An Unreal Publisher: Daniel Scott White from Longshot Press Part 2
An Unreal Publisher: Daniel Scott White from Longshot Press
By Angelique Fawns
We continue our chat with the publisher of Longshot Press, Daniel Scott White.
White is the creator of Unfit and Unreal, two of the highest paying magazines in the speculative short fiction world, paying 25 cents per word.
His imprint also features Longshot Island, a pulp fiction magazine featuring psychological short stories, and Mythaxis Review, presenting articles and interviews looking at books, movies, music, and anything else in the world of art and artists. (I met White when I first asked him to grant me an interview a couple years ago. Instead, he hired me to write for Mythaxis Review.)
In part one we learned about White’s path to publishing and his adventures around the world. After helping out musicians like Bob Dylan and cycling around Alaska, we pick up his journey in Taiwan…
AF: Why did you move to Taiwan? How is the industry different over there?
DSW: The short story about moving to Taiwan is that I met a girl. I met my future wife. I wasn’t really thinking about living in another country, but after it became apparent that we were getting along well enough, I realized we both needed to be in the same place. I’ve been here for over 15 years now and am really happy with the choice.
The industry isn’t so open to works in English over here, for obvious reasons. I attend book conventions every year and mostly it’s about storybooks for children, like the one I wrote. Parents really want to get their kids interested in English. So, I don’t sell much over here. The downside is that I can’t attend any conventions in the US, which makes it harder to get face time with real people over there. But I get by.
AF: You had a few false starts when you began publishing. Any advice for others on how to avoid pitfalls?
DSW: I don’t think you can succeed without first failing a few times. Get used to it. Learn to pivot. If something isn’t working out, don’t hold on to it. Of course, it’s hard to say how long you should try something before you should change directions, but a couple years or more and no sign of success says you’ve probably tried that approach enough times to move on.
I tried a few different magazines before I actually understood much about how the business worked. I think the combination of your ignorance and excitement gets you through the initial growing pains.
AF: Originally you were publishing non-fiction and educational material for children. How did you find the speculative short story market?
DSW: We moved into publishing fiction because, well, it’s just a lot more fun. Textbooks are more about technical writing and fiction is about creative writing. Mostly, I think, after I found my own stories being published, I wanted to make a magazine that would open doors for other aspiring authors. In the beginning, I had very little idea how magazines actually worked. There are some excellent books out there now, which I’d recommend, on starting and running a magazine. I hope to write a book like that as well, someday.
I often wondered, in the long run, which approach would go farther, my path to writing or my publishing ventures. If I became a more successful writer, would I continue to publish? Or, if I became better at publishing, would I continue to write? At this time, I can say my publishing side is doing way better than my writing side. It’s good to understand the pain from both sides, though. I am surrounded by successful authors, including prestigious award winners, who act as guides for me. It’s amazing what you can learn from those old timers if you listen to their stories.
AF: It’s very hard to make any profit publishing anthologies. What lessons did you learn?
DSW: I published one anthology. Everything else I consider to be a magazine. And I learned how to lose friends fast! I paid out a royalty for the first quarter, and then a much smaller one for the second quarter. After that, sales disappeared. My expenses were never covered as I preferred to pay the authors first.
About that time, I lost my job. I was working on a yearly contract and didn’t see it renewed. I kind of knew it was coming, as the company I was at did this just about every year, letting the old go and bringing in the new. Like a used-up tube of toothpaste. Even though I suspected it would happen, that was a pretty dark time for me, not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from and having all those authors waiting to see another royalty check.
So, I put the book out of print. I didn’t think it was right to keep taking in money if the ventured had failed. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the 90-day cliff theory vs snowballing your success. One is about speed and the other is about endurance, just like on a bike. I just thought it was over. I had hit a wall and didn’t know how to go any farther.
I got out of the business altogether for a while. I took about six months off. I stopped dreaming of publishing anyone and I stopped writing. Then I slowly got over it. One thing I learned is to pay authors up front. That way they run little risk. I make my money back slowly. It might be in a year or five years or even more, but I make the money back in the long run. I don’t mind. I can wait. They need the money now. Royalties aren’t the best approach for authors, not really. It’s a gamble they shouldn’t have to take.
Some of the authors then went out and created another anthology, this time in the science fiction arena. That venture was interesting to watch. Whenever I strike out in a new direction, I am often curious to see if the people I’m working with will try another variation on what I’m doing. Possibly they’ll find something I missed, maybe do even better. It’s great to watch what will happen. It’s the pursuit of knowledge that appeals to me most.
Eventually I started to really understand the business on a whole new level, and out of the ashes arose Longshot Island, my first successful magazine.
AF: How did you find success in magazine publishing?
DSW: Success is whatever you define it to be. You don’t have to measure up to anyone’s standard. If success if selling 5 copies, based on your strategy, that’s what you do. If you accomplish what you set out to do, then you haven’t failed.
One thing I’d encourage people to do is stop chasing big numbers. I fell into that gutter for a while. It’s part of the fast lane approach. Smaller numbers of people who actually care gets you to a much better place than larger numbers of people who are just here and gone again. One of the groups I run online is tiny, but the people in there matter a lot to me. Some of them have won prestigious awards, too.
Numbers are important to benchmark your progress, but I really don’t chase big numbers. Even watching my mailing list for my newsletter grow by 5 members is exciting. Often, I know those people personally and when I ask them how the newsletter is doing, they say it looks good. Direct feedback nourishes the soul.
Eventually you need to go from selling to people you know to selling to people you don’t know. That’s the chasm you’ll find most difficult to cross. The strategies are really different. When I get five new readers who are people I haven’t talked to before, that’s like reaching the summit of Everest for me, in terms of my response. Every day I see small numbers growing, and I’m calling that my success. I’m in it for the long run.
AF: How do your three fiction magazines differ? Longshot Island, Unfit and Unreal?
DSW: Longshot Island tends to lean more toward horror, but I prefer psychological horror over gore and spore. Nobody has to actually die in the stories, just be terrified. It’s sad that death has become cliché. Death should never be cliché.
Unfit is more about science fiction and Unreal is about fantasy. Those are the guidelines, but like the pirate’s code, we don’t always follow them. In fact, sometimes we totally reverse directions. I’m just as open to mysteries stories and magical realism. What I’d most like to do is draw more literary writers into genre fiction. We sure could use the fresh perspective.
Unfit and Unreal are what I call luxury magazines. They pay a lot and I probably won’t recover the cost, at least not soon, but I don’t care. I can afford it. Longshot Island pays really low and tends to attract a lot of reprints. If I had the energy left at the end of the day, I’d place a magazine in the middle of the funnel.
Often one magazine can help pay for the other. It took me a while to realize this. It’s actually easier to run two magazines than it is to run one. If you streamline the process, it doesn’t suck up a lot of your time. Sometimes I find people really want to be in one of the magazines more than the other. I don’t fully understand that, but I can make it happen.
For the brother-sister pair of Unfit/Unreal, I pay $.25 (twenty-five cents) per word for the first thousand words. After that, it’s one cent per word for anything over 1000 words. That’s triple the rate most genre magazines pay for short stories. In the nonfiction world, such as informative magazine articles, you can find $1 (one dollar) per word or something outrageous like that. We are way too far away from there at this time.
AF: Unfit and Unreal are the highest paying magazines in genre fiction. Why do you pay your writers so much?
DSW: What I’m doing is trying to encourage (or challenge) other magazines to pay better.
I also want to get the best stories I can.
The price is bound to go up in the future on my end. It’s part of the plan. You should see the whole plan. It’s amazing. Until someone tries to catch up to me, I can stay right here for now. In the end, if the stories are good, that’s what matters the most. And they are.
I give away all my content. My dream is to support the artists. If I put $250 in your tip jar, or I buy a story for $250, you get the same amount. But if I buy the story, and make some money back, then I have more to buy the next story. It just makes more sense to keep the engine turning.
AF: Your latest project is Mythaxis Review, can you tell us about its conception and journey?
DSW: My heart is in supporting artists. The three magazines that I started before Mythaxis Review; they do that. But those magazines also need support to keep growing. Mythaxis Review is a support magazine. If we filled it with fiction, then we’d be in the primary position looking for support. I already have that in the other three magazines. I don’t need more of that. The industry doesn’t need more of that, either.
If you look at the music business, there are easily a dozen magazines supporting the industry with news articles and interviews. In genre fiction, there’s very little. So, one thing we did is starts a News category in Mythaxis Review where people send us press releases and we put them out there to help spread the word.
Mythaxis Review scores high on books, movies, and music. We talk to experts in the industry about what they are doing, what works for them. It’s educational in a way. If you want to get somewhere, we let you know how other people succeeded. I don’t believe there’s exactly one road map to success, but there are strategies that can help, just like in any part of life. Plus, it’s exciting to read about how people made it somewhere. The magazine offers a lot of value. And like the others, all the content appears online for anyone to read.
We try to balance featuring celebrities with introducing unknown artists. If the celebrities are in there, that will draw in more readers, which will give the less recognized artists more exposure. We don’t want to become a tabloid, though, with negative news. Small but study growth works best for us.
AF: Of all your business ventures and hobbies, what do you enjoy most and why?
DSW: Actually, I enjoy the newest one, Mythaxis Review. I write better, much better, when I’m not trying to tackle fiction. See, I’m writing great sentences right here. Really great. And I’m after knowledge, which is what the magazine focuses on providing. I wish I had started Mythaxis Review years ago. I find it utilizes my skills as a publisher the best.
AF: What is in the future for publishing in general and for Daniel Scott White?
DSW: The way the publishing industry interacts with social media is still changing. Social media is really decentralized, which makes it challenging to establish anything lasting. Your newest post is here today, gone tomorrow. I’m more interested in what the blogging community is doing. There’s a big movement going on there that you wouldn’t know about if you only were involved with social media. My dream is to take my potato-sized publishing empire and see it grow into something lasting.
Much of what I’m doing these days flies in the face of what I was taught in business school. They were all about big numbers and massive cash flows. The instant success story. On my bicycle I learned I’m not fast, but I have endurance. Snowballs start rolling slowly, but later pick up momentum. I spend time wondering what makes snow stick.
After getting established with articles, interviews and reviews, we decided donations to organizations that support the arts are the next level. I’m really looking forward to where this will lead us. Stay tuned.