The difference between successful genre magazines, and failures

Over on io9, K. Tempest Bradford continues her weekly reviews of short stories by asking:

"How does the average reader discover magazines? Assuming that people who like science fiction, fantasy, and horror are just as interested in short stories as novels, do they know how much short fiction is out there and available? Do they stick to the most familiar outlets or go in search of more?"

Sadly, I don't believe most people are as interested in short stories as they are in novels. That's been a pattern in our genre for a few decades and I've yet to see it change. But there are still many people who love short stories and seek them out.

As for how people discover genre short stories, I believe most readers still do this through magazines. Yes, book anthologies are a great way to also discover short fiction. However, most original anthologies reach relatively few readers, while the anthologies with the biggest readerships tend to be reprint anthologies such as Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction series. But since these reprint anthologies depend mostly on magazines for their stories, we've come full circle to magazines again being the place where short fiction truly lives in our genre.

But that raises the question of how people discover genre magazines, and how successful they truly are. In Tempest's column she quotes a Warren Ellis post on the state of today's genre magazines. Ellis laments the death of the new version of New Worlds after only two issues and the near simultaneous passing of Rudy Rucker's Flurb. Ellis then lumps the British magazine Interzone in with these two, declaring that "NEW WORLDS was never a nostalgic enterprise. But, perhaps, publishing a speculative fiction magazine is."

Which goes to show that Warren Ellis doesn't know much of anything about today's genre magazines.

I say this because anyone who paid attention to the revived New Worlds knew it was always a pointless exercise in nostalgia which would end up dying a totally predictable death. And while Flurb published some good fiction, it was very much a fanzine published merely through the love of its editor Rudy Rucker.

But the successful magazines of our genre — wow, they are of an entirely different level of creation. Successful genre magazines don't merely publish stories. Instead, they cultivate authors and readers. They build movements and styles. They stand astride the genre and chart our genre into new and unpredictable directions.

Among the magazines doing this are amazing digital publications like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed and Beyond Ceaseless Skies. In addition, some traditional print magazines like Asimov's continue to rework the genre with their stories (although it's difficult to call Asimov's merely a traditional print magazine — over half their subscribers are now digital only).

But of all the magazines doing influential work in our genre, perhaps the most successful is Interzone.

I'm sure Warren Ellis and others will sputter at this comment — after all, Ellis says people laugh at Interzone because they don't know what its exact circulation is. But circulation isn't a great indicator of a magazine's success and influence, at least with regards to short fiction.

For example, I'm sure Ellis wouldn't debate that Michael Moorcock's run at New Worlds was extremely influential and successful. But New Worlds' circulation during the 1960s and early '70s was never that great, especially compared to the earlier years of the magazine. At times Moorcock and company could barely pay the magazine's bills (and they wouldn't have been able to do so by relying merely on magazine sales and subscriptions — they received a number of arts grants).

But just as Moorcock's run at New Worlds reworked the entire SF/F genre, I likewise predict that Interzone will eventually be seen as doing the same through the stories and authors they publish. There are stories being published in Interzone today which you won't find anywhere else. There are many authors who have been published in Interzone in recent years — including Nina Allan, Aliette de Bodard, Chris Beckett, Eugie Foster, Dominic Green, Will McIntosh, Mercurio D. Rivera, Suzanne Palmer, Gareth L. Powell, and Lavie Tidhar — who wouldn't have found a home for their stories without Interzone or wouldn't be where they are today without the magazine.

And that's not even counting the influence Interzone's sister magazine Black Static has in the horror genre, or the other publishing projects released by Interzone's publisher TTA Press, such as their innovative novella series. 

Speaking both as a reader and writer, Interzone has been extremely influential and successful for me. Without Interzone, I don't know where I'd be with my fiction writing. Without having Interzone to challenge me as a reader, I wouldn't be able see the exciting future our genre has stretching before it.

For all of this, I thank Interzone and the magazine's editor Andy Cox. 

The difference between successful genre magazines, and failures, is in how the magazines recreate our genre. Interzone is doing precisely this.

When Warren Ellis laments the passing of the new New Worlds, he is complaining that a magazine which recycled pointless nostalgia somehow didn't thrive. But that's precisely the type of genre magazine which is doomed to failure. I want genre magazines which will challenge me. Which will encourage the up-and-coming and innovative authors of our genre.

And in these areas, Interzone is one of the most successful genre magazines around.