I’m sure I’ve written about the birth of Clarkesworld before, but I can’t remember when or where. Over the course of ten years, details can become fuzzy, so I hope I have this right.
Clarkesworld was born in the aftermath of the closure of Sci Fiction, the SciFi channel’s online magazine edited by Ellen Datlow. It wasn’t the first–or even one of the earliest–but it was well-respected, which made it unique for its time. It’s loss prompted people to be worried and dismissive of the future of online magazines.
At the time, I was running an online bookstore, Clarkesworld Books, that featured a wide array of science fiction magazines. Working with the editors of some of those magazines, I started posting sample content on our website as a promotional tool. One of those editors was Sean Wallace at Fantasy Magazine.
During the Meet the Pros party at the 2006 Readercon, Sean and I fell into a conversation about that experiment, the death of Sci Fiction, and why the casualty rate for online magazines was so high. As the night wore on, we tried to come up with a plan that would allow one of these publications to survive. By the end of the night, we had convinced ourselves that we could do it. By the end of the weekend, we had the magazine fully staffed.
The original plan was to attach the magazine to the bookstore. It would feature one established author–someone we could promote books for and sell through the bookstore–and someone earlier in their career. From the beginning, it was important to us that new voices be a part of this. At the end of the first year, we’d publish an anthology and sales from that would make up the lion’s share of our income. The rest could be considered a marketing expense and there were always donations…
A lot of people were willing to provide advice. The most common thoughts were “don’t do it” and “it will be dead in a year.” A certain level of stubbornness, foolishness, and passion are required to enter this field and I was already over the edge. I doubt that anything said–unless it was from Lisa–would have deterred me at that point. There were a number of things that did help though, including the advice that I tell people to this day: “know how much you are willing to lose and don’t cross that line.”
About a year later, family matters dictated that I close the bookstore. The magazine, however, would become part of a publishing company I planned to launch in place of the bookstore. Again, lots of good advice from those in the know. Much of it similar and a lot more of it useful. The first book from Wyrm Publishing was Realms 1: The First Year of Clarkesworld. That book pushed us over into the black for our first year.
[Side note: The first two volumes of our anthologies were titled Realms largely because I never really liked the Clarkesworld name. The bookstore inherited it out of laziness from the family domain it started on and the magazine inherited it from the bookstore. I was never comfortable with my name being there front and center. I’ve since come to accept and embrace the name of the magazine for what it is. When the first two volumes go out of print, they will be reissued under the Clarkesworld name.]
The issues from our first year were nothing more than two stories–under four thousand words each–and a cover. Why so small? It’s all our budget permitted and what I felt comfortable producing. We started our second year by adding non-fiction and ended by adding podcasts, a slow growth that continues today. The learning curve during those first couple of years was steep at times and not without difficulty. The learning process continues, but that was the opening chapter that enabled us to find our stride/voice and set course for where we are today.
“It’s loss prompted people to be worried and dismissive of the future of online magazines.”