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August Wrap-Up (and Notes on the SFF Field)

So ICYMI, it was announced that I’m editing the April 2020 issue of Fireside Fiction! Working with their team has been an incredible experience. I’m learning a lot and I’ve got some wonderful stories that I can’t wait to share with everyone.

SPEAKING OF STORIES (and also of Fireside), my shortest story ever, SIGNAL, also dropped earlier this month and has been well-received. When I started writing fiction, I was sure that I only knew how to ramble on forever, relegating myself to epic novel-length works. SIGNAL was a personal challenge to see how short I could make a coherent story. Apparently the answer is 2k so far.

There’s been a lot of what I’ll call kerfufflery about the state of the short SFF field this past week, how considerations for compensation stop at writers, leaving the staff at our venues to work for the feel-goods alone and how that’s a widely accepted policy. I considered compiling numbers to make this into a whole thing, but I’m hyper-extended on a couple of deadlines, so you just get my distilled thoughts instead. Go you!

From my observation, spec fic zines aren’t started as money-making ventures and thus aren’t started by people with a particular business acumen. They’re fueled largely by a love of reading, a desire to help shape the zeitgeist, and an occasional mission toward the amplification of underappreciated voices. They have access to contract and sub guideline templates, web hosting services, a domain name, and a logo. They have time. If they’re also print, they have money. Starting a zine isn’t something you have to wait for permission or need a wealth of resources in order to just do it. And so as long as the desire to do it is there, the numbers don’t matter so much. Until, of course, they do.

We’re in an ideal-driven space here. One which rewards the labor of publishing marvelous work with perhaps an award nomination and the opportunity to do it again next year. And that’s all you’re supposed to want while you boost people in other industries fighting against unpaid labor.

What I haven’t seen addressed are the different avenues these places have explored in order to try and pay their staff, only how it can’t be done because of X, Y, and terrible, confounding Z. (Not to say it doesn’t exist, but I haven’t seen it and I’m nosy). It’s the fault of strained readership. Of a saturated marketplace. Of those goddamn Kickstarters. Of time and energy not being ample enough to look into it. Have we tried an ad structure? A sponsorship structure? Establishing and utilizing grants? Collective organizing? Expanding our offerings and methodology to reach new audiences? Merchandising for revenue streams? Where did we fail? What options are more fertile?

And if I can be shady for a moment, (I can) there’s also a martyrdom element of being a volunteer-only publication. If you don’t pay yourself or your staff for doing this work, you can maintain a purity of purpose when asking for support. “Help pay me for my labor” is a less appealing ask than “help support this mission.” You can keep at the forefront your selflessness in committing to your writers. And if you survive long enough, you can explain after some years of helping shape the market how fraught, how impossible it is to shift into a paid-staff structure in a landscape where everyone is working off that same volunteer model.

Anyway, all this brings me back to Fireside, who pay their staff. It’s not a living wage, but it’s monetary compensation in a world where we’re increasingly insisting creatives especially are paid for their work. If you know anything about the relationship between FIYAH and Fireside, you know that we love each other and lift each other up. Pablo Defendini in particular has been a great help in a mentorship capacity, and I’m sort of shadowing him to learn what I can what resources are available to us on the FIYAH-side (heh) so that we can start paying our people for their labor.

The pursuit of reshaping this scene so that everyone eats has got to be an intentional one for the health of the market and of the people sustaining it.

That’s it for August! If anyone’s coming to Decatur Book Fest or DragonCon’s Aquarium night, you might see me there. Otherwise, I’ll see y’all in September with some new fiction over on Patreon (follow me there for more unsolicited opinionating) and some swag as we expand my Feint universe. Be good!

-L

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