Doug Cohen, slush reader for Realms of Fantasy, is having an ongoing discussion over a series of posts on his livejournal about the status of speculative short fiction magazines, focusing on the one he knows best, the one he works at, which has led from a post about the slow death of short fiction venues to a retrospective look at the beginning issues of Realms of Fantasy, and has brought him to the question of asking readers what, in fact, they want in a speculative fiction magazine.
I think it’s very cool that Doug is journaling about such issues so publicly. You won’t see something like this being done very often, and it’s because there are really far too many people with far too many varied tastes to actually give every single person what they want in a magazine. In one post, Doug talks about how some people accuse genre magazines of publishing too many stories that would mainly only be appreciated by other writers. But as I’ve said in a comment to Doug already, if this were true of Realms of Fantasy, whoever says that doesn’t know what they’re talking about. From its inception, Realms as been focused on fantasy, and fantasy of all varieties, publishing in each issue high fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, mythic fiction, and more. In fact, I’ve heard this same argument before, that magazines publish too many stories of interest only to writers, but usually when I hear this it’s not in connection with Realms. If there are people who would accuse the editor of Realms of that, they really don’t know what they’re talking about, as if this were true, stories from that magazine would appear on the Nebula Award nomination list more regularly. The Nebula Award is voted on by the writers of the genre, and sadly the writers often ignore the stories in that magazine. So if anything, perhaps Realms of Fantasy is more of a magazine for readers than writers, if you want to use that as a measurement.
Having said that, I would also like to say that the whole reader/writer story debate is a little silly, in my opinion. Writers are readers, and many readers are writers. When I write, I write stories I’d like to read. And because I’m aware that as I’ve aged and matured and gone through many phases in my own life, I sometimes write stories that I know my 18 year old self would love versus my 24 year old self, or my thirty year old self. There’s that saying about how some books and stories you have to read at certain ages, and I think that’s true. And as a writer, being aware of that, I know not everyone of every demographic is going to like every single thing I write because sometimes I’m writing for different age groups, or different audiences. The thing is, there’s room for all of those audiences under one roof. And I think Shawna McCarthy at Realms of Fantasy has done a really great job of selecting a wide variety of fantasy that people of diverse backgrounds will enjoy. I know I have since I was 19 years old and came across issue 3 of the magazine, the first issue I found, and discovered Charles DeLint for the first time. His story “The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep” excited me. I’d never read urban fantasy much before that. And I went out looking for his work at the bookstore later on that afternoon. I haven’t read a lot of Charles’s fiction since around age twenty or so, but it was really essential to me when I did find it. It opened up new doors. And that’s because I found it in Realms of Fantasy. They’re having a subscription drive right now, and you can get a free issue by subscribing, so why not check it out for yourself?