So, About That Publishing Thing

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)

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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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

63 comments… add one
  • Jordan Pennington Oct 21, 2010 @ 14:00

    As for the advertizing of the e-zine, I suggest going anywhere and everywhere that Is a Social Media site, i.e. Facebook, Myspace, etc.

    On Facebook, I am a member of the Writers Circle. They post random writing snippets, talk about authors, novel ideas, etc. You could do something along that line. It would promote your idea and also allow people to have better access to updates, up and coming, etc.

    Word of mouth is defiantly a great thing. I know this weekend I am going to tell at least 3 other people I know. Each of them know several people, so it spreads quickly.

  • Susan Oct 20, 2010 @ 14:03

    Hello Holly – I like the idea of this being online, especially now when we have entered the age of “I have an ap for that”. Mid grade and tween stories on iPad would be fabulous, or via an ap for iPhone or Blackberry. Perhaps the first story subscribers purchase be half price, then subsequent stories be full price and purchased individually. All archived stories might be a one time price if they subscribe annually. Also, what about offering this service to libraries and schools for a bundle price? Certainly cheaper than buying the hard bound books and doesn’t involve missing or overdue book issues. They set their computers up and give library members a login code. Thanks for putting your submission requirements out there too. Susan

  • Gwendolyn Sep 6, 2010 @ 4:54

    Hello Holly,
    I’m going to do some out loud pondering here, who knows it may trigger someone else. Is it possible to create a promotional package for libraries? NaNoWrimo is a good place to spread the word, too. Conventions for the sci-fi and fantasy fans. I don’t know how much a booth would run though. People love being face to face with others who are doing what they love and believe in. Being able to say I met with_____ and they were really awesome, it makes it personal to them, they have something at stake then.

  • Claudette Jul 5, 2010 @ 18:06


    This is a marvelous concept and one that might just have come at the right time for writer5s in general and SF/F writers in particular. In an economy that’s losing publications due to economic downturns, this could, if it actually operates as planned, could turn around the publishing industy for small presses all over. I think Lorri had a wonderful idea about the students. You could extend the privilege to other writing schools like ICL as well. Many writers are looking for markets even as they learn how to market. They could use the mag. as a learning tool as much as mere reading material.

    Great idea. I’m with you on it. Thanks so much for willingly stanking in the path of thirsty writers everywhere.


  • Lorri Tomcal Sep 10, 2009 @ 20:07

    I love this idea!
    As an author and as a reader I would subscibe. I can offer no advice on any of your questions but I’d certainly pass on the info to my friends and such if/when this idea comes to fruition.

    All the Best,

  • slorri23 Feb 19, 2009 @ 14:31

    WOW, Holly what alot of advice. I am not going into alot of things because I don’t know much about this kind of thing. I am a student of yours, Lorri Hager, in HTtS and some of your other clinics. Looks like you got your hand full of ideas here. The only suggestion I have is that maybe you could offer all of your HTtS students a SMALL reduction in price as a bonus to HTtS if they subscribe. You have ALOT of students. And I know that all of them will want to submit also, due to the fact they are learning to think sideway and write better. I, myself would love to help get this up and running for that very reason. So maybe I might see some of my work in there. How exciting. Keep On Writing.

  • dpace17 Feb 25, 2008 @ 22:11

    Holly, I’m also not a business model type person, but it sure does sound good to me. As we all know, new business ventures take time to build, and you’ve already got a decent clientèle of both readers and writers; you’ve got a good head start. I’ve read similar magazines in the past, WAY past, where they start a story or 2 and continue for each month, no biggie, so readers, which would include me, have to wait, the older you get, the easier it is. I’ll definitely be buying, reading and entering contests.

    Go for it Holly

  • Cosmic_lightning Feb 6, 2008 @ 13:02

    I think this has the makings of a good product, but it isn’t there yet. As someone who reads fiction on the ‘net but rarely buys it, I think you’re going to need a way to make this magazine extra-special in order to encourage even more people to buy it. There is some really great fiction available online for free, so you’re going to have to have an AMAZING product in order to convince me I need to buy it.

    I agree with whoever said that it would be a good idea to include previously published authors. A few names that I know and respect (and who’s writing I’ve already read and know it’s good) would go a long way in selling it. As much as I love your writing and respect your opinions, I don’t think I would buy a magazine of unknown writers just because of the name ‘Holly Lisle’ on the cover.

    I also think that spending some money on a good design is well worth it. Even though a lot of good fiction is published on the internet, a lot of it is in bad formats or ugly web pages. A good website would definitly make this zine stand out from the crowd, and it would help convince new readers that the content will be good.

    As a new (possible) subscriber, I would want to be able to read a snippit or two of the stories in an edition before I decided on buying it, especially since in order to read the full story I’d have to buy about 5 issues.

    I agree that there should be some other content… just serials would be a hard sell, at least for me. If you included some short stories than it would allow the reader to get a taste of what the longer serials will be like, and give them more incentive to buy a year’s subscription.

    I like the ‘vote’ option included in the price of a subscription. 🙂 And I like the ‘comments’ idea too. You could format it like the Aberrant Dreams forums: (, where people can discuss the story, speculate on what happens next, and maybe the author could drop hints… (kind of like JK Rowling, hinting at what might happen in the next HP book). But then, this would (maybe) add a cost to the production of the zine, and moderating it or whatever would take time, so maybe a forum is something you could start later on, after the zine has gained a fan base.

  • Geekomancer Feb 5, 2008 @ 15:57

    I don’t see a problem with the “Writer’s Fleamarket” idea, however that might be a “season two” idea, so that the main thrust can be implemented, and then roll out new features every season? Every other season?

  • Jack E. McCarty Feb 5, 2008 @ 15:40

    Based upon my current understanding of this complicated reading model, I’ll do my best with it. The season model has real possibilities. However, I would not recommend dropping the option of buying single issues. It provides a way for the reader to sample the magazine. After deciding to buy the season, there should be the option to buy only the remaining issues in that season.

    Being new, there are a few things I do not know that make it more difficult to understand this model as it is written:

    What is the difference between a writer, and a professional writer?
    Will there be a minimum size for items, such as short stories?
    I do not know what serial writes are.
    Does an item need to be copyrighted prior to submission, or, can that be done in house?

    I hope old stories will not just fade away. The order page could have an archives link after about the first year or so.

    Has anybody given my “Writers’ Flee Market” idea any thought? (for publishable items that could not be included in the magazine)

  • Bettye Feb 5, 2008 @ 11:56

    CLIFFHANGERS is your title. That one word says it all.
    Currently most of the books and TV series I’m reading seem to have cliffhanger endings. The only reason I object to these is that sometimes the next book or season doesn’t happen and I never find out just how the story really finished.
    However, that being said, I LOVED the serials they used to have in magazines. I even bought a magazine the other day because it seemed to promise a serial mystery. It turned out that wasn’t the case, but never mind, I did buy because of the idea of a continued story.
    So, if you figure things the way those of us doing a wild life census do for every person you “see” that likes the idea of serials there will be 10 to 100 who do like them and are not “visible.”

  • lynnemurray Feb 4, 2008 @ 18:09

    My experience may not cross genres, as my experience is mostly as a mystery author, and a reader of fantasy (I’ve written fantasy but so far no sale). Just recently I’ve become a reader of fantasy in e-form. But this topic is so close to some of my obsessions as a writer that I have to add a few reactions. I have seen several small mystery magazine publishers crushed doing paper-based publications. The problem was that it cost more to put out the magazine than could be recouped in subscriptions and advertising. One of them essentially said: “Everyone wants to submit a story, no one wants to subscribe.” I agree with Holly in that I don’t think the answer is to require a submission fee or subscription before submitting. That immediately puts the magazine into the “questionable” category as far as being professional. I do think the challenge is to keep the costs low enough to keep going until readers can find the material. Forgive me if I’m being way naive about the science fiction/fantasy genre, or about fiction in electronic form because I’m learning this stuff and may be overlooking what others know quite well. But here’s where my marketing obsession kicks in: Where do you find people who want to read these novella/serials? How do you let readers know there’s a “there” there? The small press publisher of one of my books confided that even though he was not listed in any of the big Writers Markets, he still got 400 submissions a year (he also added that “90% of those should not have been sent anywhere). I am guessing that getting submissions would not be a problem. But how do you get reviews as well as previews out to bloggers, online review sites, etc.? Perhaps a community of involved writers could do internet promotion for the publication as well as for each writer’s own serial. Forgive me if this has been stated before but how about interviews with notable writers. Those would probably be easier to get than works of fiction by them. One can do an interview via email and it would help both the author who might have a book coming out and the publication, which could use the known author name to get readers into the tent. Maybe the interview could even be a sample freebie to get people to read the previews of coming attractions at the magazine.

    Publication title ideas–Watch This Space, What Happened Next, Serial Worlds…that last one came too easy, maybe it’s been used already. Okay shutting up!

  • Geekomancer Feb 4, 2008 @ 11:52

    Here’s something to think about, too. For me at least, it would be helpful to know WHY my story wasn’t included. How would you figure for that aspect? I’m not asking for a full-on, red-ink critique, mind, just a general idea 🙂

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