This is a follow up story for Compelling Science Press. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! Great to talk with you again. My name is Joe Stech (rhymes with tech), and I publish high-quality science fiction short stories on Compelling Science Fiction. I started the site because I love plausible science fiction, and I wanted to support the creation of those kinds of stories. The wonderful community of people who read compellingsciencefiction.com is looking for the same thing -- thought-provoking stories with self-consistent worlds and unique premises.
Compelling science fiction has about the same number of readers and revenue (~$1500/issue) as it did the last time we talked, but it's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, with the magazine actually shutting down at one point.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
When I talked to you last, the magazine was at the beginning of a contraction period. This was due to fewer issues being published per year (I went from 6/year down to 2/year). It sounds pretty obvious, but when you release less there are fewer growth opportunities, and people start forgetting about you!
It got to the point where I halted publication of the magazine. With a small daughter and a heavy day job workload, I wasn't able to prioritize reading the 500+ short stories I was receiving every month. This made me sad, but there are a finite number of hours in a day.
A couple of months after I announced that the magazine was halting publication, the owner of Flame Tree Publishing (a London-based publisher) reached out to me to express interest in a partnership. I had met him the year before at Worldcon in San Jose and had found him to be a well-spoken champion of genre fiction, with deep knowledge of the publishing industry. He said that it would be a shame for Compelling Science Fiction to go away, and we worked out an agreement that would allow us to keep publishing the same flavor of short stories with the help of Flame Tree. Needless to say, I was ecstatic since I didn't want to see compellingsciencefiction.com relegated to the dusty corner of the internet occupied by unmaintained sites whose backlinks have crumbled away.
The Flame Tree partnership was solidified in late December, and since then we've been hard at work on the next issue of the magazine! So far it's been going well. The partnership has also uncovered other business opportunities -- over the last 3 years I had written software to manage submissions to the magazine, and in the process of getting the Flame Tree team on-board I realized that other publishing companies might benefit from the automation I've put in place. I have plans to generalize my submissions system so that it can be sold as a SaaS offering -- if there are any readers out there who might find such a system valuable, feel free to email me at [email protected]
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
My biggest lesson by far is the value of meeting and connecting with interesting people. The magazine would currently be dead if I hadn't had breakfast with Nick Wells at Worldcon in 2018. I've always been a fairly introverted engineer, and while I understood the value of a good network of friends, I've rarely reached out to people for face-to-face meetings -- cold email exchanges were the extent of my outreach. I can say now from personal experience that there's really no substitute for getting to know someone in person. You won't always have much in common, and sometimes you just won't click. However, when things go well the relationships you form will be stronger.
My second biggest takeaway from last year is the importance of not spreading yourself too thin. You may remember that the last time we spoke I had been writing a book on Serverless Python. I finished that book and am very proud of it (Compelling Python). Several people have told me that the book helped them create inexpensive, highly scalable Python sites of their own, but I had too many projects going on at once when I released -- both the book release and the magazine suffered for it. Since then I've made a point of only pursuing one large project outside my day job at a time. It's very difficult, since starting projects is a lot easier than finishing them. :)
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I'm very excited to start releasing issues on a more frequent basis this year, thanks to helping from Flame Tree. We're going to a quarterly release schedule, and the higher publication frequency will be a fantastic springboard into restarting marketing efforts. I have two main goals this year:
Start growing the readership of the magazine again.
Start selling my submissions management system to other publications. Having an additional revenue stream should make the magazine more robust, and ensure publication for many years to come.
Given the fact that the magazine has very recently been revived from the dead, I'm nervous about making any 5-year plans -- however, I would like to position compellingsciencefiction.com as a science fiction hub if things go well over the next couple years. With the addition of a recommendation engine, I think we could eventually become a one-stop-shop for people who want to find new print SF.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
My Kindle tells me I've read 44 books in the last year, but I'll just give you the highlights. I think it's appropriate to start with science fiction since that's what my company is all about -- in terms of short story collections, I loved Axiomatic by Greg Egan. He's a master of hard science fiction, and the book is full of short story gems. On the novel side, I think House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds was my favorite this year. It's set about 6 million years in the future and follows clone family organizations that make circuits of the galaxy every 200,000 years, watching civilizations rise and fall. The breadth of the story is impressive.
On the non-fiction side, I finally got around to reading Masters of Doom, which has been recommended to me dozens of times and is wonderful. It's about John Carmack and John Romero and the founding of Id Software. One of the big takeaways for me was how dysfunctional a company can be and still remain wildly successful as long as people love your product.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
As I've demonstrated, I'm in no position to be giving advice on growth! Hopefully, we can chat next year and the entire discussion will be growth-related. :) For now, all I can say is to avoid my mistakes -- don't spread yourself too thin, keep releasing, and keep talking about your product.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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