Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Necrotic Issue #8

#8 is our second print issue. I thought that one thing this blog would be good for was soliciting feedback about the magazine. Please feel free to discuss what you like and don’t care for about the latest Necrotic Tissue. If you dislike a story, please be respectful and constructive with your criticism.

Overall formatting had few changes, except for the transition from stark white paper to cream. We think it's easier on the eyes. The cover art is from Patrick McWhorter, a regular contributing artist. It's also the story art for the Editor's Pick, Smoke by Robert Millard. We think it's a fantastic piece that captures the essence of the story.

There will always be disagreement as to which is the best story of the bunch. Only 100-Word Bites don't qualify, otherwise all other length stories are in the running. It occurred to me that since I pay professional rates for what I consider the best story of the issue, that there would be speculation that my favorite story is one with a lowest word count :). I could try to assure you that's not the case, but you will either believe me or not. Smoke is not a short piece, but it isn’t pushing our limit either. In January, the winner is a shorter story than Smoke. While it’s too early to tell, I think this trend will be broken for April's issue.

David Dunwoody's story, Ellie Elemental kicks off the issue and it doesn’t let up. I think every issue has been strong. Certainly, reading any one of them is worth the time. Having said that, as we have become better known, we have also had more stories to draw from. We received 100 stories during our first submission month two years ago, and our most recent window we received over 400. The hardest part about getting so many is having to reject so many publishable stories. I think the eighteen or so we took for issue #1 gave us a strong start. Now, we are still getting about 18% stories that are without a doubt good enough to get in, but we are only able to take about 6%. That's leaving a lot on the table, but the only other choice is to accept stories years in advance and then temp closing while we catch up. We prefer to stay open more often and have our writers wait less than five months to see their story in print.

There is also the usual non fiction peices. I need help with these most of all. While I have no desirte to take on reviews of books and movies and many other online and print markets do, I want tomake sure the non fiction is worthwhile.

Please reply to this post with any feedback, positive or constructive.



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Arcana 39, A Convention of the Dark Fantastic, is this weekend in St Paul.
It's held at the Best Western, 1010 Bandana Boulevard W, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 55108-5107
Phone: 651-647-1637 Fax: 651-647-0244 http://arcanacon.com/

The guest of honor is Kim Harrison, best Selling author of The Hollows series. http://www.kimharrison.net/

This is only the second year attending Arcana. It’s a small convention compared to some, but the only convention in the Twin Cities that is focused on dark fiction. Movies are a big component as well, but only to watch and appreciate them. I will also be going to Crypticon 3 the weekend of November 6th. It is much more focused on the generic horror fan and is focused on movies. It’s also much larger and has as many a dozen guest, almost all of which are actors or special effects artists.

Arcana has panels dealing with all dark media, but the guests seem to be mostly writers. Last year it was F. Paul Wilson and in 2007 it was George Clayton Johnson. So while the convention may be small as compared to others like Convergence, the guests of honor are never small time. The smaller size also makes it much more personal, which has its advantages and disadvantages. For someone who is naturally introverted like me showing up as the new guy, in a group of people that have known each other for more than a decade, is a challenge. I need to work at being more outgoing. It should be easier in a group like this since all of the attendees have similar interests.

At Context 22, I was able to visit with friends I had already made and meet some new ones. Some of the people I met online and some I had met the year before at the same convention. Breaking the ice is the hardest but once I have at least somebody I know, I open up. Luckily, Roy C. Booth is coming to Arcana this year, and while we don’t know each other that well, I will say we are becoming friends. He's a talented writer and we have some common background, not the least of which is that he currently lives in my home town of Bemidji.

For those of you that don’t know, Necrotic Tissue is the best horror magazine in Minnesota without a doubt. Sure, it's the only horror magazine, what's your point? My hope is that being the only horror magazine I can build a fan base here in my home state. I'm also one of the few horror writers in Minnesota. Compared to the east coast, we have relatively few. There may be some that I'm unaware of because they are not getting actively published, but even counting them, I estimate that no more than 100 horror writers live in Minnesota. There are more Sci Fi and Fantasy writers based on the attendance of participation at conventions like Convergence, but a fewer number of horror writers. There are only five listed as members of the HWA, and as for the membership of our local MinnSpec (Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers) group, I know of only five that claim to dabble in horror.

Skullvines Press is also located here in the Twin Cities. I know and like (don’t tell them) S.D. Hintz and Jerrod Balzer who are the owners. Skullvines prints all kinds of wonderful things. Since Minneapolis and St Paul are consistently ranked in the top ten of literate cities, you would think there would be oodles of horror fiction fans. I have yet to find them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. Marketing is not only my least favorite part of the job (yes, even less than self editing), I suck at it. The challenge with small business is that if you suck at marketing, then it's too bad, because there is not money to hire help.

So why did I start writing this blog post? Great question, I think I've lost the stream. I know I wanted to let people know that Stygian Publications will be at Arcana and will have a vendor table. I will be sharing the table with myself, R. Scott McCoy, horror writer but not self publisher. Even I get confused when I have a vendor table with my writing on one half (mostly through Shroud Publishing, so some people think I'm from Shroud), and Necrotic Tissue magazines and our Malpractice Anthology on the other half. I do have plenty of copies of my new novella, Feast that I am happy to sign and of course, sell for the low, low price of $7.00 dollars. Copies of NT go for $5.00 and Malpractice goes for $15.00. This mean I will need to pick up some change and hope that I will need it.

If you are in the Twin Cities area this weekend, come on down to the Marriot and have some Dark fun. If not, try to make it out to Crypticon in November. http://www.crypticonminneapolis.com/

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Behind the curtain....

I thought it might be helpful for writers to get a peak behind the curtain at our process for selecting stories. For those of you who are soooooo bored that you actually read my publisher's rants in NT, you may already know that I don't like the word "slush". I'm not a crusader against the use of the term, I'm not foolish enough to believe that editors will ever stop using it. I do think that it has very negative connotations, and as such, predisposes the editors mindset toward negativity as well as an over inflated feeling of superiority. I've seen editorials where the editor describes the process as reaching into the filth and muck, searching for that one story that doesn't completely suck. I've seen them describe the process in a way that they clearly feel they are doing something heroic, and expect all of us lowly writers to apologize for our unworthy submissions that they were forced to endure.

I can't change their opinions as an editor, but as a writer, I can choose not to submit to them. Without writers there would be no magazines, and while some editors lament the submission process, no one forced them. I will admit that I do get tired by the end of a submission period, but I signed up for this. The day I can't take it anymore is the day I need to quit and focus only on my writing, or get extra help and just be the publisher and not an editor.

All of the NT Staph that read submissions, are writers. By writers, because opinions vary, I mean people who are actively working on improving their craft and regularly submit work in hopes of publication. We also remember how awful our first stories were, how much we have learned and how it feels to get a rejection. This is important, because rejections will happen. I see no reason to make a person feel bad by sending them a snotty or derisive rejection. Some people will take it that way no matter what we write, but we try to focus on the majority of people who are reasonable.

The fact is that in each issue, we can only take around 21 stories. Sometimes it will be 19 and sometimes 22, because I'm aiming for a word count of 35,000 and we take everything from 100-Word Bites through flash, all the way up to 5,000 word stories. We are now getting a little over 400 submissions during a submission window. That means we are going to send out around 380 rejections. We have to take what we feel are the best stories. That doesn't mean that all the stories we reject aren't worthy of acceptance. What it means is that we need to pick stories that work well together in style, length and premise. Since we want a balanced issue with a variety of story lengths, we will most likely take only around 5 stories between 3,000 and 5,000 words. The bulk of the stories will be between 1,000 and 3,000 with a smattering of flash and 100-Word Bites.

From a simple mathematical perspective, you will increase your chances of acceptance by sending in a story around 2,500 words. That doesn't mean you should hold back if you think you have the best 5,000 story out there. I really hope you don't, since we need and want them. I just want you to know how we select stories and how many of each we take.

As for the process, our submission months have been well thought out. We open only during January, April, July and October, the same months we put out an issue since we are done working on the last issue and have had a break of at least a couple of weeks. We should be going through submission right now, but we are temporarily closed. This is my fault for not having a good process in place. It's a work in progress, and we've learned over the last couple of years. Our new process is to only accept the stories for the next open issue. Before, we sent out acceptances and tried to "plan" each issue up to a year in advance. It didn't work and only caused us more effort and I believe, irritated some writers who had to wait up to a year to see their story published. Because of this, we got too far ahead and now have complete issues through April, 2010.

Our new process will be to open in January for submission and fill July 2010's issue. Then April's submission window will fill October and so on, so everyone that get's an acceptance will only have to wait six months to see their story in print. Actually, they might be only waiting around four and a half months since we would put out acceptances the month after our submission window closes.

This brings me to the mechanics of our submission period. The deep dark inner secrets of how we divide work and select stories. There are currently three of us reading submissions. I am grateful for the help of our associate editors, John P. Wilson and Daniel I Russell. Instead of taking advantage of their assistance and dumping all the work on them, we each take 1/3 of all the stories that come in as they come in. We each have a folder in the email box and as the stories stream in, I drop them in each folder in the order they arrive. If we have a close friend that submits and we get their story through this random process, we ask someone else to take it. Otherwise it is completely random. Each of us get to choose fifteen stories for our short list for a total of 45 stories that survive the closing of the submission month. We all know the split and try to have a balance of long, medium, flash and 100-word stories in our short list. Then the battle begins. First we decide which 100-word stories to take. We usually take around 5. Then we "discuss" which flash fiction pieces to keep and so on. Luckily, we don't all agree on which stories to accept. I say luckily, because we know that tastes vary quite a bit and we doubt everyone will like every story. We try to provide a variety of stories in each issue and since our tastes vary, we hope we are succeeding. The process ends about fifteen days after our submission window closes.

I hope that this process continues to work and that explaining it helps writers understand what happens to their story once they hit the send button. While we don't call it a contest, submitting always is a contest. You are competing against not just 400 other writers for 21 slots, but a smaller sub set for less slots, because we take only some many of each length.

Rejection sucks. The Staph and NT understand this because we are continually getting them ourselves. We hope that we make the process as painless as possible while providing a small nugget of feedback as to why. With 380 rejections in a month to write, there is only some much time, but we try to articulate at least one reason why. Sometimes there are several reasons and we pick just one and sometimes there is only one. We think it helps to know that while we think the story is well written, we may get a lot of stories with a similar premise and the reason for rejection isn't the writing, but the subject. Whatever the reason, take the feedback with a big grain of NaCl, because it is only one persons opinion. Since you only had to wait between five and forty five days to get the rejection, you can submit the story somewhere else, and that is our goal, because rejections happen. They happen to everybody, even writers who have "made it". The worst rejection in my opinion as a writer is one that comes longer than 120 days. Longer than a year really sucks, especially if it's a form rejection. Since rejections happen a lot more than acceptances, we strive to make them less painful and fast.

I hope this glimpse behind the curtain was helpful. I will also give one small piece of advice to all the writers out there. If you ever get a chance to take part in a submission process, take it. I know that seeing the same common mistakes writers make hundreds of time has helped my own writing. Until next time, keep writing and submitting.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

What the heck is Stygian Publications??

Back in 2007, when I decided to create a publishing company, I had already decided on the name of my first magazine. Necrotic Tissue, like many things in my life, happened. It was the right time and the right name and the magazine is dedicated to my late father, Richard Henry McCoy.

The idea at the time was to create a publishing company that would eventually put out more than one type of genre magazine and other products like novels, novellas and even possibly comics and graphic novels. That's still the goal, though there hasn't been much time to put out more than Necrotic Tissue up to this point.

Stygian is an adjective derived from the mythical river Styx. The first time I read it in a novel, it was used to describe the dark. I can't recall which book it was, but "Stygian darkness" stuck with me. It brings up images of death, but also passage. A transition from one state to another, and not necessarily for the best. It hints at there being something more and perhaps sinister. So in the fall of 2007, Stygian Publications, LLC was created.

Necrotic Tissue started out as a token pay ezine. I did this because I had no idea whether we could put out even one issue, let alone 8. As a writer, I had seen many magazine disappear even before the first issue was out, and I was not arrogant enough to think we could do better. I knew I wanted to try and I hoped we could and that it would grow over time. The ultimate goal was to be a pro pay market, though I wasn't convinced at the time that we would ever be print.

In July, 2007, after we had three issues under our belt, a man named Nathaniel Lambert wore me down with his relentless insistence that I put out a call for our first print endeavor. He had an idea for an anthology called Malpractice. He had the concept and even the cover art and volunteered to do the heavy lifting by doing the initial screening on the submissions. After a few months, I finally broke down and I'm glad I did. Nate did a fantastic job with Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror.

Months would go by and three other issues before I decided we were ready to go print with NT. Issue #7, July 2008 was our first. I think it turned out very well and I think we improved slightly with #8, which just came out. I hope we continue to improve and grow over time. Our rates increased from token to semi pro, at 1 cent per word. The story I think is the best for each issue receives pro pay. Eventually, we will raise our rates to pro pay for all stories, but for now we simply can't afford it.

Speaking of not being able to afford it, I have to announce (though many already have heard), that we are discontinuing the T-Shirts. The NT T's were a very cool idea back when we were token pay. It was a gimmick, designed to make us stand out from the other magazines. We couldn't pay pro rates, but many horror fans loves T-Shirts and ours had the word "Published" on the sleeve. Since our goal was to help new writers get published for the first time as well as offer a market for more experienced writers, it seemed appropriate to give them something they could be proud of. Most of the writers we get are not Active members of the HWA, and have had none or very few pro pay sales. This makes sense because we aren't pro pay yet. We knew that there was a large pool of talent that may be writing at a pro pay level, but the fact is there is a distinct lack of pro level markets, and those that exist don't give many slots to people that aren't already at that level.

Part of our goal then is to fill that void between writers that have already "made it", and those that are still working to become known. The T-Shirts were part of that and I'm sad to see them go. Perhaps at some time in the future, if the economy improves and NT get's enough subscribers, we can start them again.

Well that's it for the back history of Stygian Publications and Necrotic Tissue. I hope you swing by from time to time and check out our latest publishing news.

R. Scott McCoy
Necrotic Tissue

Stygian Publications