Miracles on a Shoestring

A&A once was described as doing miracles on a shoestring. That was nice, if a little misplaced. And no, this is not a plea for money. It’s about you, the writer.

Many of you may not be aware of what it takes to run an online genre magazine. Most of the things we accomplish are done by volunteers, of course, and a lot of love (free labor) goes into every edition of Abyss & Apex. From the editors to the webmaster to the interns, you can thank all of the wonderful people on our masthead for their untold hours of hard work. We do this because we love the genre. We do this for you, and for the next generation of writers who need a place to break in. We have very high standards, so this entrée to being published means something that authors can put in a cover letter.

But all of this is not free. There is the cost of web hosting, domain names, and above all paying the writers because authors should get paid. It costs me little over $2,500 a year to bring you A&A, with very few people donating to defray my out-of-pocket expenses. That’s okay, I guess, but I want to ask an important question. Is success in the genre more accessible to those with money? Are Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing successes mostly for the rich? And is it more a matter of time than money?

A little personal history will be needed to answer that question. I’ve been in Fandom, capital F, for a long time. Many have been here longer, but I’m not a newcomer. My first convention was in 2002; before that I did not know there was such a thing as a genre convention. What a wonderful discovery cons were! I’d found my tribe, people who loved what I loved. But back then I was a struggling single parent and getting to conventions was a huge expense, often out of my reach, and taking the time to go to one was a far-off dream. I was working a full and a part-time job, with no vacation time.

And through the years, I’ve noticed a pattern. Most of the writers and editors who were regulars a conventions had a lot more money and free time than I did. On blogs—mostly LiveJournal back then—the convention regulars I followed exhibited the privilege of financial security, of not worrying about money. This pattern was not malicious, but it was there—making me realize it would be that much harder for a writer without this relative wealth to become a success, because of the pressures of just trying to get by. Oh, how I knew those pressures!

So I became a successful engineer, and the financial burden of going to conventions and running A&A became easier, but the time pressure became a burden. Toward the end of my safety management career I made six figures, but was working 60 hours a week with 20 hours of commute time. It was a nightmare, and the time I had to work on A&A became almost nonexistent. (If you had long wait times on your submissions back then, I apologize.)

So I dropped out of the rat race, and remarried at the age of 53. I expected to have much more time, and to continue to make money at a slower pace so that I could fuel my genre passion. But, then, I had a harsh glimpse of my mortality.

First, I was unable to work because my hip went on me, due to a congenital defect not caught until I was in my 50s. Six months of excruciating pain was followed by the promise of getting my energy back in a year after the operation. Instead, my energy got worse and worse for two years, and I started to not be as mentally sharp. I wondered if I could handle A&A anymore and cast about for a successor (that did not work out). I even contemplated closing the zine. Fainting spells eventually led to a diagnosis of a severe arrhythmia: my heart was doing a horrible job of oxygenating my blood. They shocked my heart back into a good rhythm. It worked. I am back on all cylinders, rarin’ to go. But I was so long out of my field that my earning potential in safety management evaporated. Still, I was in a more comfortable place financially.

So I was poor and could not go to cons, then I was wealthy and could, and now I have to be selective. As Sophie Tucker once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” At least it’s better for paying for things, if not for time. I’ve never been a woman of leisure, but then I enjoy the work I choose. You can make up for some of a lack of money by hard work, if you have the time.

And this brings us back to the question, is it easier to become a success in the genre if you have money? You have to have talent, of course, but you need time to hone that talent: time when you are not worried about keeping a roof over your head or where your next meal is coming from. The privilege of not worrying about necessities is a big deal to the creative process. Worry and depression and fear can sap your emotional strength and stifle your creativity. I have incredible respect for those who surmount the odds and make a career for themselves in the genre, despite poverty and time pressures. Yes it’s harder when you don’t have the resources but it’s not impossible. We want to help.

Abyss & Apex understands. We’re here for you whether you come from privilege or poverty, leisure or overwhelming time pressure. If you carved out the time to send us something you worked hard on, we appreciate that. If you cannot make it to the important conventions, the big workshops—if you don’t have an MFA—you’re welcome here. If all you can spend is the $40 it takes to vote remotely for the Hugos, or not even that, we are not going to look down on you and think you any less of a fan.

You’re participating in this grand thing we call fandom, by writing, reading, and loving the genre. You do miracles on a shoestring, every time you have a shortage of time, or money, or both.

Keep those stories coming. We want you to win at this writing thing.

Wendy S. Delmater