How a Magazine Is Run -- Secrets from the Background
The Most Common Question I Get --
-- is how I look this good at the age of 35. The truth: A steady bombardment of interstellar radiation aimed directly at my eyes, 19 times a day.
The second most common question I get is what it's like to start, run, and love a pro-paying speculative-fiction magazine. We're all about transparency at the Background, so I thought I'd give as much insight here as I could, for anyone curious, or anyone bored and looking for something to read (although if you're bored, we have some top-class fiction to get you through).
I started the Cosmic Background for two reasons:
A voice from space told me that if I found, paid-for, published, and promoted a series of stories that come from the space between galaxies, they'd grant me eternal life. And
I wanted there to be a magazine for the kind of fiction I love to read. And I wanted it to be pro-paying.
The monetary aspect is something I get asked about a lot. Where does the money come from? Do I have backers? Do I have a rich benefactor? Am I a wealthy layabout playboy with more money than sense? No, unfortunately.
I'm a teacher, with a specialization in working one-on-one with children who have individualized educational priorities, although since the birth of my daughter, I've primarily just been a dad. If you ever bump into me at a conference (which you should, I'm fantastic company) you'll probably see pictures of my kid, because I'm obsessed with her. I'm also a Sci-fi writer, a Clarion graduate, and an editor. None of those things, alas, come with a great deal of money. So how do I pay pro-rates? How do I afford to run a magazine? If you bumped into me at Readercon this year there's a good chance I (or LP Kindred) thrust some of our merch upon you -- how'd I pay for that? Simple.
I find a way, like a fucking dinosaur. To fund the magazine through the rest of 2023, I sold the majority of the sneaker collection I've spent the last decade or so amassing. That's right -- y'all mean more to me than sneakers. I also take extra writing gigs I don't really have time for, like one in Business Insider recently about the best kind of milk chocolate, for which I was paid mostly in chocolate, but also a little bit in money. That isn't sustainable forever, because eventually I'll run out of things to sell on the internet, but I've got other plans for the future. Kick-startery ones.
More than money, the resource I most often run out of is time. If I owe you an email, I am deeply sorry. You will get it.
People also like to ask why I choose the stories I do (or don't choose the stories I don't) and I'm going to be honest with you here. I have absolutely no idea. We've received over 2000 submissions since we opened in the Spring, and I've purchased less than a dozen. I purchased those because I felt like I had to. I felt like I wanted to be the one who brought those stories into the world. Our original intention was to purchase, and publish, only one story a month, but that has proven impossible. We get too many that I fall in love with, and so, I sell more sneakers.
Someone recently asked why we include art, if we pay for it, and who does it. This is simple: We include art because art is fucking awesome. I love it when a story I sell has art made for it, so I figured other people would do. One of my favorite people in the world, Niv Sekar is currently our art department of one. We went to Clarion together, which basically means we're bonded for life. And yes, we do pay for her work. Not as much as I like, but as much we we can. If you ever work for, or with me in any capacity, I will pay you. The reason I don't currently have any slush readers is that I can't afford to pay them. When we can, I will (and the stories will turn-around faster).
Finally, people like to ask --
-- if I'll go on a date with them, and the answer is yes, obviously, as long as you're paying/will bring me sneakers I can sell to buy stories. If you're curious about anything else, go check out this interview I did with Horrortree, which is an exceedingly rad website.
With infinite love from the Background.