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Market Analysis:

Mar's Market Analysis #2:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

By Margaret McGaffey Fisk
Copyright 2009 by Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved


Finding new markets is only the first step of the research process. A crucial part is to consider what can be learned from the material already published by the editor or editors. This column will contain analyses that evaluate a specific publication based on one or more issues (or at least a month of content for webzines without designated issues).

This issue will analyze Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Analysis:

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS) is a brand new online short story magazine that pays at a professional level. The first issue was released on October 9th of 2008 which means the magazine is only 4 months old at time of writing. Despite that short history, BCS has built up a respectable archive of solid fantasy entertainment, providing two stories every two weeks as well as converting some of the same texts into podcast format. The magazine contains no articles, reviews, or poetry.

According to the guidelines, the stories are in the literary adventure subgenre of fantasy. Scott H. Andrews is looking for original cultures that use literary motifs to convey the tales. The site has a much more detailed description of what he's looking for, but below is my analysis of what I saw in the actual magazine.

The first nine issues contain sixteen stories, with two of those split into parts because they are quite long. Having read them all, I have to say that Mr. Andrews lives up to the guidelines. The stories stretch from a traditional "thief with a soul" tale to an alien species undergoing evolutionary changes. I enjoyed all but one story through to the end. That last one had its captivating moments but didn't succeed in the overall to my mind. These stories very rarely had plot as their main focus. Only four of them are what I classify a plot-driven story, but every single one has some level of plot, a clear beginning, middle, and end to bring the reader through what is intended.

As expected, culture is a strong factor in the stories, none of which reflect the modern world. Some cultures have much in common with traditional fantasy, but the story told on top of that picture is unique enough to compel. Others craft a wholly unique culture, allowing for the themes of culture clash or how characters interact with the culture of their birth.

The most common focus I found is a moral where the story makes you think about the proper behavior or reaction to a circumstance. None of the stories are heavy-handed, but the feel is that of a learning tale, similar to what you would expect around the fire in ancient times. These cross over with mood and character, natural combinations to my mind.

Only one story comes across as dependent on style, using an odd, diary-like narration where the suspense is built through deliberate withholding of information. While it is not my favorite of the lot, Kingspeaker by Marie Brennan does prove to be interesting, and the suspense built by the narrator is not false as the reveal does, indeed, have shock value once you accept the tenets of the culture displayed in the narrative. Even more so, if the story did not absorb you into the culture, the reveal would have hardly any meaning at all.

Statistics:

Age 5 months - Issue #1 was Oct. 9, 2008
Genre Literary adventure fantasy
Cost Per Issue Free
Author Payment 5 cents per word
Editor Scott H. Andrews
Publication Schedule New issue every two weeks, with 2 stories per issue.
Issues Reviewed Issue #1- #9
Essays in Issue 0
Stories in Issue 2
Poems in Issue 0
Flash in Issue 0
Advertising? No

This analysis shows that when Mr. Andrews is looking for literary, he seems more focused on stories that have a bigger meaning than ones that play with traditional story structure. All the offerings are solid in structure, plot, character, and meaning, bringing us a wonderful collection of reads. While one aspect may be stronger than another, none of the stories suffered in any of the others.

Though the contents show a broad range within focus, including moral, plot, culture, mood, character, and theme, the same can not be said of the tense or point of view. Of the sixteen stories, ten are third person limited, one third person omniscient, and five first person. Fourteen of the stories are written in past tense while only two are in present tense. As I noted above, style did not seem to be the type of literary writing Mr. Andrews is seeking, and these statistics support a trend of more traditional storytelling in format and style. The stories put their strength in the actual content, depending on the tale and the culture described within to captivate the reader.

And in that pursuit of the strongest tale, BCS bucks convention by accepting longer stories on average than most. The shortest piece weighed in at 3,600 words, well within the trend toward 4,000-word stories prevalent among many online magazines, but the longest is over 15,000 and the average is 6,700 words across the sixteen stories. This supports the contention that it takes more words to truly absorb the reader in a complex culture that does not use our cultures as a crutch. However, the third shortest story, and the one that resonated the most with me, was also one involving another species as well as a unique culture, so a longer length is clearly not required.

As I read the stories, I found the first few favorites superseded by an even better story and finally two that stood above all the previous. I marked only the best of the best because too many fit in the category of "favorite." Only one story failed to capture me on some level, as I mentioned above. This is an amazing track record in comparison to most of the pro magazines I have read.

The stories I ended up marking are: Dragon's-Eyes by Margaret Ronald, Sand-Skin Man by K.C. Shaw, The Sword of Loving Kindness by Chris Willrich, Snake in the Glass by P.E. Cunningham, Sun Magic, Earth Magic by David D. Levine, and Precious Meat by Catherine S. Perdue. The last two are my absolute favorites, but these five are those I would consider the strongest. My choices come from the whole range of issues, with both stories of Issue 7 being included. Of these favorites, two are by newer authors based on what they listed in their biographies. My most favorite is by an author with only the Odyssey workshop to her credit at the time of this publication.

That said, Beneath Ceaseless Skies has not taken the opportunity to publish many authors in the beginning of their careers. While this demonstrates that Mr. Andrews has access to some quality talent, it also shows he does not reserve a space for new authors as some of the larger magazines do. At the same time, he is open to writers of all stages, and I have no doubt, based on his content-focus, should the right story come from a new author, he'd snatch it up. Even more so, unlike most professional-level markets, each BCS rejection letter I know of has come back with a sentence or two explaining the reason for the rejection. This can be invaluable in identifying a weakness in the story, or just a clear indication that Mr. Andrews is not the right editor for the work. With a response time that often rivals John Joseph Adams at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the chance at helpful comments, BCS is a reasonable starting point for literary adventure fantasy stories heading out for their first time.