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An Interview with Sean Wallace

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome the publisher of The Dark, who is currently wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign to publish even more excellent fiction, increase pay rates, publish a special double issue in December, and possibly even launch a regular podcast.

The DarkWelcome! To start things off, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Sean Wallace, co-editor and publisher for The Dark Magazine, and I work hand-in-hand with Silvia Moreno-Garcia to select and showcase great fiction every month. I’ve essentially been onboard since the first issue, so about five years now, and thirty-five issues later.

You launched The Dark in 2013, and you’ve been going strong for five years now. How did the idea or the vision for the publication originally come about? What’s changed between Issue 1 and Issue 35?

I would say not much has really changed, as the focus has always been on character-driven stories from all around the world, bringing unique mythologies, perspectives, and more, to the magazine. This is something to be proud of, as we have accomplished that to a large degree, with the help of Jack Fisher, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and many others. And last year was our best, yet, with over forty-percent of our authors being people of colo(u)r. We could always improve, though!

However, in other ways, The Dark has indeed evolved. For example, when we added the award-winning Kate Baker to our masthead, to narrate the occasional podcast adaptation throughout the year. There was also the time we dropped from four original stories down to two, and brought in two reprints instead. Or, over the years, opening up and exploring revenue streams by offering Patreon, Amazon subscriptions, and more. Publishing online is always a challenge, so we have to change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.

As an editor, I know it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, but how would you generally characterize a story that has the right feel for The Dark? Is there anything you don’t see enough of in the submission pile that you’d like to see more often?

You have to remember that between Silvia and myself that we are pretty well read, with a combined thirty years of editing experience, so, honestly, what we react positively to basically boils down to: surprise us with something we haven’t seen before, right away, because you only get that one chance, for the most part. And since we process about three or hundred stories a month, that first paragraph really has to do the heavy lifting, almost always, in order to convince us to go any further.

Could you talk a bit about your Kickstarter campaign, what you hope to accomplish, and particularly the stretch goals you’d like to reach?

It takes time (and energy) to grow a magazine and make it sustainable. Ever since I bought The Dark entirely a few years ago, it has been resource-starved, in a number of ways. So we are hoping that the kickstarter campaign allows us a bit of breathing space to grow everything at a pace that we’re comfortable with, without worrying about the finances underpinning the entire business model. But, also, and just as important, we wanted to bump up the pay rate for our authors, to properly compensate them for the great work they do. We couldn’t do it without them.

With regards to stretch goals, the first is if we reach $13,500, it essentially boils down to having a podcast every month, instead of every other month. Why? Because people want to process their short fiction fix in a number of ways, not just online or in print, but also in audio. You have to go where the readers are, in this.

We also thought that an one-off Spanish-language edition might be really cool, to partially reflect the interest worldwide in our stories, so we mocked up the cover, came up with the title, La Oscuridad, and we really hope to get a chance to do this in time for World Fantasy this year. After all, there shouldn’t be any reason why there shouldn’t one, in a country where Hispanics and Latinos represent the largest ethnic / racial minority. So, in this, we need to do more.

And the second and last goal is for $15,000: at which point we increase the pay rate from five cents to six cents a word, making the magazine SFWA qualified. Which would make a lot of people very happy, including us!

You’ve worked as an co-editor elsewhere in addition to The Dark (Clarkesworld Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and more). How have those experiences influenced (or not) the way you work with others on this publication?

I do think that working on all those other magazines has meant that I look at The Dark with a realistic perspective, knowing that I will lose money on the venture for the first two or three years, but with a game plan in mind to at least break-even or make some money down the road. Because, ultimately, there is nothing in this world I love more but publish short stories and have readers enjoy them as much as I do.

Beyond that the more I work at this, it is clear that I work best at co-editing, that it balances out my own editorial inclinations, which can be sometimes good or bad, really. And whether it is with Neil Clarke, Jack Fisher, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Cat Rambo, Paul Tremblay, or any others I’ve forgotten to list, they help me be better. As it really is a team effort.

Any closing thoughts you’d like to share about The Dark, the world in general, or other personal projects you’re working on you’d like people to know about?

Just to repeat what we stated on the campaign itself: we don’t just like dark fantasy, horror, or weird fiction . . . we love it. And we hope to keep doing it for years to come, with your help.

Thank you all for dropping by! I can’t wait to see what the future of The Dark has in store!

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