Mar's Market Report Interview: Neil Clarke

Vision 66

Mar's Market Interview:

Neil Clarke


Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Copyright © 2012, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved


The latest interview is with one of the leading editor/publishers of the short fiction world, Neil Clarke, who has been at the forefront of the online magazine arena for almost six years.


--Margaret McGaffey Fisk


Neil Clarke is the publisher and editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, owner of Wyrm Publishing, a freelance ebook designer, technology director for a school, husband, and father of two geeks-in-training. He never sleeps. Clarkesworld Magazine was established in 2006 and has won the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine in 2010 and 2011. Stories from Clarkesworld have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, Locus and several other awards. New issues are available for free on the first of the month at Subscriptions are also available from and Weightless Books.


MMF: What inspired you to start an online magazine?



At the time, I was running an online bookstore, a big fan of short fiction, and using free online fiction to help promote some of the magazines we carried. At Readercon, I had a late night conversation with Sean Wallace (who was publishing Fantasy Magazine) about the recent demise of Sci Fiction and the damage that did to state of online fiction. At some point, the conversation turned into creating a potential business model. By the end of the convention, the bookstore had a fully-staffed magazine.


MMF: You provide the full gamut of accessibility types for Clarkesworld Magazine, from the online content to audio, eBook, and even print. What differences do you see between those media types and does it affect your treatment of the magazine content?



One of the founding principles of Clarkesworld was not to let a medium (or lack of support for one) get in the way of people enjoying our stories. We started with print and online, and later added podcasting and ebooks as those audiences developed. Each medium has strengths and weaknesses, but we try to pick stories that translate between each. That doesn't mean we are above taking advantage of a medium's strengths to enhance a story. For example:


That said, we have rejected some stories because we didn't believe they could be effectively presented in audio form.


MMF: Clarkesworld Magazine was one of the early adopters of the 4,000 word hard top for short story submissions, and yet you've changed this policy in the past couple of years. Can you speak to the reasoning behind the change?



Five years ago, there was a lot of research into how people were reading online. Four thousand was considered a good rule of thumb at the time, but as the quality of computer screens improved and people became more accustomed to reading from a screen, that became much less of a concern. There were also financial reasons behind our decision. Once we could afford to up the limit, we did.


At times I regret that decision. Previously, authors told us that they were cutting/editing stories to make our limit. We think that extra attention created leaner and stronger stories.

The consensus on the staff is that the overall quality of submissions dropped after the increase to eight thousand.

MMF: How would you describe your readership, and if it has changed since your first issue in 2006, to what do you attribute the difference?



Our monthly online readership has gone from three thousand to twenty-three thousand in five years. On top of that, we have six thousand listeners and nine hundred ebook subscribers. It's hard to attribute that growth to anything specific, but I can say that critical attention (Hugo and Nebula Awards, Year's Best Anthologies, etc.) and the effect of having some stories go viral have certainly pulled some attention our way. Naturally, we'd like to believe that quality convinces them to come back. Our readers have also been great about spreading the word.


I don't have much in the way of reader demographics, but judging by the IP addresses in our logs, I know that about 65-70% are from the USA and the next 15-20% come from Canada, UK, or Australia.


MMF: When you consider the future for Clarkesworld, what's one big thing you are looking forward to?



In my dreams, this would be my full-time job, but for the next year, I think I'll be content to see the magazine continue to grow. Thanks to our Kindle subscriptions, we've managed to increase the amount of fiction in each issue and stabilize our income. After our next subscription milestone (one thousand) is met, our new non-fiction editor, Jason Heller, will have his budget doubled. I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do with that.


MMF: We have you to thank for the advancement of electronic submissions across many of the major magazines. Was that your original plan or what's the story behind it?



I believe that technology is supposed to make our life easier. At the time, the way we were processing electronic submissions (Gmail) wasn't efficient, so I decided to build a better mousetrap. I never intended to distribute the system, but friends at other magazines asked nicely, so I set them up with copies. Word spread from there. I'm quite pleased by the impact this little side project has had, but the individual editors have to get the credit for taking the plunge. I just supplied the tools. They did the work.


Neil Clarke's responses shed light on some of the changes we've seen over the past few years in the world of speculative short fiction, both in terms of audience and the interconnectivity between the various short story markets.


--Margaret McGaffey Fisk