absolutely love doing it. When I say this is a passion of mine, I can not begin to express how short the word “passion” falls in describing how I feel about this magazine. I get such joy out of publishing short fiction. And that is just it.  If you want to run a magazine, you have to understand that it is a labor of love, not a get rich quick plan.

In fact, I don’t care if Plasma Frequency ever makes money. Yes, someday I would like to pay my all volunteer staff for their hard work. And maybe is ten years, I’d like to see enough from it that I don’t have to work anymore. But will I even be swimming in money because of a successful magazine? I doubt it, but I am okay with that. I just want Plasma Frequency to be successful.

Successful Defined

2013top10fictionzineI want Plasma Frequency to gain a loyal fan base, and maybe even publish some award winning fiction. Personally, I think we already have some huge talent that submit to us. With each issue it gets harder and harder for me to pick stories. And I love that. But in order to achieve more success, I need to invest more money into the magazine. The problem is, I am out of money. Sure, I can keep maintaining our one cent per word, and maintain our current level of success, but I feel I owe it to those I publish to push harder and continue to strive to make Plasma Frequency a household name in science fiction and fantasy.

So how do you get more money?

We’ve tried a lot of things. I stopped giving away our issues for free so that people would buy more and we would make more, but we didn’t.  And my main goal has always been to get these authors and their stories to readers. So that is why I’ve gone back to free by making the stories free to read online. And while I won’t make money that way, the web traffic to my website tripled on the first issue we did that (Issue 13).

I have a Patreon Page up. And we have advertising on our website. But those things need time to ramp up. And I am ready to push Plasma Frequency into the professional publication level.

Professional?

There are many definitions for the word professional. I certainly think I have a professional publication, and professional staff. But, I am referring to rates we pay our authors and artists. I mentioned above that I pay one cent per word. That is the absolute bottom of the barrel in the semi-pro pay rate range. Professional pay rates start at 6 cents per word. And that is where I want to take Plasma Frequency.

That takes money, right?

kickstarterExactly. And that is where I am hoping others in the community that I hold close to my heart will come in and help us out. I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise just over $15,000 by November 15th. With that, I will be able to use $10,000 just to pay authors and artists more money starting in January. If funded, I would pay authors 6 cents per word and artists $200 for cover art.

Does that mean I won’t be spending my own money? Oh, no. I will still be spending my own money. That will free up money for me to spend on marketing Plasma Frequency.

I’m scared.

I am scared to death this won’t reach funding. The moment I launched the project the anxiety hit me. I have big plans for this magazine, and for two and half years I’ve wanted to see it start paying professional rates. I am scared that others don’t have the same passion for Plasma Frequency that I do. I just launched yesterday and (at the time of this blog) four other people also want to see this succeed. That is great. I am hoping for ten by the end of tonight, it is a lofty goal but we need the supporters. The more people get behind this and start sharing it the better we can be.

If you are a member of the writing community, especially the short fiction one, you no doubt no the importance of a new paying market. There is way, way more quality fiction out there than there are places to publish it, even fewer that pay above 6 cents per word. And when Plasma Frequency started, we gave them a place to be paid and published. Now we want to give writers a place to be published and paid a fair, professional wage.

I really hope you take a moment to check out the Kickstarter. We have some great rewards, including a story critique from one of our editors for just $7. But even if you just have three dollars left over after paying your bills, we would be happy to take it. And you can know that we will put that money to excellent use.

And please remember, I publish Plasma Frequency for all of you in the science fiction and fantasy community. I hope you enjoy it.

From the Editor’s Desk: New Things on the Horizon for Plasma Frequency

2013top10fictionzineIt is funny how much time I spend blogging on writing, publishing, marketing, and even just random things going on in my life. Yet somehow I don’t seem to do much blogging with my editor’s cap on.  I have touched on it here and there, but most of the time that I mention Plasma Frequency, it is about how it has kept me from writing.  It would seem that something that is taking up so much of my time deserves a bit more attention. I assume my blog followers, being writers, might enjoy hearing what is going on in the short fiction publishing world.

For those that don’t know, Plasma Frequency, in my bi-monthly speculative fiction magazine. We mostly publish science fiction and fantasy, but some horror too. We publish from just a few hundred words up to 7,000 words. And we have been doing this now for two years.  Issue 13 comes out this Friday and it makes the start of our third publishing year.  That is a big deal for someone like me for several reasons: first we got this far, second we continue to grow, and third we seem to be making a difference in the industry.

In a future blog I intend to provide some tips on how to start your own magazine, but for now I want to talk about Plasma Frequency‘s future.

Our First Issue, with Award winning cover art by Tais Teng
Our First Issue, with Award winning cover art by Tais Teng

This is a magazine that I started in 2012 because I wanted to give authors another place to showcase their work.  And not just showcase it, but receive compensation for it.  Writing is a lot of hard work, and while doing it for money isn’t the best reason to get into writing, there should still be some compensation for it.

I wanted to start Plasma Frequency at 3 cents per word, but the funding for Plasma Frequency comes out of my pocket. So we started, and remain at, 1 cent per word.  The main question for me has always been how do we get this pay rate increased. The first year, I tried in-magazine advertising, and that didn’t work out well.  The second year I tried selling the magazine and some crowd funding.  Neither has worked out well.  Selling the issues covers about 10% of the costs per issue. The other 90% comes from my pocket. When you add in web hosting, submission services, and other operational costs (shipping, printing, postage, and much more), about 98% of the magazine’s funding comes from my own pocket.

Since my pocket book has no more room in it to add to the magazine, I spend a lot of time going over some ideas for our third year. We will still be selling the print copy and the eReader copies. That will not change, because readers have told us they enjoy those issues.  But we will be bringing the stories to our website, allowing those who want to read for free the ability to do so.  Now at first that might seem counter productive to making money, but we are hoping that increased reader exposure will also increase donations.

Asking for donations is always hard. People work hard for their money and they aren’t sure they want to donate it to a magazine. But, we hope that by reading our stories free online you will see this is a magazine worth a few bucks. And this year we are started a Patreon page.

Issue 8. The first issue with the new Masthead and the first issue sold via Amazon. Award winning art by Laura Givens
Issue 8. The first issue with the new Masthead and the first issue sold via Amazon. Award winning art by Laura Givens

What is Patreon?  Well Patreon is a way to donate a small amount monthly to us. It can be as little as one dollar, to as much as you see fit. That is a great way to put just a little bit into the bank and it all helps.  I’ve set some goals on there for us to reach. Reaching those goals will help us to raise the pay rates.  Maybe even get to 7 cents a word for authors in our magazine. That means we can attract more writers and bring in a wide range of story styles.  That is a lofty goal, but the good thing about Patreon is that it doesn’t expire. There is no deadline to reach any of these goals.  It is just the road map to our success.

Tying in to the Patreon page, we are also establishing donor levels. You can reach these through Patreon or through one time donations.  All people who reach one of our donor levels (to be officially announced September 5th) will be listed in all issues of our magazine (print and eReader) for the rest of time.  Onetime donations are always accepted, but Patreon is a good way to reach those donor goals without spending too much.  We have started out with some basic rewards, but as we grow so will the rewards.  The editors and I have even talked about some exclusive special editions that only donors will have access too.  We’re also considering early releases to donors and other such fun perks for becoming a donor.

Do you have a book, magazine, product, or service that would appeal to the audience of my magazine?  Oh, lord that sounds like such a horrible sales pitch. We are bringing back limited space advertising.  Official rates will be announced September 5th. But there are only four spaces for sale each month.  And if you buy a space for October, you get the rest of September free!  Your ad will be on every Plasma Frequency webpage, even the home page, for the entire month.  The ad prices are affordable and you will catch people’s attention.  If we consistently sell out the advertising, we could raise the rate of pay to as much as 4 cents per word.

Now you may be a lot like me and not have a lot of money to spare. I get that.  Money is not the only way to support us. You can also share your favorite stories. You can share the Patreon page. And you can follow Plasma Frequency on Facebook and Twitter.  There are sites to review our magazine too.

But aside from trying to raise money we have some other new and exciting things for our third year.  First off we are publishing Steve Coate’s “The Great Exodus”, a six part serial fiction piece.  The first part releases with Issue 13, and it will run for six issues.  This is a great way for us to publish longer fiction that would otherwise fail to fit within our pages.

We are also setting up a more consistent issue style.  In the past I would accept stories as they came in. And when the word count limit was reached, that was that.  Well sometimes we’d have twelve or thirteen stories in an issue, and other times we’d have just six.  I now am accepting stories for the whole year.  We accept just a few longer fiction pieces (typically two per issues) and the rest will be shorter or flash.  The result will be a consistent 10 stories per issue (11 counting Coate’s serial), while also giving a good mixture of fiction length.  The readers should better know what to expect from us.

I touched on this a little bit, but aside from our six issues, we are looking into publishing special editions. Perhaps even with guest

Issue 13: Out September 5th 2014. Art by Tais Teng
Issue 13: Out September 5th 2014. Art by Tais Teng

editors.  We are still talking this over.  I am also thinking of handing one issue over to one of my other editors and letting them have a go in the driver seat.  I am looking forward to working those out.

Of course the Year Two Anthology is also in the works.  The editors and I are choosing our picks, and just like last year our readers are making their picks too.  Voting ends on September 15th.  Then I have to contact the winners and set up the contracts for the issue.  I hope to have it out by late October so that you can have it on your Christmas list.

We will also be archiving our old issues online.  This will take a long time as there are 12 issues worth of stories to code on to a website. We don’t use a WordPress site for Plasma Frequency.  I code it all myself. And, I am learning coding as I go.

Speaking of the website, on September 5th our new website releases. It won’t be hugely different than our site now.  But I have put the stories as the main feature on the first (home) page.  And there are other tweaks along the way.

So that is just a taste of what we have in store for the next year. If you are already a reader, I hope you enjoy it.  If you are not yet reading us, I hope you will join in.

Updates: May 2012

Here we are pushing the halfway point of the year.  I’m having trouble believing this fact, but unless the calendar has adapted a mind of its own, June is almost here. What is even crazier is how much has happened since my last set of updates.

I finally crawled out from under my rock and picked up a copy of The Hunger Games.  I don’t know why I stalled on it for so long.  I think it has to do with the fact that I typically don’t read books that have suddenly jumped into popularity solely for the fact that everyone else is reading them.  I have not read one Twilight or Harry Potter book.  I was over at Costco and saw a copy of it sitting on their book display.  I decided to give it a read.  I won’t go into a review of it here, there are plenty of those around, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’ll likely pick up Catching Fire soon.  I’ve added a “What I am Reading” box to the side bar on my website, thanks to another Goodreads plug in.

There are some other books I have on my to read list:  Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology is one of those books.  I’m not a huge fan of Horror, that has to be said.  But, I am a huge fan of what this anthology is about: giving back.  There are some big names in the Horror community that have shared their talents with the Editors for the purpose of doing good.  Put out by Cutting Block Press, they are taking net profits and donating them to The Foundation for AIDS Research.  In my opinion $5 for the Kindle version is money well spent.  I’ll be likely to order the print edition, as most of you know, but either way I can’t help but support this.  Pick up your copy here: LINK.

I also plan to read Exit Reality by Robert S. Wilson once that is released.  I don’t think an official release date has been announced yet.  Some other titles I hope to read soon: Fading in Darkness by Robert S. Wilson and Death on Zanath by Lee Gimenez.  Of course this is all money and time permitting.

Besides reading and blogging you may have heard that I am a writer.  You may have also heard some rumors about a Novel I have coming soon.  Since I will be virtually self publishing Dissolution of Peace, I hired an editor to review it.  So right now it is over at Wilson Book Service awaiting editor mark ups.  I think this is an important step serious self publishers should consider.  A professional editor is something that is lost when you self publish.  No matter how good you are, self editing is always bound to miss something.  In any case, I’m expected to get his mark ups by mid-July.  I will certainly be diving right into fixing what needs to be fixed and getting that out to you.

I have also hired the talents of Neil Jackson at Pig and Cow Design to create the cover art for Dissolution of Peace.  I’d hoped to have some cover art to show you for this post, but good art takes time (It has only been a week or so).  I most certainly will have it up for your on Facebook and Twitter when it comes out.

I do have something to share with you.  A little update and tease to novel.  Below is the blurb for Dissolution of Peace:

“The people of Earth have enjoyed centuries of peace under one global government.  They’ve made great strides in space travel and planet colonization.  The colonies on Mars wanted independence and Earth granted without a fight to preserve the peace.

 When Earth Navy Captain Christina Serenity is brutally attacked by a traitor, her life is saved by Security Forces Corporal Michael Carlson.  On the heels of her recovery, her ship is attacked by terrorists, and she is thrown into a difficult assignment.  She must chase after the only clue they have, a Martian ship called the Phobos, to find out what secrets it hides.  To make matters worse, someone still wants her dead.

 Now Serenity must trust her protection crew to keep her alive long enough to solve this puzzle while trying to prevent an interplanetary war.”

On the topic of things taking time, I realize that for… well hell almost a year now, I have been telling you that Daddy is Tired will be coming out soon.  So far I’ve been embarrassed with every false promise I have made in hopes this would be coming out soon.  As you know this is a children’s picture book my son and I wrote together, that has been at the illustrator for a really long time.   Sadly, it is now well below his reading level.  So my hopes of he and I reading it together have been smashed.  I am utterly disappointed and have tried very hard to be understanding of every delay.  I did warn her that I would like to see it done before she had a baby because life would get hectic after that.  She assured me that wouldn’t change things.  Unfortunately it has been one life event after another.  That being said, she is doing this for free.  But, I am learning, somethings are worth the price you pay.  And the Artwork will be great once it is done, so don’t get me wrong when I speak of worth, it is the delays that are maddening.  I’ll hold off on announcing a release date until I have the illustrations in hand.  While my wife and I will be happy to see it published, my six year old son probably doesn’t even remember writing it.

In other news, I’ve become involved in a project I am really excited about.  I am the Editor-in-Chief for a new Speculative Fiction magazine called, Plasma Frequency.  I am excited about this project for several reasons.  One, it is a paying market.  We are seeing a ton of new markets pop up, but rarely do they pay.  Eventually, depending on the readers and the advertisers, we plan to grow to a pro-rate market.  We offer both print and electronic forms.  We also provide something different to the writer.  We provide editor feedback.  There are two things that always frustrate me with a rejection letter.  One, I never know how far they read in my manuscript.  Two, I never know why they reject my manuscript.  Plasma Frequency‘s  editors changed that.  They are sending out letters telling authors they don’t accept just how far they got in the process and at least one line as to why the editor did not send it on.  When I agreed to this project, I built the process to be transparent.  Writers have a right to know just a little bit about what happens to their manuscript when they click submit.

Another great thing about this project is that they plan to review books that are published by Independent Presses and Self Publishers.  For now I will likely be the one to review them, but I think this is great news.  These two groups need a bit of the spotlight.  Surprisingly though, we’ve only received one book review submission.  We have received a steady stream (10-20 a day) of fiction submissions.  Artists and Books to review are just starting to trickle in.  So if you have one of those, now is the time to submit.  Our fiction submissions are open continuously.  If you don’t make the flagship issue (currently set for Sep 2012),  we will be publishing bi-monthly.

If you are a self published Author, we give you 15% off our advertising rates.  Right now these rates are already really low compared to other magazines.  But, as our readership goes up, so will those rates.  Of course, anyone can advertise (within our standards) in our magazine.  Our electronic issue is free, so we expect a lot of downloads.

For submission details, advertising details and subscriptions, visit: plasmafrequencymagazine.com

So what else is coming down the pipeline?  I have a new novel in the works, maybe I will have some announcements on that in the June or July updates.  The sequel to Dissolution of Peace is also in the talks.  I have two new short stories out making their rounds at the various markets.  And, of course, I will have my weekly blog posts for you.  I don’t have any new topic lined up, but subscribe to my blog to get alerts for my new posts.