Magazine: Nebula Rift V4N1

Nebula RiftNebula Rift

I’m not writing a silly intro story for this review, because I want to talk about the magazine’s business model. (OK, enough booing, settle down.)

Most science fiction magazines pay a per-word rate to their authors. For “pro” magazines, this is six cents or more per word. For “semi-pro” magazines, it is typically one or two cents per word. Below that, payments are considered “token”.

Nebula rift does things differently. They have five stories per issue, and instead of an up-front payment, each author receives an ongoing royalty of 10% of sales of that issue. So, the publisher gets 50% and the authors split 50%.

At first, I loved this business model. The publisher doesn’t have to worry about bankrupting itself with up-front author payments, and there are five authors per issue with a vested interest in promoting the magazine to their friends and on social media.

On second thought, I decided this model has a chicken-or-egg problem. It needs good authors to bring in readers, but it needs a lot of readers to bring in good authors.

I’ve made a table (although my 1990s HTML skills are behind the times) of how many copies nebula rift would have to sell for an author to break even, assuming they could sell their story to a pro mag for six cents/word, or a semi-pro for two cents/word:

Story Length Pro Semi-Pro
3,000 words 645 215
4,000 words 860 287
5,000 words 1,075 359
6,000 words 1,289 430
7,000 words 1,504 502
8,000 words 1,719 573

I’m guessing Nebula Rift doesn’t hit many of these targets, if any. I had never heard of the magazine before I began my quest, and I was pretty deep into my search before the words “Nebula Rift” popped up. Let me know in the comments section whether you were aware of it before now.

To really run with this business model, I think a magazine would need an initial marketing blitz, or a story and/or endorsement from a big-name author, to break out of the chicken-or-egg stage. I don’t see them breaking out of obscurity with their current strategy.

There is an additional problem with Nebula Rift: it’s not accessible to many readers. I was not allowed to purchase it for my kindle device, or Amazon’s kindle-for-the-PC reading app. I had to download a kindle app on my wife’s Ipad and register it to my account before I could buy an issue.

Apparently this prohibition against older kindles and PCs is to force you to read the magazine in a two-column format, which isn’t how kindles were designed to work. My opinion is that two columns are useful in a print magazine, where short lines of dialogue would otherwise eat up a lot of paper, but on a tablet, where the screen is smaller than a magazine page, the two columns are just a nuisance. Leave me a comment and let me know your stance on multiple columns for tablets.

At fictionmagazines.com, you’ll find all the magazines the company puts out using this business model. Additional genres are: fantasy, horror, romance, mystery/thriller, poetry, and literary.

Short Stories

Lotus Eater by Guy Martland. The opening paragraph used two words I’m not familiar with, and I’ve been an active reader for most of my life. I could piece together the meaning of one of the words, but had to look the other one up. Neither word was more appropriate than many more common alternatives. Fortunately, the author limited his superiority-demonstrating to that one paragraph, and got on with the story.

The plot is about a mission to meddle with less-advanced aliens which goes wrong.  If there hadn’t been a prime directive, every other Star Trek episode would’ve had this exact plot.

A Clockwork Orientation by Brian Barr. A Japanese robot goes on a killing spree, goes to rehab, and goes on another killing spree.

This story desperately needed editing. For example:  I’m guessing the characters kept trying to say “curb”, as in “curb your enthusiasm”, but instead would say “curve”. So, the author was trying to use wording which is stilted/archaic, and used the wrong word on top of that. The robots were also repeatedly referred to as cyborgs, although there was no hint of any organic components.

I really enjoyed one aspect of the story: during its first killing spree, the robot broke into a computer and downloaded the robot rehab protocols, so it was a breeze for it to fake its way through rehab, and go on a second spree. Robots are tricky. Don’t trust them.

Among Us by Michael Wentela. For a good bit of the story, the author jumps among several characters, some of whom aren’t involved in the story’s plot. However, I got a description of every single article of clothing each of them was wearing, and some of the most awkward dialogue I’ve ever read.

Later, it turns into an X-files type story, which is marred when one of the characters exclaims that it’s just like the X-files. I thought I was being set up for a big twist at the end, and maybe I was — the twist being that there was no twist.

Lifespan by Rob Munns. This story had a nice time travel idea, but there’s an expositional monologue about the history of time travel technology, which added nothing and slowed the story to a crawl.

The Seven Sites of the Moon by Benson Branch. This was my favorite story from the magazine, with human-alien contact revolving around historical moon-landing sites.

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14 comments

  1. Interesting business model, but your points are legitimate. Those that pay per word have to hit the same mark in sales though. It’s odd that this one limits themselves to one strange format. I miss the apes and the talking chicken.

    1. They also sell on B&N’s nook, and possibly in some unspecified third format, but it does seem that they’re limiting themselves by cutting out kindle and PC readers.

      I’ll make up for the missing intro story with a lead-in to a gardening post. Still no apes or chicken planned for that one, though.

      1. I have faith in you.

  2. William Petersen · · Reply

    Reblogged this on The Inward Spiral.

  3. I’m curious how interesting the history of time travel was. But I’m a sucker for that sort of nonfact essay; I suspect I’d be happy to read nothing but expository lumps taken out of other stories. … Which come to think of it might be a funny idea after all.

    1. I suppose you could have a wrapper story where a student walks down the halls, poking his head into various classrooms. I’m not sure how much of someone else’s work you can quote before it becomes a copyright issue.

  4. Thanks for doing the math with this. That business model does sound cool until you go through the numbers.

    1. It could work, but it needs some kind of jump-start. If it were “George RR Martin’s World of Fantasy” or “Stephen King’s World of Horror”, then pretty much every author would be fighting to get into it.

  5. Good points. I suppose a writer has to weigh the exposure and publication credit against the potential (and real) lack of revenue. Until we are pros, it always seems like a balancing act.

    1. Your mention of exposure reminded me of something. I noticed that one of the big-name magazines, Analog, doesn’t put any kind of author bio or social media information after their stories. Most magazines do something along those lines, which could help out with sales of other works.

      1. That’s good to know. I haven’t submitted anywhere, but one day would like to 🙂

  6. Thanks for the observations, PDC, on the model and on the format. For me, the two column insistence for readers or tablets is an absolute pain as text doesn’t flow easily and you have to move all over the page. As a result, I find it a thoughtless block as I have a neural problem where controlling a hand/fingers can be difficult: a swipe is easy; carefully moving around to find another column frequently frustratingly impossible.

    1. The 2 column format does give a more professional appearance, but, like you, I don’t think it’s worth the inconvenience/aggravation, so I’ll keep pushing for single columns.

  7. This is an interesting topic. I never delved into the business side of comic books.

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