Thursday, March 9, 2023

Support Stupefying Stories

Okay, it’s time for us to have a serious conversation about money. To paraphrase the old aerospace industry adage Tom Wolfe made famous when he gave the line to Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

That’s right. That’s what makes Stupefying Stories fly. Funding.

When we first launched Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press, it was with a small nest-egg and the idea that it would be self-funding. We believed we would be able to bootstrap this new magazine and publishing company from the ground up simply by increasing sales, and for the first few years, that seemed to work. We had original novels and some issues of the magazine that moved thousands of copies, and we plowed every penny we made back into publishing more stories and paying our authors and artists more.

Then my wife’s cancer hit, and you know how that story ended.

Now here we are in 2023, emerging from hibernation after a very long winter, and blinking in astonishment at how much the publishing landscape has changed while we were asleep. Our line of original SF/F novels continue to sell, although not as well as they would if Henry Vogel would just take my advice to adopt a female pen name and start cranking out a steampunk paranormal romance series. The technology available to small-press publishers has taken several enormous leaps forward. When I compare our first POD paperbacks to our latest hardcover release—

Yes, I know, we released The Lost Planet in hardcover before, but this is a proper hardcover, with a dust jacket and everything, not that “Hardy Boys” pasteboard thing that was the state-of-the-art in POD publishing just two years ago. This is a high quality production, and I would be happy to put it up for comparison alongside any new release from TOR or St. Martin’s, both in terms of the quality of the story that’s inside the covers and the physical qualities of the book itself.

But while the production technology available to us continues to improve, and the market for non-fiction books and full-length novels took a significant jump during the pandemic, the short fiction marketplace looks like it’s been looted, burned-out, and bombed to bouncing rubble. It’s easier than ever to publish short fiction, but harder than ever to get anyone to notice. There are days I think the only people reading short fiction now are those who to hope to write and sell it.

Hmm. If people aren’t reading short fiction, they’re not buying the magazines and anthologies that publish it. If they’re not buying magazines… Well, there goes the idea of bootstrapping Stupefying Stories through increased sales. At least, not without spending far more money on advertising than we’re spending on paying the authors and artists who produce our content.

That goes against my grain. The entire point of Stupefying Stories was to use the attention people seemed to want to pay to me, because I’m “the guy who wrote ‘Cyberpunk’,” to get them to pay attention to newer and younger writers who are writing new stories now, and to coach and encourage those same writers to become the big-name writers of tomorrow. As part and parcel of this, we made a commitment from the outset to spend more on the authors who write what we publish than on promotions, advertising, marketing, overhead, or any of those other things that are so vital to growing a publishing business, but that don’t put money directly in the pockets of the people who create the content being published.

Hmm again. Interesting dilemma. Chicken or egg? Go big or go home? Approach this problem thoughtfully or continue to rattle off shopworn clichés and fatuous dualities?

And this is where you come into the story.

Right now, Stupefying Stories #24 is fully paid-for, albeit stuck in mid-production at the moment for reasons not immediately germane to this conversation. Right now, we have the money in the bank to fund Stupefying Stories #25. Right now, we also have the funds in-hand to continue running free fiction on the Stupefying Stories web site, and maybe even to expand that a little. Beyond that…

I’ve played the non-profit game before; have been on the Boards of Directors of several 501(c) corporations, in fact. Beyond that, right now the obvious thing to do is to go after a few very well-heeled donors, to cajole them into donating to the Support Stupefying Stories fund, so that we can expand our offerings on the web and build up the war chest for Stupefying Stories #26. In fact, I’ve already received inquiries from a few people who want to do just that. One even offered to pay the entire cost of #26 themselves. 

But that’s not what I want. 

If the whole point of Stupefying Stories is to get a lot of people to pay attention to the writers we’re publishing, then that works better if a lot of people have a vested interest in our success. So that’s why I’m asking you to subscribe to Stupefying Stories. I would rather have a hundred people chipping in $5 a month to support what we’re doing than one person making a $500 one-time donation. It’s the difference between having Stupefying Stories reflect one person’s idiosyncratic vision versus have a hundred ambassadors out there telling people, “Hey, you should read this thing! They’re publishing good stuff!”

That is my goal. At our current burn rate, we’re spending about $500 monthly just to keep this thing going. A single issue of Stupefying Stories costs us about $1,000 to produce. It should cost more, but we woefully underpay our authors. If I can get one hundred people to commit to chipping in $5 monthly to support this thing—or fifty people to commit to $10 monthly, etc., etc., you can figure out the math—we will be able to fund our operations through the rest of this year, and thank you very much for making that possible.

I’ve been told it’s also a good idea to have a “stretch” goal, so here it is: if we can raise more than $500 monthly, we’ll apply the additional funding first towards increasing the amount of fiction we’re publishing on the web site—we’re not going to try to become another Daily Science Fiction, but we do want to publish significantly more new fiction than we’re publishing now—

And if we can raise a lot more than $500 monthly, it will go straight towards raising our word rate and paying our contributors more. But it all begins with you, and whether you choose to click this DONATE link.

Thanks for reading this pitch, and while you’re thinking about it, you might also want to consider following us on Twitter, following us on the Google app (I think the feed still works), or friending us on Facebook, either via the Stupefying Stories fb page or my personal page. (Be forewarned, though: my personal posts can be a bit odd.)

And remember, while likes are nice, Shares and Retweets help more. 

-Bruce Bethke