Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Editors: Lee Harris

Hub magazine launched at the beginning of 2007 as a print magazine, before switching to a weekly on-line ‘zine after issue 2. It can be downloaded in a number of formats and you can also subscribe by email. I chatted to editor Lee Harris over a cold coke as we stood in the Florida sunshine awaiting the launch of the next space shuttle mission. Or, more correctly, we corresponded by email.

GDJ: Hub was originally a print magazine before moving on-line. Would you have liked to stay in print?

LH: I felt disappointed that the finance side of things meant that we couldn’t stay in print, as I assumed that it was the end of Hub. Once I decided to take the magazine online, however, I came to realise that it was the best move we could have made. The main purpose of the magazine is to promote short genre fiction, and we currently have a readership nearly ten times greater than the readership of the print version, and greater than many successful genre fiction magazines. It’s also a lot easier to produce than a physical version, so I get more time to spend with my family. The success of the electronic version of Hub has more than made up for the initial short-lived disappointment around the collapse of the print version.

GDJ: There are lots of options for a new magazine – size, paper quality, illustrations, colour etc. How did you decide on the original look and feel for Hub?

LH: I’m not a big fan of “traditional” fantasy and science fiction artwork, so I decided to steer clear of that type of illustration. Nobody seemed to be doing much with photography, so this was a quick way of making us stand out from the other magazine in the market. Also, the square cover was unusual, which most people told us they liked. The quality of the paper was always going to be high (although it was too high for issue 1 – the weight meant that postage costs were astronomical!). Before issue 1 I’d never put a magazine together before, so I was learning as I went along, and discovering through trial and error what I liked, and what I wanted to avoid. There was never a great masterplan for the look of the magazine – and I couldn’t afford to employ professionals to do this for me as everything was funded personally.

GDJ: Producing a magazine is obviously a lot of hard work. What inspired you to give it a go?

LH: I like to stretch myself, and I hadn’t given myself a ridiculously overambitious project in a while (my previous project was a professional touring genre theatre company). I also love short fiction, and liked the idea of giving some new writers an additional market. I found I enjoyed the process so much that when the British Fantasy Society asked me to edit their quarterly newsletter – Prism – I jumped at the chance.

GDJ: You now have over 6000 subscribers, a very impressive total. What made you choose this method of distribution, and what do you think has contributed to its success?

LH: Hub has been very fortunate to have had two income streams (aside from the occasional donation that we are given by readers). For our first 9 months we were generously sponsored by Orbit, which enabled us to pay our writers. We were also lucky enough to be awarded an Arts Council grant which was for the marketing of the magazine – largely through online advertising and the occasional offline event. Most of our new readers find us through search engines, though word of mouth plays a very important part in the growth of our readership. Advertising can pay dividends, but word of mouth – though often slower, is usually the steadier method.

GDJ: Have you always enjoyed ‘speculative fiction’? Do you have a favourite genre or sub-genre?

LH: I have been a fan for as long as I can remember. It’s difficult to pin down a favourite genre or sub-genre. I tend to follow writers, rather than genres. A good writer will engage you in whatever genre or medium they are writing. Mike Carey is one of my favourites, and I would read Mike’s work whatever he was writing. Similarly, Neil Gaiman – a writer who produces excellent work whether he’s writing for adults, young adults, children, whether it’s science fiction, urban fantasy or horror, and whether it’s in short form, novel-length works, comics or film. The sod!

GDJ: One of my favourite stories last year was The Blue Parallel in Hub #11. You’ve published quite a wide variety of stories during the year. What is it you’re looking for in a story?

LH: Any answer to this question would leave your readers asking “Yes, but what do you actually look for?” It has to be something that engages, something that strikes a chord. It doesn’t have to follow any particular structure, or have a world-shattering conclusion. The protagonist doesn’t have to be good or bad. It just needs to be something that, after reading, makes me feel happy that I’d read it. I do have two co-editors (Alasdair Stuart and Trudi Topham) who do a huge amount of work on recommending stories, too. Technically the final decision is mine, though in practice they make at least half of the decisions to buy a piece for publication. I have even published a couple of stories that I didn’t particularly enjoy, as my co-editors (whose instincts I trust completely) told me the stories were good. I’m always willing to be over-ruled. Some of my favourite stories have received less than favourable reviews, whereas some of my least favourite have garnered huge approval from the critical community, which just goes to show that reviewers’ opinions really don’t matter that much (and I say that as a paid reviewer for other publications). So, what I’m looking for isn’t necessarily what my co-editors are seeking (which is a good thing). In summary, I refer you to the first line of this answer.

GDJ: What plans do you have for this year?

LH: Some sleep would be nice. Other than that, I’ll be attending FantasyCon again this year (last year’s fCon was my first ever convention, and I’m kicking myself for having left it so late before attending one!. I’m also appearing on a panel at alt.fiction in April with Darren Turpin (the artist formerly known as Ariel) and Simon Spurrier. The discussion is entitled “Writers and the Internet” which should make for some interesting opinions and audience questions. I’ll also be continuing to review for Hub and other publications, and introducing a PodCast to Hub as well. There’s also a possibility of a new anthology comic in association with some superb (and very well known) writers and artists, but that’s still some distance away. I’m also working on a radio play, which I’m hoping will go into pilot phase at some point.

GDJ: Thanks for your time.

LH: You’re most welcome. I had plenty of work to do, so this was a good way of getting out of doing it!

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