Every now and then, I think about what it would be like to start my own magazine venture. When that mild brain stroke hits me, I just ask friends of mine what it’s like and keep asking them questions until the fever passes. In this case, I cornered Jason Sizemore of Apex Digest of Science Fiction and Horror.

What made you decide to start your own magazine?
Friendly answer: I’d gotten the itch to start a small business around the birth of my first child. Call it a first-child crisis moment, whatever. Anyways, having created a little Sizemore minion meant I needed a business I could run from home. Being a science fiction and horror geek, who liked short fiction, who had some experience editing in the past, a genre magazine seemed like fun. Three years later, here I am with the tenth issue of Apex coming out.

Asshole answer: I’d grown tired of seeing so many magazines come and go. Failures. And assholes all over the web kept saying a print ‘zine can’t be done. I set out to prove them wrong because I’m weird that way. I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded yet, not until Apex is able to pay professional rates (as defined by the HWA), but three yeras later, here I am with the tenth issue of Apex coming out.

Horror and science fiction seem like a strange pairing.
Not so strange…but not so obvious…in terms of novels, some of the most memorable works in the genres are a combination of the pair: I Am Legend, Frankenstein, McCarthy’s The Road. Let’s not forget a few of the best movies to come out of Hollywood: Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Dark City and so on.

What makes a good story for Apex?
There’s the obvious stuff: quality writing, unique ideas, strong characters. Then there’s the “type” of stories we publish. We tend to shy away from monster fiction (think Alien). Even though we like to print progressive fiction, we don’t like anything that’s trying to make a political statement. We do like to see stories dealing with the implications of science. The struggle between religion and technology. Speculation of what terrors might be waiting for us as humanity progresses.

How do you approach the dreaded slush pile. Do you read every story?
I’ve got four skilled editors (two of them dedicated to reading submissions): Mari Adkins, Jodi Lee, Deb Taber, and Gill Ainsworth. Between the five of us, we’ll read each and every submission that comes to us. Will we read every page of every story? No way. That would be torture.

It seems to me that a lot of folks seem to wake up, full of “love for the genre”, and decide to start a magazine, either print or e-zine. Judging from how many start up without seeing a second issue, it seems like the reality of running a magazine quickly catches up to them. With that in mind, what kind of research did you do before you started up?
Not enough, but more than most. I built a business plan. I covered my bases pretty well at the beginning. I knew how much printing would cost, how much my shipping costs would be, how much to pay people, etc. But I did not do enough research concerning the distribution system and it came back to haunt me.

Most magazine distributors ask for Net-90 from the time they receive an issue. This means if I release issue ten tomorrow, I probably won’t see payment for six months. Then there’s the multitudes of fees: you’re charged for returns, for their shipping costs, for everyone they sell, on and on. At the volume I’m moving to distributors, I make about $1.00 for each copy they receive.

This left me in a lurch. Suddenly my backup funds had to go to the printer. Then last summer I lost my job, and things started looking scary. Fortunately, the genre community came together and literally saved the publication. Everyday I strive to create a product worthy of such charity and kindness.

What are some of the costs to put together an issue?
Printing is about 60% of my costs. Shipping is 20%.

How much time do you end up putting into the magazine per month?
About 25 hours a week. It’s a labor of love, and even after three years I still enjoy publishing the magazine.

How did you go about getting distribution?
I called several large bookstores (local Barnes and Noble, Joseph-Beth Booksellers) and a couple of indy shops in Louisville and asked them who they used for magazine distribution. I researched these distributors, called them, then submitted an application package. It’s similar to submitting a story to a market. You put together your product, write a friendly cover letter, and you wait for that acceptance/rejection letter.

When Ingram Periodicals accepted me, I knew then that Apex had a real shot at being a major player.

It almost seems like some markets appear and expect people to just sign on as subscribers (for the love start-up with for the love sign ons). How do you get the word out? Review copies? Message board spamming? Other marketing?
At the end of issue 2, I had 40 subscribers. The distributors helped. With distribution comes visibility. You pressure your genre friends to subscribe. You ask a few family members. Review copies don’t do a whole lot. Not even in the beginning. I will admit to copious message board spamming. But I was always careful to ask the board mods if it was cool to spam.

I tried all sorts of marketing. Some failed, some succeeded. Our spokesmodel Amanda D. was a hit. Anytime she goes to a con and wears the Apex tanktops, we always receive a bump in business.

Did you just go out of your own pocket or did you raise capital?
At first, straight out of my pocket. These days, I have some private investors that help give the publication flexibility and to prevent another “ohmygodsaveapex” scenario that occurred last summer.

What sort of plan did you have for generating revenue/defraying costs?
Well…to generate interest in the magazine, I was able to hook a couple of “name” friends to contribute work to Apex in the first couple of issues. I called over 200 businesses soliciting for advertising and was able to sell all the ad space in issues 1 and 2. The first four covers a comic artist friend of mine did the work for free, saving me hundreds of dollars. And we were lucky to “discover” two talented new writers, Bryn Sparks and Jennifer Pelland, that quickly became fan favorites and moved many copies for us.

What are some common mistakes that writers make?
Not realizing we require a science fiction element to every story. Inconsistent verb tense. Weak openings.

How hands on are you with working with writers?
I’m extremely hands on, so to speak. Approximately one-third of the stories we accept are accepted “as is” with minor edits. The rest usually involve at least one minor rewrite. I tell the writer what I want from a scene or character, or what plot point is missing/needs to h
appen. It’s an enjoyable process with the writers that have a professional attitude.

I have zero patience or tolerance for unprofessionalism. The moment I sense a writer/artist is being an asshole, I drop the sale. I have no time for such nonsense.

Come on, dish, what is some of the most unprofessional behavior you’ve seen?
We once had to deal with a writer being a “diva” about their story, who refused any and all changes we requested to their manuscript. I’m glad they’re so confident about their work, but if you’re convinced you know better than me about what goes in Apex, then why are you bothering submitting to Apex?

Now Apex is expanding into books. Can you tell me how you choose your projects and what we have to look forward to?
Due to time constraints, we don’t open to submissions or pitches for book projects. This means you have to catch my eye with your work. For the anthologies, I target people who I think will bring an interesting story to the collection. Gratia Placenti (Latin for “for the sake of pleasing”) is our next antho. I grow giddy thinking about what writers like JA Konrath, David Niall Wilson, Adrienne Jones will bring to the book.

The collections…three story and one poetry…are all from writers I admire and believe to be stars in the making. So I approached them. Brandy Schwan, Lavie Tidhar, Steven Savile, and Fran Friel. I can’t think of a better roster to kick-start our book publishing efforts.

How much does this cut into your writing career/other business interests?
It cuts deeply into my writing career. But being an editor and seeing the types of errors I see day after day allows me to stay away from such pitfalls. So when I do write, the quality is higher than it used to be.

I’m careful to make sure Apex does not cut into my day job. It’s all fun and games until you’re standing in the soup line!

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.