Monday, May 23, 2011

Hurdles and Whining: Knockspell Magazine #6 Progress Report

I just did a word count on the unedited articles I have in hand for Knockspell #6, and discovered that the total word count stands just shy of 18,000 words. It's projected as a 64 page magazine, and since the words per page will be around 650 (that's a rough average, taking into account that many pages contain art, and that maps often occupy a full page).

This means I'm about 23,600 words short of a magazine. Some of that I'd be writing in the normal scheme of things, since I've got the editor's introduction, and I usually write some of the magazine's material anyway.

One possibility is just to get on the keyboard and start filling that in myself. I'm a fairly prolific writer. However, my goal with Knockspell has never been to use it as "a bunch of Matt's ideas," even though it usually includes "some of Matt's ideas." Rather, I've conceived of it as a compilation of the ideas of several people, brought into one place with some editorial smoothing (a second set of eyes does wonders for pretty much any manuscript). I've also viewed it as a place to see aspects of the so-called OSR through journalistic eyes: material that isn't necessarily a gaming resource. I did an article, for example, describing a visit to Lou Zocchi's booth at Owlcon in Houston -- a humorous piece that focused on events rather than resources.

It's a different feel, and a different take, from most of the other old-school media out there. Obviously, it's closest to Fight On! Magazine, although Fight On! tends to focus very heavily on game resources. I'm also told that Calithena and Ignatius have a fairly different editorial style which shows in the two magazines. I'm told I'm like early Dragon, whereas Cal and Ig emerge with something that's got a more Judges Guild feel. I don't see that, actually, but it's a very common comment.

It's also unlike John Slater's NOD magazine, which is predominantly John's unbelievably prolific work. John's insane productivity requires more outlets than just a blog -- he needs a magazine as well to keep his creative juices from going right over the top of the levy. The diversity of authorship in Knockspell distinguishes it from Land of NOD.

Note that I'm not criticizing either Fight On! or Land of NOD here, I'm just talking about differences and variety between them. and Knockspell. This stuff is neutral; it's about approaches and presentations; although various people might prefer one approach or the other. What I'm getting at is that if I'm going to remain true to the original, planned editorial goals of Knockspell, I still don't have enough material at the moment, and unless I'm going to alter the ratio mix of me-versus-other-writers, I have to bring in some more articles and resources.

Another consideration is the expanding presence of old-school blogs, which I think is actually the reason why it's getting more difficult to bring in articles. Lots of the creative energy that once went into articles is now being channeled into blog posts. The magazine is definitely distinct from blogs in that blog posts are usually somewhat shorter than true "articles," not going into all the nooks and crannies of a particular topic, and in that blog posts generally haven't had a second pair of eyes reviewing them. Any author worth his salt will admit that editors almost always improve the quality of the final product, even if they also produce a bunch of poor suggestions as well. Again, this isn't a condemnation of blogging; blogging is simply a different medium that produces a different end result from a magazine. Offsetting what I DO actually see as a lower-quality average blog post as compared to an edited article, blogs have the advantage of being dynamic, with multiple comments that aren't present in a magazine article, and also with their immediacy. Articles, even the best ones, tend to have a certain gravitas that blogs (with their direct me-to-you feeling) lack. That's a distinction in style that could cause some people to prefer blogs, and some people to prefer articles, and even for those with no particular preference, gives blogs and magazines a different "feel" from each other.

So, what do I do with a word count that falls short of the goal? I should mention that there's a structural issue here: since lulu charges a high setup fee and a low additional page fee, you've pretty much GOT to have a decent page count in order to deliver value on the lulu print option. I really don't want to solve this problem by dropping the page count, because it will increase the price-per-page considerably. And while I don't think price-per-page is a very valid way for a buyer to choose between two products, it's a major consideration for the guy who actually produces the product, because you want to produce the best product you possibly can, in every respect including the cost.

I've got one advantage here in that I'm going to re-introduce free advertising. I didn't do that in Knockspell #5 because I was waffling over the issue of media mail. In the USA, magazines aren't allowed to ship media mail, and even if I'm the only guy in the country this has happened to, I once got a mailing returned to me because it contained the advertisements (this is the measure of it). I am now basically committed to the idea that Knockspell is going to be shipped through lulu only. I don't make enough of a margin to sell it through any means other than POD. Fair enough: that might be a retrenchment, but I'm comfortable with it. Those advertisements, which I'll formally announce in a later post, together with the parameters, will have the incidental effect of reducing the word count per page. It's not a matter of creating filler, it's that I think advertisements actually add to the value and feel of a magazine (I read the advertisements in Dragon Magazine almost as much as I read the actual content). Plus, it's a venue for advertising in a world where blogs and low-profit products can afford it. Free is affordable.

Anyway, I'm still accumulating articles and other material, so I don't plan on discontinuing the magazine or anything, but as a matter of interest I thought I would share a few of the travails that a publisher faces -- the invisible difficulties that aren't apparent once the thing is actually done.

It's whinging, I guess, but that's another of those things that distinguish a blog from a magazine too. Blogs often show the internal side of things, the secrets, and things behind the scenes much more than a magazine really does. I thought it might be interesting to give a progress report that doesn't conceal the difficulties in order to put on a purely rah-rah face. This is a hobby, hobbies aren't always smooth. On the other hand, part of the joy of hobby publications is that they are more authentic than slick. In some way or other, I know, the issue will come together.

By the way, to all the authors who have contributed so far, you guys are heroes!


  1. Matt, are you formally requesting more submissions? I wasn't clear about that.

  2. Yes, if anyone wants to contribute, absolutely! (I managed to miss that point because I was so busy whining -- yesterday was a crappy day in several respects that had nothing to do with gaming, so I ended up venting) ...

  3. Matt, I have a low-level sewer adventure that is 2/3 done. I also have the complete map done with the free version of Dungeon Crafter.

    Would you be interested in having it. Maybe you could help me finish it with some of your brilliant ideas. I wanted to finish it and submit it before but I keep delaying it.

    Dom (aka GreyKat on the boards)