The Clubhouse; Fanzine Reviews: The Madness of Magazine Editing


Semi-Pro zine reviewed (again!): POLAR BOREALIS

Polar Borealis (#1) January/February 2016

Faned: R. Graeme Cameron

When last you heard from me I was frantically busy gathering material for a brand new semi-pro paying-market SF&F fiction zine I’d decided to start publishing. Heck of an absorbing hobby I tell you. And a bit daunting. But challenging.

You’ll note I’ve changed the name. I rather liked POLAR BOREAL, but people kept arguing with me over what it meant. I got tired of explaining. So I changed it to POLAR BOREALIS. A wind from the frozen North. Simple. I like simple.

Wound up with 11 short stories and 6 poems. Not bad for a first issue. I’d like more poems per issue though. Ideally separate the stories (with their solid text) with one or two poems floating in white space. I know there are genre poetry markets out there, but I suspect not enough for all the poets in Canada. I figure guaranteeing publication of at least ten poems per issue will awaken interest. Poems not exactly flooding in at the moment, but once the first issue is published I think I’ll see results.

All but one of the contributions are from people I know personally. I assume people unfamiliar with me thought I was just some crazy guy with big ideas but no proof on hand I would be able to come up with anything concrete, whereas the people who know me also know that I’m a crazy guy who is just crazy enough to accomplish what I set out to do. They know I always aim high. Whether I hit the target is another matter entirely.

Some of the contributors are beginners; several are pros. The latter lent their talent to my project to help get it off the ground, to lend credence to the zine. Pros like Robert J. Sawyer, Eileen Kernaghan, and Rhea Rose; award winners all. And Casey J. Wolf, who’s well known on the West Coast, and Karl Johanson, editor of Neo-opsis magazine. I’m very grateful for their help. Lifts the standards of Polar Borealis well above my usual fanzines. Should go a long way toward convincing potential readers PB actually IS a semi-pro mag well worth checking out.

So how many beginners’ stories did I reject? Employing my incredibly competent standards?

Well, none, actually. They all struck me as pretty darn good, all of them exploring interesting ideas in interesting ways. All of them different, too. Quite a variety.

The thing to bear in mind is that I publish what I like, and everything in the first issue meets that criteria. None of them exhibited editorial red flags on first reading. Here and there I spotted words that didn’t fit or serve any useful purpose, and these I cut. I suggested a few changes. Overall I did not pull a J.W. Campbell and “have at it.” I didn’t have to. Each story, and they vary widely in style, is suitable to itself. That’s a good thing.

On the other hand, I suck at grammar. Been faking it for years. So recently I pulled out four handy-dandy grammar guides I’d been hiding in my den closet, including the famous “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr., and began boning up on the subject.

Alas, my innate capacity to avoid learning came to the fore once more. I can read a section devoted to the proper use of a hyphen, or the unity of a paragraph, but once I turn the page it’s gone, either into the abyss of unacknowledged knowledge, or possibly into the depths of my subconscious mind, but in any case no longer present in my self-aware conscious thoughts. This produces a certain lack of confidence I find.

Take the ellipsis periods… I’ve always thought they represent a trailing off of thought or speech… leaving things unsaid… perhaps implied…

Nope! Just me being ignorant again. Turns out they can only be used to represent words or even entire sentences missing from a direct quotation! “Well, I’ll be buggered…”

Then I discover you can’t use three periods in a row. They have to be spaced. “Well, I’ll be buggered . . .”

Steve Fahnestalk, my fellow Amazing Stories columnist, tells me I should never, never use three periods, even if spaced. He’s a former proof-reader and editor and knows what he’s talking about. To duplicate proper typesetting, he tells me, I should use the command “Alt 0133.”

Okay, let’s try it. Here’s my sample phrase with three spaced periods, followed by the same phrase utilizing the command.

“Well, I’ll be buggered . . .”

“Well, I’ll be buggered …”

What the heck? The command looks like three ordinary periods without any spacing. Doesn’t seem right, given the rules. Or, at least, the rules in “The Little English Handbook for Canadians.”

So I checked out Robert J. Sawyer’s use of ellipsis periods. I figure, with his having twenty-three novels published, he knows a thing or two about grammar as well. Turns out his usage goes like this:

“If you’re lucky, in the end you’re vindicated. But if you’re unlucky …”

Okay, I need to use a space between the word and the three periods, but not between the periods?

I also notice he doesn’t restrict the use of the ellipsis periods to quotations. Sometimes he seems to employ them the way I do, to indicate incomplete thoughts.

Well, I’ll be buggered. Seems rules of grammar are dependent on which information source you check. In fact, comparing all four reference books, here and there I noticed blatant contradictions.

It is to ARRGH!

I used to proof read a building-trades industry newspaper. I wasn’t very good at it. My eye tends to slide over text quickly. Sometimes I notice things. Sometimes I don’t. Add the ignorance factor and it’s obvious I’m a very poor choice to proof read my magazine.

Fortunately someone has offered to help. She looked at my story “The Heretic Pope” and found half a dozen errors I’d never noticed despite reading it multiple times the last couple of weeks in hopes of finding all such and correcting them. I definitely need to take her up on her offer. Won’t name her until it is confirmed, but if she says yes then absolutely her name will be on the mast head of the magazine when it comes out.

Other people helpfully pointed out various other problems, mostly to do with the readability of the text. One person suggested I should use a different font for ads and notices to set them off from the text of the stories. Done! Another pointed out my physical separation of story endings from whatever followed on the same page wasn’t good enough. The eye of the reader is liable to be confused. So, instead of using a few dashes I now use a solid line to keep stories clearly separate from everything else. Problem solved!

The entire zine has been laid out, every page filled (all 80 of them), and all that needs doing is proof reading to try and bring the contents up to as professional an appearance as possible. Almost ready to publish!

Especially since POLAR BORALIS is now officially sanctioned by the Canadian government—sort of. I applied for an ISSN number, online no less, quite a feat for a Luddite like me. I was warned it could take up to ten days. It took four. Today (Wednesday 27th) it came through.

Wowzers! Feel like a kid who’d found an extra present under the Christmas tree! Pleased beyond measure to add the ISSN number to the masthead. Now it’s a REAL magazine. At least in my mind. I don’t know about yours.

Then there’s the matter of contracts. Cobbled together a four page contract that I think passes muster. Trouble is, I sent them out online and asked each contributor to print out the signature page, sign it, scan it, and send it back to me so I could print it out, sign it, scan it, and send it back to them. Only way I could figure out how to do it.

But Casey June Wolf put me on to a method publishers often use with her. They send her a copy of the contract they’ve already signed, with the understanding that her copy constitutes a kind of simultaneous duplicate which she signs but doesn’t actually have to send back to the publisher. Instead, having acknowledged receipt of the contract, she keeps her version in her file. This is very close to the traditional “my word is my bond” concept of recent historical times. Apparently it’s legal. All I know is it greatly simplifies getting contracts distributed and signed.

I’ve even begun to pay my contributors; four of them thus far, by PayPal. (I can’t send cheques, because the cheques I ordered—for the chequing account I recently set up strictly for PB purposes—haven’t arrived yet.) Pay Pal not so easy though. Bit of a conundrum at first.

My options seemed to be: either pay for services (and the person receiving the money has a fee deducted), or pay to friends and family (with no fee deducted if paid from my new chequing account). It occurred to me PayPal might find my purchasing stories for use in my magazine entirely too loose an interpretation of dealing with “friends or family.”

Yet it didn’t seem fair to me that I pay someone, say $20.00, only for them to wind up with just $19.22 because of the fee being deducted. So I send them $21.00. That way I know the fee is covered and they get their full payment as promised.

What kind of business plan is that? Well, I remind you the magazine will be free to anyone who wants to read it. All they have to do is download it. Even the ads within the zine are placed at no charge simply because I want to promote what’s being advertised.

In essence the contributors will be paid out of my own pocket, out of my pension income.

Mind you, I did start a GoFundMe campaign with the express purpose of raising $1,500. I figured that would be enough money to cover paying contributors for at least three issues, maybe four. In the first four days of the campaign ten people contributed $158 dollars, which is a great start.

Unfortunately the campaign then stalled with no further contributions. Looks like the contributors for the first issue will be paid roughly 40% by donation and 60% out of my own funds. If nothing further comes in, the second issue will have to be paid entirely out of my own pocket, which means I may not be able to publish for quite a few months, maybe not till the fall.

On the other hand, I’m hoping actual publication of the first issue will be the “proof of concept” people have been waiting for to vindicate the project as something legitimate and worthwhile, with the possible result of more money being donated. Sure hope so.

In my fantasies I envision money pouring in to the extent of being able to publish every two months. That would be absolutely wonderful. Six issues a year would be fantastic!

Left to my own resources, however, I figure three issues a year is the most I can manage, with the risk of unexpected emergency expenses putting a temporary halt to publication for an unknown length of time.

But damn it, the first issue is going to be published, probably within a week or so, no matter what happens! Not bad for a project conceived less than two months ago. And I, and the writers being published for the first time, owe it all to the seed planted in my mind by Lynda Williams through our lunch conversation on the state of Canadian publishing from a beginner’s perspective. Thank you Lynda!

(And I should mention that she is mulling over plans for her publishing house, Reality Skimming Press, to start up some sort of paying market magazine as well. Great things are happening in the Canadian genre industry I tells yah!)

One more thing springs to mind, in terms of working around my limited capacity to keep track of things. I am given to understand that highly professional magazine editors juggle the order of the material in their magazines with clever and highly rational sensitivity as to what goes best where and in what sequence.

Well, bugger that. Sort of thing liable to leave me confused as hell. Naturally I opt for the simplest possible solution. First story to come in gets poured into my magazine template first. Second story gets placed second. So okay, I may wind up with three stories on the subject of over-sexed Martians in a row followed by six stories involving the Loch Ness Monster on a bender, but frankly, I doubt it. I can rely on the imagination of my contributors to come up with a diverse assortment of premises. I don’t think my mindless method of placement will present any problems.

And as for ads, notices, fillo art pieces, and poems; no problem. I start every story at the top of a page, but they seldom end at the bottom of a page. There’s almost always blank space of some kind left over. Enough for a twenty line poem? Perfect! In it goes. Only enough for a fourteen line poem? Just what I need. In it goes. Or maybe enough space for a poem AND an ad. Great.

In short, I construct the magazine as the contributions come in. If need be, I’ll throw in a blank page between stories to fill with this and that. By the time the last contribution is accepted, the magazine is nearly ready to publish. It’s a good system I figure.

It’ll be an excellent system if I can acquire a steady stream of financial supporters. Yes, I know, flirting with fantasy again. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

I thank you in advance should you to choose to make a donation, which you can do right here:

< >

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 BOREALIS Magazine” heading to check out what it’s all about, or send a query to me at:

< The Graeme >


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

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