It was 2009 and I was about to do my first Q and A panel as a small press publisher. The event was for a small writers' group I was a member of, so I knew everyone and wasn't particularly nervous. I’ll admit to being a little worried I would say something dumb in front of the other panelists, who were, of course, more experienced at this than I was. The guy next to me was the figurehead of a local small press which publishes novels and anthologies. A book publisher. He looked at me and said, "You know how you make a small fortune in publishing?"
"No," I said, thinking he was about to impart some sage wisdom. "How?"
"You start out with a very large one."
I tell this story to anyone who asks what running a lit mag was like. Midnight Screaming was open for roughly four years and published sixteen issues comprised of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories.
I was a one-woman show. The only thing I didn't actually do myself were the printing and the website. My husband was the IT department. I handled the "business" side of things like accounting and filing taxes. I read all the slush, all the email, and handled multiple social media accounts. I did all the editing and sent out all of the publication agreements. The layout was designed by me and I typeset every issue. The logo was borrowed from one of my mother's paintings, and our cover art was acquired via submissions.
The workload wasn't sustainable. I was going full-throttle: working a full time job, being responsible for every aspect of the magazine, and volunteering for a local sci-fi and fantasy convention that was by
itself a full-time, year-round job with a lot of responsibility. And, in my personal life things weren't going well. Towards the end of my run as a small press publisher, my mother was hospitalized with
pneumonia, and after the closing of the magazine was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a debilitating disease that is terminal without a lung transplant. I felt like there was never enough time. For my husband, for my mom, for me.
Perhaps the only good thing about having a chronically ill parent was the change in perspective. You become more protective of your time, because you realize how precious it really is. No amount of time I have left with my mom will ever be enough. And now when she calls and says, “Hey, I need help with this insane last minute project, can you help me?” I don’t have to say, “No mom, I’m too busy working.”
While I ultimately decided to close Midnight Screaming, I did not at the time--nor do I now--consider the venture a failure. I was spread too thin, and had reached a point where I either needed to go all-in with the magazine to grow it, or close the doors. The decision was largely a financial one. I had never made enough to pay myself and there was no guarantee I would. I had financed a mostly worthless liberal arts degree, and had loans to pay back. The day job won, but not before I found myself burned out and growing bitter and resentful.
My biggest mistake was not listening to the advice I had given to so many other writers and aspiring publishers along the way. I rarely said no to anything, to the point I had no time left for myself. I had become discouraged with the rejections my own writing had received, and even more so after signing a contract for my first pro-rate story and having to watch as that magazine dissolved and my contract expired without the story going to print.
I don’t tell you these things to discourage you from taking a similar path. I had a wonderful four year adventure and learned things and met people I never would have otherwise. I had a dream I was able to fulfill and there aren’t a lot of people who get to say that.
As artists and writers, we have to learn to take rejection with grace. It’s not just part of the process, but it’s part of life. Individually, we have to set goals and decide how much time is worth pursuing them. There is a place in this world for everything you write, produce, and create. Maybe your target audience is your friends and family, maybe it’s something bigger. You have to figure it out for yourself, but I promise you, your audience is out there waiting. Remember, limited though it is, your time is your most valuable asset. Don’t waste it, don’t be afraid to tell people no. Be a writer, an editor, or a publisher (or all the above) because it’s a calling, and because you love it.