Semi-Pro zine reviewed: POLAR BOREAL
Polar Boreal (#1) January/February 2016.
Faned: R. Graeme Cameron
Yes, I’m transforming into a filthy pro… sort of. More of a slightly grubby semi-pro actually.
I think the term “Filthy Pro” was coined in the late thirties to describe fans who were turning into published writer lay-abouts and hard-working editors. People like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Donald Wollheim, and Frederic Pohl. They remained fans at heart their entire lives but didn’t depend on that for making a living. (How DOES a Fan make a living being a fan? Hmmm.)
So what happened to me? What began the transformation?
About a month ago I was having lunch with Lynda Williams, President of SF Canada (a sort of SF&F writers union which includes Canadian authors, publishers and artists) and owner of Reality Skimming Press. We got to talking about the difficulties of making that first sale.
“There’s too many beginning writers competing with pros for too few publication slots in the Canadian market,” she said.
“Let’s kill the ones I don’t like and reduce the number of competitors,” I suggested helpfully.
For some reason she ignored my comment. “What Canada really needs is more SF magazine markets,” she declared.
The conversation moved on to other topics like whether the beer-soaked bread I was eating was a good idea, but of course my sub-conscious had started percolating. Halfway home on the Skytrain a decision emerged.
I’m going to found a science fiction and fantasy professional magazine! Huzzah!
Immediately I began plotting. Visions of long hours mailing hard copies to subscribers, composing electronic versions each one suitable to a particular E-book format, climbing the learning curve of complicated publishing programs, hiring and firing morose, complaining employees to do all the drudge work, selecting a suitable office building to house the extensive headquarters, contacting Donald Trump and asking for money, and sundry other petty details whirled through my head like a maelstrom of torments from hell.
Bugger that, I thought. This is me I’m thinking about. I get confused just waking up in the morning. Got to keep it as simple as humanly possible.
I know, I’ll produce another fanzine! And call it a prozine! That’ll work.
Mind you, I’m known for the utter simplicity of layout (some people use the term “unimaginative”) and style-blind perception of presentation (Times Roman forever!). Surely it’ll be a breeze transforming that into a slick, professional product.
I know! I’ll do a mock-up to see what works best.
I began with a blank “Word” page. Can’t go wrong if you start there. Sat and stared at it for a while. Missing something.
Then I thought “Margins!” I need margins!” Fooled around with them for an hour or so. Had to be a compromise between not enough white space and too much white space. Found it. Set it. No need to ever think about it again. And I won’t.
Next up, fonts. Figured the text has to be as readable as possible, but a serif font so it seems friendly and not the product of machine mentalities. Something classical. Easy on the eye yet dignified and respectful. Finally settled on “Bookman Old Style.” And so I have decreed. No need to think further on the subject. And I won’t.
Titles! Got to be impressive. And dignified. Something you want to salute. But readable. In the end I chose “Engravers MT.” Done. Don’t have to think twice about it. And I won’t.
Bylines! Got to have a personal touch, be intimate, and approximately readable. Can’t go wrong with “Monotype Corsiva.” Perfect! I don’t have to view it as an ongoing conundrum. And I won’t.
There! You see how easy it is to get a professional magazine off the ground? Anyone can do it. If I can do it, you can do it. In fact, if I can do it, an untrained chimpanzee can do it, but they’re not reliable, so don’t hire one.
How many columns? Two or three columns, especially if right-hand justified, looks professional, but only in the sense of boring journals you have to study to complete your term paper. Besides, people complain if they’re reading multiple columns online and have to keep scrolling back to the top of the page just to get through it.
I hauled out copies of three Canadian SF prozines: “Pulp Literature,” “On Spec.” and “Neo-opsis Magazine.” How about that? All three are single column. Digest-sized mind you, and I’ll be creating files for pages equivalent to standard letter size. How does single column translate to that?
Kind of crappy, actually. Because point twelve throws too many words across the page, tends to confuse the eye tracking. I pulled a few books off my shelves at random and chose the ones that seemed most readable, counting the spaces, then tried to duplicate the effect with Word. Turns out point size 13 works best with Bookman Old Style. Great. Done. I never have to decide again. And I won’t.
Lines seemed a bit crowded though. Need exactly the right spacing between lines. Concluded 1.15 works best. Fantastic. Written in stone. Don’t have to re-carve it. And I won’t.
Now the million dollar question. How to distribute it? I’ve been reading about the various self-distribution options and they puzzle me worse than the Gordian Knot. Not only that, some of them cost money, a lot of money. As does the headache of printing hard copies and mailing them. That’s expensive too. What to do?
Nothing, that’s what. Just post them online at my OBIR Magazine website and get people to download them. But how to attract people to the site? Some sort of hideously expensive and entirely useless publicity campaign like the big-boy publishers employ? Heck with that. Just rely on word of mouth. Good enough.
And now the ultimate question: what kind of business plan? I consulted the aforementioned trio of Canadian prozines. Oddly enough, they contained not a clue concerning their business practices. I pressed them firmly to my forehead hoping the secret knowledge would sink into my brain by osmosis. Nope. Nothing.
Then it hit me! That’s the key to the ultimate business plan! Nothing! Publish the zine in order NOT to bring in any money. Simplicity itself. Don’t charge anything for the zine. Give it away free. Even place the ads inside for free. Hassle free publishing. Perfect. Wonderful. Stress free. Besides, “free” is always an attractive price. I’ll get lots of readers in no time flat. Huzzah!
While there are magazines, especially online, that pay nothing to their contributors, that’s not what my zine is all about. It’s to be aimed at beginning writers, especially those eager to make their first sale. What can I offer them? And more importantly, where am I going to get the money to give them when the magazine itself won’t be earning income?
My pensions. My fixed pensions. Come August I will be starting up old age security for the first time. Maybe if I put aside a hundred dollars every month I’ll be able to afford two issues a year.
Which will translate into what pay rates?
I’ve decided the longest stories I’ll accept for publication will be 3K words in length at a maximum. Any length between 2K and 3K will receive $30. Any between 1 K to 2K will earn $20. And 1k or less will get $10. Poems will get $10. Cover art gets $40. Interior art $20. Fillos $5.
This is way below SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) standards so neither the zine nor the sale can be recognised as professional. But rights are purchased for money (by cheque or PayPal) and that constitutes semi-pro status. A step up from amateur.
In effect my zine will be at the bottom of the ladder, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere and selling your story to me at least equates with putting your foot on the bottom rung, a significant step when you think about it.
I plan to reserve three or four story “slots” for first sales and the rest divided between beginners who’ve already sold a few stories and professionals. At the rates I’m offering I certainly don’t anticipate professionals inundating me with First Publication Rights manuscripts, but maybe reprints.
Rights. Now there’s a conundrum for you. What does a contract look like? J.M. Landels of “Pulp Literature Magazine” sent me a copy of the one they utilise. Someone else directed me to the SFWA “Model” contract. Advice came flooding in from diverse sources.
Now, bear in mind I have no financial stake in any of the “properties” because I’m giving the magazine away for free to anyone who wants it. So I’ve decided what I will purchase is First Publication (or Reprint) English Language World Serial Online (PDF) Internet Rights. This means I have exclusive rights until:
“On acceptance, the Author agrees not to publish or permit others to publish this work in any other form prior to its publication and appearance in “POLAR BOREAL” Magazine and for one (1) week after the appearance of this volume and issue of “POLAR BOREAL” Magazine online.”
One week? That’s unusual. Most magazines insist on several months exclusivity at the very least. Money is at stake. But not in my case.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the purpose and intent of “POLAR BOREAL” Magazine is to promote and publicise the Works and talent of Canadian Speculative Fiction Authors and Artists through the rights granted to the Publisher and, once the non-exclusivity phase begins, to allow all contributing Authors and Artists the maximum freedom possible to promote and sell their Works to the maximum extent possible outside of the rights this agreement grants to the Publisher.”
I dare say you would be hard pressed to find equivalent language in any magazine seeking to make a profit, or at least break even. Most fiction zines lead precarious lives, often depending on grants and donations to survive. Since my budget is dependent on a fixed amount derived from my fixed income, I don’t have to worry about finances at all. In theory. But I suspect it will be hard to cope with unexpected expenses on my scheme. Maybe I can manage one issue a year.
POLAR BOREAL Magazine? Why POLAR BOREAL? I figured the name had to reek of Canada. BEAVER TALES right out from the get go. Likewise MOOSE MEANDERINGS. Or CANADA GOOSE GAZETTE. Nope. Got to be majestic and dignified. Something to do with the frozen North.
I picked out BOREALIS, but there was a semi-pro magazine out of Nova Scotia decades ago, and numerous zines today, including one devoted to slot cars oddly enough. So I changed it to BOREAL. Dang! Forgot about the Boreal Awards, the French Language Quebec version of the Aurora Awards. So BOREAL is out.
How about POLAR? POLAR what? POLAR SEAS? Can’t. There’s a magazine of that name. Likewise POLAR LIGHTS. Likewise everything I could think of. So POLAR is out.
Then it hit me. Why not combine the two? Call my zine POLAR BOREAL?
It was suggested the title is redundant. Not really. BORAL applies to a wide region, not just the arctic, but also encompassing the mighty boreal forest sweeping the width of Canada. POLAR BOREAL is a subset, namely the true arctic region devoid of forest. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
And the cover of the first issue, by Jean-Pierre Normand, certainly brings out the majestic beauty of the far North (plus I love the sneaky way he’s comingled the Aurora Borealis with three alien spacecraft).
I was very excited at everything coming together. Till it occurred to me I had yet to get authors and artists to contribute. How to do that? I asked around. I have a built-in advantage. Over four decades of activity in our annual VCON conventions in the Vancouver Lower Mainland Region has introduced me to a ton of Authors and Artists and allowed me to get to know quite a few of them. Try them first!
I started sending out E-mails two weeks ago. I now have nine short stories, 5 poems, and an article, making up seventy pages of material. Not bad for a first issue. Two of the poets, Eileen Kernaghan and Rhea Rose, are well established award winning pros. The third, Rissa Johnson, is making her first sale. The stories range from fourteen year old Flora Zo Zenthoefer making her first sale, to the multiple award winning author Robert J. Sawyer kindly willing to sell a reprint of FLASHES to me at my ludicrously low rate. And of course, Jean-Pierre Normand for his beautiful cover, and Lynne Taylor-Fahnestalk and Taral Wayne for one fillo each. Heck of a deal.
Not quite ready to publish yet. Need to get contracts signed. And then there’s the process of sending a mock-up of my first issue to the Federal Government to get them to assign the zine an ISSN number. Takes about ten days I hear. After that I’ll be good to go. Figure end of January or early February.
Still worried about finances though. Then Robert Runté of Five Rivers Publishing suggested I try a GoFundMe campaign. Never heard of them. Checked them out. I thought, well, give it a try. Going to aim for $1,500. Figure that’ll cover the contributor payments of the first three issues for sure.
I posted a picture of myself to my campaign site, selecting a portrait portraying my inherent honesty, dignity, and enthusiasm, or so I like to think (photo reproduced at the bottom of this article). One look at that winsome visage and people will donate, or rush to contact the War Crimes Tribunal in Geneva. You just never know how people are going to react.
Have to have a catchy spiel. I began with this:
“When I was a teenager I decided I wanted to be a Science Fiction Writer. Fifty years later I’m a curmudgeonly pensioner who never sold a darn thing, not one novel, not one story. Del Rey books rejected one of my novels with the comment “We don’t like your main character and we don’t think anyone else will either.”
“As a life-long beginning writer I know your pain. Always dreaming of that first sale. That’s why I’m starting up POLAR BOREAL, a Canadian SF&F fiction magazine actively encouraging beginning Canadian writers to submit short stories…”
You get the idea. To my amazement, in the first hour a fool (who no doubt does not wish to bear the infamy of being named) donated $10. The next hour another fool loose with his money donated another $10. Son of a gun. If this keeps up I’ll be able to pay my contributors in no time. With any luck GoFundMe campaigns will keep the magazine alive for several years to come, or at least as long as I’m still alive. I know there are a lot of dead authors still making money, but I don’t think there are any dead publishers doing that.
Anyway, I thank these two brave pioneering donators profusely. And I thank you in advance should you to choose to make a donation, which you can do right here:
I’m going to bust a gut to come up with a magazine worth reading. That’s a promise.
And remember. It will be free to read.
Canadian beginning Authors, Poets and Artists take note: Submission window for PB issue #1 is now closed. BUT submission window for PB issue #2 has just opened. Go to the OBIR Magazine site listed below and click on the “POLAR BOREAL Magazine” heading to check out what it’s all about, or send a query to me at:
< The Graeme >
BY THE WAY:
You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines
You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project
You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive
And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine