The Semiprozine Spotlight project never quite took off the way the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlights and Non-fiction Spotlights did, probably because semiprozine editors are very busy people. Still, I am continuing the project as interviews come in. For more about the Semiprozine Spotlight project, go here.
Today I am pleased to feature Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy, who have published three of my flash stories to date with another one upcoming. So I’m happy to welcome Wyngraf editor Nathaniel Webb to my blog today:
A note for Hugo nominators, Wyngraf is not yet eligible for the Best Semiprozine Hugo, because they’re on their third issue and the Hugo rules require a minimum of four. However, Wyngraf will be Hugo eligible as of 2024.
Wyngraf is a magazine of cozy fantasy short fiction—as far as I know, the first of its kind. Cozy fantasy focuses on low-stakes stories, often with themes of home and community. They can be simple slice-of-life tales or feature some conflict, but they’re never about toppling kingdoms or preventing the world from ending and they’re rarely solved with violence. They’re often set at home, though when they go off wandering we call that “backpack fantasy” and still count it. Our stories always give readers worlds they’d love to live in and endings that leave them feeling warm and, well, cozy!
Who are the people behind your magazine?
Right now it’s pretty much me, editor-in-chief Nathaniel Webb, and the incredible authors and artists whose work I’ve bought for each issue. Recently the amazing Angelica Fiori, who had stories in our first two issues, helped me read the massive slush pile for our third submissions round. I would have drowned without her!
Why did you decide to start your magazine?
Because it didn’t exist!
In early 2021 I was recovering from a major surgery—plus there was that whole global pandemic thing—and I found myself hungry for cozy fantasy reads. (I’ve always said my favorite part of Lord of the Rings is the “Concerning Hobbits” section at the beginning.) There were lots of posts seeking fantasy books with a cozy feel on forums like Reddit, but there was no community hub. You couldn’t even find two people who agreed on a definition of the genre.
So I read what I could find, but I kept thinking it ought to be easier to hunt these books down. I kept expecting someone to start a website or something. I kept expecting a dedicated magazine to pop up. But by the start of 2022, nothing had…
Meanwhile, at the end of 2021, I self-published a mystery novel called A Conventional Murder. I had published with small presses before, but this was my first time trying self-pub, and I discovered I really enjoyed the technical aspects of it: ordering the art, doing the layout and cover design, all that stuff. So there was kind of this perfect storm where I felt like there was a need in the market for cozy fantasy, and I suddenly had the skills to do something about it—and in the bargain, help promote fellow authors and publish stories that might not fit at other fantasy magazines.
What format do you use for your magazine (print zine, PDF zine, e-mail zine, online zine, podcast, etc…) and why did you choose this format?
We publish the magazine in two formats, ebook and print-on-demand paperback. I always knew we’d do a physical version. Paper books are how I like to read, and I find it really satisfying to hold something in my hand that I helped create. Those are sold on Amazon, through their PoD service.
But at the same time, a lot of people prefer ereaders these days, so of course we have that option as well. Our ebooks are on Amazon, of course, but also DriveThruFiction, where you get both the ebook and a PDF for the same price. We’re also continuing to experiment with publications outside the core semiannual magazine. Last year we ran flash fiction every week. This year we’re publishing an ebook special with two cozy fantasy romance stories for Valentine’s Day, and we’ve got a couple other secret projects in the works…
Science fiction, fantasy and horror were born in the pulps and short fiction has long been the beating heart of the genre. However, the focus of attention is increasingly moving towards novels and series. So why do you think SFF short fiction is important and worthy of attention?
Short SFF is essential because it allows for experimentation. Cozy fantasy is still in this nebulous state where it hasn’t quite been pinned down yet; the tropes are still being defined and nothing has totally reified. One of the my favorite things about putting out an issue of Wyngraf is that every story is somebody’s favorite, because everyone’s looking for something a little different from us.
Short fiction is where the genre sausage gets made. Sometimes I almost feel like Farnsworth Wright picking stories for Weird Tales, or Moorcock at New Worlds (on a much, much smaller scale, of course!)—in my tiny way, I get to help define what “cozy fantasy” means going forward. I have an essay about this, “Windows and Walls,” coming out in Wyngraf #3. It’s a thrilling place to be, and you don’t get that so much in the novel space, where every book is a huge investment so they have to be conservative (and doubly so for series). This was even more true when we were running flash fiction on our website. I bought a story, “Billable Hours for the Disputed Rights of the Chosen One” by L Chan, six hundred words long, written in the form of an expense report. You can’t write a novel like that—but readers loved it. It was our most popular flash piece, hands down.
I must admit, though, that in between me announcing Wyngraf and the first issue coming out, Travis Baldree released a cozy fantasy novel called Legends & Lattes that became a monster breakout hit and wound up on the New York Times bestseller list. So that certainly didn’t hurt. Thanks, Travis!
One big problem for SFF magazines is monetarization. Readers are happy to consume short fiction, but they’re often unwilling to pay for it. What are your strategies for financing your magazine and paying your writers and staff?
Wyngraf is the story of what a person can achieve when they have no idea how clueless they are… I financed the first issue out of pocket, hoping it would eventually sell enough copies to break even and having no clue how unlikely that might be. Luckily for my pocket, my optimism about how a cozy fantasy magazine would sell was justified and we’ve not only broken even but turned a small profit.
A few things make this possible. One, I’m doing this as a hobby, not a living, so I don’t pay myself and breakeven is a success. Two, I do everything myself except the cover art and the stories. (Okay, I wrote a story for the first issue—sixty-five-hundred words I didn’t have to pay for!)
The third thing that makes the finances work is that right now, we pay our authors nothing near a professional rate. Increasing author pay is my number one goal for the magazine. We paid one cent per word for our first two issues, and increased it to a cent and a half for issue three. Still a pittance, but we’re moving in the right direction… I also strive for total financial transparency. There are a couple blog posts on our website where I lay out all our financials—literally everything—so you can judge for yourself.
But at its heart, the model is dead simple. I buy stories and some cover art, I put the issue together, I put it online, and I hope really hard that enough people buy copies that I can make another issue! So far so good…
The format of fiction magazines has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Print magazines still exist, but are no longer as dominant. Online and PDF zines are now the dominant form of short fiction delivery and fiction podcasts are becoming ever more popular. So where do you think magazines will go next?
I have no idea! I’m poorly equipped to answer this question because, despite being a software developer halfway through a computer science master’s degree, I’m a luddite at heart. I like paper books and magazines. I want everything to be a mass-market paperback.
I tend to believe there will always be a place for print, especially given the ease of self-publishing and print-on-demand nowadays. I certainly couldn’t have created a print magazine ten years ago. I do think print does offer some legitimate advantages as a technology—I’m skeptical, for instance, that purely website- and PDF-based delivery will ever monopolize the market, because enough people hate reading on phone and computer screens. Just look at Kindle Vella’s failure to launch: it’s called Kindle Vella, but you can’t read it on your Kindle, you have to go to the website or use the phone app.
I do think audio will continue to grow. It’s not my thing simply because I find it hard to pay attention to, but lots of people love it. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the SFF space experiments with really high production values, or a serialized narrative modeled after true crime podcasts, or other ways to hook listeners that aren’t just narrators reading stories. The form guiding the content, as it were. Are people already doing this?
Are there any other great magazines, podcasts, editors, stories, etc… you’d like to recommend?
Yes! Not long after we launched, the editors of Augur announced Tales & Feathers, an online magazine of cozy slice-of-life fantasy. They ran a successful Kickstarter and have been putting out a story every month for over half a year now. The best part: they pay a professional rate!
It’s a fantastic magazine, but it’s interesting—and this ties back into the idea that cozy fantasy hasn’t been pinned down yet—Tales & Feathers has a very different voice from Wyngraf, generally much closer to literary SFF than we are. I’ve actually turned down excellent stories for being too, I don’t know, arty or abstract or something. That’s just not what Wyngraf is about. I kind of feel like T&F‘s kid brother even though we technically launched before them. Though I have to say this: they’ve got some big names, like Premee Mohamed, but I was thrilled when they published a wonderful writer named Ziggy Schutz who sold us a flash story for our website. We ran Ziggy first!
You can read Tales & Feathers for free at www.augurmag.com/tales-and-feathers-magazine. It’s really good!
Where can people find you?
Our website is www.wyngraf.com, where you can learn about the magazine and our side projects, read dozens of flash stories for free, and sign up for our mailing list (which gets you even more free stories). Our ebooks are sold on Amazon and DriveThruFiction, and our paperbacks are on Amazon. And we’re on Twitter at @wyngraf, for however long Twitter lasts…
Thanks so much for inviting me over and letting me ramble!
Thank you, Nat, for stopping by and answering my questions.
Cozy up with a warm blanket and a hot beverage of your choice and check out Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy, cause it’s a great magazine.
Do you run a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.