Welcome Guest Carla Coupe of Black Cat Mystery Magazine

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!

Now what?



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:

The stories!

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.

68 Thoughts

  1. How awesome. I remember years ago a mystery magazine by Mary Higgins Clark- I hope your stays around longer. Good Luck & Best wishes.

  2. Welcome, Carla! That’s an undertaking I would not want to undertake, but I’m glad you did. I’m scurrying over to check out the submission guidelines. Best of luck with the mag.

    1. Thanks for the warm welcome, Edith. And honestly, John Betancourt did most of the heavy lifting…

  3. Hey, Carla–where do you find the time!?! So glad to see another short story magazine founded. Markets for them have been way too few for way too long.

    1. Hi Kathy! Right now it’s eating into my writing time, so that has to change. But we’re thrilled with the positive reception and hope we can continue far into the future.

    1. Thank you, Sherry! And thank you for the opportunity to engage in a little soft PR for the magazine.

    1. Thanks, Liz! We’re looking forward to opening submissions again — all those lovely stories to read! I hope you’ll send a story, too.

  4. Carla, working on the production end of academic journals – not all that different than the magazine process – I do commend you for taking on this task. The mystery world is better for it. There is just so much more involved than it seems to the consumer when it arrives in the mailbox.

    As for my favorite short story: in the mystery genre, it is probably The Octopus Nest by Sophie Hannah; outside the genre, perhaps Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, Kate Chopin’s The Story of An Hour, or Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (depending on the day, my mood, and countless other factors.)

    1. I’m going to have to look for those stories (other than The Lottery that one I’ve read) , Kristopher. You are always adding to my TBR pile.

    2. Ah, Kristopher, the sense of camaraderie is strong among those who have trudged through the murky depths of publishing! Like anything done well, it should look effortless to those on the outside. (What’s the old adage? Be like a duck — cool and calm above water, and paddling like hell below.)

  5. I would describe the tone of this post as slightly hysterical. I know the feeling! So happy to see Wildside venturing in this direction! Best of luck, Carla. I wonder if I have a story to send to you? Hmm….

    Favorite short story? That’s like asking which of my children I like best! But for doday I will go with August Heat, which I read in 9th grade and still think about often.

    1. I remember a short story I read in sixth grade about a kid who went on a Ferris wheel and disappeared. Of course the name escapes me right now!

    2. Ramona, you’re absolutely right, but you could omit the “slightly.” It’s been a frantic but fun few months. And yes, I hope you will send us a story when our submissions open again. That would be a real treat!

  6. Great post here! and such a pleasure to be part of the debut issue myself. Congrats to Carla, John, and Wildside for all their hard work!

    As for favorite short story…. So many to choose from! But I’ll go with a regular stand-by on this question: Stanley Ellin’s “The Moment of Decision.”

  7. I love mystery novels. I have a black cat. Put them together and I am intrigued.

  8. Wow! Each step makes perfect sense, but I wouldn’t have thought of them. Great job taking this on. (And throw my hat in the ring for this giveaway, please.)

    1. Neither did I, Mark, until I found myself caught up in the planning and execution! It’s amazing how fast you can learn…

  9. Way too many great short stories to choose a favorite. It’s wonderful to see a new mystery magazine on the market. Wow, that’s a lot of work. I sure hope you got some others readers to help out.

    1. It is a lot of work, but so very worthwhile. Right now we have three readers, but may have to add more, if our last submission period is anything to go by!

  10. I love the ability to read a short story during those times when there isn’t enough time to get into a book. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for this magazine so I can pack it into my tote when I’m waiting at various appointments.

    1. We’re available on Amazon and at Wildsidepress.com, as well as a few indie bookstores. Hope you enjoy it!

  11. I like short stories, especially when I have times when I must wait for others; I can keep a book, reader or magazine in my car and pick it up when I need it without trying to remember WHICH plot that particular story is that I am trying to follow.(And if you can follow that rambling sentence, good for you!)
    I wish you the best of luck with The Black Cat. I’ll be subscribing as soon as I can. You began with great writing friends , so I know that you are off to a great start.

  12. Carla, I was exhausted just reading everything you do! I love Black Cat and wish you much success. Picking a favorite short story is way too tough. I have to say that one of my favorites has an absolutely awful/intriguing title: The Baby in the Icebox by James M. Cain. Or maybe Neil Gaiman’s The Case of Death and Honey – another intriguing title!

    1. It wasn’t too bad, Shari — John Betancourt did a lot of the hard work. Thanks for the good wishes!

  13. I’ve only recently become a fan of mystery short stories. Previously, I’ve just preferred novels with their multiple twists, characters, subplots, and so on. BUT recently getting more serious about my own writing, I’ve developed a new appreciation for these smaller gems. Great good luck with the new mag! I’ll be looking into the subscriber info.

  14. My favorite short story is Mr. Salad Monday by G.D. Falksen. I checked out the magazine & I really like it!
    Kelly Braun

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