By Neil Ayres
In the US there are several great independent press magazines publishing quirky fiction that falls between the cracks of the mainstream genres and left of field to McSweeney's—Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Electric Velocipide, Shimmer, Flytrap—releasing a constant flow of speculative fiction that often blends magical realism into the mix. For our first issue we've stories by two successful novelists who are also impressive short story writers and both much aligned to this field: one of my favourite writers, Jeffrey Ford, and the inimitable Catherynne M. Valente, whose prose is almost seductive in its sensuality.
With Serendipity though, we're aiming to do the opposite to those US magazines, by publishing magical realist stories that use ideas and conventions from other genres. There's a particular Welshman of some distinction who almost idealises this approach to fiction. Luckily, he—Rhys Hughes—is amongst the contributors for the first issue too.
There appears a gap in the UK for this type of fiction. Other than established and highly competitive markets such as Granta, Ambit and Interzone, there are few professionally produced outlets for creative fiction. Those that there are, such as Aesthetica and London Magazine, tend to focus either on poetry, the arts in general or academic analysis, or are aimed at a particular demographic: MsLexia is only open to women, Wasafiri looks to the African diaspora. Either that, or they are produced more as academic journals of non-fiction or as convoluted design handbooks (Zembla anyone?).
Last month writer, artist and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal posted an article on her blog querying whether there was a market for short fiction, and if so, why were so many short fiction venues struggling. She made a fine parallel with theatres, describing how not-for-profit theatres struggle for funding, whilst those run for profit in the first place often get plenty of it. Her point was that if you approach something in an amateur manner, you will be perceived as an amateur (and the opposite also applies).
Judging from the markets I list above, I agree with her conclusion that there's plenty of room for successes in the short fiction arena. A lot more space than Serendipity is going to fill too. The main reason we—readers—don't get more of it—short fiction—is that it appears to suit the magazine format very well, but book publishers do not suit magazine publishing (the headaches of regular deadlines and keeping advertisers happy) and vice versa with magazine publishers (commissioning authors is a rather different flavour of crisp to commissioning pieces by journalist).
There aren't many adventurers in mainstream publishing. It's a risky enough business as it is, but we can savour some small morsel of hope from companies like our sponsor, who see no paradox in possessing both heart and professionalism in business. I'd even go so far as suggesting much of the company's success is built on this combination—an understanding of what motivates other people, rather than just themselves— and that this has meant that a tiny start-up has managed to outperform many of the long-established and corporate publishers on their own turf: the high street bookstores. Perhaps they—rather than some bright spark from the world of children's publishing (where there appears real professional crossover between the worlds of book and magazine publishing)—will act on the fact that grown-ups like—and will buy—this stuff too, but only if it's presented in the best format and brought to market correctly. It's worth remembering that magazines—print and online—also make tonnes and stacks and piles of cash in comparison to books, through advertising.
In the interim, before such wild imaginings even brush against reality, we thought we would try to fill some of the space left by this publishing vacuum, and perhaps provide some firm data in the process concerning appetites for short fiction.
Our initial intention with Serendipity is to publish around 10,000 words of high quality light fantasy and magical realist fiction, as well as related interviews, essays and book reviews on the fourteenth day of each month. Although this is an amateur publication, we are approaching it with what we believe is the more professional ethos of our US compadres than that possessed by many of the fly-by-night 'small press' publications to be found in the UK. More than anything, we wish to encourage an actual readership.
All things running smoothly, there will be ten regular issues each year, plus one guest-edited edition and one themed charity edition.
We hope you enjoy reading the site, and look forward to your becoming a member of our growing audience. Thank you for your time and support.
Editorial Copyright © 2007 by Neil Ayres.
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