Note: Below is a slightly edited version of the handout from my recent Context presentation. Not sure why it took me so long to upload it. I blame chronic laziness.
For writers, online genre magazines are not only a great way to build readership and name recognition, they also tend to be more accessible than many print magazines, with most accepting electronic submissions, featuring rapid acceptance to publication turn-around times, and a willingness to work with new writers. However, all online magazines are not equal in the exposure they bring to a writer's story.
While several top online magazines rival or surpass Analog and Asimov's in readership and "look," many others have poor design, non-existent editorial work, and a very limited readership. There's also a high mortality rate among online magazines—think SCIFiction, Baen's Universe, Farrago's Wainscot, and the almost countless smaller magazines which came and went without a notice. Duotrope Digest lists several hundred online SF, fantasy, and horror magazines in its database. It is highly unlikely the vast majority of these magazines will bring significant attention to a writer's stories.
So when writers ponder submitting to online magazines, they should consider these important points:
- Who are the editors? Because online magazines are so easy to create, you want to make sure that your story is noticed if it is accepted. The surest indicator of this are the editors listed on the masthead. If they're connected and known to the genre you're writing in, there's a good chance their online magazine will be noticed and read, even if it is new. They are also less likely to publish an issue or two and then disappear. This doesn't mean new "unknown" editors can't create a great online magazine, or that a known editor won't create a flop. But when someone puts their reputation on the line, they have a vested interest in seeing their magazine succeed. If you've never heard of an online magazine's editors, observe their magazine's track record and see what kind of reception their magazine and stories are receiving.
- Does the magazine look professional? Anyone can create a simple website these days, but it takes time and skill to create a professional looking online magazine. If the magazine looks like it was thrown together in a hurry, or created with the latest blog software, that will reflect on how people consider the magazine's fiction. In addition, sites which are overly designed with flash movies and animation can drive people away before they have a chance to read your story, while old programming tricks like frames and massive artwork shoving text to the side makes for poor readability (especially when accessed by new technologies like iPhones). Look for online magazines with a simple but clean look.
- What is the magazine's readership? It's difficult to determine the readership of online magazines. As in the world of high finance, online magazines often inflate their numbers, if they report them at all. Based on my experience with online magazines, a top publication like Strange Horizons likely has between 1,000 to 2,000 unique visitors per day. Most other top markets will have 400 to 1000 visitors a day, and obscure markets will have 10 to 100 visitors a day at most. If a magazine has included in their site the ability to support an active online community, these numbers could go much higher. But I'd still bet this is an accurate estimate of the people actually reading that magazine's fiction. And while we can all quibble about the readership of online magazines, equally important to writers is who reads the magazines. Do the magazine's stories show up frequently in the "year's best" anthologies? Check out the honorable mentions in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best series to see a good listing of online magazines anthology editors will be reading.
Anyone desiring to explore more of the world of online fiction magazine should check out the storySouth Million Writers Award at www.storysouth.com/millionwriters. To learn more about specific genre magazines, including hundreds not mentioned here, go to Duotrope Digest at www.duotrope.com or Ralan's at www.ralan.com.
Selection of widely read SF/F/H online magazines
- Aberrant Dreams, www.hd-image.com, SF/F/H, $.03/word to $100 maximum
Publishes some very good fiction and pays decent rates. But their web design feels like something from the late 1990s. Also occasionally prone to delays with their new issues.
- Abyss & Apex, www.abyssandapex.com, SF/F, $.05/word
Publish very good fiction, but crap, improve that site design! With a site redesign, they'd likely be at the top of everyone's online magazine list.
- Apex Magazine, www.apexbookcompany.com/apex-online, SF/F/H, SFWA Prof. Market
Apex recently updated their design, making the look of the site equal to the great content they publish. They also offer very nice Kindle and PDF editions of their magazine, which is something all online mags should do.
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies, beneath-ceaseless-skies.com, "literary adventure fantasy," $.05/word
A wonderful online magazine with great stories and great design. In my opinion, they deserve to be selected as a SFWA Professional Market in the next year or so.
- ChiZine, chizine.com, dark SF/F/H, SFWA Prof. Market
Great design—if a little dark, which is definitely intentional—with great fiction.
- Clarkesword Magazine, www.clarkesworldmagazine.com, SF/F, SFWA Prof.
A near perfect mix of great fiction and great design. Hugo and World Fantasy Award nominee, republishes stories as print chapbooks and anthologies.*
- Eclectica Magazine, www.eclectica.org, literary, but open to genre fiction
One of the older online fiction magazines. A simple but clean design which focuses on the great fiction they publish.
- Electric Velocipede, www.electricvelocipede.com, SF/F, leans toward steampunk. $.01/word, $25 minimum
Good fiction, poetry and nonfiction, but the site's design could be improved (although it should be noted EV is a print magazine that posts some of its content online). But it won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, so forget about the design and just read the great content.*
- Fantasy Magazine, www.darkfantasy.org/fantasy, fantasy (duh!), SFWA Prof. Market
Great fantasy, nice design. The editors work really hard to promote the stories they publish and to create their own online community of readers and writers.
- Grantville Gazette, www.grantvillegazette.com, shared world fanfic, SFWA Prof. Market
Publishes fanfic tied in with Eric Flint's 1632 universe. Stories are decent fanfic, but site's poor design drives me up the wall with content-scatter overload. Very difficult to navigate, but the upside is stories published here have a shot at publication in the Grantville Gazetter anthology series.
- Heliotrope Magazine, www.heliotropemag.com, SF/F/H, $.10/word up to 5,000 words
Very good magazine with a very clean design—once you move past their hyper-annoying banner ad on every page. I wonder if the small ad money they raise with this is worth aggravating so many readers.
- Ideomancer, www.ideomancer.com, idea-based SF/F/H
I love the look of Ideomancer, and they have some good stories, but the links to find the stories and poetry are not intuitive. Don't make your readers search for the story they want.
- Menda City Review, mendacitypress.com
High quality literary journal which is also open to literary-style genre fiction.
- OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show, www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com, SF/F, SFWA Prof.
Nice design, great stories, all available for a one-issue purchase of only $2.50, a simple price and concept which I love. They also commission great story artwork.
- Pedestal Magazine, www.thepedestalmagazine.com, literary fiction, but open to all genres, SFWA Prof.
This magazine makes me want to scream. Good to great content, but the design is so bad you can barely read it. Who the hell designs sites so they compress your story into a space mere inches wide?
- Strange Horizons, www.strangehorizons.com, SF/F/H, SFWA Prof. Market
Founded in 2000, Strange Horizons proved that a non-profit magazine could succeed online. Very supportive of emerging writers. While site design is a bit dated, they aim to fix this in near future. I'd estimate Strange Horizons receives the most traffic of any online genre magazine (at least, until Tor.com came around).
- Subterranean, www.subterraneanpress.com/magazine, SF/F/H, SFWA Prof. Market
Great art and fiction plus a nice design, although the stories can be difficult to read at times due the small width of their display. Very receptive to longer stories like novellas (which is unusual among online magazines).
- Tor.com, www.tor.com, SF/F/H, SFWA Prof. (paying 25 cents/word to 5000 words, 15 cents next 5000, 10 after)
The new standard by which all online magazines are judged. Also the highest paying online market. The only problem: They aren't open to submissions unless the editor invites you to submit.
* I've updated the post to reflect the fact that Clarkesworld is a Hugo and WFA nominee, not winner, and that Electric Velocipede is a print magazine that posts content online.