Mar's Market: Michael C. Pennington

Issue 62

Mar's Market

Interview with Michael C. Pennington

Aurora Wolf Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy

By

Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Copyright © 2011, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved

 

As a spinoff to the survey I conducted for the last issue of Vision, I asked Michael C. Pennington, owner of Aurora Wolf Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy (http://aurorawolf.com/), if he'd be willing to answer a few questions for the Vision readers. There's much to learn about his philosophy and his journey in the responses below.

 

--Margaret McGaffey Fisk

 

MP:

In August 2009, I had one of those epiphany brainstorms that can brighten one's life. As a result, I created Aurora Wolf Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy (AW). I was off to a good start from the very beginning. The website's design by my friend Frank Hagen and its visual aspects readily attracted authors and readers. To date, Aurora Wolf has had 1,710,465 hits; but what I really count is the 35,489 unique visitors and the 67,509 return visits. A modest readership for a fledgling webzine and I’m very pleased.



This success can be credited to our generous contributors. Aurora Wolf is the result of many helping hands. To date we have purchased over one hundred and thirty stories, published online and in print, or destined for anthologies coming soon.

MMF: What is the vision for Aurora Wolf?

MP:

My original vision for Aurora Wolf was to publish excellent stories and provide a free online library. Within a month, I decided to expand my vision and publish the stories in print and e-formats as a means of further spreading the names of our authors and helping to support the future of AuroraWolf.com.

MMF: What do you want to provide your readers?

MP:

I want to inspire readers and writers; I want them to feel good when they finish a story. This is why I only publish uplifting stories at AuroraWolf.com. I feel there is a great need for positive and righteous works to help people through their lives.



I've structured AW's principles around being a reader and a writer first versus a publisher, and I treat visitors and the authors according to the way I would want to be treated.

MMF: Aurora Wolf started out as a webzine, but you've been branching out into anthologies picked from the webzine stories. What are your plans going forward? Are you entering the pure anthology market? Or will your anthologies always stem from stories previously published in Aurora Wolf?

MP:

AuroraWolf.com will continue to publish the best of the stories that were accepted online in print anthologies, which is almost all of them. Our goal is to promote our authors. To continue to push for quality, I have expanded the anthologies by commissioning artists to illustrate each story.
>br> Aurora Wolf Two is fully illustrated and is currently for sale at Amazon. AW Three will be going to press at the beginning of March 2011. And we are currently compiling stories and art for AW Four for a future publication date this spring.



I do not plan to move into just producing anthologies. I strongly feel that would be a step backwards and a loss to free online libraries.



I did rescue Novus Creatura from an independent publisher that unexpectedly closed their doors and dropped the anthology. It is a book of new monsters, twenty-nine stories tastefully compiled by John Miller and well edited by Linda Manning. This is not your ordinary horror anthology; the stories tend to have unexpected twists and end well. Unfortunately, NC’s genre did not fit the AW theme and I did not publish the stories online.



I also compiled The New Fairy Tales anthology that centers on problems in our new age. A worthy project, but one that consumed too much time from AuroraWolf.com. The NFT manuscript is now complete and I am currently collecting art to illustrate this anthology. AW will feature the NFT stories online one at a time to promote the anthology.



Curbing my desire for extra projects is a lesson well learned. I like publishing books, but not at the expense of Aurora Wolf Literary Journal.

MMF: The publishing world is undergoing growing pains right now with the gains in electronic sales and the interest in self-publishing. How, if at all, does this affect your magazine?

MP:

Aurora Wolf Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy was purposely created in direct response to falling book sales, and a wide belief that it's harder to get published by the big names. I intend to continue to take advantage of the new age's technologies. This summer, I hope to publish AW One as a Kindle Book for online sales at Amazon. There are several other e-book options as well, for instance Smashwords to market e-books.



I feel the more outlets for a good book the better. I expect to do well with the Novus Creatura anthology as an e-book.

MMF: How are you raising the profile of your magazine and the authors within it? What are your plans for the future, and what do you encourage your authors to do as far as marketing their sales?

MP: 

Marketing Aurora Wolf is my biggest challenge. Our anthologies are carried by Amazon, Baker & Taylor, plus Ingram, but without publicity or an agent to draw attention to AW books; I'm up against a strong current in Desperation Straits.



I offer all authors a biography at the end of their stories. They may include links to their own writer's blog or website. They may also link back to their story at Aurora Wolf from their personal websites.



Plus, one of the nice features of Aurora Wolf.com is that a reader can comment on a story giving direct feedback to an author.



In Alaska, I set up at the independent book stores to promote the anthologies and the website. I have had great success at getting support from the store owners. They are very good about carrying AW books and setting up book signings.



A strong Facebook presence has been suggested, and I recommend the authors befriend me. I feel this may be effective due to the old word-of-mouth theory. I often splash a story link to the authors on the AW top twenty list. And I do encourage the writers to post their Yippies and Links in the forums they participate in.



Last October (2010), I started interviewing illustrators. Jack S. Rogers has been the lead graphics illustrator, creating the covers of AW 1, 2, and 3 and illustrating the interior stories of AW 2 and 3, a marketing tactic, I hope will improve sales and promote our authors.



Since then, I have adopted three other illustrators, and I'm actively seeking others.

MMF: Illustrations are an important way to catch the readers' eyes. What is your process for illustrating both the webzine and the anthologies, and what are your long-term goals for illustrations?

MP:

Illustrating the stories is a great way to draw interest to the website and the anthologies, every little extra influence helps. As a bonus, I have found that authors, some well-published ones included, like to have their stories illustrated.



It can take days to weeks for an illustrator to finish a painting or graphic. So, I've been learning to overlay and mask public domain pictures and art for temporary visual effects. The artists that contribute to Aurora Wolf work for free, as does the editorial staff.



However, I am generous with bylines, contributor's copies, and book discounts, advertising the author's and artist's work, plus providing links. In return, the artist’s work is exposed to over one hundred and thirty published authors who might need cover art for a book or e-book.



I will illustrate Aurora Wolf's stories as long as I can. And if I am successful, I intend to compensate the artists and editors appropriately.

MMF: You have mentioned an interest in submissions from Forward Motion members. What are the differences you see in those submissions, and do you recommend writers always mention whether they are part of a writing group?

MP:

Yes, I do recommend a writer notes that they're a member of a writing group if they are subbing to AW. When I see a writer is a member of a writers group, I tend to expect more than an average submission. In regards to other publishers, each has their preferences. I base acceptance to Aurora Wolf Literary Journal on the quality of the story, no matter how impressive the bio or forum.



> With that said, I've been a member of Forward Motion since 2004; the wonderful writers that participate in this forum inspired me to learn to write better. Naturally, I feel grateful for that aid, and I do have a tendency to open FM work upon receipt verses following the order of the slush pile. What can I say? It is my way of passing the help I received on to others.



Frankly, when I have a Zoetrope, Writers Digest, or Forward Motion story, I'm rarely disappointed and look forward to the read. I strongly recommend work-shopping stories.



However, Linda Manning, Aurora Wolf's managing editor, is a stickler for being fair. She diligently reads the stories in order of receipt. Still, if I like a story, I will mark the work for her attention.



I believe writers that spend time work-shopping their stories will have a better story. It has been proven to me time after time. Stories submitted from writers' forums need very little editing and are stories that come full circle. The work tends to be original, the characters well rounded, the text and plot tight, and the authors valiantly attempt to show a scene.



The authors themselves are also easy to work with. I attribute this to the critiquing that takes place where writers are open enough to improve their work.



Due to the international participation in the Forward Motion Roving Crit Forum, I became aware of the difference in the use of spelling from our Americanized English version to that of the United Kingdom early on. Not to mention the differences in grammar and punctuation.



When I opened to submissions, I felt it important that the voice of the author be maintained, and so from the beginning I have accepted spelling in the Queen's English. In matters of punctuation and grammar; I will refer the author to Linda, who is smart enough to know the difference. I have received stories from the US, the UK, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Holland, China, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand.

MMF: What are some common problems you see in the submissions you receive, including confusion with your contracts?

MP:

The most common problem with submissions is the writer fails to read the guidelines. It's generally very obvious: from the format the story is submitted in to stories that do not fit Aurora Wolf's theme. I believe part of being accepted is paying attention to the guidelines of a publisher. Often they tell you exactly what they want or don't want.



Quirky requirements like no indentation, double spacing, or no spaces between paragraphs have reasons behind them. In a cut and paste Microsoft world, hidden commands are a killer. To remove each one of the above by hand is tiresome, and must happen before I can plug the text into the Word Press online publisher. To leave them in will cause some bizarre results. Some slush pile readers are just looking for an excuse to stop reading and pass on a story, scary news, but true.



I will admit that a great story is worth some of those little extra efforts, but I do dream of an easy issue. Aurora Wolf contracts have been a learning experience all in themselves. My first contract I designed around what I had signed myself from the sales of my own stories to Silver Blade, Liquid Imagination, New Bedlam Project, Static Movement, Lame Goat Press, Library of the Living Dead, Distant Worlds, and Belfire Press.



It became very clear to me from the beginning that I did not want be rated as a predator. I wrote letters to Duotrope Digest, Predators & Editors, and Ralan asking what they thought would be fair in a contract. I even asked several FM contributors for their opinion, resulting in the two-year renegotiation clause.



Ralan was quite clear; if a contract favors the publisher versus the author then the question exists if the author is being treated fairly.



P&E did state: a publisher shouldn't be so generous that they go out of business. What good does it do to publish an author, but then go out of business and the story is no longer available. As a publisher, I have the responsibility of keeping an author's story alive as long as I can.



My opinion is that a publisher should not depend on the contributing authors' purchases to break even or turn a profit. Aurora Wolf's success depends on the readers buying illustrated, eight-by-ten anthologies of two hundred pages or more, at a low list price of $11.99 and eventually in an e-format at an even lower price.



I found that non-exclusive rights leave the control of the story in the author's hands. A two-year contract with the option to renegotiate means more work for me, but it guarantees that if we hit it big the author has the opportunity to be fairly compensated for their work. Many anthology mills do not pay the authors or even offer a contributor's copy, and their contracts are for the life of the anthology.



In truth, perhaps the publishers feel they cannot afford to do so. Anthology sales are low all around. I compare publishing anthologies to balancing on a razor's edge; it's real easy to cut one's own throat. And a quick look at Duotrope Digest’s publishing lists will confirm that publishers are closing their doors.



I am a bit of a philanthropist; I use the sales of my glass art and my own stories to other publishers to fund Aurora Wolf.



I am investing in the future of a micro-publishing project that I feel has the potential to grow. By publishing good authors with quality, knock-your-socks-off stories, I feel that I have a better chance of succeeding.

MMF: And speaking of contracts, how do you manage the rights both for the initial web publication and the following anthologies?

MP:

I did myself a favor by only requiring non-exclusive rights for online use and the electronic/print anthology. The bare minimum I need. I pay five US dollars upfront upon acceptance for online publication, eventually followed by an electronically signed contract, and then an additional ten dollar payment within thirty days after the anthology is available from the printers, plus their delivered contributor's copy. Whether they live in the US or abroad, the customs paper work and triple the shipping fees included, I still send out a contributor's copy.



I will not make a contributor buy their own first copy. I also offer substantial discounts for additional books if the contributor wishes to help market the book, or share with friends and relatives.



Stories only stay online until they are published in print. However, occasionally I will splash a story to promote an anthology and bump it to the head of the illustrated twenty favorites story queue.



The hardest part is keeping track of each author's contract, bio, pen names, and real names including spelling, addresses, and e-mails; paid or not paid; and did they receive their contributor's copy and payment. Are they satisfied? Any edits? Did I decline the story? When?

MMF: What parts of running a magazine surprised you since starting Aurora Wolf one and a half years ago?

MP:

The one thing I miss the most is that I don't have enough time for my own writing. I had no idea at how much time the e-zine and anthologies would take from my everyday life. Or all that I would have to learn. Such as my recent purchase of Photo Shop CS5 and Bamboo Pen and Pad to try my hand at illustrating graphics and cover art/text.

MMF: What is a fun story stemming from running your magazine?

MP:

Recently, from the wording of an e-mail, I thought my Managing Editor quit a week before the next issue was released. I felt perhaps that I might have overloaded her with work, said something wrong, and I basically set myself to soul searching for any blame. Why, why me?



But it turns out she only ran off for a visit with the owner of my largest online competitor, Liquid Imagination (LI). Oh my – lions, tigers, and bears.



John Miller originally inspired and assisted me to open Aurora Wolf Literary Journal, despite the fact that we would be in direct competition for authors of the same genre. He is fond of quoting, "We are all in this together."



His magazine is very visual with multiple illustrations for each story, and as an added bonus, Robert Eccles, a popular radio voice, produces an audio version of the LI short stories, each quarterly issue. John loves to flood the senses when a reader opens an LI story.



Last summer, I asked John to help me expand AW's staff. I needed editors and illustrators. He selected Linda Manning as managing editor. To my surprise, the two have recently developed a long distance relationship, where one or the other has to travel.



I'm afraid that I couldn't help myself and publically gave John a rough time for schmoozing my favorite editor.

MMF: Is there anything else you want to add?

MP:

Where my micro-publishing adventure takes me, I cannot say. I intend to follow through, because I sense great and new things for Aurora Wolf. To come so far in such a short time is a great blessing and one I won't throw away easily. Thank you for your interest.

Michael C. Pennington spends much of his time reading the AW slush-pile and publishing short fiction. Occasionally, he gets to write. His most recent publications are with Silver Blade, Liquid Imagination, New Bedlam Press, Distant Worlds, Library of the Living Dead and Static Movement.