Everything you need to know about The Arcanist in 2020

The Arcanist has another year officially under its belt. 2019 saw our submission rate nearly double. We started two podcasts, increased our Patreon rewards, and published three different collections. It was one for the record books to be sure.

One of the things we all strive for here is transparency and open communication with our writers and readers. You can pretty much tweet us at any time and get a quick response for your issue or more information on how we do business. I know, as a writer, that I never really enjoyed publications that act like they have some secret sauce that they are trying to protect by being aloof.

To that end, I wanted to start 2020 off by letting everyone know where The Arcanist stands this year and where we plan to head. Don’t worry — it’s all good stuff.

Note: This post is both a news update and an editorial by me about the decisions we’re making. I strongly believe that writers should understand how publications work, what goes on behind the curtain, and how we attempt to deal with an everchanging digital landscape. Now, on to the news! (TL;DR at the end.)

We’re Becoming a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit

Over the course of a single year, we publish 52 stories, receive thousands upon thousands of submissions, create one weekly podcast version of each story (and have started on a new, editorial podcast, too), create one yearly anthology, hold at least three contests, and publish two different contest collections.

Every single thing I just mentioned has driven us deeper in the hole.

The Arcanist has never made a dime on a single story in its existence, including contests. It is funded almost solely from our editors’ pockets (with some really fine folks supporting us on Patreon but not nearly enough to break even).

On top of that, one of our goals this year is to give our writers a raise, paying the SFWA pro-rate for flash fiction, which increased last year.

To make matters worse, we also try to not cut down our writers’ work. If we suggest an edit, it’s always to serve the story. This means that we refuse to pay based on word count. So, each story will have to be compensated at $80 USD (up from $50 USD) to align with the new 8 cents/word guidelines no matter if they are 200 words or exactly 1,000.

This is the only way we can ensure that all stories are on equal footing, that we never cut words to save costs, and that our writers attempt to make extremely short stories knowing that they will be compensated at a great rate.

We strongly believe that short-form fiction is something to fight for. It’s an invaluable aspect of the larger literary world. It is also the least funded. Short-form writers deserve to be paid well for their creative efforts. The question for us is how do we do this without jeopardizing reading experience by running a ridiculous amount of ads, completely locking stories down, or simply becoming a token publication?

The only option is to become a nonprofit.

In order to pull this off, we are currently working with the IRS to obtain nonprofit status, allowing us to take donations from large, literary donors and others. It will also give a tax incentive to Patreon supporters.

Right now, we are already registered and incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Pennsylvania, though it takes much longer to sort this stuff out with the IRS. We will definitely keep everyone informed about these changes when there is something to report.

While we’re on the subject of speculative fiction economics:

We’re Leaving Medium ASAP

Medium, the platform you are reading this on, has a lot of things going for it. It creates an easy writing experience. It has a super clean look that we love. It plugs into a network of other publications. It loads fast. It’s completely stable. It has decent support.

It also is completely pointless for fiction.

Most Medium writers write about writing. There are literally thousands and thousands of posts about how to write fiction, poetry, get published, etc. However, despite this, Medium is a pretty awful place for fiction writers to actually publish fiction.

The platform doesn’t prioritize fiction at all, for one thing. And, on top of that, they continually change their model in an effort to be profitable (something that, despite having 60 million users basically giving them content away for pennies, Medium has yet to accomplish).

One of these changes came earlier this year when the site changed how stories made money. In the past, stories earned based on ‘claps.’ While that seems simple, this model was extremely complex, making it next to impossible to know if a story was going to do well or not even if it had hundreds or thousands of claps from readers.

In late-2018, Medium changed this. Now, stories earn revenue based on reading time.

Flash fiction, as a form, has an average reading time of about four-ish minutes. Microfiction, which we define as stories in 100 words or fewer, comes in at around a minute or so.

Even if we managed to somehow have a viral flash piece take off, we’re still likely in the red. This is one — but not the sole — reason we stopped publishing micro for the time being.

This is all exacerbated by the fact that, in order to be read widely on Medium, a Medium editor has to ‘distribute’ the story. We’re a three-person editorial team already. We don’t need, or want, an outside editor deciding if our content lives or dies.

The final issue is that Medium is not ad-based. This is great for us because, like all of you, we HATE ads. They seriously take away from the writing and reading experiences. BUT, there are other uses for sidebar ad-slots, such as our newsletter subscription info, contest ads for our writers, easy contact forms, our in-house ads for our collections, etc.

If you do any of these things, Medium will not let you be considered for ‘distribution.’ On top of that, you have to enable the soft paywall to also get distributed. We cannot even post a link to our Patreon page without basically dooming a story.

All of this works against fiction writing on Medium. You are forced to choose between completely open content that has no way of making any of the cost back or locking down content, leaving it up to some unknown editor to distribute it, and then hoping that whatever alchemy these use to turn metrics into dollars is in your favor. Not to mention the fact that this alchemy has historically changed at least once per year.

This is all a long way of saying that we, as a publication, are leaving Medium behind. Our site is currently under construction. We promise to not lock stories behind a paywall, to not include intrusive ads, and to keep the reading experience as it is (and hopefully better).

We’re Officially Publishing Our First Author-Driven Collection

Now that all of that Medium nonsense is behind us, we want to move on to one of the biggest updates!

Over the last couple of months, The Arcanist team has had to pleasure of working closely with one of our favorite contributors, Christopher Stanley, to bring his new flash collection, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales to life!

The collection — told in three parts — will feature Chris’ most horrifying stories from multiple different publications.

We’re also proud to announce that we had the chance to work with Bram Stoker Award-winner Kealan Patrick Burke on the cover of the collection, which we will reveal shortly.

This is the first time we have worked this closely with a writer on a longer collection. It’s been an absolute blast and we are honored that Chris wanted our involvement on the project.

We aim to do more of these collections in the future now that Chris has been through the fire with us to iron out our process. More news on all of this in the months to come!

A New Contest Is Around the Corner

For the last two years, we’ve held two contests annually— one in spring and one in fall. This year is no different.

We’re excited to announce a new flash fiction contest, which will be going live very soon. The theme this time: Westerns!

If you’ve read this far (thank you, by the way), you’re the very first to know what the theme will be. Sharpen those pencils and get to work.

As with all of our contests, this theme is open to interpretation. It obviously has to be speculative-based (no straight-up real-life westerns), but besides that, we want to see what you come up with!

All of the normal things apply, too. 1,000 words or fewer. You can use our normal submission guidelines to get a sense of what we’re looking for if you are new.

We Are No Longer Accepting Email Submissions

When we first started, the Google-based form we use to collect submission was troublesome. It required setting permissions, getting links, and was generally a hassle for many people.

Since then, we have made the process as easy as possible. You fill out the form, attach your story from your computer, hit that submit button, get a receipt for your story, and commence the waiting game.

Even though this process has been simplified, email submissions are still pouring in. This, at first glance, doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but believe us it is. It really messes up our queue when people manually submit things to us, possibly becoming unfair to those who have used the proper channels.

So, from this point on, we will no longer accept ANY unsolicited email submissions. They will be immediately rejected with a form letter pointing you to our submission form. The only time we will accept an emailed story if is one of our editors specifically says to send it as an attachment. (This happens when we request edits or if the form glitches, which it typically doesn’t).

If you are having trouble with the form, please make sure your story is in a standard format (such as .doc, .docx, .pdf, etc).

Wait, Why Don’t You Guys Use Submittable Like Everyone Else?

The short answer is that it is far too expensive. Submittable rates are based on how many submissions a publication receives in a given month. Based on the sheer amount of submissions we receive, Submittable is a nonstarter.

We would hate to have to pause submissions every month in order to dodge an insane bill. Plus, the Google Form is incredibly easy to use on our end and for our writers.

The Google Form has many advantages and one of the biggest is that it is a system that works for our editors. Keeping the editorial process rolling gives every story a fair shake.

Wrapping Up

And with that, you have officially been caught up to date with the goings-on here at The Arcanist. We have some big changes in the works for 2020, notably:

  • We’re slowly but surely becoming an IRS, officially recognized nonprofit
  • We want to give our writers a raise to the SFWA pro-rate
  • We are leaving Medium for a myriad of reasons
  • We are publishing our first author-driven collection: The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales by Christopher Stanley
  • We want to do more of these types of collections
  • We have a new contest coming soon! The theme will be westerns.
  • We are no longer accepting unsolicited email submissions in 2020

Thanks to all of you who have read this far. And a big double, secret thank you to all of our writers, readers, and supporters for making 2019 a great year at The Arcanist. We truly wouldn’t be here without you all!

Josh is the Editor-in-Chief of The Arcanist. When he isn’t reading submissions and complaining about Medium, he’s watching reality shows about Alaska, petting his two cats, or listening to too many podcasts.