Semiprozine – It’s Not That Hard

Listening to the Coode Street Podcast today, I noticed that Jonathan had completely misunderstood the nature of the changes to the semiprozine category. I’ve left a comment on his blog, but I figured it might be helpful to post it here as well, because I suspect that many other people are also confused.

Here’s the easy version.

If no money changes hands then it is a fanzine.

If the contributors get paid but the staff of the magazine do not, then it is a semiprozine.

If the staff of the magazine get paid then it is professional.

For those who are still confused, here’s some elaboration.

The basic fan ethic is that you do what you do for the love of it, not to make money. The only “payment” fans should expect for what they do is that fans who benefit from their work should also do things on a volunteer basis to pay back for all of the free stuff they have received from others.

However, as with all artistic activity, not all creativity is commercial. Our writers need money to support them. Fans can help by creating publishing companies and magazines that take in money to pay the writers, and cover costs. Provided that the fans themselves don’t take payment, they are still operating within the fan ethic.

If, on the other hand, the staff of the magazine get paid, then clearly they are running the magazine as industry professionals and should be judged as such.

There are, of course, inevitable wrinkles and complications, because real life is not as simple as award rules, but the above outlines the basic principles on which the split is based.

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18 Responses to Semiprozine – It’s Not That Hard

  1. Kendall says:

    I’m glad you spelled this out so simply. For those of us not super-familiar with a lot of the zines/mags out there, do you have a few examples of ones that pay contributors, but not any staff?

    • Cheryl says:

      Well, Clarkesworld obviously, though Neil is trying hard to make enough money to pay staff.

      From this year’s nominees, I’m pretty sure that NYRSF are OK. I’m not sure about Lightspeed, Apex and Interzone as I don’t have enough information about their staff and ownership. I don’t want to say one way or the other without talking to them. Others that are likely to be excluded are Weird Tales, Icarus and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

      Other possibilities include Shimmer (which has just started to pay professional rates), Andromeda Spaceways, Crossed Genres, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily SF, Redstone, Bull Spec and Albedo One. Salon Futura will be eligible if I can get another issue out. Cascadia Subduction Zone is probably eligible.

      Neil Clarke has a directory of titles here, but it is a bit out of date.

      • Kendall says:

        Thanks, that’s very helpful! Since I don’t really read zines/mags these days, my interest is more academic than anything else, but it’s good to have an idea of where things fall.

      • (As a first note, it’s somewhat troubling that the WSFS site does not reflect any of the changes in the WSFS constitution since August 2009.)

        This was added to the constitution as part of the Semiprozine/Fanzine reform:

        3.Y.Z: A Professional Publication is one which meets at
        least one of the following two criteria:
        (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
        (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

        Interzone is published by TTA Press, which I am fairly sure is a “professional” publisher under definition (2).

        I had thought that Lightspeed was published by a professional press; if that was ever the case, it appears to not be so now, and as such, I’m pretty sure think it’s still semipro by the rules.

        • Cheryl says:

          Kevin and I have been offering for years to re-do the WSFS website in the same way that we re-did the Hugos one. SMOFdom assembled appears to think that we did a really bad job on the Hugos site, because they have steadfastly rebuffed our offers.

          TTA Press is basically Andy Cox. He doesn’t do many books. I would not be surprised to learn that he has a full time job as well as doing Interzone and Black Static.

          Lightspeed was owned by Prime, which is definitely professional. It is now owned by John Joseph Adams, who I think is a full time SF industry professional. I don’t think that the company rule was aimed at him (if anything it was aimed at Tor.com) but he might fall foul of it.

          • Ah, Prime! That’s what I was trying to remember. I have to admit I have a hard time thinking of Lightspeed as non-professional, for exactly the reasons you say–by all evidence, John is a full-time SF professional, and unless he’s taking basically no payment for himself, this is one of his professional projects.

            I had been told that TTA Press does in fact have at least one full-time employee.

            I guess we’ll see what both entities say about their status if they get the nomination ballots next year. I can definitely say that one one at NYRSF is doing it as a professional venture….

          • Cheryl says:

            I’m assuming that you meant “no one at NYRSF” there.

        • As Cheryl says, the current state of affairs comes from the relevant organization (which I currently chair, but do not own, and therefore can’t always make do what I want) rejecting the offer to fix things. There’s an ongoing effort from other people to fix the issue. Since 2008, therefore, you’ve had to go to the individual Worldcons’ web sites to get the current versions of the organization’s governing documents. This is consistent with the view of the members who don’t like us having any central organization and are always happiest when everything is focused on an individual Worldcon’s site. They like the current situation.

          I’m working with the current Worldcon Website Working Group and begging them to replace the current site sooner, not later. Whether anything comes of it this year, I don’t know. So far several efforts have fizzled out. I hope this one doesn’t but I can’t make any predictions.

          In the meantime, Chicon 7’s web site has the text of the constitution coming into this year’s Worldcon along with the text of the pending constitutional amendments. The Semiprozine proposal was ratified with minor wording changes that do not in my opinion change the net effect.

  2. It’s my understanding from the wording of the changes that the staff can be paid. A semiprozine only becomes a professional magazine if a staff member or the publisher earns at least a quarter of their income from the magazine.

    http://www.chicon.org/docs/wsfs-bm-3-2-semiprozine.pdf

    • Cheryl says:

      Yes, there are qualifiers, but that’s not the principle. The point here is if what people earn from the magazine is a pittance then it is unfair to deem them professional. For example, in my case Wizard’s Tower is an actual publishing company for which I do tax returns. However, it has not yet made a profit, and even if it did the money I earned would probably be insignificant compared to that from my day job. It’s because of these complications that I’m unwilling to give a view on Lightspeed, Interzone and Apex. Hopefully someone can sort this out so that we all know where we are by next year.

      • As far as we know, Apex Magazine would still be considered a semiprozine under the new rules. (I’m the Managing Editor. My wife, Lynne, is the Editor-in-Chief.) Based on our conversations with the Lightspeed team, they believe the same about their magazine.

        In both cases, I know the goal is to become professional markets by the new Hugo definitions. That would be wonderful. 🙂

    • Cheryl says:

      By the way, I should also add that we want to encourage people to try to go professional. Some people have argued that of even a single cent is earned by he magazine then it must be professional, but that would discourage people from ever trying.

  3. Amy Sisson says:

    Bit of a different area, but I was wondering if you have thoughts (perhaps you’ve already weighed in and can direct me to the right place) on professional fiction writers being nominated for and/or winning the Best Fan Writer Hugo? I can understand if you don’t care to comment. I feel a bit weird about professional fiction writers winning based on their Internet or blog postings, because I think it’s very likely they write off their Internet connectivity fees on their taxes as an expense related to their professional writing careers, which to me would contradict the claim that the blog is fan writing. (Of course, we can hardly go asking nominees for their tax returns!) And while I believe they probably love blogging, I think it’s also likely that at least half the purpose is to support their professional writing.

    Maybe not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it has troubled me a bit for the last few years.

    • Cheryl says:

      I was going to comment a bit on it when I got to discussing the results. I’ll say more then, but for now I should note that I need an internet connection for my day job, and I do write it off as a tax expense. I also blog about Wizard’s Tower, which is a real company even though it doesn’t make me a living. Would you declare me ineligible too?

      • Amy Sisson says:

        I would consider you ineligible (for me as a voter) only if your day job was as a professional speculative fiction writer.

        For the two pro fiction writers I’m thinking of (obviously Scalzi and Hines), my feeling is that the venue on which they’re doing this “fan” writing, their blogs, seems primarily intended to promote their professional careers. But I have to concede that I can’t read their minds, so obviously I don’t know what percentage of their intentions is to promote their careers versus doing it “for the love of it, not to make money.” I also concede that even if they hadn’t published anything professionally yet, they would probably still be blogging — but I also don’t think they’d have won in that case because their profiles might be so much less visible.

        Both of these guys work hard and write good stuff, and I can’t begrudge them recognition for that. It’s just that personally, I don’t see much value in a “fan writer” award if it’s going to people who have moved well into the professional realm. It’s a little like the Retro Hugos; if I recall correctly, Silverberg himself said it wasn’t valid when he won one, because he knows that people are voting on his name now rather than the quality of his writing back when that story was written. It’s not an exact parallel but I think it’s similar in that the voting seems to be reflecting something other than what the award is intended to recognize. But maybe that argument can be made about lots of awards.

        Obviously a lot of people disagree with me on this, or else they wouldn’t be eligible. So I’m not losing any sleep over it or trying to get it changed; I just know that I won’t personally vote for pro writers for the fan writer award.

  4. Don says:

    It seems to me that the criteria for “professional” magazine should have more to do with the quality of the publication and the circulation than if the staff are paid and by how much. Is the goal to identify magazines that are helping put tofu on the table for its staff? Or is the goal to identify magazines that enhance the reputation of speculative fiction to the readership? Deciding on the priorities might help clarity a definition.

    The semiprozine revisions seem right on target. For a definition of “professional,” I lean toward quality and readership. Therefore, it seems to me that a circulation of ‘x’ would be a reasonable starting point. A second possible criterion might be simply a vote of the members. If 85% (an arbitrary number for discussion) of the voting members endorse a magazine as “professional,” and it has a circulation of ‘x,’ then so be it.

    • I think you’re confusing the noun “professional” with the adverb “professionally.” Someone can be “professional” and act “amateurishly.” Similarly, you can be an “amateur” but behave “professionally.” The quality criteria you want to apply is purely subjective. WSFS has generally chosen to not try and define subjective criteria, leaving it to the members to decide for themselves. This is one reason the Hugo Awards are for both SF and fantasy, because one person’s SF is another person’s fantasy. (The Pern books are usually cited as the case example of works that appear to be fantasy but develop an SF cover over time.)

      While circulation used to be part of the criteria, in an internet age, it’s effectively impossible to measure it. How would you measure the “circulation” of a publication primarily distributed through a web site, for instance?

    • Cheryl says:

      If your primary criterion for judging is the quality of the end product then it is pointless having different categories. You should just put everyone in together and pick the best.

      Where categories boundaries based on whether competitors are amateurs or professionals exist they are generally to do with the resources that the competitors have available. A professional sportsman can dedicate his life to training, whereas an amateur has a day job to go to. The Hugos use very similar distinctions.

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