Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Editors: Gary Reynolds

Concept SCiFi is the UK’s newest SF magazine, presented as a website populated with a variety of content and a PDF downloadable fiction magazine. I chatted to editor Gary Reynolds as we hiked up Snowdonia, to find out what it was like to enter the short fiction market. Actually, I wasn’t that energetic. We corresponded by email.

GDJ: As the editor of a brand new SF magazine, what are your impressions of the short fiction market in the UK? Has there been a wealth of submissions and a good response?

GR: Concept Sci-fi was launched in May 2008 and, overall, I’m very pleased with the response that both the site and zine have received. Already the site receives quite a large number of hits per day, and that seems to be steadily increasing. I’ve also received some very positive comments from a number of people, both the ‘general public’ and some well-known authors.

The submissions rate has been what I’d call a ‘steady trickle’. I receive enough submissions to allow me to weed out the pieces that are not yet ready for publication, but I’d still like to receive more so I can be a little more selective. The quality of the submissions has been incredibly varied, which is to be expected for a zine that currently pays in exposure only. I’m especially pleased that there are some talented authors out there, writing very good short stories, who are still willing to contribute to a non-paying market.

I’m not sure that I’ve formed a definite opinion on the short science fiction market in the UK. Concept Sci-fi receives submissions from across the globe – the USA, Brazil, Australia, Eastern Europe - so, although UK-based, we do not exclusively publish UK content. Globally, I think that the short fiction market is in pretty good shape.

GDJ: What was the inspiration behind the Concept SciFi? What made you decide on a web-based magazine over print?

GR: The intention of Concept Sci-fi from the outset was to provide a site that offered something to both the science fiction reader and the writer, but it was never intended to grow as big and as rapidly as it has – sometimes I swear it has a mind of its own!

As well as editing I’m a keen writer, so I was very eager to provide something for the author. There is a wealth of sites out there for sci-fi readers, some of them very good, but the number of good sites for people interested in writing science fiction is a lot lower.

The original intention was to provide a good number of articles on writing technique, manuscript formatting, etc. and then to devote the remainder of the site to general sci-fi, concentrating primarily on news and reviews. There was never an initial plan to also produce a zine, but it seemed a natural progression from the ‘writing’ side of things. If we’re producing articles to help people develop their writing craft, then why not also provide a mechanism to help them showcase what they’ve learnt!

The decision to go web-based rather than ‘hard-copy’ was purely down to finances and my skill-set. Clearly producing a print copy will cost financially – you have to pay for the print run and the distribution costs for starters, and the intent from the outset was to make Concept Sci-fi free.

Because Concept Sci-fi will always remain free to the reader, I doubt that we will ever produce a print version. More likely that we would gain some revenue through subtle advertising and then move into the semi-pro market.

Fortunately, producing electronic copy comes quite naturally to me and it’s very easy to distribute.

GDJ: What appeals to you about the short story form? You have a maximum word count of 8000 words. Is that for practical purposes or do you prefer shorter stories over novelettes etc?

GR: I’m a big fan of science fiction of any length, from flash fiction all the way up to six or seven hundred page novels – roll on Peter F. Hamilton and his incredibly-readable doorstops!

But there’s something special about the short story - you can make it perfect. You can take a three or four thousand word story and craft each individual sentence to perfection. You can play around with the structure while still keeping the plot arch in your head, safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to introduce major inconsistencies. This is much harder to do in a novel where changing one thing can ripple major repercussions throughout the novel and result in a major re-work.

Initially, the word limit for the zine was for purely practical purposes. Once I start reading something, I feel almost guilty if I don’t finish it – whether that’s in a single sitting or multiple sittings. I had no idea what the quality of submissions would be like for a non-paying market, so it seemed sensible to keep the limit down.

Now, I would feel comfortable increasing the limit (provided I could convince myself to stop reading something if it’s not suitable!). There’s a question, though, of how many novelette submissions an exposure-only market would receive. It’s certainly something to think about.

GDJ: Unlike many other mixed-genre magazines, you concentrate just on Science Fiction. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to that choice?

GR: Science fiction is what I enjoy. I really do loathe most forms of what I’d call fantasy, e.g. Harry Potter, Philip Pullman, etc. It just doesn’t work for me no matter how beautifully written it is, so I decided pretty early on that if I was going to become the editor of a free zine, it had to be related to something that I really enjoyed - something that I would enjoy doing for the sake of ‘doing’ rather than getting paid for it. It had to be sci-fi!

The main disadvantage that I’ve found so far is that the number of submissions that I receive is obviously lower than if we accepted fiction from a broader range of genres, but even that doesn’t really pose a stumbling block.

The main advantage for me is that readers know exactly what they’re going to get. If you like sci-fi and you’re reading a sci-fi zine there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll like most of the stories. I think this encourages ‘reading’ rather than ‘skimming and skipping.’

GDJ: What kind of fiction do you like reading? Any particular authors or sub-genres?

GR: Clearly answering ‘science fiction’ isn’t going to cut it here! Having said that, science fiction is my preferred genre by an absolute mile. I’m quite partial to a bit of cyberpunk (or post-cyberpunk if you’d prefer), such as the Parrish Plessis novels by Marianne De Pierres. I’m currently reading Black Man by Richard Morgan, which isn’t cyberpunk in the strictest sense but is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long, long time.

Generally speaking, anything sci-fi will usually do it for me with the exception of novels that concentrate too much on the tech and not enough on the people. Great fiction needs to be character-driven and I’m not impressed with authors who attempt to ‘wow’ you with the research they’ve done – although I couldn’t possibly name names!

I also like to dip into a thriller from time-to-time. Mark Billingham or P. J. Tracy are probably my favourite authors in this genre.

GDJ: It’s early days for Concept SciFi, but what plans do you have over the next year, assuming they’re not top secret?

GR: Concept Sci-fi is still growing and evolving and at the moment I’m trying to concentrate on getting more content into the site, particularly on the ‘writing’ side. This presents me with a personal problem because it detracts from my own fiction writing. Having said that, I now have a couple of people who write semi-regularly for Concept Sci-fi, so that helps greatly.

I really want to provide a wealth of resources for beginning and wanna-be writers. My aim is for Concept Sci-fi to become the number one site for sci-fi authors who want to learn more about the craft of writing. So I’m thinking here of buckets of articles on writing technique, information on manuscript formatting, interviews with agents and publishers, critiquing, that kind of thing.

On the fiction-side, I’d like to see Concept Sci-fi move into the semi-pro market, i.e. paying a small fee per story. This will add another dynamic to the types and quality of the submissions I receive.

Overall, I’ll be trying to maintain a steady influx of news, reviews, interviews and articles to keep sci-fi fans everywhere entertained. Wish me luck!

GDJ: Thanks for your time.

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