The committee to revise the Semiprozine category in the Hugo Awards has made their proposal, along with several minority recommendations by single members of the committee. (Followers of this issue may remember that the Semiprozine Hugo was slated to be abolished two years ago, but a grassroots campaign led by editor and publisher Neil Clarke prevented that.)
At the core of this issue is how to define the difference between a “pro” zine and a “semipro” zine, since the former are not eligible in this category.
The committee’s recommended criteria offer a good distinction. If a magazine provides a quarter of the income of any staff member, or is owned by a company that provides a quarter of the income of any person, it would be a pro zine. That makes perfect sense. Lightspeed and Weird Tales, for example, are both owned by publishing companies with full-time employees, and those magazines clearly have a different footing than Clarkesworld or Space and Time or my magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
But the minority proposal by Ben Yalow, a thirty-year fan, that any magazine that pays a pro rate for its fiction must be a pro zine, is ludicrous. Other editors and publishers have pointed out the absurdity that such a criterion would make every zine that has been nominated in the Semiprozine category in the last four years no longer fit in that category.
The main flaw with his idea is its fundamental misunderstanding of why some non-pro zines, like my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, pay a pro rate for fiction.
We do it out of respect. Respect for authors, in an era when it’s all but impossible to make a living writing short fiction. Respect for fans; the readers who still crave great short stories. Respect for established writers doing great work in that form and upcoming writers using it to develop their voice. Respect for a form of fiction that has a proud tradition in our genre; that we know is in financial decline but we love it so much we do it regardless.
We pro-paying, non-pro zines feel this respect so deeply that we prioritize paying a pro rate above all other financial considerations. Look at any number of non-pro zines who have volunteer staffs–paying their authors a pro rate and their staff members nothing, for working sometimes over twenty hours a week. Look at the ones who have spartan websites or plain cover art–again, prioritizing the fiction above all else. Look at the ones, like BCS, who are 501c3 non-profit organizations, approved by the IRS as charities, because paying a pro rate for their fiction is such a priority that those zines know they will never, ever make a dime in profit.
Mr. Yalow seems to think it’s an arbitrary decision for these non-pro zines to use their money to pay pro rate rather than to pay their staffs. He could not be more wrong. Imagine giving an avid reader $100 to spend in the dealer’s room at a con. Sure, it’s theoretically possible they could spend it on steampunk goggles or chainmail t-shirts. But, as any avid reader can attest, their love for fiction means that the only actual outcome would be them walking out of the dealer’s room with $100 of books. If not more.
This committee proposal and discussion comes at a crucial time. WorldCon is this weekend, and Hugo business is conducted at the con.
If you will be at WorldCon and this issue is important to you (it should be, if you have ever sold a story to a semipro zine), go to the Preliminary Business Meeting at 10AM on Thursday morning. Go there, and make your voice heard. (EDIT: Kevin Standlee, in this comment, provided detailed information on the business schedule. Thank you!)
With pro-paying, non-pro zines forming the majority of the pro-rate fiction markets these days, and publishing more fiction and a wider variety of it than the pro zines, it would be a sad day if the most prestigious awards in our genre were changed to no longer recognize this vibrant and crucial area of our field.