About ten years ago, there were six big publishers for books. Now there are five. And soon there may only be four. Combined with the competition introduced by self-publishing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for authors to get traditionally published. This is on top of the supply problems introduced by Covid, and the fact that there was a massive exodus from the publishing industry back in March of 2022. About 1% of people in the publishing industry quit.
With all of these factors in play, some people are now more interested in creating their own independent platforms, or at least are interested in learning how they work.
I decided to interview some of the staff on various speculative fiction magazines along with indie publishers to see how that works. The first people I interviewed were the staff of the humor sci-fi magazine, Space Squid.
JBJ: Thank you so much for your help. Let’s say I started a free online blog—which I could hopefully to turn into a literary magazine or publisher later. Would I need to make a contract with the people submitting to the blog?
SS: I wouldn’t bother for blog entries. You might want to keep the email thread in which they agree to write for you; we’re a little more formal since we’re publishing stories.
JBJ: What inspired you to create an online magazine?
SS: We’re frustrated writers. Also there’s not a lot of spaces for funny scifi/speculative.
JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps you took starting out?
SS: Hmm… well we published on paper first, using some old photocopiers. That was more work than it was worth. Today we’d either go digital right away or send it to a printer for better quality and less hassle. We do publish one paper issue per year for Armadillocon.org.
As frustrated writers, we know a lot of other frustrated or semi-successful writers, and some of them were willing to send us material for our first issues. We reached out to some local bookstores and got some shelf space that way. But really, we’re marginally successful and we just kept doing it and publishing stuff we liked.
JBJ: What kind of services do you have to pay for to run a literary magazine?
SS: When publishing digitally, not much. We run our own WordPress site on a shared server. So the main costs are 1) the server and domain, 2) payments to writers, 3) the annual paper issue, and 4) time. 3 and 4 are the most expensive.
JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?
SS: Hmmm… maybe $200/yr for a digital-only publication?
JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing.
SS: I think we wrote our own writer contract. It’s clear enough to stand up in court, and that’s all we care about. Editing is our responsibility and kind of the core competency we bring to the table. For webhosting, we like hawkhost.com; shared hosting is less than $3/month. Use our referral code, https://my.hawkhost.com/aff.php?aff=1430!
JBJ: What was your greatest challenge?
SS: Just keeping it going. It’s a tough time for writers and publishers. There’s a lot of apathy and we don’t get the kind of readership we’d like. Reading submissions and editing stories takes a lot of time and love.
JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
SS: We do have a few dedicated fans who love our stories and style, and some writers like yourself who understand what we like. Occasionally we get a bit of acclaim or press. And of course we get energy from great stories and publishing first-time or enthusiastic writers.
JBJ: Is there anything else you would recommend for those who are just starting out?
SS: It’s good to have a clear niche picked out — some angle that you can cover better than anyone else because of your skills or POV or because it’s under served. It also helps a ton to have at least one other person onboard who’s as motivated as you are.
JBJ: What are your plans for the future?
SS: We’ve got plans for a premium membership plan that will deliver a lot of fun, useful services to our dedicated readers and writers. It’s called Squid Plus and we’ve got high hopes for it.
JBJ: Great. Thanks for the interview. Have a great day.
STORIES ON SPACE SQUID: