So, About That Publishing Thing
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As I mentioned in the Writing Updates a short while back, I figured out how to do the publishing thing. Now, not five or ten years from now.

But knowing how to do it and knowing if I should do it are two different things.

Here’s the thing. I came up with a wonderful business model that would create a great magazine and publish people’s books as a natural part of that, that would pay authors a huge percentage of what the magazine would make, and that would be doable within the year, even with finding an editor and writers for the stories.

But it all comes down to this:

Is there any demand for it?

It’s still selling fiction on the internet, albeit with printed novels taken from each issue eventually available, and I’ve seen that, at least with current models (unless you’re doing porn, which is out of the question), selling fiction on the Internet is about as effective and fun as nailing your hand to a wall.

Look, here’s model. You find the holes—the things that wouldn’t work, the things that suck, the things that would break. And figure out, at the same time, if this is genuinely something you would sign up for, not as an author, because I know right now if I open this up, we’ll have authors coming out our ears. But as a subscriber, because without a big boatload of subscribers, we can’t pay the authors, and the whole thing dies.

Start With the Product

The magazine. No title yet. The one I’ve come up with is pretty dorky. So…

Ol’ No-Title would feature:

  • Science Fiction (two each issue), Fantasy (two each issue), and Surprise Me (one each issue)
     
  • Story-driven content—if the story could be a poster child for Suckitudinous Fiction, it’s out. (No, we aren’t trying to win a Pulitzer. We’re trying to write gut-grabbing adventures.)
     
  • 100% Serials
     
  • A strong focus on original, well-detailed worlds and compelling characters
     
  • A sense of fun.
     
  • Bi-monthly publication (once every two months, not twice a month)
     
  • CLIFFHANGERS

That’s the magazine.

Then Look At The Business Model

  • Every issue except the first one would start one series and end one series. Each series would feature 5 10,000-word(ish) installments, and the actual books being serialized would run 50,000 words. Very short novels, in other words—not the kind that would sell to a traditional publisher, but the kind that would be profitable for authors to produce on Lulu in a sell-direct fashion, and that would be fun and affordable for readers to buy.
     
  • Subs would be $6 per issue bought one at a time, $5.25 per issue bought every six months, and $4.50 per issue bought annually. The sub would cover the ezine site costs, publishing, editing, and paying authors. More on how people get paid in a minute.
     
  • Readers (ahem, that would be you) would have a strong incentive to buy back issues if you joined late to fill in on stories you joined in the middle, and to keep buying issues to find out what happens next in each series you’re following. Yes, I am flagrantly attempting to create book crack, and to get y’all hooked hard. I’m not even ashamed of myself.
     
  • Readers (you again) would have a pay-per-vote button that would cost a dollar a pop, and 100% of your vote money would go directly to any writer whose story you liked, to reward him or her and encourage the future production of more stories with the same character, the same world, or whatever. With your vote, you would get to send a note to the author with what you loved and what you want more of. (Authors, you see? Instant direct feedback from people who really want more of what you’re doing, plus funds to help you do it.)
     
  • Payment would go like this. Publisher—me. 20% of each issue. Editor—don’t have one yet, if we do this, will be open for applications. 15% of each issue. Writers. 13% of each issue. Yes. That adds up to 100%.
     

    That might not seem so exciting. But consider—all the back issues will remain on sale, and while people who come in late will have a one-time opportunity to buy all back issues for a reduced price (for which all writers will get paid), if they pass up on that offer, they then will be buying them piecemeal at $6 a pop (for which all writers involved in the relevent issues will get paid).
     

    Here’s the real beauty part. If you’re a writer who wrote the best 50,000-word serial ever, as voted by readers (who have also tipped you the better part of a buck to urge you on) and that vote is visible to everyone, and readers read a later story by you, or the last half of your first story, many will, I think, go back and buy the earlier issues just to get your story. You benefit. But so does every other writer who is in that issue. And maybe the readers will get hooked on those other stories, and go back to get them, too. And any time any issue sells, no matter how old, the writers in that issue All. Get. Paid.
     

    I already have the better part of the software to do this. Margaret Fisk built the shop backend for me, and it will handle recurring multiple payments to multiple authors. I would have to figure out how to tie it into PayPal subscriptions (Okay. No. I wouldn’t. I would have to see if I could get her to do it. But to defer to passive voice here for a moment, that would have to be done.)
     

  • The same month the serial was completed, the author could bring out a Lulu version of the book, and I’d take the blurb and Lulu button and add it to the author’s page. The author would retain full rights to the print version—the magazine would just send customers his way. (The author would have to agree NOT to bring the book out before that, to maintain the magazine’s exclusivity.)
     

And Here Are The Problems

So here’s how payment breaks down for writers. If we could get 100 subscribers at the lowest rate (annual), the writers would make $58 per issue ($4.50×100=$450x.13=$58.50). For a five issue-story, that’s $292.50 (not including reader votes, which can’t be guessed). That is really, really not great, and the problem is, I don’t even know if 100 subscribers would be an obtainable number.

As numbers of subscriptions go up, of course, authors do better. A lot better. At 200 subs (annual—always figure the least you can make and you’ll never be disappointed), the author will make $117 per issue, or $585 for the five-part series. At 500 subs… well… that’s $292.50 per issue, or $1462.50 for the whole novella. Which is not that bad. And doesn’t figure any subs at a higher price, or reader votes, or any Lulu sales.

Subs would cost:

Newsstand—$6 per issue
Twice a year—$5.5 per issue—$15.75 per sub(you save $2.25)
Annually—$4.50 per issue—$27 (you save $9)

This is a cool model. But right now it’s just a model, because it probably wouldn’t be worth doing for 100 subscribers, and how many people would be willing to subscribe?

Where am I overlooking problems, and what do you think about what I have already? Please be honest—I don’t want to spend a ton of energy getting this started only to discover that everyone wants to submit stories, but nobody wants to read them.

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So, About That Publishing Thing — 63 Comments

  1. Our discussion seems to be describing a balancing act. On one hand, the reader wants to feel satisfied that his or her money was well spent on each issue of the magazine. While on the other hand, creating the desire to buy future issues and back issues will make the difference for the success of the magazine, and the writers. There are lots of good ideas here. And remember the old saying, “variety is the spice of life.”

    It has occurred to me that it is likely there will be more publishable items submitted than can be included in the magazine. All limits here are in the mind. I would like to suggest the magazine include a link to market such items. It could be called something like, “Writer’s Flea Market.” (name only a suggestion) Through the link readers could view short descriptions and excerpts to buy individual stories. What do you think?

  2. Someone said it might be hard to find readers, but I think they will find it. Writers are readers, and readers are hungry for more to read. But, it will take some marketing.

    Would like to hear more about rights, first time, exclusive, etc. I never had a book contract, but they seem to spell out everything all the way to movie rights, would they revert to the writer or stay with Holly Lisle publishing or Lulu?

    I am not sure about the long timeline of the serial idea, but “buy 5 to get one” bothers me as a consumer. I would probably not do it until I know it is worth it. I would be okay with two issues, mabye 3 but not 5.

    However, if I got an issue and it had 2 or 3 completed short stories, and 1 or 2 serial stories, I would be satisfied. That way the whole thing is not incomplete.

    As soon as you start apps for the editor, let us know. I want to apply.

    Advertising on the site could generate a lot of $$ for you, over time, perhaps give authors and editors more of a percentage?

    I would edit the comments from readers to writers. Too many websites today become places for people to just be mean, so there needs to be a wall there. I would not let those comments be public until you see how they pan out.

  3. Combining anders and InkGypsy’s ideas, what about when a serial story finishes, creating a collection of the magazines containing that whole story?

    1). Whole story available in one chunk, but the other writers don’t lose income like a Lulu direct printing would do.

    2). The backlist gets wrapped into collections as serials get finished, but there’s still the option to create a year’s worth annual.

    3). Once a yearly annual is available to buy, the completed-serial-collections could be retired and then author’s could market the print versions of their story alone through Lulu.

  4. Another divvy-up-the-load idea: how about smaller monthly issues and a larger ‘annual’ at the end of the year? (yes I was one of those who LOVED getting an annual for a xmas or birthday gift!) This is where you could put your ‘big-name’ author story in too – and advertise that it’s coming of course! (One marketing angle could be a kind of retro-steampunk approach: old-fashioned serial stories from today’s new authors – available in the latest technological formats – that could be represented in the cover artwork too and give the magazine a unique ‘look’)

    One of the reasons I suggested a brief podcast is to a)appear ‘current’ with the new slew of readers out there who are in the podcasting-back-to-reading-or-wanting-it-in-print-back-to-podcasting loop crowd (and yes, it seems to be growing quickly!)
    b) free advertising – ‘you play my bumper and I’ll play yours’ is one of the podcasters self-support systems. (and no, I do not have one of my own… yet! but I have multimedia experience)
    c)grow a support/subscriber base very quickly (esp. due to cross-pollination of podcasts. Tapping into an already established community would help the running-start – including and beyond FM)

    A note: people like to feel part of ‘something’ and the personal touch makes all the difference to being loyal to that community and spreading the word about it. For example: ability to give/receive feedback (like I’m doing right now for example or leaving voicemail/sending email questions/comments that would be played back in a podcast and answered etc), connect to others in the community – eg forums or voting-for-this-site/zine options, skype, facebook etc. This is why the ‘social media’ movement is so huge right now – everyone feels connected, even when they’re at home alone with their computers (and there are ways to encourage people to do this themselves rather than have it maintained by you).

    I agree that ‘good writer does not equal good reader’ but it’s always interesting to hear about other’s writing process if nothing else.

    And of course I would expect there to be banners available to add to your website if you choose, down-loadable flyers people can print out etc..

    (Can you tell I’m excited about the possibilities here?)

    I suggest starting simple – focusing on great magazine content and presentation and having one or two social network strategies to spread the word about it. As long as you are open to and allow for the multitude of possibilities/ideas above it will grow. People want accessible fiction – just check the internet and see what people are doing in a jumble of ways! The big difference is that this is guaranteed to be GOOD! (keeping your name on the magazine, Holly, is the big-hitter strategy of course!)

  5. I can see why Holly might be reluctant to sell by the story. It would undermine this idea:

    “many will, I think, go back and buy the earlier issues just to get your story. You benefit. But so does every other writer who is in that issue. And maybe the readers will get hooked on those other stories, and go back to get them, too. And any time any issue sells, no matter how old, the writers in that issue All. Get. Paid.”

    I like the idea of as many writers as possible benefitting from backlist purchases. But, I don’t think the subscribe-to-serials business model is at its core all that practical. With five stories running at any given time, a reader who enters the game six issues into it is going to feel somewhat overwhelmed. Or at least, I would. At that point, buying a single issue becomes a commitment to buy at least four other issues, to read even a single story all the way through. If my own feelings and my hunches are correct, then many readers will balk at such a commitment, since it runs contrary to the very nature of the Internet.

    That said, I hope very much for you to prove me wrong, because that would show that fiction is stronger than many — including myself — are giving it credit for and can motivate a big time and money commitment.

  6. Chiming in to agree with more frequent publication. I have enough trouble remembering an entire novel waiting for the publication of a sequel, much less trying to remember a piece of a story when there are four other partial stories crammed in my brain next to it. I think once a month would be sufficient to keep my memory engaged. Also, it means we get more stories, and more authors get an opportunity and payment–everyone wins. :-)

    Someone above mentioned the Lulu books discouraging readers to order back issues, and this was the first thing that I thought upon reading this post. There definitely needs to be a delay between the last issue of the serial and when the hard copy can be released, otherwise you’ll lose on sales of the back issues. Maybe not a year, but if you’re publishing monthly, at least six months.

    Also, I’d like to see YA content. Not young kids stuff, but of the sort that’s verging on adult fiction except for the ages of the characters. When I was a teenager, I read mostly adult novels, but every once in a while I’d want something from around my age group (and I still read the teen stuff), and that might invite another demographic (perhaps for your “surprise me” story on occasion).

    Overall, I think this is a great idea, particularly with the focus on quality content. There are so many books out there these days that I have trouble narrowing down my list to what I want to read. This would give me an opportunity to test out new authors with very little monetary downside. After all, even if I’m paying the full $6 per issue, if I don’t like one of the stories, I’m not really losing out much, because there are four more I really enjoy.

    On promotion…I’d suggest some sort of graphically pleasing flyer that readers/writers can print off and hang up at local bookstores, libraries, colleges, hand out to friends, etc. Maybe even one with a coupon code for a free issue or sample piece (one segment of one story, for instance). This would be a good way to draw in the less technically savvy segment of readers who might not read blogs or listen to podcasts, but who would be able to check their email for a new issue (or get her spouse to do so, as in the case of my fifty-something mother).

  7. I would subscribe immediately, although I’m nthing the preference for once a month over bimonthly.

    I’d like to toss in my personal opinion that advertisements to fund the zine wouldn’t necessarily be evil. I actually value some advertisements — I really miss the ones in the backs of fantasy books for other series and authors. I found a lot of new authors that way.

    I do think the zine should only contain fiction. I don’t want articles and reviews taking away valuable space that could be filled with more serials — there are innumerable places on the web where I can get articles and reviews. Not so for serial fiction. Heck, I’d pay up to $10 an issue to get more serials crammed in there — but I wouldn’t assume everyone else feels the same way, so starting out smaller and cheaper is probably best.

    I like the idea of voting for your favorite stories, though I wouldn’t necessarily vote every month, and I’m looking at the vote more as a tip. I like giving tips for good service.

    I agree with Margaret that getting already published names involved would make the difference between small potatoes and wild success. Not necessarily big names, but other midlist authors who have developed an internet presence and a strong fan following. Printing out-of-print books is a great idea. And surely every author, no matter how successful, has some story they are dying to write but which can’t be published, for whatever reason, and they can’t afford to spend the time writing it if it will never earn them money. This could be a chance for them to do that.

  8. I would definitely subscribe and I prefer the more frequent model suggestions – once a month or even weekly, if single story excerpts were staggered in the weekly issue.

    Two months seems a bit long, but I don’t mind waiting a month in between installments. My fiance won’t even start a story if he doesn’t have it all available. (Impatient and ADHD – can’t retain the story in memory over the course of a few months between beginning to end.) For him, I’d save up the issues until a complete story was available.

    I like the idea of being able to provide an “excellence” bonus to an author that I really liked. I can see two ways to support this – roll the cost in to the subscription price as Chrysoula suggested ($7 = one issue plus one bonus to award). And also offer a way to purchase multiple bonuses in the event I wanted to award multiple authors. You could set it up so that I had to award the bonuses right after purchase. Even better, have a store page with authors and story titles listed where I can check the ones I liked. Each checkmark costs a dollar and when I’m done, I proceed to checkout and authorize payment on my choices. You could take it a step further and allow me to put in a quantity on each author/story, so I could award $2 on this one and $5 on that one.

    I’m interested in being a micro-investor to help bridge the gap between start-up and self-sustainment.

  9. I like the idea a lot. A couple things. Where is the incentive for the subscriber to purchase back issues to get a particular story if they can just purchase that single story outright via LuLu? Perhaps there should be a one year lag between when the stories are published in the magazine and when they can be offered through LuLu.

    I think that the subscription price is low enough that people would be willing to purchase a copy to see how the stories are. Also, I think it would be a good idea if short excerpts of the stories were available for people to read. That way they could decide if they wanted to purchase that particular issue or buy a subscription (I’m thinking of Amazon’s “Look Inside This Book” feature right now and how much that has helped influence sales).

    Promotion and marketing would be key. It’d be a good idea to see about getting promo spots on some of the more popular podcasts, perhaps asking for reviews from some of the more well-known blogs, and potentially doing some sort of google advertising. Thinking ahead, would it be possible to offer Kindle editions of the magazine through Amazon?

    I would definitely be willing to try an issue when it’s ready.

  10. A bunch of great ideas all around.

    One thing strikes me. This internet thing is a new media, and perhaps this new media can change old ideas. Why not sell by the story rather than a magazine at a time. Have each serial published once a month, and stagger the publishing such that you come out with new material once per week. This is not supportable in a printed format, but over the web it could work.

    To get the word out on new writers perhaps the first of their five installments could be put up for free. Gives the reader the chance to taste test and if they like the flavor they will be much more satisfied with the purchase of the next four installments. This would almost assure you of satisfied readers (who would tell their friends).

    Just a thought.

  11. Honestly? I’d buy it—-as long as you were vetting the stories. I figure your taste in fiction would be similar to what you write, so I know I’d get my money’s worth. It doesn’t matter to me that I also write–I’m always looking for good fiction, and I so very often don’t find it on the internet. Or even in print mags anymore.

    As I mentioned in the past, tie it to FM’s popularity. You already have an established website (even if you no longer moderate it), and the place has many members to help promo the ezine. And having the ezine as part of FM will only draw more readers.

    If your name can’t sell this ezine, then nothing will.

  12. To me this model, overall, looks like it could go a long way, it seems very workable. I am new in this neck of the internet. I am familiar with the basics of business, however, sales is not my strong point. Nevertheless, I would like to make two suggestions. First, I see nothing about advertising the magazine, maybe I overlooked it. To have an adequate readership to support all that is involved, many people need to become aware that it exists, and, of something about what to expect it to contain. In addition, it needs to be cost effective. My second suggestion is what to call it. What do you think of, “The Quill” as the title?

  13. I’m glad, Holly, that you won’t consider a fee. I would like to be able to submit, and unbelievable as this might be to many, in my situation I can’t afford to spend ten dollars on the off-chance that my story might get selected. If this type of thing became common practice, I could forget being published *ever*.

  14. Holly,

    I drafted my remarks before your comment posted, but I’m not going to edit my thoughts regarding the fee issue: it was my suggestion, and I stand by it, and while I completely understand (and respect) what you say, I have watched a lot of markets disappear—markets I have sold to—because there aren’t sufficient funds to keep things going, and I’d hate to see that happen again.

    If I believe enough in my work to invest a few dollars to earn between $50 and $250, it is well worth it for me, but perhaps I am in a crowd of people who didn’t have to spend seven years and thousands of dollars to earn a bunch of paper that allows me the privilege to teach college English for a rip-roaring 20K each year. (I am not looking for pity or political remarks by revealing this, I am just being honest. If I didn’t love the important parts of teaching, I’d go back to technical writing and make great money doing nothing useful.) With that said, in my head, spending $10 to earn $50, get published, and to be a part of a solid publication is money well spent. Plus, I’d get a “free” copy of a magazine with great content.
    – – –

    I have to ring in once more to comment on three things:

    I’d agree that the multiple formats idea is paramount to success: ebooks and magazines are almost universally offering one or more non-pdf options, and for many of us who do a good deal of reading on portable devices, the sluggishness and poor formatting of pdf files is enough to kill a sale. (In truth, the biggest pdf problem can be solved by allowing printing: this changes a reader’s ability to wrap text and prevents line scrolling, but for obvious reasons, this is not always an option.)

    Podcasts are an excellent idea, but as one who had begun twice-a-month podcasts on one of my story sites as well as the first recordings of a podcast novel, I can add some reality here: it takes some practice, some decent equipment, and the right recording environment to make even a tolerable-quality product. Even one author’s voice varies from recording session to recording session, so asking that multiple persons read their works is dangerous. (Not only are lots of writers not capable of good-reads, but also, the logistics of recording levels, reading rates, and overall quality would be a nightmare unless a group of readers were well practiced and/or in a studio at one time. And that doesn’t even take into account an editor at the other end putting the pieces together: it’s doable, but it’s a very large undertaking up front.)

    Finally, I want to point out that my submission fee suggestion is no where near the same thing as the pay-to-see-yourself-published models that are out there. While my suggestion is based on others’ models of contest entries not straight submissions, there is certainly a huge payoff for those of us interested in this endeavor: a “free” issue and another drop-in-the-bucket to keep the magazine afloat. (Those of you out there submitting work are certain to have watched as the site Common Ties exploded with great work and shortly thereafter seemed to run out of funds. Great creative non-fiction shorts turned into short shorts that then turned into a series of answers to twenty-questions. To stave this off, I would have gladly paid a small fee to submit my work and taken a cut in the pay I received for a work of mine that was accepted.)

  15. I just stumbled upon this online magazine: http://www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com and like a lot of the things they are doing. I love that they have a professional illustration with each article. I’m not sure how much they pay these illustrators, but there is some pretty nice stuff in there. Of course they are only black and white (less expensive) and they don’t seem to allow you to see them in very high resolution, but stil I think it is a good idea to consider.

    They only come out with an issue every quarter. And the issues only cost $2.50 so they must have a good subscriber base. They also have other items of interest besides the stories. Book reviews, Movie reviews, etc…

    As a web designer, I think the site itself could be much more remarkable, and I think it has some organization issues, but overall it isn’t bad.

    To address coraa’s concerns about having to purchase $18 worth of back issues if you come in late in the game, what if each story could be purchased separately. If you got one issue, and really liked one of the stories in it, maybe pay $1 for each part of the story you missed. Instead of having to buy the whole issues. This kind of goes along with the vote for your favorite idea.

  16. I’m sitting here with a notebook writing down everything you’re throwing at me, figuring out how many extra people I’d need, how much less I’d have to charge, how much more frequently this would have to go out, and on and on.

    My objectives with this thing are two-fold—1) To find readers for promising new writers, and 2) To help those writers start making money writing.

    So charging writers to submit is just flat out. I won’t go there.

    Everything else is on the table.

    Keep throwing things at me—problems, what you think would work instead, what you would really love to see—ANYTHING you can think of.

    I want a few days at least to think this over and see if I can come up with a better model that wouldn’t be a nightmare to produce, and wouldn’t drive everyone involved broke. Broke is not what we’re shooting for, y’know?

  17. Just some thoughts.

    First of all, cute use of passive voice ;). And yes, the backend model would take some thinking, but it should be possible either through the store or separately.

    On the idea:

    1) I’m with the others on monthly rather than bi-monthly. Have the editor prepare two issues at a time and the workload is about the same. A bimonthly issue with 5 stories would be rather large and more likely to get backed up. Half that, and people have enough to read comfortably, especially if the amount of each story isn’t a fixed amount. So rather than 5k exactly of each story, shoot for a 30k issue and split the stories up differently.

    2) Another agreement on the varied lengths, even leave it open to a full-length novel from a known name with a slightly bigger chunk. The reason why I say that is because something that came to mind in reading this…getting named authors to contribute. One possibility is to get rights to something that’s gone out of print and has limited availability but which forms a foundation for a known author’s series. They’d be more willing to chance such material and it would draw in their readers who missed the print run of that earlier work while also introducing new readers to a writer they might not have tried yet. So it works as a win/win marketing for both of you without having the name author have to add to their current writing commitments.

    3) And I don’t remember who, but the person who suggested upping the price but having the extra buck be directable (the one vote for author/editor) is a solid model. That way it’s part of the expected price but they feel like they’re having a say but at the same time if the reader doesn’t execute that vote, the money can go into a general bonus fund. Okay, maybe a little crazy on bookkeeping, but the votes could expire in 30 days or something so that the bucket of unclaimed can be split. Oh, and your model really does need to include the deduction of paypal fees and potentially affiliate fees as well.

    4) I also would support the offer of multiple formats, printable PDF, mobipocket, and the like. That allows you to tie into the ebook market and potentially sell subscriptions through fictionwise and the like as F&SF does.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting model with some potential. A lot of hard work, but you seem to excel at that. The techie side shouldn’t be insurmountable, especially, come to think of it, if the delivery engine is email. Sort of an email preference by format…that purchasers could log on to change preferences.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

  18. I do want to submit, but I would subscribe to get new stuff to read. I also vote for RSS feed or email announcements that a new issue is out. The RSS feed doesn’t have to have all the stories in it. I know webcomics aren’t an exact match for eZine, but the creator of “Cheshire Crossings” doesn’t put up updates until he has the whole chapter finished. When he sends out the email announcement that a new one is up, I drop everything I can to go read it.

  19. Initial impression: Serial writing with a guaranteed compiled book available at the end? Cool! We might even discover the next Charles Dickens or Arthur Conan Doyle! (They wrote a lot of their stories serially for newspapers in their time.) I’d definitely subscribe (audio formats and a nice PDF presentation would be a huge bonus).

    Feedback:
    1)I agree 2 months is a long time to wait these days. One month would, I think, better guarantee loyal subscribers and enthusiastic readers who spread the word. I have a suggestion re this if bi-monthly is ‘doable’ and monthly is not: what about a ‘subscribers only email installment’ that continues one of the serial stories (reprinted in the magazine for continuity – perhaps randomize which story to keep people guessing/watching for what’s coming) and a quick summary/teaser for the other episodes?

    2) I like the voting aspect. The idea of including 1 free vote in the initial price is good. Maybe add the option to purchase additional ones? (My thought here is ‘what if you loved two of the stories and wanted to see more by both authors’? The combinations of stories/authors would influence this too).

    3) I’d suggest a short supplemental podcast to read one story installment and perhaps a quickie interview with one of the other authors. No more than 10 minutes. With this wave of ‘social media’ it would gain a better web presence with some audio aspect and could be cross-advertised at other fantasy/sci-fi writing sites (obviously you’d include a promo or two of someone else’s on yours too). I think author involvement on their own stories would be the way to keep this manageable and fresh too – have the author read their story, pick appropriate music bytes for the head and tail etc. Would also be good training for read-ability and thinking about pitching your work. (I have more ideas on the podcast aspect and would be happy to help where I could on this aspect but that’s for another discussion I think!)

    4) I think keeping the lengths of the serials varied is a good idea – keeps the readers guessing.

    5) Being that there will be a lot of ‘wanna-be’ writers subscribing, simply because of your name, Holly, I’d suggest a couple of sidebars here and there and a ‘tips’ page specifically aimed at fantasy and sci-fi writers.

    6) I think graphics, presentation and artwork are VERY important to getting this off the ground too. People do judge books by their covers/websites by their appearance etc. I would suggest opening this up to wanna-be artists/designers too. There seems to be a lot of overlap between fantasy/sci-fi writers and artists – I suggest taking advantage of it! One art piece for the front ‘cover’ and design motifs to break-up and use throughout the magazine. When things really get rolling you could consider adding a short (eg. 6 panel) web-comic or two and have writers and artists enter a competition to have it included (or ‘buddy-up’ with a graphic-novel wanna-be site/community).

    Summary: Yes, I’d subscribe. No fears about the writing quality if it’s approved by you. I think presentation and frequency options need careful consideration. Any way to link into the fast-growing podcasting community would help spread the word fast. There’s some very ordinary writing that people are getting excited about listening to right now as well as the good stuff. Offering good cliff-hanger serialized stories to this enthusiastic community should get loyal subscribers very quickly.

    I think you’re onto something great here Holly!

  20. This is a reasonable eZine model and I like the fact that it’s a model to publish longer works rather than just another short story venue.

    I completely agree with those pleading for formats besides the PDF format that the writer world believes to be useful. I won’t read fiction while sitting at a computer. We live in a world where it is VERY easy to produce books and magazines in MS Lit, Mobipocket, and Palm/eReader formats and anyone who reads electronic prose a lot uses a portable device and one of these formats, not PDFs. If Ellery Queen and Fantasy & Science Fiction can do it, so can eZines.

    It seems from the comments that you shouldn’t call the $1 to an author idea a “vote” as it presents the wrong connotation. Call it an “atta-girl” or an “excellence bonus” which is closer to concept.

    With the right editor, a publisher and editor can produce a decent eZine design in my opinion. If you were suggesting picture books, adding a designer might be useful but for prose, it will not be an issue.

    Given the reluctance to pay for anything on the Internet, you might reconsider the price point. Somehow $20/yr seems much less than $27 and might generate more money via more subscriptions. As you’ve suggested, subscription numbers are required for the model to work well.

    Consider the virtues of variable length serials. Having serials that run 3-8 episodes provides more writer and publisher flexibility.

    I agree with some that a 2-month interval is too long for serial presentation.

    Cheers — Dr. Larry Marshall

  21. Holly,

    I’m too ill to type more than a few lines, but this is important to you and I want to respond honestly.

    I wouldn’t subscribe as a reader. Few things please me more than immersing myself in a wonderful story, but the prospect of reading very short novels in serial form on the internet simply doesn’t do it for me.

  22. Very swift 2 cents worth.
    Every two months is too long, once a month would be fine.
    NO YA or childrens stuff if you want me to buy it.
    I like the idea of voting for my favorite author.

  23. From what I’ve heard so far, subscriptions for digital material can be hard to rack up — maybe some research in this area could give you some concrete information to plan with. I love the idea of combining it with the voluntary donation idea, one that I think needs to be encouraged for new media.

    Would I subscribe? Well, at first I said sure — $27 for a year’s subscription seems totally reasonable. But then I thought about the emphasis on serials and cliffhangers and changed my mind. I’m impatient; I don’t want to wait 2 months to find out what happens next. These days, I even hold off buying novels until the whole series is out, because I just appreciate it more when I can read the whole story at once. A higher frequency might change my mind, but I don’t know. I just don’t like being left hanging.

  24. Hi, Holly. I haven’t read the other comments yet (because I’m short on time right now), but I think you’re on the right track. This is very similar to the model I’m pursuing in my own writing. By my calculations, I could get by with 1000 subscribers (i.e., 1000 hard-core fans).

    I also would like to think 1000 subscribers–or even 10,000–is an attainable number. I also imagine these subscribers won’t come easily. I expect to have to pull out every marketing trick I know, and then some.

    BTW, I also love well written serial fiction. (I’d like to think I know how to write it, too. :) )

    Cheers,
    -TimK

  25. 1) If this gets going, I will totally be on board for a subscription. Serial fiction is a great thing, and I wish there was more of it.

    2)I’ll second Chrysoula on varying the lengths. Having a set page count would be great for cost budgeting I’d imagine, but I think it *could* lead to predictability.

    3)For the future, if you want to expand it out a little bit, and this is kind of expanding on what Oswallt said above, you could start up a podcast reading of the more popular stories. But that might be too much. Just a thought.

    Overall, I think this is an awesome idea. and I’d subscribe, and probably submit, too :)

  26. I would be interested in subscribing.

    I’m also wondering what role, if any, shorter stories will play in this magazine. In the midst of all these serials, it might be a nice change of pace to be able to read a story from start to finish in one issue.

  27. Ok, I agree with Chrysoula too :-) If it is too often, and I get behind, I’m stuck. I’ll never go back and catch up. (This happened with a daily Bible reading I tried once. Around six months into it I got behind and could never catch up.) Maybe every two months is too long, and every week is too often. Once a month, anyone?

  28. I have to agree with sean36 about frequency. I have a crit group I belong to on FMwriters.com (plug) and I find myself having no idea where I am in the stories of my fellow authors from chapter to chapter. I think I’d be lost 2 months after the previous issue.

  29. Look, me again.

    I just wanted to speak up in counterpoint to Sean36:

    1.) TV shows end an entire season with a cliffhanger and people come back after much more than two months. Whether the same volume of people return depends on how good the previous season was. That being said, I suspect monthly is probably better, too. It’s just twice the work.

    2.) Distributing 5 novel chapters every week? No. I have some actual experience with this, from working with a friend on an attempt to create a serial fiction community (http://imago.hitherby.com, way slowed down and clearly needs some technical work, hmm). People process blocks of text differently than images, and if they get those blocks of text too often, they’ll pile up and will only be read in bursts, if at all. You want the gourmet meal effect, where the portion-size is small enough that people are left wanting more, and there’s enough time between courses to really build up anticipation. If the next plate comes out before you’ve finished the first, you eat too fast, you don’t enjoy it as much, you decide it’s not worth the price tag and you don’t come back.

  30. how would international subscription be handled. I could see me subscribing maybe not from day one, but if the stories are good i would. Th eproblme I encountered with nearly all subscription is that not living in the US they are virtually UNAFORDABLE. So how would you handle subscriptions in europe, asia, Australia nd NZ?
    brooke

  31. More thoughts after the shower.

    1.) Totally random idea. Auction off percentage shares of a year’s subscription fees to ‘micro-investors’. Let the people who really believe (and can afford it) show that kind of support. It could also serve as a way of gauging demand, and putting some of the burden of publicity on other motivated parties.

    2.) Switch up the lengths so you really do have finished stuff every issue. If every story is 5 issues long, it ruins some of the unpredictable fun of serials. A couple 20k, a couple 30k, a couple 40k, a couple 50k, a couple 70k… and then eventually settle into a 40k-60k range.

    3.) Earmark one story an issue as YA or children’s– something parents would be comfortable reading to their kids. That’d help with getting some of the right length stories, early on.

  32. Sounds like a solid and interesting scheme.

    Apart from the chicken-and-egg problem of ‘need money to attract good writers; need good writers to make money,’ which others have mentioned, I see one potential problem with getting *new* subscribers after the first issue or two. If the issues are mostly full of stories already started, a new subscriber is looking at dropping six dollars for, say, parts two, two, three, four, and five of stories. Nothing new to grab hold of. Telling a new subscriber/buyer that the cost of an issue is effectively five or six dollars *plus* an additional eighteen dollars so that they can actually tell what’s going on in the issue seems like a serious hurdle.

    There are a few ways I can think of to get around this. One is to ensure at *least* one new story per issue, so that there’s at least one thing people can start fresh on. This would solve the problem, but has certain logistical disadvantages in scheduling. Another is to pepper the issues with small, standalone items — flash fiction, reviews, articles, whatever — so that there’s some other content to draw readers in. I think once people are hooked on a story, they’ll buy back issues to catch themselves up, but I think getting the hooks in them requires at least something in every issue that they can leap in and read without having to lay down cash for backstory.

  33. This is the first time I’ve posted a comment on your site, so I want to start by saying thanks for creating it. As someone who is stumbling through, trying to teach themselves to write fiction, you e-books and writers block audio book have been the single most useful tools I have come across, and believe me, I have bought a lot books on writing. I could write an entire chapter on this subject but this isn’t the right place. Anyway, about your magazine plan. As a buyer, I wouldn’t purchase it. The major flaw it has, is that it would come out once every two months. In a world where most of the population is at least a little bit ADD, I don’t care how good of a cliffhanger you write, there is no way you’ll keep anyone hanging for two months. (Think about how often your favorite T.V. show comes on.) By that time, I would have forgotten most of the content of the first edition and I would have to go back and re-read it, and that’s just annoying. Maybe if you had people submit finished stories, broke them down in to blocks, and published once a week or two weeks it might work. You’d be able to get more people published as well, (which, from what you’ve written, seems to be one of your compelling needs :-) Sorry, I’m a smart-ass. Another thing to consider is recording and selling the stories in an MP3 format. I personally don’t read fiction. Non-fiction I will read because it has information that I need to accomplish something. But for fiction (my mental vacation time) I buy audio books and listen to them while I drive, which is where I have the most free time where I’m undisturbed. They also keep me from shooting the 3 out of 4 people on the road who are more focused on their cell phones that driving, so it would also help to prevent road rage. The typical unabridged audio book costs between $40 and $60, and It takes me about a week to a week and a half to get through it depending on traffic jams. If you had an option of buying new fiction once every week or two, in audio format that could be put on an ipod or burned to a c.d., and charged between $10 to $40 a month, it would be a heck of a lot cheeper than Barns and Noble, and I would definitely buy it. Anyway, I hope this helps. Thanks again for your writing help. Sean

  34. Holly,

    One way that it could work is doing something like a query of sorts. The writer comes up with a story, queries you to see if you are interested in the story, if so, have it written and sent to you for the magisine. If you are still intrested, then it would be put into the paper, then the writer would be paid. Like in any publishing journey. This would be something that I think people would be intrested in. As a writer I know I would. And as a reader,

  35. I would probably subscribe, it sounds like an interesting concept.

    To echo DRobertPease and Chrysoula — some funds have to be allocated to things like site hosting, design, and advertising the mag itself.

    StrangeHorizons.com is a SFWA pro-market, and has survived as a non-profit for almost eight years, so there’s definitely demand for good SF/F in an online-only format. I haven’t followed how well the Baen online mag is doing, but it’s something you may want to investigate. Finding out what other online mags have done right and wrong is better than doing it the hard way, although your concept is different enough that things won’t translate 100%. I’m interested in seeing where it goes. :)

  36. I love this idea! The idea of Sci-Fi + Fantasy + a bonus all in one publication really excites me. So, while I’m by no means an expert in marketing or publication, I am a reader and a large portion of what I read is in digital formats and I thought I’d offer my two cents. For the sake of succinctness, I’ll limit myself to playing devil’s advocate.

    As a reader, I can think of three things I would need for this to be worth it for me. First, I would want it to have a nice layout in PDF. AS D.RobertPease pointed out, the design needs to be professional and I think that would be necessary to differentiate it from the hundreds of other similar e-zines out there. It’s hard to get people to pay for words on their computer screen without something extra to give it a higher perceived value.

    Second, I would want it to be a monthly publication. I know this is very much up to personal preference, but I don’t want to wait 10 months to read a novella. Also, this is being marketed on the web and there are a dozen new things popping up every two months that want my attention and my money. I also think bi-monthly publication would hurt the perceived value. I know I would ask myself, “Why isn’t it published monthly like every other magazine? Can they not get good authors? Are not enough people willing to pay for it?”

    Lastly, and this would probably be the deal breaker, I would want to be able to easily receive it in multiple formats. Sometimes, I’ll want to read the nice PDF, but other times I’ll want to quickly pull it up in my RSS feed aggregator along with the blogs I’m reading. Or sync it to my PDA. Or, most likely, download it to my Sony Reader. Some people even read books on their phone. I know this last point may seem to contradict my first, but once my American consumer brain decides its worth it, I’ll just want to read the stories in the format that’s best for me at the time.

    I hope I haven’t come off as harsh or petty. I think most of us here will be predisposed to like something with Holly Lisle’s name on it, so I was trying very hard to remind myself how I look at things when it’s coming from someone I’ve never heard of.

  37. 1.) I’d probably subscribe, partially because I am interested in exploring this model, and because I believe in the power of serials. And I’m poor enough at the moment that I get most books from the library.

    2.) Admittedly, someday I’d probably also /submit/. So grain of salt.

    3.) Getting name authors to kickstart the first few issues is a great idea, if it’s doable. It would catapult your subscription numbers, especially if you made sure the quality of the rest of the stuff was absolutely top-notch. If that isn’t feasible, getting as many writer’s blogs as possible to mention it…

    4.) A dollar a vote feels phenomenally expensive. At once every two months, it’s NOT. But it feels that way. You’d be better off raising the price of the subscription by the price of the votes and bundling it; if you buy a $7 issue, you are allocated one vote, which you may spend.

    There could be bookkeeping problems with this, I don’t know, especially if some people never spend their votes, but if it’s presented as a perk of membership in a reader’s club, rather than a pay-to-vote, I bet it’ll get used a lot. Especially if there’s a ‘tip the editor/publisher/whatever’ button as well.

    5.) A pay-to-submit model appalls me. Sorry, Shawn. It would actually lower my faith in the finished product. I’d rather have advertising.

    6.) Advertising. After all, that’s how magazines pay for themselves– subscription fees just don’t cover it. And I often don’t mind magazine ads. And here’s why: they fit in with the medium.
    Rather than random noisy banner ads or even discreet but annoying google text ads, have ads presented as amusing bits of fiction in sidebars. Encourage contributing writers to contribute time rather than a submission fee, with 250 word advertising interludes. Or have a staff writer or two who does them for a small percentage of the magazine income + clickthrough rewards.

    OK, Shawn suggested the submission fee to weed out authors and build a subscriber base, not pay for production. I’m suggesting the advertising income be spent on… advertising. To get readers, to offer bonuses to name authors, whatever.

    That’s all probably got a lot of overhead, and earning more money outside of subscribers wasn’t in your basic model, so it’s kind of way-out-there rambling. I do think you’re either going to have to do some kind of advertising, though. More on that later.

    7.) The Kindle. Talk to Amazon about getting distribution via the Kindle (as well as your other ways).

    8.) Community. Pitch it as a club or community. Have a place for members of the club to congregate. Start recruiting early. Start advertising (by word of mouth and viral meme things) months before you have a magazine to sell. Have a single serial broken into 20 or 30 pieces that show up all over the web and bring people to the community. Story-crack can build great communities, and community can keep itself buying, and bring in newcomers who start out more interested in the community than its subject matter.

    I think you either need to plan for slow growth, though, or you need to come up with a bookkeeping plan to accept a.) preorders or b.) micro-investors and get as much launch money as you can to make it very very shiny.

  38. Holly,

    Agreed, it is a solid scheme. Add to the content (apart from the serials and the shorts) some ‘fun stuff’? Like flash fiction, humour inserts, images? The old ‘Saturday evening Post’ had such features and stood its own against more staid publications. Free samples may also be effective, specially with cliffhanger ending serials!

    Some differences between internet distribution and print that may be worth keeping in mind:

    Each online subscriber leaves a unique IP address on your records. Access can be regulated by passwords and ‘degrees’ of access linked to these (a one time freebie, a paid regular, and so on)

    I’ve no idea where gadgets like the Amazon.com Kindle are going – thingums that read like a book even in sunlight and behave in many ways like a computer. If the idea takes off and becomes cheaper (than the Kindle’s $400 plus) and more universal (Kindle depends on the Sprint network I think) – whatever, they add many new features to the publishing business and reader’s outlook and expectations.

    Pardon the ramble. I think this will work. A last digression: Just joining the blogging community but many of us will link to each others project, so called ‘viral advertising’. And a last rant: I wish geeks would stop inventing new words and new meanings for old – ‘blog’ , ‘viral’… Jeez!

  39. Well, I’d certainly take a flyer on a year. The book stores seem to be going for the Mega authors. While I really do like a couple of the mega authors (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, leap to mind) I read a lot more than two or three books a year! I’d like to see serialized fiction become popular again.

    I would want to be able to have the books in a format I can put on my Palm Pilot, though.

    I mean, the first thing I ever read by you was in the Baen Free Library, and this looks a little like the Webcriptions concept.

  40. I don’t have much insight on the business model itself, but I can give you my gut reaction on the magazine: SERIALS? With CLIFFHANGERS? Heck yes I would subscribe! As a reader, it sounds way too fun to pass up. :)

  41. Holly,

    I’m confused about the product. If each serial lasts 5 issues, I don’t see how it’s possible for every issue but the first to start one series and end one series. Unless during the first year, you’re doing staggered starts for series and filling it with short stories in the meanwhile?

    First issue: start one series, 4 shorts
    Second issue: part 2 of first series, start second series, 3 shorts
    and so forth?

  42. Holly,

    It seems you have come up with yet another solid and really exciting idea.

    I see the only loophole as one you’ve mentioned: attracting readers versus attracting writers.

    I try to enter at least one writing contest per month, and in each case, there is generally a small fee associated with the entry. I know some authors view this as unreasonable, but I don’t have a problem paying a few bucks to a magazine or organization I find reputable to offset the cost of publication. (ByLine, Writer’s Journal, and Writer’s Digest all charge a minimal fee for their contests, and none seems to have problems getting entrants.)

    My suggestion is to use this idea to bridge part of the early subscriber gap: If the single-issue price is $6 ask that all submissions be accompanied by a $10 entry fee that covers the cost of entry plus one copy of the upcoming magazine. (The fee would not apply to serialized work after initial acceptance.) This will keep the submissions serious, make “rejected” authors feel as if they are still getting something and are part of the process, and begin a hand-to-hand circulation of the magazine which should increase readership.

    The plus to this from a writer’s point-of-view is the magazine is going to be self-funded: the readership can grow slowly while the market remains intact. Even if I get a dozen rejections, if the opportunity to get an acceptance remains, I’m hopeful. I only get frustrated when the market disappears.

  43. Holly,

    First of all, I would subscribe. So there’s one.

    I think this is a good idea, the problem is a chicken or the egg kind of thing. You need good content to get subscribers (not to mention the marketing to get those subscribers, but maybe you have a good enough platform that you could get a couple hundred easy). But to get good content you need to show the authors they will actually make money at it, i.e. “How many subscribers do you have?”

    I love the idea of a vote for the best author thing, although I’m not sure how many people would actually do it. And one technical issue is after merchant fees, your dollar vote is really only a $.50 or $.60 vote, thus cutting into your author’s profit.

    One question I would have too, is do you have some kind of push technology associated with each issue. If I have to remember to go look every other month I probably won’t do it. But if it comes to me… or at a minimum an email comes linking to the new issue.

    Finally, as a designer, I noticed a conspicuous absence of any of your profit going to someone to actually design the site, and each issue. If this is to be taken seriously as a “magazine” I think the design has to be serious as well. BTW, I might be willing to help in this regard for trade as opposed to payment, at least until it takes off.

    I know I’m rambling here, but I hope you get some use out of it. Again I think it is a good idea, but the devil is in the details.

  44. For marketing purposes, you’d probably need several “name” writers to give you some stories – novellas. Otherwise, you’re trying to promote an online fiction magazine with unknown writers – and that could be a real challenge.

    Would this also fit into your affiliates program? If you could figure out an affiliate program for this, that could also help with marketing.

    Jeff

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