Today I am talking with Iulian Ionescu, editor extraordinaire at Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Listen up, writers!
SM: Hello, Iulian! Tell our readers about Fantasy Scroll Magazine.
II: Hi Stefan, thank you for inviting me to this interview.
SM: Tell us how the magazine got started.
II: I’ve been writing for quite some time and if there’s been any process that was hardest for me to understand, it was the submission process. Not the technical side of it, or the submission strategy per-se, but what happens after when my story is out there. Also, I needed to brush on my editing skills and also see what other people were doing. Those two things are the selfish reasons for the magazine. Once the idea popped in my head, I realized that it’s the perfect way to pay it forward. There are lots and lots of writers out there waiting to be discovered. Why not be a part of that? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. This was in the beginning of 2013. I shared my idea with a few close friends, writers and editors, and they all told me it was crazy. There’s too much to do, there’s really no money in it, it’s a hassle. So, I put the project on hold for a while, but the idea never left me. It was there, in the back of my head, scratching its way out. So, I started to study. I analyzed the public side of other magazine’s processes. I looked at endless websites, spoke with editors and writers. Little by little, I became convinced I’d be able to do it. So, in late 2013, while my wife was a few months pregnant with our second child, I decided to go for it. I bought the domain, I worked relentlessly for a few months to create the website, designed the process and then launched the Kickstarter campaign. In the meantime, I started to collaborate with a few first readers and editors. Without them, I am sure I wouldn’t have succeeded, so I owe them a lot. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, the magazine was ready for its first issue. At this point, there was no way back… and if felt good!
SM: What makes Fantasy Scroll different from all the other online magazines out there?
II: I think “different “ might be the wrong term. Speculative magazines have been running for ages and in the last decade there are a few out there that have basically defined the new-age of online magazines. There are very few things we can invent, very few paradigms that can turn things around. If there are a few things that we try hardest to do is respect the writer and entertain the reader. I know that our magazine doesn’t offer pro-rates yet, which seems to be in contradiction with the respect the writer mantra, but that’s just a financial hurdle we hope to overcome. What we try to do is respond fast to all our writers, provide feedback when possible, and really respect the writer’s choices. We then strive very much to put the writer’s names out there. We blast social media, submit our site to directories, we try as much as we can to make sure their names are heard. Another thing is that we are relying heavily on new writers. We do publish reprints, and often approach well-established writers and ask them to submit, but our biggest joy is to discover new voices and put them out there.
SM: As of now The Grinder lists your magazine’s acceptance rate as 5.63%. From reading the magazine myself I have to say that quality is a must for you and your staff.
II: Indeed. I think that Duotrope lists us at 4.5% acceptance at the time of this interview. We do have very high standards and all stories go through three levels. We have a first screen made out of our slush readers. After that, I read all the stories that pass through the slush and I only push forward those that I believe are great and a good match for the magazine. From there the stories are taken by the editors. At this stage most stories will go through, but there were a few that got pushed back after a thorough discussion. Because we publish a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, we try to balance the genres out and get a few of which. And we do need more sci-fi… wink, wink!
SM: How do you plan to make the transition to a pro-paying market?
II: I have to be honest, if I’d in the position to fund the magazine myself, I would turn it pro tomorrow. But right now, I just don’t have that capability. Since we publish our stories for free, online, the paying readership grows very slowly. We hope that our new podcast will increase the numbers, and we also hope that our annual anthologies (the first one due in the fall) will improve those finances. At this point, once I am able to get to some stable budget, I will push for the pro-status. The first year we tested the waters with 4 issues. In 2015 we are doing 6 issues and I hope to move to monthly in 2016. We see surges in our traffic with every issue and our inbound links grow. So, we hope that the combination of more, and more frequent issues and the annual anthologies will allow us to earn enough to turn the magazine pro. It’s a long shot, I know, but it’s a goal that will never leave my mind.
SM: Tell us about your upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
II: I don’t have an upcoming Kickstarter planned; the only Kickstarter we did was for the very first year. I am very thankful to all the backers who helped us back then. The infusion of funds in the beginning was paramount. For us it was a success story, but we decided against running annual Kickstarter campaigns. I strongly believe that a magazine should become self-sustaining after a while. We have various ways to support the magazine including donations, advertising on the site, and subscriptions. If things get tough, maybe we’ll turn to Kickstarter again, but so far we don’t have to…
SM: The covert art for your issues in amazing! How do you go about recruiting artists?
II: I love art and illustration. Both my parents are architects and really good at drawing. I grew up as an illustrator wannabe until I had to finally admit that I just don’t have “it.” So, right now what I do is surf the web in search of those who have “it.” I spend endless hours through DeviantArt and DrawCrowd looking for awesome artists. I contact them and propose them to work with us. It’s a hard task, but so far it has worked. I truly love all the covers we’ve selected and I hope we can keep them coming.
SM: Let’s commiserate. Barring offensive material, what kind of stories are you sick and tired of in the slushpile? Mine are stories that exist purely to deliver a punch line and thinly veiled attempts at soap-boxing.
II: I agree with you there. I get a lot of stories that hinge on one idea. But instead of taking that idea and building a story around it, I see too often a lot of fluff created just to drop that idea one way or another in the end. The result is an emotionless story with characters that are dry and flat. I also hate stories that depict a lot of gore and violence for absolutely no reason. Last, but not least, I am very tired of stories that begin with a child who is walking somewhere with their grandfather and the grandfather is really wise. It’s become a cliché start, like the guy coming out of a car. Now, this being said, I just bought two stories of this kind, but just because they were really good. This shows that if the story is great, I am even willing to accept a cliché.
SM: Okay, John McWriter walks up to you on the street. He asks you how to get published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. After berating him for his tacky name, what do you tell him?
II: I tell him, make my skin shiver. Whether it’s from sadness, happiness, or horror, I must feel your story in my bones. For that to happen, make sure you put great characters in it doing great things. Don’t spend a whole lot of time on world-building; I get it easily and so does any other reader. Focus on the character and his/her struggles. Make the plot interesting and fresh and make sure it is in fact plot. Things must happen, spectacularly. If I feel a knot in my throat by the end of the story, I’ll probably accept it.
SM: We sometimes get angry letters from writers who receive form rejections. Do you have that problem and if so how do you deal with it?
II: I honestly haven’t received a lot. I try to send very polite letters and quite fast. One time one writer did reply with “Orwell’s peers also rejected him. Good day,” but that was more passive-aggressive. If I were to get an angry letter, I would just ignore it. Honestly, I don’t have the time to teach manners or explain that this attitude is not helping. As a writer, I’ve received rejection letters to stories that, in my head, were perfect for that market. I felt a pang of anger, but I never wrote back. I don’t like to burn bridges and rejection is a way of life for any writer. If you don’t develop the thick skin to deal with it, you will never become successful.
SM: What can we expect so see from Fantasy Scroll in 2015?
II: In 2015 of course we started our weekly podcast, and we broadcast one story every week. We are going to experiment a bit with some wacky things to see how they’ll work out. In Issue 5 we had a graphic story, in Issue 6 and 7 we’ll have a novelette leading the issue. We are trying different things, and we are pushing the envelope. We want to put more stories out there and entertain our readers. We are going to try to get some more reprints from well-known authors and see if we can expand our social media reach by working with bloggers, writing groups, and writing sites. But really why you can expect from us is great speculative fiction from great (or soon to be great) writers.
SM: Here is a fun one I always like to spring on our guests. Recommend us a book or author that needs more exposure.
II: Good one, indeed. I am a part of a writing group called Writers of the Weird, led by Phil De Parto who also runs The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. I’ve met a lot of great writers here who can benefit from more exposure. I will limit myself to just a few: Alex Shvartsman, Hank Quense, and Sarah Avery. They’ve all been published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine at some point. Alex Shavrstmanhas had more than 60 stories published in various pro-markets, and has recently published a collection of his works. Hank Quensewrites humorous fantasy and science fiction, as well as non-fiction about writing and self-publishing. Sarah Avery writes fantasy fiction, and her book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, was published in 2013.
SM: Your bio on the website says that you are a runner. Did you end up running a marathon?
II: Indeed, I am. My entire life I’ve been actually afraid of running. Two broken clavicles when I was very young meant that when I ran my shoulders were getting tremendous pain. But in time that went away. Around 2010, a friend of mine convinced me (read dared) to start running. I did and I loved it. My body got toned, I lost weight, I became stronger. At the end of 2013, I ran a hat-trick (that’s a 5k followed by a 10k on Saturday, and a half-marathon on Sunday.) That was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, so I had no doubt that in 2014 I’ll be able to run a marathon. But in January, I got struck by a car as I was crossing the street as pedestrian. It was a hard accident, but I came out okay in the end, but not before 10 months of physical therapy and endless doctors. And most doctors told me: you can’t run, not until you’re back in shape. Now, more than one year later, I am waiting for the spring to finally come and see if I can start training again. It’s going to be tough, but not as tough as the first time. I won’t give up on the marathon dream. Maybe not this year, but soon for sure!
SM: Where can people reach out to you on social media?
II: These are the magazine’s social media sites:
And here are my personal ones:
Feel free to follow me or the magazine, but don’t be a creep.
SM: Anything else you’d like to plug?
II: Nothing more than to invite people to subscribe and donate to our magazine. We live through your support, so please help!