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Monday, August 04, 2014

ON SPEC'S CANADA COUNCIL FUNDING HAS BEEN CUT


I CAN HARDLY CALL THE FOLLOWING A GUEST POST by ON SPEC's MANAGING EDITOR, DIANE WALTON. This is more in the nature of bad news. As well as displaying it here on Suzenyms, we will also post it on the On Spec website, the I Read On Spec Facebook page, and elsewhere. I leave it to Diane to share this with you:

TO BE FAIR, WE WERE WARNED.

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?
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Tell more people about On Spec. Word-of-mouth is still our best form of advertising.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Last word:

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 info@canadacouncil.ca. 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.

(ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please check this latest post on how you can help.)

18 comments:

  1. Very sorry to read this. How does the Canada Council propose to foster new talent if it only wants to see the work of established writers published? What exactly is the role of the Council after all?

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  2. Good question. I suspect fostering new talent is not in their mandate. It should be. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Ugh. This is terrible. How can they deem On Spec low quality? I'm always very impressed with the writing and the presentation. :(

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  4. Thank you. We do our best. Apparently, our best was not good enough. As genre writers, we see this bias from non-genre writers more often than we like. I am hoping the CC jury for 2016 will be less affected by their own snobbery.

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  5. Oh no! I came to the website to tell you how much I enjoyed issue 96 and saw the announcement.

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  6. Will be very interested to see who was on the jury. From the CCA website, under "Values":
    "As an Organization, we...
    ...believe in the value of a national perspective of the arts, to enrich knowledge within the Council and the arts community, foster attitudes inclusive of all art forms and artistic traditions, and provide national and international leadership."

    If the CCA truly respects all artistic traditions and art forms, why is it always an uphill battle for the SF&F community to receive the same recognition and respect that all other genres and art forms enjoy in this country?

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    Replies
    1. Excellent question. Perhaps they need reminding of their own mandate.

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  7. Anonymous3:27 PM

    I'm a published slipstream author whose work has appeared in magazines in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. I've even been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. But I never have appeared in OnSpec. I read this plea and have to say ... boo-freaking-hoo.

    First of all, OnSpec wouldn't know good writing if you threw it against a barn, and I know based on the countless rejection letters I've received from this magazine. It's like there's this star chamber of editors who determine what is good and what isn't. OnSpec is as elitist as the grant giving organization they're complaining about. I know I'm good. I have the publication credits to back it up.

    Also, I've come to highly suspect any outlet that relies on grants to survive. If your publication was so high quality, readers would be clamouring to read it and buy subscriptions. There are plenty of publications I deal with that don't rely on grants, and are publishing for all the right reasons. Granted, a lot of them don't pay, but I feel that if you're trying to get paid as a fiction writer, and aren't doing it for the love of a good story, especially in this day and age when people just aren't reading like they used to, then your motivations are suspect.

    So cry me a river, OnSpec. Get real, wake up and smell the coffee, and start working on a business model that actually allows you to support yourself, rather than going cap in hand to the Canada Council. Step One: start publishing great stories that will allow you to sustain yourself, maybe gain an appreciation for writers who are doing different things with the SF genre, and quit bitching about grant money. No love lost here, I'm sorry to say.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I don't intend on getting into a back and forth, let's trade insults with you, but I will say two things. If you are as excellent a writer as you claim, I'm surprised that you sent this note anonymously. As for your comment about a 'star chamber of editors who determine what is good and what isn't', that's what editors do.

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  8. Everyone who is unhappy with this decision and who is Canadian needs to write their Member of Parliament and write the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Shelly Glover.

    Contact information for the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages:

    http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1373904107712/1373904290248

    And how to find and contact your Member of Parliament:

    http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to share this information. On behalf of On Spec and myself, we appreciate it.

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  9. Jen Rahn2:23 PM

    As pointed out, it is matter of opinion and taste. On Spec may just not have the type of fiction the grant reviewer(s) prefer. So...it might be worth bringing the story to the newspapers or arts magazines closer to the known readership to see if a different source of support can be found.

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    1. That's a good suggestion, Jen. Thank you.

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  10. So sorry to hear this Susan. When Sally and I launched TransVersions in the 90's, it was the standard set by On Spec were were shooting for. Your production values have always been first rate. The illustrations among the best in the field - in the world. And while I don't always agree with your editorial choices and have probably even got as miffed as Mr or Ms Anonymous at some rejections, I have always respected your taste, applauded your presence and influence in the Canadian SF community and valued your contribution to the literature of the fantastic. BTW - If Anonymous had ever ventured into publishing they'd know that losing money on every issue only (sooner or later) leads every editor and publisher to disillusionment and insolvency - and not paying for stories deprives you of credibility - which ultimately cuts into the bottom line. If they genuinely had no respect for you they would have tried so long and hard to sell you something. On Spec deserves to survive and thrive and carry on as one of the strongest, clearest voices of sf in Canada.

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  11. I very much appreciate your comments, Dale. Just to let you know, I don't always agree with our editorial choices either, but as we are a collective of editors, we must strive for consensus. Thank you for your support. I, for one, would love to see more strong and clear voices arising in Canadian SF, no matter what the CC decides.

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  12. I had my first short story published by On Spec and have had a number of others in your magazine since then. And yes, I had some rejected too. I always have a subscription to say thank you. Perhaps authors who have stories appearing in future issues could have the option of waiving their payment as a donation to the cause.

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  13. Thanks, Leslie. We very much appreciate your support, and thanks for being one of our contributing writers who also maintains a subscription. That helps us a great deal.

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