To our subscribers,
About this time last year, we at On Spec received the disturbing news that our application for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts during 2015 had been rejected. It was rather stunning, especially accompanied by jury comments about how poor our fiction selections were, and how sloppy the magazine’s production quality had apparently become, in the jury’s opinion.
There is no appeal process, so we did what we could do under the circumstances: severely reduced our production and organizational and staffing costs; depended even more on our volunteers; and tried to increase fundraising efforts with our Patreon campaign. We have managed our dwindling resources very cautiously, and we are grateful to our other granting agencies, the Edmonton Arts Council and the Alberta Media Fund, for their support.
A few weeks ago, we received the news that once again, the Canada Council jury had deemed On Spec unworthy of support in 2016. To add insult to injury, instead of a few vague criticisms, we were provided with a scoresheet, showing our high, low and median scores from this year’s jury, based on the criteria they used for judging. Magazines are judged on: quality of writing, design, marketing and production; ability to identify a target audience and reach readers; quality of the magazine’s administrative and financial management; excellence of content and quality of writing and editorial work; achievement of mandate and editorial vision; and contribution to the development of the practice.
While we certainly cannot argue that we should pay writers more, being told that we don’t demonstrate an ability to identify our target audience, or that we lack a strong editorial mandate, clearly shows that the jury pretty much ignored or discounted everything we had carefully explained in our application, along with the testimonials we provided on the quality of our fiction and our value to the development of the genre in Canadian writing.
Once again, there’s no appealing the decision.
Some hard choices had to be made, and the first is that, starting with our Spring 2015 issue (delayed due to several family emergencies among the members of our senior editorial staff), On Spec will temporarily suspend print production, and be available as a digital magazine only. We trust that, as soon as funds become available, On Spec will be printed for our subscribers, and we appreciate their support. As soon as the issue is available, our subscribers will be informed by email or by letter, and given a means to freely access the digital issue in their preferred format.
In times to come, our marketing and fundraising efforts will increase to the best of our abilities, and we look forward to publishing more excellent fiction and poetry for many years to come.
We are also proud to announce the launch this month, of Sleuth Magazine, a new Canadian digital journal of mystery and suspense. The first issue will be presented at When Words Collide in Calgary. We hope that Sleuth will fill a niche in much the same way On Spec did, 25 years ago.
Thanks, as always, to all our contributors, subscribers, and donors for their ongoing support.
Yesterday the sad news broke about the death of beloved author Terry Pratchett, at age 66. On Spec wishes to extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Pratchett’s friends, family, and colleagues.
Terry Pratchett is perhaps best well-known for his series of Discworld novels, encompassing one of the most unique settings in fantasy literature, with a cast of characters to match. More than that, Mr. Pratchett used his world to turn a critical eye on our own. His work was skilfully rendered satire, drawing our attention to some unfortunate facet of society.
I’ll leave you with my favourite passage from Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms, by my favourite character, Sam Vimes. Best speed, Mr. Pratchett; I hope you’ve found your Discworld after all.
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
I mentioned diversity–every work in this category speaks to the amazing array of books, stories, and magazines being produced by our fellow Canadians. How things have changed in the twenty-five years since On Spec started! I am so proud to call many of the nominees my friends and all of them my colleagues.
And I especially thank the hard-working folks on the On Spec team. They are my extended family. Group hug, everyone!
Diane Walton, Managing Editor
After a slight delay caused by bad dilithium, all submissions are now open for On Spec. You have your choice of submitting to the ‘Punk’ Issue, making a regular short story submission, or submitting poetry. Deadline for all short story submissions is October 31, 2014; poetry submissions are open year round.
As always, read the Submission Guidelines and follow them wholly.
As a final note: we have a small staff of dedicated volunteers managing our various social media. We can’t be everywhere all the time, and we can easily miss stuff. I feel like we really shouldn’t have to say this, but please do not make business enquiries through the Comments section of this site, or through Twitter and Facebook. If you want to know something about On Spec and our practices, please direct your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. That is the fastest way to get a response, and ensures we don’t have any important questions going astray.
What are you waiting for, get those submissions in!
On Spec editor, Susan MacGregor has graciously published our status update and call to action in her Suzenyms blog (one which you should bookmark for sure). Please read it. We appreciate your support.
Editorial by Susan MacGregor
As I write this editorial, it’s January 1, 2014. This year, On Spec celebrates its silver anniversary: we’ve been representing and supporting the speculative fiction community in Canada for twenty-five years. I’ve been honoured to be a part of this group. I feel as if I’ve been with it from its earliest beginnings. At about the same time On Spec started up, so did SF Canada, to be followed by other great Canadian SF magazines and publishing houses (Neo-Opsis, ChiZine, Edge and Five Rivers Publications are fine examples). In the greater scheme of things, we are all part of the Canadian writing scene, but we remain a minority. Not everyone appreciates what we do, or sees how we have value.
Those who aren’t a part of our unique community often question what the point of speculative fiction is. We encounter this bias fairly often, but it begs the question—why, as an SF community, are we important? Further, what do On Spec and other publications like it contribute to the arts and to society, in general? Isn’t SF just pulp fiction? Cheap action space opera? Rockets in space, monsters and magic? Why should SF be as worthy of notice and support as, say, more important literary work?
Of course, anyone who defines speculative fiction as cheap pulp fiction doesn’t understand the breadth or depth of the genre. Instead of restricting ourselves to what is ‘everyday’ and ‘real’, we tend to reflect reality in ways that stretch the limits of the imagination. As a group, we are bright, creative, and passionate people. Not so unlike other bright, creative, and passionate people elsewhere, except we are a little different. We tend to exhibit:
• a talent for invention and a drive to explore where we are going and where we have been (through science fiction)
• a need to acknowledge and contribute to the beauty and magic that we see in the world (through fantasy and science fiction)
• brutal honesty and acknowledgement of our own demons (through dark fantasy and horror)
• an understanding that our world is not always ordinary, nor is it always as it appears (through magic realism).
My point here isn’t so much as to congratulate ourselves on who we are, but to point out that we bring these same predispositions to our everyday lives, outside of our writing and reading speculative fiction. We are scientists, artists, doctors, educators, business, and trades people. We may write science fiction, but we are also vocal and conscientious about how our society develops—we warn where it may go, what it could become. We may write about flights of fancy, but we also celebrate what is awe-inspiring and unique about our environment. If we pen dark fantasy or horror, we are quick to see where our society fails and where governments go wrong, where people are victimized, and where wrongful situations need to be addressed. We see beyond appearances, we don’t easily accept the status quo, nor are we willing to ‘look away’. When society supports writers of speculative fiction, it reinforces those inclinations to invent, celebrate, correct, and protect. It isn’t about supporting ‘cheap pulp’. It’s about recognizing that this kind of literature reflects a certain kind of thinker and doer—a person who is dedicated to making positive changes in the world.
Question two: genre aside, what does On Spec contribute to the arts, specifically?
Like any minority group, SF writers and readers deserve a voice and a place. On Spec provides a forum for that. Many fiction writers make their first attempts with the short story before attempting larger work. On Spec has been a ‘cradle’ for many writers who have had their first professional sale with us and then have gone on to become successful novelists in Canada and beyond. Unlike many markets, it is part of On Spec’s mandate to offer constructive critique on the majority of manuscripts we receive and reject. Our suggestions have helped writers hone their craft and attain higher levels of proficiency. As a fiction editor, I also contribute to this effort through my blog, Suzenyms (suzenyms.blogspot.ca) which I treat as a promotional arm of the magazine (I also use the blog to promote Canadian SF novelists through guest interviews, as well as my own work).
Under the subject heading of The ABC’s of How ‘Not’ to Write Speculative Fiction, I post writing tips that cover many common errors On Spec encounters in the slush pile. These tips are applicable to all types of fiction, speculative or otherwise. For more seasoned writers, I also offer my ‘Letters to the Slush Pile’ which are based on manuscripts that are technically good but fall short in places, making them not quite up to standard. I never mention names or titles, but address the more difficult or subtle errors I see, then offer advice on how they might be corrected. Since I re-started Suzenyms last April, its popularity has risen at a surprising and exponential rate. The posts that receive the most attention are my ‘ABC’s’, ‘Letters to the Slush Pile’ and other subjects I devote to the magazine. I could not do this, if not for my involvement with On Spec. All of our fiction editors also contribute to the Canadian writing scene—Barb Galler-Smith and Ann Marston mentor writers through writing groups, and Diane Walton and I offer workshops, visit libraries and universities, and offer talks.
In 2014, On Spec will be engaging in some new initiatives. To celebrate our silver anniversary, Tyche Books is publishing a 25th Anniversary Anthology that showcases twenty-five stories selected by the editors. The launch will be in summer of 2014. We’ve recently switched to Submittable, a submissions handling software that will keep writers better informed as to the status of their work. We editors expect it will also make our handling of manuscripts easier. As I write this, our six-week submissions window is currently open; we will close it at midnight on January 5th, 2014. On Spec has never received so many manuscripts during a submissions window—to date, nearly five hundred, a new record. I’m not sure to what this increase is attributable, although possibly, it may be because of the popularity of our I Read On Spec Facebook group and Suzenyms. With so many manuscripts to choose from, the magazine will have an outstanding year’s offerings. Very recently and further afield, we are encouraging writers to represent On Spec at conventions and other events in other provinces. To date, we have one representative in Saskatchewan, and hopefully we will have more. Here in Alberta, editors Barb Galler-Smith and Ann Marston will soon be presenting a teacher’s kit to the upcoming Edmonton Teacher’s Convention that Barb and Robin Carson created using “Space Monkeys”, a short story the magazine recently published. They hope to encourage teachers to include it in their high school curriculums as a thoughtful, poignant, and excellent example of speculative writing.
Why is On Spec important? As for my own reasons, I’ve been with the magazine two years short of its inception, since 1991. Diane Walton, our Managing Editor, is the only remaining founding member. For her dedication, I thank her and everyone else who has contributed to On Spec over the years, whether they are writers, editors, assistants, volunteers, readers, friends, fans, or those who have supported the magazine financially. As 2014 begins, I am grateful for the twenty-three years I have served as a fiction editor. Because of On Spec, I’ve become the editor and novelist that I am today.