Or, a Rather Circuitous Welcome to Etherea Magazine
Ever since the digital revolution transformed the way the world consumes entertainment, book publishers have moaned about their ever-diminishing market. But to my mind they’ve been at the very least co-architects of their own continuing demise.
Several years and a website ago, I wrote a blog post on the modern-day dreariness of paperback cover art. My favourite example of this is Stephen King’s 1985 collection of horror fiction, Skeleton Crew. The early editions featured a skeleton wielding a scythe set against a brooding black background and gold-embossed lettering. The modern edition has a park bench on a boardwalk against a backdrop of afternoon sun. If you enjoyed horror fiction, which one would catch your eye?
I mention this because it symbolises the greater problem with modern publishing: it’s become unbearably self-important. The concept of fiction as entertainment for the masses is fast going extinct and it’s really only the established author-as-industry types such as Dean Koontz and James Patterson who keep it alive. Increasingly, to have a hope of making it to the printing press stage, a story or novel has to be ‘about’ something (i.e. have a political message) or it has to tick various progressive political boxes.
Think I’m making this up or suffering confirmation bias? Fair assumption, so let’s take subjectivity out of the equation. I’m writing this on July 14, 2021. If I log into Duotrope and search for short fiction markets that accept horror and pay at least a token amount, I get 81 matches. Of these, no fewer than 13 are either exclusionary (on the basis of race or sexuality) or call for fiction with woke themes:
1. Submissions are restricted to those who are “queer/two-spirit person of colour/Indigenous/Aboriginal”.
2. The way parenthood turns you into a different person. How toxic masculinity shapes us and robs boys of their childhoods. Suppression of race, culture, or ethnicity to stay safe, get the job, or grab that publishing contract.
3. Submissions are restricted to people of the African Diaspora.
4. Beautiful and useful short stories and poetry in Social-political and Progressive Speculative Fiction, Feminist SF, Queer SF, Eco SF, Multicultural SF and Cyberpunk,
5. Submissions are restricted to those who identify as immigrants or members of a diaspora.
6. a place to publish feminist horror, flip the tropes, and terrify the local villagers.
7. We are committed to diversity of identities, origins, and perspectives on our pages.
8. I would love to see submissions representing not only multiple cultures but subcultures, exploring issues of race, ethnicity, gender, orientation,
9. We especially want to see submissions from writers and artists of all races, sexualities, nationalities, religions, and genders, as well as disabled and neurodivergent creators.
10. Submissions are restricted to those from Utah or writing about Utah.
11. We are looking for the best speculative stories published in the current year that implicitly or explicitly explores queerness and/or transness. We refer to queerness that is inclusive of ace/aro stories, trans and nonbinary stories, and intersex stories.
12. Submissions are restricted to women and femme-identifying individuals.
13. We publish creative expressions of resistance by diverse writers and artists from around the globe, and we’re dedicated to challenging all things that diminish our nation’s quest for equality, freedom, justice and a healthy planet for all
Now, these folks should be allowed to publish whatever they like. I’m an old-fashioned free speech advocate – I think every person should be able say what they think, especially those with whom I disagree. But it’s worth pondering the economic ramifications of the publishing world’s increasing devotion to woke politics. More than 10% of all the short horror fiction markets currently seeking submissions are producing books with severely limited or niche appeal. And horror, don’t forget, is the least pretentious of all genres.
Perhaps the most ridiculous restriction on this list is the one limiting submissions to women and “femme-identifying individuals” (whatever they are). In 2021, women accounted for eight of the world’s top 20 highest paid authors. But even that figure is misleading, because most of the men on the list, such as Stephen King and Dan Brown, rose to fame 20, 30, even 40 years ago. The truth is that the bulk of authors making a living from their fiction today are women writing for other women.
Marketing types in the publishing world will tell you “men don’t read”, as though it’s some sort of genetic predisposition, but I suspect the real truth is no one’s writing *for* men anymore. In a review of Keith Rosson’s short fiction collection Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, I wrote that his prose was masculine – a word I chose deliberately because so few authors now cater to male readers, or at least have a distinctively male authorial voice. Ironically, an editor urged me to remove it: Eh, I don’t know if this is the right word here. Take gender out of it; replace it with an adjective that conveys the same meaning without insinuating the writing itself is ‘manly’.
This editor, I hasten to add, had not read a single word of the book. He just saw the word ‘masculine’ and suffered intellectual anaphylaxis. Oh, and Rosson’s no conservative, by the way, far from it. He just writes, on the whole, from a white male perspective. But this gives you some insight into the ideological mindset driving every decision in the modern publishing world.
Interestingly, the one exception I found during my search was Sirius Science Fiction. Its mission statement runs thusly: In a time when mainstream speculative fiction has been overrun by political correctness and identity politics, we offer a venue free of pretension and ideological litmus tests. Science fiction has always been ‘the mirror that flatters not’ and a broad scope for political allegory is part of the reason books like The Body Snatchers and 1984 continue to be read today. It’s perhaps not surprising that the one journal to expressly defy mainstream publishing’s woke directives concerns itself with science fiction.
Allegorical speculative fiction continues to be an indispensable tool for expressing views that are unpopular or out of vogue. If you happen to be an Australian speculative fiction author, however, your opportunities to do so in a publication produced in your homeland are scarce. I’ve published more than 40 stories now and only the tiniest fraction appeared in Australian fiction markets – two in Andromeda Spaceways, two in AntipodeanSF, one in Aurealis and one in Midnight Echo. That means only about 15 per cent of everything I’ve written has appeared in an Australian forum.
The reason is simple: the Australian fiction market is vanishingly small. In fact, as a speculative fiction writer I’m relatively spoiled. Any Australian author looking to publish a non-genre story in a local market is limited to a tiny handful of literary journals, most of which have a (progressive) political bent. Today, someone like D’Arcy Niland, who wrote entertaining fiction about regular joes, would probably just give up and paint fences for a living.
So it’s an exciting time whenever someone decides to take a crack at starting a new publication. Even though the first edition would have been improved with some more editing and proofreading, I nevertheless commend to you Etherea Magazine, produced out of Queensland, Australia.
We have set out to create a new space for speculative fiction of any kind. We want to create opportunities for writers to display their talents. Whilst we would love for an Etherea alum to become the next big author, we are more than happy giving skilled everyday writers a place for their stories. We want every one of our accepted authors to be proud that their piece appeared in our magazine.
Not an ideology in sight and committed to a mix of Australian and international authors. That’s my kind of speculative fiction magazine.