Cirsova Primarily a PulpRev Publication?!

We got mentioned recently in Steve DuBois’ review of one of our contemporaries, Broadswords & Blasters. It’s a good review, B&B is a pub I’ve really been meaning to check out, I just haven’t had the time.

Still, it’s an interesting take-away that we “work primarily with authors who identify as members of the movement” given that maybe half a dozen out of over 50 contributors are actively involved beyond having used the tag a few times.

Rather than just say that Steve’s wrong (I probably turned down as many stories from members of the #PulpRev community for next year as I acquired, more if we count anyone who used either hashtag), I think it would be more useful to look at how this misconception came to be.

Some of this misunderstanding might spring from Cirsova having been a pre- publication, so there may have been the misconception that all of our writers were part of the movement when the movement was a fan of our publication.

I spoke about this once here, but I’ll reiterate that being published by us does not draft anyone into any movements nor does being part of any movement guarantee you’ll be published by us.

I’ll also note that there are, at this point, two distinct PulpRevs/PulpRevolutions

The first was the Movement, back when it was #PulpRevolution and eventually #PulpRev. It was small, but there was momentum behind it. This was mid-late 2016 through early 2017. Several authors, including Cirsova contributors, latched on because there was buzz and it was an exciting time. It was a “Beyond Sad Puppies”/”Beyond Rabid Puppies”/”Beyond other stuff” thing that folks were looking to get in on.

The second is the Community, which formed from participants in the movement. This is #PulpRev. It’s not really a club, because its doors are pretty open, but it’s not really a movement anymore, either. It’s more introspective, having become something of a writers’ circle. Involvement in the first =/= involvement in the second.

I was an active proponent of the first and remain an involved, but peripheral, figure in the second, but I do consider them very different things.

However that brings me around to how one could have the misconception of Cirsova being a primarily “#pulprev” magazine. What we were looking for in our stories got taken and held up as exemplary; we kept looking for the same things and buying stories from writers who wrote what we were looking for.

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Brian Niemeier is Saving Superversive + a Warning to the Pulp Revolution

Every once in a while, someone likes to meme the faux rivalry between the Superversive and PulpRev crowd. The latest has been the images of some white knight guy representing the former with a dread knight guy representing the latter, with implications ranging from the nature of each’s approach to storytelling to just that one is more badass than the other.

Brian Niemeier has written a bit of an analysis and response to the rivalry which can be read here in full. But he outlines a few points that his readers have brought up and some “actionable advice” to the Superversives.

  • The Superversives have more high profile authors.
  • The #PulpRev has a far bigger cultural footprint–due to their greater willingness to interact with the public on social media.
  • The Superversives lag behind in terms of marketing their ideas.
  • On the whole, the #PulpRev has the upper hand–though the two movements aren’t exactly in direct competition. There’s a high degree of overlap.
  1. Your membership is too private and insular. Discuss what’s going on in the movement out in the open more often. Conversations about upcoming projects, new members, superversive philosophy, etc. should be had in public to raise awareness and build interest.
  2. The Superversive Roundtables are too long. Try keeping the ordinary shows to one hour, tops. Your audience will give you a little longer for special events.
  3. Sci-Phi JournalForbidden Thoughts, and Astounding Frontiers are good. But there’s always room for improvement. Superversive magazines and anthologies should have a stronger editorial voice, and the story selections should show greater intentionality.

 

To me, the biggest difference between the two movements is that the Superversive movement is defined by its pursuit of the ideal of “superversive” while the Pulp Rev movement is (or was) defined by a pursuit of a certain approach to storytelling. The former is ideological while the latter is structuralist (if you don’t believe me, just see how often folks bandy about “Lester Dent’s Master Formula”).

I do see the Pulp Rev slipping towards where the Superversives are now, and I’ll explain why after I touch on Brian’s 3 points.

  1. The Superversive website requires users to sign up to comment, and that’s a barrier. Folks see the Superversive movement as more of a clique revolving around that website than a movement. Because the site has the name, the site is the movement. It’s a perception thing.
  2. Yes; shorter shows done more often with fewer people is generally better. Too many folks talking over each other combined with awful mics, tons of background noise, and ominous heavy breathing make the Superversive streams near unlistenable despite otherwise decent content. Despite not having any heavies of literary import, the Whippersnappers Superversive casts are generally better (even if they’re totally wrong about something!) because there are only a few of them instead of nearly a dozen.
  3. I can’t really judge these anthologies as I haven’t read any of them yet, but there’s the sense that they’re all coming from the same small group. Part of this is because not only is Superversive a movement and a website it is also a publisher. On the other hand, take Bryce Beattie’s Storyhack; some folks consider Cirsova one of the first Pulp Revolution publications, but Bryce has launched an impressive pub on his own completely independent from us. There’s no tie between Bryce and I other than that we’re looking for similar types of fiction. (We did ad-swap, but there hasn’t been any sort of collaboration between us as a means to ‘advance the movement’ or whatever.) As another example, I’ve published a couple stories from Misha Burnett, but he’s doing his 21st Century Thrilling Anthology (apologies if that’s not the exact name) completely independent from us or anyone else (though I think they may be approaching Superversive for possibly publishing it). I don’t know how many folks independent of the Superversive website crew are working on their own and saying “this is my contribution to the Superversive movement.”

Now I need to turn things to the Pulp Rev… Some folks worried about the Pulp Rev ossifying because I was gonna maybe go invite only in a year and a half from now. But I see it ossifying now for other reasons, moving towards having the same issues that Superversive has now. Ask yourself this: what growth has there been in the Pulp Rev community in the last three months? It may not have stalled out, but it looks like it’s plateaued.

Okay, now here’s a bit of a disclaimer before I go on; I don’t try to wrangle our authors into being a part of the Pulp Revolution – if they want to join in, they’re welcome to, but being published in Cirsova isn’t being drafted into a movement. Also, being involved in the Pulp Revolution does not improve your chances of being accepted and published by Cirsova.

  1. Because people are naturally ideological in general, there’s going to be a push towards defining a movement in ideological terms. As the Pulp Rev becomes more political and ideological in how it defines itself, it will face many of the same hurdles that the Superversives do – namely that the stories will be approached from an ideological rather than a structural lens.
  2. Having a Pulp Rev website signals cliquishness akin to what the Superversives suffer from. Outsiders will see a website and assume that the Pulp Rev is the website and the website is the Pulp Rev, and people not writing for the website are not part of the movement. It’s a perception thing. Just as a singular Superversive site dominates the Superversive movement and potentially stifles its growth, a PulpRev website could do the same.
  3. Branding the movement is a surefire way to kill it. You can be a movement or you can be a branded commodity, but you can’t be both. What killed the Sad Puppies was that the Mad Genius Club clique wanted to make Sad Puppies be a brand associated with them, and to ensure that, they had to stamp out independent actors who had believed that it was a movement. I don’t see that happening with the Pulp Rev, but so long as people see the Pulp Rev treated as a commodity (specifically tagging books as being “PulpRev”, selling “PulpRev” merch), it will have potential to kill its growth. The new wave in science fiction is about independence; who wants to be part of something that already has a website and is selling T-shirts with the name of the movement? Better to start your own new thing!

Honestly, the Pulp Revolution is far too small at this point for anyone to actually make money off trying to exploit the name, but people participate in movements, not brands – and if they think it’s a brand, they’re not going to participate. How does this tie into the issues Brian brings up? Because Superversive is seen as a brand rather than a movement. Fair or not, it’s seen as the Jason Rennie + John C. Wright & Friends’ brand. While Brian is trying to move the Superversives away from that, the Pulp Rev has been moving towards it. You can nip this in the bud, but it may have to be soon.

This is not meant to impugn anyone’s motives. I don’t think anyone who was caught up in the excitement of the Pulp Rev thought about exploiting or seeking to steer the movement or was even aware of the possible repercussions of putting together unofficial official sites or selling unofficial official merchandise. But at best, I think they will only serve to limit the movement’s growth at a point just before it could reach a critical mass.

One of the nicest things about Castalia House’s blog offering a platform for the Pulp Revolution is that while Castalia House is a brand, it has not imposed itself on movement. In fact, the commercial publishing wing of Castalia is almost wholly independent from the Pulp Revolution. Vox Day has never said “You’re on my site, so you’re going to talk about and promote the kind of science fiction I like and publish.” And Jeffro, the blog’s editor, has not put the clamps down or laid down the law or acted like he was the pope of the Pulp Rev despite having a tremendous amount of clout within the movement.

Remember – for a movement to grow and succeed, it can’t just be a vertical. Just as Superversive needs to branch out to thrive, the Pulp Rev needs to remain diffuse if it’s going to survive.

Update on “The Future”TM

Couple things…

I’m almost done going through the submission pile. I’ve got about six stories left to read. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will hear from me soon. If you’ve already heard from me and your story has been accepted, I’ll be in touch with a terms and an offer in the next couple of weeks. I think we have enough content to keep us tided over for a bit, maybe even into early 2019.

I’m also serious about wrapping up Cirsova’s “Volume 1”. We’ve published some great stories and will continue to publish great stories, as we continue to receive and read great stories. But the scope of the magazine has shifted away from what it was originally intended, and unless I forcibly refocus it, it will continue to do so and become a cyclical problem. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Heroic Fantasy in the title and publishing works of fantasy and sword & sorcery have nudged the window a good bit in that direction, which also means that the spread has gone that direction with it. Honestly, we get far too many mundane fantasy pieces, fairytalesque fantasies, and lone swordsman stories with very little to make them stand out. And if changing our subtitle will get me one less little girl in the woods story, so be it, it’ll be worth it.

On the plus side, I think that we may have enough solid contributors who can and do write what I’m looking for that we can and will go back to an invite-only status. That will allow me to conserve my time and resources to work with the writers I know can write what I’m looking for, or, for those who are close and just good writers, I can have them write to spec.

We’ve got things planned out for Cirsova Publishing for a couple years now, which is good. I don’t know if we’ll stay the “gold standard” of the “Pulp Revolution”, but I really can’t focus on that right now, because I’ll probably be busy trying to address the massive disconnect between modern, contemporary writing and the sort of pulp stuff I’m actually looking for. Even with our guidelines clearly spelled out, it’s obvious that a lot of folks don’t really get what we’re looking for when they submit – part of that is that folks don’t always look at the markets that they’re submitting to (a problem that will be addressed, to a degree, by going invite only for a bit), but also I feel like I’ve failed to make it understood just what I’m looking for because people are not nearly as aware of the examples I’ve held up as I think they should be. So, I’ll be redoubling my efforts towards raising awareness of the kinds of stories from the pulps I enjoy and specifically what it is I’m looking for and wanting to see more of. Cirsova Publishing may even branch into collections of public domain works by relatively unknown pulp authors who should be better known. Or at least I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet. I still hate the mercenary nature of most pulp reprints.

Anyway, the strategic direction of the flagship magazine is temporarily locked in for the foreseeable future; volume 2, if there will be one, won’t launch until 2019. The Pulp Revolution’s successes and failures in 2018 may shape how well we do as an influencer in that community, and with so many new publications springing up, it would be unsurprising if an agile newcomer became the new tastemaker for that scene. There are enough writers writing enough content that there’s not going to be any kind of real “drain” on the scene, which is great. Switching back to invite only will also allow us to be more agile; we took submissions this summer in part because so many people have wanted to write something for Cirsova, but anything we buy now won’t be published for at least 9 months, much of it longer, and that’s hardly agile! It’s nuts to think that nothing written in 2018 will be published by us in 2018. That’s an entire year of energy that 2017’s Pulp Rev boom will have fueled that we won’t be tapping into! Ultimately, that may be a huge mistake for us, but by 2019, I think we’ll be jumping right back in with the agile approach.

Lastly, reviews…

Cirsova Issue 5 has been out for 3 months, sold nearly 250 copies, and has only garnered one review on Amazon. I’ll reiterate that Amazon reviews help us A LOT, they’re quick to write and it doesn’t cost you a dime, but I don’t think that saying it again will make that much difference. At this point, I really don’t know what to do.

I will be hitting people hard for reviews on Issue 6; the earlier in an Amazon’s product life reviews are left, the better that product tends to do. Y’all can make it up to me by helping Issue 6 get those critical 25 reviews the first couple weeks it goes live!