We’re been reviewing ‘On Spec’ magazine for some years now but now they’ve hit a crisis so I’ll let its editor, Diane Walton spell it out.
After many years of providing On Spec with sustainable production funding, a peer jury for the Canada Council for the Arts has denied our application for a grant to produce issues during 2015. This amounts to a hit of anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000. In real dollars. As in “paying the writers and artists” dollars. As in “paying the printer” dollars.
The 2014 jury based their evaluation on reading our grant application, financial reports and supporting documentation, along with perusing copies of the four issues we had published during 2013. In our early years, jury comments were generally of the “good fiscal management, good production values, strong editorial voice and knowledge of the target audience” variety. Then the tone of the comments began to change; it seemed to grow more sinister, and while the grants were grudgingly awarded, we were repeatedly admonished to publish “a higher quality of fiction”, and to ensure we did our due diligence for proof-reading, design, and copy-editing. (That last part is ironic, since we have more proofreaders now than we ever had when we started this magazine. And our design has always received excellent feedback.) Then we got the “two strikes” warning, and so the writing was on the wall.
With each grant application over the years, we have included thoughtful reviews of our issues from the people most familiar with the Science Fiction and Fantasy sub-genre. We have even provided letters of recommendation from some of Canada’s most respected academics in the field—letters attesting to the high quality of our fiction.
This information appears to have been either ignored or else dismissed by the jury. I will quote from the letter we received with this year’s jury comments:
While they recognized the important contribution On Spec makes by publishing works in an under-represented genre, they felt that the quality of writing remained low. They also noted copy-editing errors, and poor production, design and layout quality.
Each issue of On Spec goes through a rigorous process of copy-edits and proofing, right up to the final approval of the printer proofs. While a few errors may slip through, it is a slap in the face to our designers and production staff, to say that our production quality is poor. While not a professional publication, we make every attempt to appear professional with a fraction of the budget allocated to larger publications.
In view of the quality of the writing, I want to tell you that the editors of On Spec have never compromised on the fiction they select for publication. So without concrete examples of what the jury members considered to be such “low quality writing”,(surely it wasn’t every story in all four issues!) we had no idea what they meant when they were asking us to find “better” fiction. Since we select stories for their readability and engagement with the reader by our own standards, it seems we were destined to fail when judged by their standards. (One juror several years ago did comment that perhaps buying fiction from “better-known” Canadian authors was the solution, which clearly showed their inability to understand our mandate. But that’s not the discussion I want to have here.)
After twenty-five years, we should know what our own readers want and like. It is painfully apparent the juries at Canada Council do not. But who are we publishing On Spec for? While it has been suggested that perhaps it is time we begin to kowtow to the tastes of these gatekeepers of Canadian literary culture, we simply cannot do this.
I do not believe I am being unrealistic. A publishing grant is not, and should not, be an expectation. But this particular rationale for denying funding is little more than an insult to everyone who helps to make On Spec, as well as the people who continue to read and enjoy it.
Where do we go from here?
Well, in some ways, that is up to you, our readers and supporters to determine. Obviously, some hard decisions will need to be made for how we approach the coming year. We must remain positive. We have considered the option of going completely digital, although print copies could be available as print on demand. And we still have some grant funding that may continue to support us.
How can you help?
- Buy a subscription! Buy one for yourself, your friends and family, your school, your library—anyone you think would enjoy reading good Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
- If you don’t want a print subscription, then you can purchase a digital version of On Spec. Weightless Books also has a bunch of excellent back issues available at a lower cost.
- Tell more people about On Spec. Word-of-mouth is still our best form of advertising.
- Send us a donation or gift, by cheque, to On Spec, PO Box 4727, Edmonton, AB T6E 5G6, or through our PayPal account (onspec(at) interbaun.com), or other means. Feel free to contact us at onspec(at)onspec.ca for information on how you can help.
- In lieu of a one-time donation, sign up at our Patreon page to commit to a sustaining monthly donation. Patreon helps support artists and creators, and it allows for crowd-sourcing for amounts as little as $1 or $2 monthly. That’s less than the change that falls under the seat cushions of your sofa.
We are in the process of figuring out how best to acknowledge larger donations and regret that we cannot issue a charitable donation receipt. Just remember, your gift is a validation of the contribution that On Spec makes to Canada’s body of literature of the Fantastic.
While the Canada Council jury decision on funding is final, and there is absolutely no possibility of a change of heart, you may still wish to contact the Canada Council and have your feelings made known to the members of this year’s jury. Their names will be published later this year, as is the CC policy. Send your communication to email@example.com. and (politely) ask that your comments be provided for the people who juried this year’s Grants to Literary and Art Magazines. Please remember, you are Canadian.
Thank you for your continuing support and good wishes,
Diane Walton, Managing Editor, On Spec Magazine.
check out website: http://onspecmag.wordpress.com/