Competing With “Dead Guys”

Earlier this month, SFF author Fonda Lee took to twitter to point out what she and many other contemporary SFF authors were “up against” at brick and mortars like Barnes & Noble.

This is what modern fantasy writers are up against. In my local B&N, most authors are lucky to find a copy of their book, super lucky if it’s face out. There are 3.5 shelves for Tolkien. 1.5 for Jordan. Here’s who we compete against for shelf space: not each other, but dead guys.

Before you @ me about the importance of classics, I love LOTR too, okay? But 3.5 shelves?? So much great modern SFF work out there. I found one copy of my WFA-winning book. One of most of the other Nebula and Hugo nominees. One copy of The Fifth Season. 18 copies of LOTR.

If you think a bookstore should be a place of discovery, who goes into B&N and “discovers” Tolkien? Do they figure people want another 5 copies of LOTR and aren’t interested in all the other work out there? I dunno guys. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to go into bookstores, tbh.

(And reminder that this is another reason why I love my local indie bookstores and why we must, must, MUST for the love of God keep supporting them.)

This got picked up by Bounding Into Comics, so needless to say, it kind of blew up and people, myself included, decided to share their takes on the matter.

My own take ignores the specter of “SJWs in science fiction” and “Look at them wanting to erase dead white guys”, because even if those are the case, there’s a lot more going on here that maybe I’m more aware of than some of my twitter mutuals because I’m in publishing.

The fact of the matter is, old works have a much wider audience than the current SFF niche. Even award winning and award nominated works sell far fewer copies than a handful of big-named older works. But remember: these chain book stores are where people go to pick up quick gifts for birthdays and holidays. Nearly everyone will buy new copy of LotR for whatever kids they have whenever that birthday rolls around that they think the kid is old enough to read it themself.  Anyone looking for B&N shelfspace is competing against a market that’s principally driven by easy access to nice editions of classic works to be given as gifts, not one that’s able to sustain itself on new content. 30+ years on, they might get that spot.

A bunch of the “New Authors just need to git gud” takes I saw kind of missed the real point that new authors can’t actually look at B&N the way that many of them, Fonda Lee, too apparently, are looking at it.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of books, the quality of writing, or the quality of the authors. It has EVERYTHING to do with who or what is moving whale numbers, and the rest is being propped up by those sales.

Around 15k sales per year (two copies per month per location–B&N has 633 stores) is pretty good by most publishing standards today, and really only justifies one or two copies of a book kept on the shelf.

Even for successful new SFF titles, it’s still apples to oranges. Fifth Season may be great–it’s sure popular and a big seller for a new SFF book, and Jemisen has a lot to be proud of. But it’s not a book that every parent buys a copy for their children going on 4 generations

B&N’s bread & butter are gift editions of extremely popular and timeless works and novelties.

Being on the shelves of these stores should not be the end goal. Growing your audience is more important than sitting unsold on a shelf next to Tolkien.

Bookstores are no longer “places of discover” and have not really been so for a long time. This is unfortunate, but the realities of the market have changed. It’s why B&N is turning into a toy-store for millennials and carrying less media.

There are some authors out there that genuinely believe that people use B&N as something besides a place to pick up a nice edition of a classic or currently boom-popular work to give as a gift for Xmas or Birthday, and the more authors dissuaded from this the better.

I’d also note that if Barnes & Noble decided to carry Cirsova titles in their stores, we’d probably be bankrupt (I’d be bankrupt–Cirsova’s non-incorporated) within a year when they ship backed the returnable copies. Now, that said, you CAN purchase Cirsova products through Barnes & Noble’s online store! In fact, you should do that now. (Plus Duel Visions, which shows up separate from the search term “Cirsova”.)

Note: this post was originally comprised as a disparate series of tweets across a couple threads. It’s been edited [cobbled together] for cogency and saved for posterity.]

Note 2: Cirsova Magazine of Heroic Fantasy & Science Fiction was a Hugo-Nominated publication with literally 88 nominating votes.

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Free D.M. Ritzlin Story – The Infernal Bargain

With all of the excitement about the new Tarzan story in our upcoming issue, it might seem easy to overlook some of the other cool stuff we’ve got coming out next month.

Well, it would be a mistake to do so, for sure!

One of the other stories our spring issue will be featuring is by D.M. Ritzlin of DMR Books. Dave publishes some of the best Sword & Sorcery out there today, and we’re thrilled to have one of his stories, Born to Storm the Citadel of Mettathok,  in our upcoming issue.

And if you sign up for DMR Books’ mailing list, you’ll get another of his stories free: The Infernal Bargain!

Don’t forget to sign up for Cirsova’s mailing list, either! We’ll be sending out discount codes for hardcover copies to our mailing list subscribers when the hardcovers become available.

Why the Name Change?

A few folks have wondered why we’ve changed the name of our flagship magazine from Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine to Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventuring and Daring Suspense. The obvious reason is that this is volume 2 of the magazine and it made sense to change the subtitle to denote this. But are we abandoning Science Fiction and Fantasy?

2-1 front cover only jpgThe short answer is “no”, but we’re moving away from the genre terms and the ghetto those tales get placed in.

In talking to people and trying to promote the magazine in person at cons, one thing I found was that “pulp” and “sci-fi” and “fantasy” didn’t really resonate with people the way that “romance” and “adventure” did. And ultimately, good sci-fi and fantasy are typically subsets of the “romance” genre. A Kline or Burroughs story is not all that different from an Ann Radcliffe yarn, only set on Mars or Venus rather than Italy.

Frankly, Romance covers all the best aspects of the genres, encapsulating love, adventure, and mystery, but if I re-positioned Cirsova as a “Romance” magazine, I think that modern expectations from both readers and would-be contributors would be a bit mixed up and I would’ve created even more problems for myself than I already had.

What problems did I have? Well, as much as I enjoy Sword & Sorcery, stories where a guy/gal with a sword fights a monster or there’s some big war in a made-up country with wizards or dragons are a dime a dozen; I’m not interested in the latter, and I see too many of the former without enough spark to really differentiate them from the others I see.

It won’t really affect the sort of submissions I get until next year, but the changes in editorial direction which began in the final issues of volume 1 are fully in place now in Volume 2. Cirsova will continue to feature romantic adventures with science fiction and fantasy trappings as well as weird tales, be they weird tales of super science or occult mystery.

It’s fitting that we officially inaugurate this new direction and shift away from being merely “sci-fi” or “fantasy” with a brand new, never before published, until recently lost Tarzan story by the master himself, Edgar Rice Burroughs. While Burroughs wrote what could be called Sci-fi or Fantasy, what he wrote were essentially Romances. Yes, there were weird elements and the fantastic, but his tradition was not the sci-fi poindexters of Campbellianism or the fantasy of the Tolkien-grotesque, as the genres have fallen into today, but romances of Dumas, Cooper, and Haggard.

Even Verne and Wells, considered the fathers of modern science fiction, wrote in the tradition of the Romance.

What we hope that people will come to realize when they read Cirsova that they will find in its pages not stories of space ships shooting each other or men and elves fighting each other with swords and spells but tales of the thrilling and the macabre in a tradition spanning centuries and many generations of writers.

Speaking of thrilling and macabre, Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen is out this week!

Cirsova Featured on Hollywood in Toto: Plus Bonus Content–The Origins of Cirsova

We did an interview with Paul Hair the other day for Hollywood in Toto. It went up yesterday and can be read here.

https://www.hollywoodintoto.com/young-tarzan-mysterious-she/

(Big shiny link so you don’t miss it ^^^^)

The article mostly features the exciting story of how we came to be publishing a brand-new Tarzan Story in our Spring Issue.

Some of the interview had to be truncated for length, so as a bonus, here’s a bit about the history of Cirsova, where the name comes from and why we started the magazine.

Cirsova started out as a TTRPG (think D&D) setting blog. Cirsova was the name of both an empire and its central province. I lucked out that Cirsova was one of those made-up words like “Kodak” that didn’t really exist in any language and didn’t really mean anything, so I was the only one using it. When I first started, if you tried to search for us, Google would ask “Do you mean Alissa Firsova?” (Look her up, she’s good.)
 
The setting was unused (it’s not a great setting, and while the “Encyclopedia” posts are all still on the blog if anyone really wants to read them, I wouldn’t recommend anyone try gaming in it). I did write a Choose Your Own Adventure book that took place in the distance past of the setting called “City at the Top of the World” which, despite Cirsova Magazine’s success has probably sold maybe a dozen copies.
 
The blog morphed towards more mechanical game-oriented topics as I became involved with the OSR [Old School Renaissance, though there’s disagreement about what the R really stands for]. This in turn led to additional focus on old school science fiction and fantasy writing. Conversations with Jeffro Johnson, who was a Hugo Awards finalist for his writings on 1e AD&D’s Appendix N works (books that had influenced the development of D&D), along with the Sad Puppies debacle got me thinking “I should start my own SFF zine”.
 
At this point, the most important thing to know is that it’s pronounced with a hard Latin “C”.
[…]Jeffro Johnson and the Sad Puppies had a lot to do with [why I started the Magazine].
 
I became aware of the latter because I was friends with the former, and he was on their short-list for best fan-writer.
 
How cool!” I thought “The serious-business science fiction community has taken notice of the OSR!”
 
The history of the Sad Puppies, the name-calling, the record number of No Awards given out is too long and, at this point, too stupid to devote much time to.
 
But one thing that Sad Puppies had promised was what Brad Torgersen called “Nutty Nuggets”; basically if a spaceship and action was on the cover of a book, you ought to find action and spaceships in the book—just like if a box of cereal says “Nutty Nuggets”, you expect the box to have “Nutty Nuggets” inside.
 
Except a lot of the short fiction that the Sad Puppies nominated was not discernibly different from a lot of the stories that I’d seen some members of Mad Genius Club (a blog behind the Sad Puppies campaign) complaining about.
 
Jeffro Johnson had a joke about needing to “regress harder”, and I’d been reading a bunch of Planet Stories and whatnot around that time and thought “Surely there are people out there actually writing stories like this today; I’ve just got to find them.” So, instead of doing something sensible like trying to find a magazine that published the kind of fiction I enjoy, I started my own and was willing to pay around $75-$100 per story for short fiction.
 
I managed to cobble together a first issue with a handful of stories and some great art from Jabari Weathers. It was a little bit sloppy, especially compared to our current issues, but it was a shot across the bow. By the end of 2016, we’d put out 4 issues and around 250k words of fiction.
 
This got us a Hugo nod in the Best Semi-Pro Zine category in 2017 (apparently it doesn’t take many votes for non-pro magazines to get nominated). And we were No Awarded, as expected, because we were one of Vox Day’s recommendations that year and because I review old pulp stories and old war games on the Castalia House blog.
 
But we closed out 2018 having put out 10 issues in 3 years.
 
[RE: rebranding] (…)even though Tarzan’s technically SFF because he exists in the same setting as Pellucidar, the dinosaur-filled hollow earth, he seemed as good an excuse as any to reposition ourselves as something of an Argosy, rather than a Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Cirsova Stories on Tangent’s Recommended Reading List

Tangent Online has released its big list o’ recommended SFF reading for 2018, and the following Cirsova stories made it to the list!

  • “Party Smashers”, Ken McGrath
  • “Hot Water in Wormtown”, Robert Lang
  • “A Song in Deepest Darkness”, Jason Ray Carney
  • “Amsel the Immortal”, Lauren Goff
  • “Promontory”, Jon Zaremba
  • “Crying in the Salt House” B. Morris Allen

Please keep these and our other stories in mind this awards seasons when filling out those nominating ballots!

The full list of our stories and eligibility by category can be found here.

Clock’s Watch II Out Now!

Regular Cirsova readers will remember the Coney Island adventures of Michael Reyes’ invisible dwarf sorcerer, Clock. As Warden and servant of the chaos goddess, Eris, it is Clock’s duty to prevent all manner of demons, monsters, witches, and warlocks from destroying the world.

Clock’s Watch II reprints The Iynx, which was featured in Cirsova #7, alongside an all new novella-length adventure, Daughters of the Black Moon.

While this isn’t a Cirsova release, I did help put this edition together–they’re awesome stories with gnarly illustrations by Sean Bova.

eBook is out now, and Paperback edition will be out soon.

clockcover

Cirsova 2019 Lineup

We’re moving along at a nice clip towards getting 2019 ready to go. In fact, we even have sketches done for spring plus 1st round edits and layout done. We’ll be sending Vol 2 Issue 1 off to our copy editors before the new year, with any luck.

So, here’s the line-up. We’ve got two issues that are a little thicker than normal (think our 2017 issues) plus something new we’re trying, a Cirsova Summer Special that will showcase a few of the longer (novelette and novella) works we received.

And yes, we’ll be talking more about that first story listed in the Spring issue very soon.

Vol 2. No. 1 Spring (March)

  • Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She, by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Tierney
  • Atop the Cleft of Ral-Gri, by Jeff Stoner
  • The Idol in the Sewers, by Kenneth R. Gower
  • Born to Storm the Citadel of Mettathok, by D.M. Ritzlin
  • The Book Hunter’s Apprentice, by Barbara Doran
  • How Thaddeus Quimby the Third and I Almost Took Over the World, by Gary K. Shepherd
  • Deemed Unsuitable, by W.L. Emery
  • Warrior Soul, by J. Manfred Weichsel
  • Seeds of the Dreaming Tree, by Harold R. Thompson
  • The Valley of Terzol, by Jim Breyfogle
  • The Elephant Idol, by Xavier Lastra
  • Moonshot, by Michael Wiesenberg

Cirsova Summer Special (June)

  • Bleed You Dry, by Su-Ra-U
  • The Ghost of Torreon, by Edd Vick and Manny Frishberg
  • The Bullet From Tomorrow, by Misha Burnett
  • The Star God’s Grave, by Schuyler Hernstrom
  • Halcyon, by Caroline Furlong
  • The Last Fortune of Ali al’Ahmar, by Rev. Joe Kelly

Vol 2. No. 2 Fall (September)

  • A Little Human Ingenuity, by William Huggins
  • The Burning Fish, by Jim Breyfogle
  • For I Have Felt a Fire in the Head, by Adrian Simmons
  • La Molejera, by Marie Brennan
  • Pale Moon’s Bride, Ville Meriläinen
  • Pawn to the Queen by Christine Lucas
  • People of Fire, by Jennifer Povey
  • Blue-Like-The-Sky, by Spencer E. Hart
  • Doomsday Shard, by Ken McGrath
  • Titan, by Rebecca Devendra
  • The Handover of the Scepter of Greatest Regret, by Hal Y. Zhang

In the meantime, please take a moment to support us by leaving a review of a past issue of Cirsova that you’ve enjoyed! It’s free, it helps us tremendously, and only takes a moment of your time.