shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


"the resurgence of the small press zine"

Interesting thread under the title above going on over at Night Shade. One post from F & SF's editor Gordon Van Gelder:

As I've been reading through this thread, the comments of one veteran editor keep ringing in my head---he said to me, "Of course Analog is selling better than any other magazine: it's the least risky."

I bring up that comment, I guess, to defend against the charge of a conservative attitude in F&SF. I don't particularly like that word, "conservative," but I'll be the first to say that I've got to balance the artistic side of things with the commercial side. For every reader who appreciates the challenge that a story like John McDaid's "Keyboard Variations" offers, there are two or three readers who favor less challenging work like Ron Goulart's lighter fare.

Which is one reason why I'm happy to second Sean's sentiment when he says "I'm all for it!" to the writers blazing their own trails. I think the zine explosion of the last couple of years is very good for the field and I do my best to keep up with all the various magazines and anthologies, but I feel like someone needs to inject a note of commerciality into the discussion. Considering there are two threads running on the board now about declining circulation in the digests, it might be worth remembering that experimental fiction ("experimental" is another word like "conservative" that I don't particularly like, but I can't think of a better term right now; "riskier"? "less traditional"?) isn't necessarily commercial.

At the '97 World Fantasy Con, Graham Joyce and Jonathan Lethem did a panel that was on something like "Angst in Literature" or "Plumbing the Depths of Your Characters" or something like that. And there were about eight people in the audience, so Graham brought the panelists down from the dais and moved everyone into a circle, panelists and audience members alike. And it was a good discussion. In the next room, Terry Pratchett was talking about Humor in Fantasy or somesuch, and periodically one of Graham's excellent observations would be interrupted by the sound of scores of people laughing at one of Terry's comments next door. And Jonathan and I agreed, "Isn't this the way it always is? Here we've got the serious group having a great discussion for a handful of people, and there they've got hundreds of people laughing it up over the lighter fluff."

Some discussion has come up over the tastes of the tiny zines that are being discussed and Say...'s one of them. And as Christopher or me will probably jump in and say at some point over there, one of our motivations was to create another space for writers who were starting out and doing something a little weird with their work to publish alongside writers who were more established but still doing very interesting work, the individual pieces of which might not necessarily fit in a larger market AND we wanted to see more stories by women and non-white writers. I think we've been successful at both goals.

And one more snippet from a post to further convince you to go take a look, this one from Big Deal Editor Jim Minz:

To take the next logical step, and speak of small press in general (and to reiterate something I've been saying for nearly three years now—the next ICFA will be the third anniversary of my first public declaration): We are in the Golden Age of Small Press, people. Wallow in it and enjoy yourselves. This is in terms of zines, collections, anthologies and novels. There’s lots of interesting, weird stuff. There’s wonderful classic stuff. And it’s being brought to life and/or sustained thanks to the tireless efforts of folks all across this great land. I won’t even begin to list all the great small press publishers out there (the NS Board full list of topics has many of them), but kudos to you all, and heartfelt thanks.

Part of the reason is that the big houses have the same kind of concerns that GVG has iterated so well, i.e. it’s a fine balance between publishing enough popcorn fiction to help pay for the finer, quirkier vintages that won’t appeal to as many folks. It can be a very difficult balancing act. But you do have folks like China Mieville, Graham Joyce, Jonathan Carroll and Gene Wolfe to name a few, who are fairly successful by most measures. Certainly, they’ll never sell the number of copies as a Robert Jordan, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about trying to reach whatever readers might enjoy your fiction, regardless of the size of the audience.

I don’t think a major house could focus its line on fiction from the edge—there simply isn’t enough horsepower to make it work financially (I grimly point to RH folding Anchor and Vintage into one tp line as an example from mainstream publishing—a consolidation that bothers me no end). You have to pick your spots and publish only that which you truly believe can sell. On the other hand, that’s what’s creating the gap in which small press can flourish. This means not only a wider variety of potential publishers, but a wider variety of editorial vision—which means a writer has yet another shot to reach some kind of market. This is a good thing. Ten years ago, your options were more limited. (Of course, the downside to all this diversification means there’s much greater competition for the consumer’s dollar—I think mags suffer from the sheer volume of competition for the entertainment dollar more than anything else.)

Link stolen shamelessly from David Moles.