The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don't say, 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that told me it's not a problem.' If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action.

--Al Gore, March 21, 2007.

 [ Issue 2007.08; Cover art © 2007, Joy E. MacMillan ]

Issue 2007.08

Short stories

Novelettes

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Welcome to issue #8 of The Future Fire, which brings us into our third year of publishing. We have been thinking a lot the last few weeks about the small press, what it means to be an independent magazine (online or otherwise) and what it means to be a writer published by the non-professional press.

As a small press magazine, you do not exist to make a profit—there are any number of more lucrative ways to make money—many don't even harbour the illusion of breaking even at the end of the day. The small press exists because there is a gap in the market. Because the big publishing houses that own 95% of the print magazines and other publications in the world don't take risks, are run by lawyers and economists not fans of good writing, and will never publish the newest, riskiest, most exciting and original stuff coming out of the SpecFic scene. On the other hand there are plenty of readers out there just dying for more of this stuff, and who are left cold by many of the Year's Best and similar anthologies that come out in hardcover. Granted, most of our readers are probably writers or publishers themselves, helping to support the scene that they're part of. Nothing wrong with that. And granted, maybe half of the stories submitted to the independent press are from people who clearly haven't bothered checking out a sample issue. But there's an audience out there, and even if you don't make money from publishing it will never be a thankless (much less pointless) mission.

And if you're an unsigned writer, why offer your title to a magazine that doesn't pay you for your work (or pays you a derisory $5 a story)? The SFWA now only recognise magazines that pay 5c/word or over; the three stories in this issue of The Future Fire would have cost us $1300 in royalties (we paid $15). So why would any self-respecting author accept less? Well, in my view it is lazy organisations like the SFWA and some "market listings" who use payment as the principal and only indicator of quality. A writer who cares desperately about her reputation (and therefore career) should strive to be published in reputable and high-quality markets. One way to distinguish a quality market is to base your decision purely on how much they pay for a story. But that is a lazy distinction, and I'd like to know more about a market than that: you risk not only missing some very high-quality non-professional markets, but also ending up in the hands of poorly produced, ill-considered, or even unscrupulous paying markets. (No names.) Publish in the magazines you'd most like to read. If that includes Interzone or F&SF, fair enough, they are professional publications and pay well; but if that includes The Harrow, Not One of Us, or Whispers of Wickedness, then whaddoyaknow... these are small press, non-professional rate-paying markets. And they're among the best genre publications out there. Regardless.

True, the small press is changing. The whole publishing world is changing. More people watch television and surf the internet than read nowadays. Where is there room for a non-professional speculative fiction magazine in the future? A lot of the markets are going online (look at the recent evolution of the well-financed Hub, for example). The professional and paying markets may change too—perhaps becoming more focussed in the hands of a smaller number of media presses, say—but there will always be venues for writers to get exposure for their work. There will always be readers looking for it. We just have to learn to live with the new media and the new modalities. As noted here in the past some writers have won a lot of success—including financial—by giving their work away online for free under Creative Commons licensing. Go figure. And anyway, is the internet not a possible venue for science fiction and genre creativity? Don't fear the future. Love the future. Help steer the future.

To engage in this discussion with us, visit the WoW Forums.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who helped to make The Future Fire possible.

April 2007

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