10 October 2005

New SF magazine coming on line

In typical Jim Baen fashion, an important announcement was unceremoniously dumped into the middle of a minor and completely unrelated thread in the Publisher’s Podium conference of Baen’s Bar:

Big news!

Baen.com is publishing an sf magazine. Baen's Astounding Stories of Science Fiction and Speculative Fact. Eric Flint knows all about it.

I can just about picture Eric’s “Uh, thanks, Jim...”

Eric’s more detailed response in his MutterOfDemons conference said this:

It seems that Jim posted a notice about this in “Publisher’s Podium.” We’re still putting this together, but, in brief, here it is:

Baen Books will launch a major SF magazine in electronic format. The title will be something like “Baen’s Astounding Stories.” I’ll be the editor, and Paula Goodlett will be the assistant editor. The one other member of the editorial board thus far is Dave Drake.

We’re committing to three issues of the magazine. Since this is an experimental project, we’ll just have to size up the success of it along the way to see if we can continue it as an ongoing magazine. No one has really ever tried to market an online SF magazine the way we’ll be doing, so it's very hard to know without a base of experience how well it’ll work.

The magazine will publish science fiction and fantasy stories, along with some factual articles and speculative articles. The emphasis will be on adventure stories, broadly defined, although there’ll be room for other stuff. In terms of past models — as the name itself suggests — we hope to produce the same sort of magazine (without copying them directly) that Astounding/Analog and Galaxy were in their heyday several decades ago.

Most of the stories will be written by established authors, some on a commission basis and some from unsolicited manuscripts. The authors who have so far agreed to write stories for one or another of the first three issues are Dave Weber, Dave Drake, Jim Hogan, myself, Dave Freer, Barry Malzberg and Mark Van Name. I haven’t had a chance to talk to John Ringo yet, but I think he’ll be able to, also. And I’ll be talking to a number of other authors, many of them writers who've been published by Baen but many of them writers who haven’t.

In short, not surprisingly, the content of the magazine will tend to reflect the content of the novels that Baen publishes, in terms of the type of stories, and you can expect to see authors who get regularly published by Baen appearing often in the magazine. That said, there’s nothing exclusive about it. We can and will publish stories by any SF/F author, as long as we think they’re good and will please most of the audience of the magazine.

We will also set up a specific “slot” for new writers, perhaps calling it “Introducing...” (whatever.) So at least one story in every issue will be produced by a newbie. For that purpose, we’ll be setting up Astounding conferences, including Slush and Slush Comments conferences, where people can submit stories. We’ll be following the same method we use for the Grantville Gazette, for those of you familiar with it.

There will also be a “regular” slush address where people can send submissions directly. I will, however, strongly encourage new writers to try to get published through the slush conferences rather than through direct submissions to the editors. Being blunt, there are few more hostile environments in the world than a slush pile. It’s raw Darwinian natural selection, in there. 98 or 99 get slaughtered that one or two might survive — and they get slaughtered awfully quickly.

Slush conferences, on the other hand, are comparatively far more benign environments. You only get one chance in a regular slush pile — which means, in the real world, the first two or three pages of your story get a chance. Whereas in a slush conference, you have several chances to rework a story in light of comments and criticisms. In a way, you have as many chances as you need. Stories never get “rejected,” as such, in a slush conference. Most stories don’t get published, of course, but that's because they simply fade away while the best ones “rise up” and come to the editors’ attention.

In addition to the slush conference for writers, we will set up similar conferences for illustrators. We want to have internal black-and-white illustrations in the magazine, just as the magazines of the 50s and 60s did regularly. (Most of them, anyway.)

We’ll be hiring professional artists to do the covers for the magazines, but we’ll buy the illustrations from the best ones produced in the slush conferences. The way it’ll work is that either Paula or me will post excerpts from upcoming stories and ask people who are interested to post their illustrations of those scenes. The best ones will get bought.

(Fair warning, folks: this kind of illustration doesn’t pay a lot, but it is a chance to get published in a professional magazine. Over time that can lead to bigger and better things, so to speak.)

I’m also planning to have a section of the magazine where we re-issue one story per volume that brings back a “classic” story from decades ago.

We’ll also have at least one fact article per issue. “Doc” Travis Taylor has agreed to write at least one of them on the subject of prospects for space travel in the near future.

We’ll sell the magazine basically the same way we sell the Gazette. Everything will be unencrypted, of course. Single copies can be purchased for [USD]$6, or you can buy a three-volume package for [USD]$15. In addition, if we can work out how to administer the money, we’ll sell each individual story or article separately. Probably for [USD]$1 apiece.

The magazine will pay rates that are as good as or better than those of any other professional SF magazine out there right now. And, in addition, if the cost of the stories earns out we will pay royalties — something which, to the best of my knowledge, no other magazine does at all. (The rate will be about what it is for the authors in Webscriptions — 20% of gross income.)

And... I think that’s it, for the moment.

Paula then chimed in to explain that newbies would get a 10,000 word ceiling, and this interesting explanation:

Authors will be paid for the stories up front. At a higher rate than is currently customary. SFWA rules indicate that [USD]5 cents per word [ie, USD$500 for a 10k-word story] is the professional rate, please note.

Normally, if an author sells a story to a magazine, he gets paid the rate for that story and only ever receives the one [cheque].

This magazine, if it's successful, will pay royalties in addition to that initial payment. That is something that no other magazine does.

...and...

If all goes well, the first issue should be up for sale in June 2005 [she means 2006, it was a ten-thumbs kind of day].

That’s what we’re shooting for, at any rate.

So... if you’re a consumer of sci-fi and fantasy, you’re about to gain exposure to many more fresh and good stories, and if you write, this looks like being by far the easiest way to “break into” the industry.

Be aware that “the easiest way” will be, as Eric said, to run the gauntlet of a SlushPile conference. This will involve critcism of your work. Some of the beautiful crystalline treasures from your mental storehouse of ideas will be taken, ridiculed and trashed, ridden over roughshod by an informal jury of your peers. Some of the abuse will be warranted, some will not. But even if your story doesn’t survive to make it into the magazine, it will be a better, stronger, more readable story for the experience, and might get accepted elsewhere. Just don’t wimp out simply because some of your favourite concepts get mercilessly gunned down in a hail of objections.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned it here previously or not, but Perth is home to an inordinate number of writers in the sci-fi and related genres. We have a reputation to uphold. (-:

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