An Open Letter to the SciFan™ Community

“We are SciFan.” Those are the words that first intrigued me about the merging of science fiction and fantasy known as science fantasy. It was late 2016 and I had stumbled upon the science fantasy community. I saw posts from Richard Mulder and other admins and learned more about science fantasy as a whole. I learned Richard had trademarked the SciFan logo he designed. I approached him in December 2016 about SciFan™ Magazine and the rest is history.

We are now 8 (soon to be 9) issues into SciFan™ Magazine and we find ourselves at a crossroad. To continue the Magazine, for which we have an extreme passion for, or shut it down.

You see, the purpose SciFan™ Magazine is and always has been about the authors. It has been about giving authors who might never have gotten a platform a shot to reach readers on the largest potential market in the world – Amazon and to reward them with a (for now) token amount of money for temporary publication rights. At the same time, it has been about giving readers the highest quality content from the pool of submissions. We’ve accomplished these two goals in the following ways:

  1. From the start, we implemented the SciFan™ Magazine Submission Review Team. A group of 8 authors, bloggers, and readers who volunteered their valuable time to read a great many submissions. The idea was that a multitude of opinions on the quality of submissions would ensure the highest quality work was chosen for publication in the Magazine.
  2. We have always paid authors who submit short stories to the Magazine and are accepted. Our pay has increased significantly since we began this endeavor but we still have a long way to go (more on this later).
  3. We publish each issue on Amazon in both print and digital format. This helps us potentially reach the largest pool of readers possible.

Now for the reason behind writing this letter. Now we talk about the challenges SciFan™ Magazine faces:

  1. Our volunteers – Every reader on the Review Team is a volunteer. We have had past reviewers who left due to real life obligations and other reasons and new ones replace them over the months. With every passing day, we regret not having the financial means to reward the volunteers who are so crucial to the production process.
  2. Our authors – Every author, whether we accept their submissions or not, matters. They pour their sweat, blood, and tears into their short stories and put themselves out there on the chance we will accept them. We have made strides in increasing the token amount we pay these authors, but we still have a long way to go. $40 for a 10,000-word short story is just not enough incentive to authors. That’s the feedback we’ve heard and it’s a sentiment we 100% agree with. It should be higher. But again, we don’t have the funds.
  3. Amazon sales – Amazon sales have been extremely poor (3 print and 10 e-book sales for the 8th issue, 1 and 2 for issue 7). Although Amazon is the largest market we have struggled to reach readers. Perhaps readers don’t like anthologies, perhaps our covers need reworking, perhaps we need to pay more for advertising. Whatever the reason, the fact is we are not making “big bank” from  Magazine sales and this impacts our ability to address point 1 and 2 (pay our volunteers and pay authors more) because we are pulling not from profits but from our own personal funds.

So you may be asking, “what can I do?” Here is how you, whether author, reader, blogger or good Samaritan, can help keep SciFan™ Magazine not just alive but flourishing.

  1. Donate to the Magazine through PayPal. Every DOLLAR goes to the following:
    1. Paying our volunteers. 60% of every dollar received through donations goes into a pool split amongst the Submission Review Team volunteers each month.
    2. Paying our authors. 40% of every dollar received through donations goes toward paying authors for submissions we accept. As donations exceed the amount we pay authors in total we will increase the amount we pay per word.
  2. Become a Patron through Patreon. Donate any amount to the Magazine on a monthly basis. EVERY donation received through Patreon goes toward the goal of paying the hardworking authors who submit the Magazine more money.
  3. Purchase the Magazine on Amazon. One of the simplest (and cheapest) things you can do to support the Magazine is buying and reading the Magazine each month. Support these hard-working authors by purchasing each issue, reading the stories that interest you and then connecting with the authors. Give them feedback. Tell them you love their story or a particular element of it. Authors love to know their work is being read. Purchases on Amazon also boost our ranking on Amazon, which increases discoverability. Profit from the Magazine goes toward advertising and production costs.
  4. Buy a T-Shirt to help support our cause. These shirts are only available for an extremely limited time, and come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. 100% of these donations will go toward marketing efforts to bring awareness to SciFan™ Magazine.

TLDR: We are not asking for pity. We are asking for donations and support from the SciFan™ community to continue making SciFan™ Magazine, a magazine dedicated to our authors and readers first and foremost, a success for years to come.

Best regards,

Dayne Edmondson, co-producer

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22 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the SciFan™ Community

  1. Gentlemen: first of all, thank you for publishing my stories. You guys are a joy to work with! I think you guys put a lot of TLC into your product, and it shows. You publish quality literature, and it shows too. I hope you don’t shut down because I respect and appreciate what you do. That said, may I venture to make a couple of suggestions and offer a couple of ideas?

    I had no idea when I submitted to your magazine how new you guys were. I was short with you on a couple of occasions, and this is due to me not appreciating how new you are, and I’m sorry about that! In many ways, more than not, that’s a good thing. It shows that your work is extremely professional. It shows that your covers are quality work. It shows that you sound like you know what you’re doing.

    But in a way, it hurts you. It hurts because when you *don’t* know what you’re doing, it confuses people. It confused me, anyway. People begin to expect things of you that you can’t deliver (for instance, I was kind of miffed when there was no complimentary copy coming, because that’s an industry standard. But maybe you’re not aware of that, and it’s clear that even if you are, your budget doesn’t provide for it. Though I would still recommend sending at least one complimentary *e-copy* to each writer who participates in a particular issue, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment). It creates misunderstandings and that may be alienating some people.

    I recommend that you start by *letting* people know how new you are! Emphasize it! “We’re brand new, this is the brand-new thing, we’re so excited because we know this community has never been served like this and we want to fill the gap!” Let that come through in your writing and your marketing. The enthusiasm is coming through right now; the newness is not.

    If you let people know that you’re new, they’ll be more forgiving of mistakes and less confused by oddities (the contract, for example: the contract is like nothing I’ve seen before in the industry. I had some misgivings about it as a result.) I might be able to put you in touch with someone I know peripherally who has been producing spec fic magazines in Canada for a few years. I will ask, because that might help you in other ways too.

    If you let people know how new you are, people will get excited about getting involved on the ground floor. They’ll be more likely to volunteer their time. Hell, I wish I had the time to give! Reading all sorts of brand-new stories in this awesome genre sounds like a great time to me! I might have to talk to you about getting in on the editorial staff.

    The other thing to keep in mind is patience. I know, it’s so hard when you’re so enthusiastic about a project to be patient with it! But most new businesses in any field operate at a loss for a year or two, and that’s any industry. (I ran my own metaphysical store for seven years.) Magazines can be particularly challenging to get started at.

    And you guys want to do all the things right now. You’re burning yourselves out. If you guys are less than a year old and haven’t done this before, why are you splitting your magazine into two already? That’s literally twice the effort. Decide how much of the existing SciFan Magazine is going to be LitRPG in each issue (probably expressed as a rough percentage) and keep publishing it in SciFan until you get bigger. Don’t try to host a whole virtual con by yourselves; join the other ones that are going on so that you can reach out to increase your target market. I don’t know if that’s what you’re doing, but you don’t have to publish every story you receive in the first magazine you’re publishing after you get it either. Most magazines build up a slushpile. You can often submit to a magazine and they don’t publish it for six months. People expect that, and if they don’t, they should.

    Now, marketing. You send an email to your writers urging them to help you market prior to release. The problem here is two-fold. The first is that we’re not given any incentive to do so. This sounds more harsh than is meant, but we already got our money; whether or not you get yours isn’t our problem. You see, we don’t think you did us a favour by publishing our work. We think that we worked and got paid for our work. However, if you gave us a complimentary copy, that *is* doing us a favour. It’s saying “thank you for helping us out,” and it also unbalances the scales so now we feel an obligation to help you out. Also, we know exactly what it is that we’re advertising, so we can feel confident speaking about it to our fans and on social media.

    You can offer exchanges. Offer one of your excellent author features on your website in return for a feature on a blog. for example. Offer a website link in the magazine in return for a mention in a newsletter. This is marvelous free advertising and nobody minds a little quid pro quo. As far as I can tell being new to the indie market, this is pretty much how it runs.

    Participate in genre-appropriate bundles. Lots of indies and small presses are doing that and it seems to be getting them good results in return for a little money up front. You could even organize your own by putting together small press magazine bundles.

    Get out to Cons. Be big and bold there! That’s totally your market. Shell out the fees to start with and it will pay off in the long run.

    Now, let’s talk funding. Have you considered applying for arts grants? Have you considered running not a Patreon (do that too) but also a Kickstarter? Get some operating capital underneath you to ease the hard times. What kind of advertising are you offering in your magazine? Maybe you should offer more. Maybe you should charge more.

    Okay, I think I’ve run out of suggestions and ideas for now, but here’s where I can offer some practical help. First, I run a fan site for the Spelljammer D&D campaign, and I’ll be happy to feature SciFan Magazine there because Spelljammer is absolutely science fantasy and has crossovers into LitRPG (obviously). We have a membership of a couple hundred people who, I am sure, would love to hear about you.

    Second, I’d like to invite one or both of you to participate in the “Fantasy Genre Mashups” panel I’m doing for the Virtual Fantasy Con 2017, which might give you a chance to reach out to a market you haven’t before.

    Third, may I recommend that you don’t stick to Amazon? The fact is, you’re a niche market, and in order to reach a niche market, you can’t limit yourself. I’d like to recommend one in particular. Have you guys heard of DriveThruRPG? Well, they also have a branch called DriveThruFiction. I thought there was a bigger crossover between the two than there is, so it hasn’t done a lot for me, but because you guys are LitRPG as well you can probably have your products featured on both platforms, and that’s your target audience almost certainly.

    Feel free to delete this if you like, I just wanted to reach out and this seemed the logical way to do it to offer my suggestions, but maybe this is more public than you’d care to be about this discussion and I totally respect that. Either way, good luck, and I hope you stick with the long haul for just a while longer. You’re through the hardest part now. Hang in there. I believe in what you’re doing. Thank you for doing it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Some excellent suggestions here, all I concur with. I wouldn’t have come up with half of those, so I doff my cap to you.

      I’m not a huge writer of SciFan at present, as I’m still experimenting as a writer. No promises, but perhaps my next attempt will be in that genre? I’d love to volunteer as a reader, but I so don’t have the time to spare right now. Let it be known that there are plenty who are rooting for this to succeed.

      One final suggestion that I have no idea about whether it is viable. I don’t know if you’re running this out of your own pocket or as a self-employed venture or limited company, but perhaps there are tax breaks or subsidies you can get for donating copies to libraries? Also finally, have you sent copies to print journalists? Obviously, don’t fire them out like a scattergun; pick and choose those you think would be most receptive. Off the top of my head, The Guardian often reviews SF amongst many genres.

      Liked by 2 people

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  3. Magazines are a tough gig to make work, especially with sci fi/fantasy. You have Locus, Apex, Lightspeed, Interzone magazine, and there are many more. I read mostly horror but even then I’ve seen many magazines come and go in the last couple of years. All I will say is make sure your artwork is top draw, editing is as well and that you connect with readers on social media. Don’t simply flood Twitter and FB with ‘Hey! Buy my magazine posts’ but interact with them. I wish you the best of luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great commentary! As you now know, our cover art is primarily limited to our current PhotoShop skills. We’d love to pay for top-notch covers, however we currently don’t have the collateral. Our brilliant editor Patrick Hodges is also a volunteer, and he edits each issue out of the goodness of his heart. As for our social media outreach, we have a new PR specialist who has offered to lend us a hand. So far, his strategies appear to be working 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. First, I am really excited for my story to hit the pages of SciFan. I have a few publication credits, but this will be my first short story to be in a print magazine. So whatever you do, do not lose that. Print is important.

    Now I have some advise of my own. I ran my own Science Fiction magazine, for a few years. We published bi-monthly. We later changed to quarterly. You may wish to consider doing the same. We ran 100% out of my pocket and very few advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, or other sources of funding worked out.

    Bi-monthly or Quarterly does mean you publish a little less content, but it gives you more time to gather stories and put together an issue. The result will be continued increase in quality stories which will attract more readers over time. Also, keep in mind that a bi-monthly issue with the same amount of content as a monthly issue cuts your publication costs in half. That could double your time to find your following. It took my magazine just about 1 year to build up a steady following.

    Next, is the volunteer staff. This was a struggle for my magazine also, but I talked to every volunteer on my team and explained to them that it was more important for me to pay more for authors and artists than was to pay them any wage. They knew I didn’t make a cent off the magazine and it became a labor of love for all of us. We did lose a few editors along the way, but it was okay. Others wanted to be a part of it.

    As a writer, seeing that 60% of donations go to the staff makes me hesitant to donate. Not because I don’t think you or your team deserve some monetary gain. That’s entirely up to you and your business model. It would be my suggestion to take a look at that, and if nothing else remove those percentages from your site. But I’d really look at what is the better use of the money and see what you and your staff thinks. You’d be surprised how many reading editors don’t mind doing it for free.

    One final thought for you. People will shy away from donating to a magazine they feel is on the verge of shutting down. The tone of your post sounds like shut down is coming if people don’t donate soon. No one wants to waste their money, and many people may shy away from donating simply because they think their $5 won’t make a difference if your money woes. I’d suggest letting people know just how long you can and will be able to run without donations and make it clear that these are going to the future development of the magazine.

    I think you got a good thing going here. Keep it up. You’ll regret closing down if you do. I have regretted it every day.

    I hope it helps. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, I’d be happy to share my experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your feedback Richard. It’s great to hear that we aren’t alone, and that you’ve faced the same types of challenges in the past. Let me assure you, we have no intention of shutting down the magazine, and we apologize for making it sound that way. If anything, we’re trying to decide between continuing our efforts of making the magazine a fully functional business, or instead becoming a non-profit organization. It’s a very difficult decision, as you might imagine. Submissions are at an all time high and our blog stats are soaring. We also have several big plans for the near future, including several giveaways and a large event. All of these plans are efforts to swing our visibility into the limelight.

      As for splitting donations with our volunteers, for the past 8 months all of our staff have been volunteer indie authors. Several of them have had to move on because the gig is time consuming and difficult to keep up with. Because our submissions are now at an all-time high, we feel it prudent to reward their hard work. It’s a business model we wish to adopt to confirm to our audience that we are author-centric.

      We are also moving to a business model that adapts to the needs of our audience. We have recently recognized that the largest portion of our audience are other indie authors seeking visibility. We have recently implemented our Author Services promotional tools to further meet the needs of our audience. We are also offering several free tools to assist them. You can get the first free tool by subscribing to our newsletter at http://newsletter.scifan.org/ – More coming soon.

      So again, let me reiterate – SciFan will live on. We have no intention of shutting down anytime soon. The overwhelming response we’ve received to this letter has been enough to convince us that we have a bright future ahead. Thank you for cheering us on!

      Liked by 2 people

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  6. As one of the volunteers that life and stuff got in the way of and a contributor to the mag in both forms. There are some great suggestions for you guys, but honestly, nothing that I haven’t said before. I hope it keeps ongoing, and I wish you all the luck in the world. I will continue to support you as much as I can.

    Like

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