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Market Analysis:

Mar's Market Analysis #3:
Strange Horizons

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 Strange Horizons.

Analysis:

Strange Horizons is considered by many to be one of the top speculative fiction markets. Not only does it pay professional rates as set by SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) but it also has gained high whuffie status, that indefinable quality composed of the respect a magazine has attained in the speculative fiction market. As far as publishing decisions, Strange Horizons has followed the path of Realms of Fantasy, another pro market, where the majority of the content is non-fiction. Each issue consists of one story, one poem (or two by the same poet), one or two articles and columns, and three reviews. All of the non-fiction specifically appeals to the speculative fiction market base, be it an article on the social aspects of online gaming or an academic evaluation of a recently released speculative fiction novel.

Strange Horizons is published as a free weekly magazine on the Web, along with archives of older issues, barring author requests for removal. Their funding comes from donations, affiliate programs, grants, and sponsorships. The staff is composed of volunteers to ensure the ability to compensate their writers and artists at professional rates.

This magazine embraces a broad definition of speculative fiction, ranging from the traditional fantasy and science fiction to slipstream and magical realism. They are not interested in most horror stories, and provide extensive information in the guidelines to help you understand just what they want to see.

The writing itself, in the six issues I analyzed, shows very few pieces that I would classify in the slipstream category; only one fiction work, a flash, seemed a crossover of science fiction and fantasy. The remaining fiction breaks down as follows: three fantasy and one with a science fiction feel.

The poetry section adds modern tales into the mix, some with no more than a nod to the classics as their speculative aspect and one with no speculative element that I could detect. Unlike the fantasy-heavy fiction section though, the higher number, four of six poems, have science fiction elements whether dealing with the search for scientific breakthroughs or the consequences of genetic meddling.

The articles and columns follow the fiction trend of being more fantasy-oriented, though as many are interviews as opposed to addressing a fantasy or science fiction topic directly. The reviews are evenly divided between fantasy and science fiction, with some surrealism tucked in there.

Beyond the genre groupings, the overall content represents a handful of categories with regards to the impressions each piece leaves. Of the nonfiction, the majority of articles, columns, and reviews are, unsurprisingly, analysis. The remainder fall under information, interviews, criticism, and philosophy, except for two reviews and one column which I would classify as mood pieces. That category also describes most of the stories. That's not to say the stories are incomplete, just that my takeaway on them is more of an atmosphere than that the plot or characters are predominant. The remaining fiction piece is a mystery, and so more plot-focused. The poetry separates into only two categories: one idea poem and five which join the majority of the fiction works as mood-focused.

Beyond the focus of the works, the point of view and tense choices can also be important to consider.

In these issues, the fiction is more third person than first, but not by much. The poetry is primarily first person or first-person plural, with only one piece in third. Of the nonfiction, the articles and columns are more likely to be in third person, while the reviews are split evenly between first and third, with one first plural and one omniscient tucked in.

The tenses, in comparison, are pretty mixed. Most categories are split between past and present. Poetry changes that a little by using past and present in the same poem, and having one future tense work. Reviews also deviate from the trend, with seventeen in present tense and one in both past and present.

Length is another key aspect to analyze because it takes a truly spectacular piece to push an editor, or editorial team in this case, beyond what they prefer to publish, even if the guidelines allow for it. None of the pieces in the reviewed issues extend past 7,500 words, regardless of category. A short story comes closest at 7,455 words, but that is actually split across two issues. The average length for articles is 3,704, columns 1,600, fiction 4,200 (excluding the flash that is 994 words), and reviews at 1,700. The poetry is all short, with the longest one approximately thirty lines. Meanwhile, the maximum for each category is as follows: 3,904 words for the longest article, 1,778 for the columns, 7,455 for fiction (the already mentioned story in two parts), 301 for poetry, and 3,291 for reviews.

With the more analytical aspects out of the way, I found several fiction pieces very powerful. Only one fell flat. Though it had vivid descriptions and an interesting main character, I just don't feel that the end tied up everything brought into the story. I think it might have done better in a longer form. However, every other fiction piece is marked in my notes as a favorite, from the one about a spider god in modern times to the odd crossover flash.

While not normally drawn to poetry, I found many of the poems caught my attention. The speculative edge is rather thin for a good number of them, but the way the poet blends mythology or science into more modern, every day situations is rather fascinating.

Many of the reviews are what I would classify essays rather than reviews per se. They offer literary analysis of the book in question, drawing in both cultural influences and what is known of the authors. Others are pure opinion pieces that speak of how this particular book provoked a reaction in the reviewer. I have to say that overall they are successful. I gained a reasonable understanding of the books, and there are several I'm interested in reading.

The articles and columns target a broad range of readers, with an author interview, biographical pieces, and both writing and gaming works. There's something for most people interested in the speculative fiction world.

So at this point, you might be wondering what your chances are with this magazine. As I said at first, Strange Horizons is a well-known, pro-level market. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that there are only three new authors providing content across the six issues analyzed. One of the columns and two of the reviews are written by authors who, based on their bio, have no significant experience. The rest break down into pro-level writers with a number of professional publications to their name (whether academic, novel-length, or short stories) and newer authors who listed some publications in smaller markets. However, the fact that there are three new authors, and there have been new authors on the fiction side in the past, means that they will seriously consider your story regardless of your current experience. The submission process is entirely electronic. While the fiction department has an online submission form and an auto responder, the other departments are looking for email submissions. The other departments also do not have an automatic response system and so should be contacted if you go beyond their wait time with no word.

Because of its status, Strange Horizons receives a large number of submissions. However, at least in the fiction department, if the editors have time and something about your story strikes them -- good or bad -- you're likely to get a personal note. That's rare in markets of this level, and can be very helpful.

In general, the staff tries to make things easy on submitting authors. The guidelines for each type of submission are extensive. The articles section explains the types of information that they're interested in while the fiction one details what they've seen too often as well as what they would like to see.

Though difficult to break in to, Strange Horizons is open to new authors and is certainly worth the effort.

Statistics:

Age 8.5 years (founded in September 2000)
Genre Speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, magic realism, slipstream, etc.)
Cost Per Issue Free webzine
Author Payment Pro Rates ($0.05 (5 cents) per word)
Editor Susan Marie Groppi
Publication Schedule weekly
Issues Reviewed 6 issues from February 23rd to March 30th, 2009
Essays in Issue 0-2
Reviews in Issue 3
Stories in Issue 0-1
Poems in Issue 1
Flash in Issue 0-1