It’s always scary walking into a room full of strangers. But it’s a heck of a lot easier if one of those people is Carla Coupe! That’s exactly what happened to me the first time I attended a meeting of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Carla is funny, generous, and smart. I’m so glad to have her here with the Wickeds today!
As part of our Thankful for Our Readers month Carla is giving away an e-copy of Black Cat Mystery Magazine to one commenter.
So You’ve Always Wanted to Start a Mystery Magazine…
by Carla Coupe
Congratulations! Wonderful news! You’ve decided to start a magazine devoted to short stories with a mystery theme. Excellent!
A name. A name would be good. Essential, even. But what name? Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen are already spoken for, and you might have legal problems if you tried to use Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. So…
An animal! What animals are associated with mysteries? A raven? A dog that doesn’t bark in the night time? What about your company’s mascot: a black cat? Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Not bad. Plus it harkens back to a string of “Black Cat” magazines that started in the 1910s and were resurrected in the ’50s and again in the early ’80s.
Now the theme of ‘mysteries’ covers a lot of ground. What type should you focus on? Cozies? Noir? Police procedurals? Suspense? A little of everything? (Hint: choose a theme that you can cheerfully—or at least without rapidly descending into madness—read several hundred variations of over the course of your submission period.) And what don’t you want to read? Horror? Magic? Romance? Mindless action? Make sure you have these choices clearly in mind when you get around to writing your submission requirements. (True, some authors won’t follow the guidelines, but at least you can reject their stories outright and quickly clear them from your inbox.)
Then you need to decide what will set your magazine apart from all the others out there. Sure, you can blend into the crowd, but why? Established magazines have name recognition—somehow you need to grab attention for your new venture. Will you offer more stories for a lower cost? A higher per-word rate for authors? Only offer e-book versions? Faster turn-around for submissions? Maintaining a viable business is a balancing act, so choose something you can live with for at least a year or two.
Which leads to another important point: who will decide which stories to include? Will you, alone, read everything and make the decision? Or would two or three readers work better, spreading the load and allowing consultation and double-checking? You’ll need to put in place a process for checking in stories, distributing them to the readers, writing evaluation notes, making the accept/reject/rewrite-and-resubmit decisions, notifying the authors of your decision. And if their story has been accepted, you’ll need to send them a contract (N.B.: you’ll need to consult a lawyer!) and payment.
Oh, and you also have to decide on boring stuff, like format, size, page count, author payment rate, cover art, publication schedule, submission guidelines and schedule, printer, distributor, retail price, as well as creating the contract for stories you accept. But whatever.
So, name: check. Magazine theme: check. Stand-out item: check. Boring stuff: check. Now…
Money. You need enough to pay authors for the first 3 or 4 issues. By then, you (hopefully) will have enough single sales and subscriptions to repay your outlay and provide some profit. (Employees and bank balances will dance with joy.) You check your bank balance, flinch, and discuss loans/credit/lifetime servitude with your Helpful Bank Liaison. Once that is settled (or at least grimly tolerated), you can move on to the most interesting element:
When your submission period opens, you’ll discover: It was the best of stories; it was the worst of stories.
And there will be a flood of stories. A deluge. Lots and lots and lots of submissions. Be prepared for brilliant, exceptional tales that you devour in huge gulps, sated and satisfied at the end, as well as painfully amateur efforts full of misspellings and bad grammar, that manage to include (and misuse) every trope and cliché the genre possesses, and everything in between.
Keep an open mind. You’ll discover professional cover letters with hackneyed stories; rambling cover letters with wonderful stories; and authors who obviously didn’t read, or chose to ignore, your carefully crafted submission guidelines, asking questions already answered in the guidelines and submitting stories that have nothing to do with your magazine’s theme. (You’ll start to recognize repeat offenders and reject their submissions unread. Hey, your time is valuable, too.)
You’ll love some stories and despise others, which is why it’s useful to have more than one reader. Maybe your knee-jerk reaction to one part prevents you from seeing a wonderful tale, or your love of a particular writer/plot/story element blinds you to the utter tedium experienced by other readers. But in less time than you expected, you have chosen enough great stories to fill several issues—and you’re only three weeks into your three-month submission period!
So now you need to contact all the people whose submissions you haven’t read and let them know that you’re closing the submission period early. Most will accept this graciously. A few will reply with snide comments. (Authors might want to refrain from this activity. It is not the way to endear oneself to one’s prospective employer, i.e., it’s a career-limiting move.)
All you have to do at this point is edit the stories, typeset them, share proofs with the authors, make corrections, arrange for cover and interior art, submit everything to the printer, update your website, and wait for the sales and money to roll in.
Now wasn’t that easy?
Readers: Do you have a favorite short story?
Carla Coupe has worked for Wildside Press in a variety of capacities, including editor of the recently launched Black Cat Mystery Magazine. (You can order a copy or subscribe to the magazine at http://www.wildsidepress.com.) Her own short stories have appeared in several of the Chesapeake Crimes series, and most recently in Malice Domestic’s Mystery Most Historical. Two of her short stories were nominated for Agatha Awards. She has written many Sherlock Holmes pastiches, which have appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Sherlock’s Home: The Empty House, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part VI, and Irene’s Cabinet. Her story “The Book of Tobit” was included in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2012.