How to Brew a Bugzine

In which two intrepid editors ramble on about creating an unlikely journal of bug-themed fiction and art.

I suppose we should start by introducing ourselves. It seems like the polite thing to do, since Fran was kind enough to let us to infest her blog. We are Bernie Mojzes and A.C. Wise, co-editors of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, an online magazine of  fiction and art about bugs. We publish two full issues per year, with an unspecified number of themed, mini issues scattered in-between. The Journal is in its second year, and we are thrilled by the positive response from authors, artists, readers, and reviewers thus far.

When we first tell people about the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, we generally get one of two reactions: “That is the best name ever!” Or: “Huh. Bugs. Why?” The short answer is, it started as a joke, one which rapidly turned into, “Y’know, we could actually make something of this…” For the longer (and racier) answer, you’ll have to find us at a con, and ask in person.

Obviously the first thing one should do when considering some stressful and foolhardy action which affects others (such as having a dinner party, or putting together a publication), is to try to talk yourself out of it.

For us, this process went something like this:

A: You should put together a bug anthology.
B: Yes! Except, no. Anthologies need publishers and distribution. Let’s start a bug zine!
A: Great idea! Will there be alcohol?

Of course, the following day, we started step two: ask yourself the hard questions, come up with an actual plan, and figure out what you’re doing. And, even more importantly, what you are not doing. This included assembling a novella length questionnaire, asking such questions as:

Will we be a paying market? If so, what rate? Per word or flat rate? And how will we come up with the money? Subscription based or free online? How will we handle slush? What are our response times? How are we tracking submissions? What will we be publishing: fiction? non-fiction? poetry? What rights are we asking? How will we promote the zine and our authors? Is anyone even going to want to read–or write–about bugs?

And most importantly: Are we willing to put in enough time to make sure the publication succeeds and doesn’t turn into one of those publications that starts up, publishes a few issues, then immediately vanishes?

We came up with answers, and forged ahead. Let’s just say, for posterity, we did so fearlessly.

There are thousands of ingredients that can go into any recipe, and a successful meal owes as much to planning the correct ingredients and tools as it is does to the actual cooking. The same is as true of a magazine as it is of manicotti.

Despite starting life as a joke, we take the Journal of Unlikely Entomology very seriously. One of the first things we talked about was the importance of paying our contributors. Even though we can’t afford pro rates yet, we believe very strongly that artists should be compensated for their work. Throughout the planning stages for the Journal as a whole, and each individual issue, we strive to be professional, and hold ourselves and the work we publish to a high standard.

Each submission is read by both editors. We hold it for further consideration if we both like it, or pass on it if it isn’t quite to our taste. Anything we disagree on, we discuss before sending a hold or a rejection notice. We don’t accept stories immediately, even if we both love them, out of a desire to be thoughtful about each issue – making sure we’ve given every story careful consideration, seeing how the stories might come together around a common theme, or contrast with each other. We also aim to include varying styles and length in each issue – pairing a short, sharp shock of a story with a slow-burning tale.

Once we’ve accepted the stories, we each do an editing pass before sending them back to the author to address any questions or concerns. Before the stories see (virtual) print, a copy editor looks at them, and the author gets another chance to approve the proof. And, of course, each story is paired with a gorgeous piece of art. That, in short, is a how a bugzine is brewed.

Now that we’ve revealed our cooking process, let’s back up and talk about the flavors and ingredients we enjoy, and what metaphorically causes us to put our cutlery down and walk away. Some of our tastes are pretty universal, and can be applied to any slushpile. We expect authors to be professional – follow guidelines, minimize typos, understand grammar, use standard manuscript format. Aside from the basics, reasons we reject a story include: the story doesn’t start until half-way through; the characters are stereotypes/caricatures; the plot is one we’ve seen too often; the story isn’t a story – nothing changes, no one grows, there is no momentum; and the big one, the story doesn’t involve bugs. That last one happens surprisingly often, for a publication with Entomology in the title.

On a harder-to-pin-down level, personal taste is obviously a factor. Just because a story isn’t right for us, doesn’t mean another editor won’t love it. Sometimes we’ll like a story, but feel it isn’t right for the Journal. We may pass on a story because it’s too similar to something else we’ve published, or because the story doesn’t feel ready for prime time.

As for the things that will get us to sit up and take notice, and things we’d like to see more of: stories that incorporate the insect/arthropod element in unusual or non-literal ways; unusual story structures; lush, gorgeous prose; diverse settings and viewpoints including non-western, LGTB, and POC characters; well-written erotica and horror; and stories about insects other than spiders, flies, cockroaches, or bees (which is not to say we’ll automatically reject stories featuring them, but those are the insects and arthropods we see most often, so those stories will have to work harder to win us over.)

Ultimately, the only way for us to know whether we love a story enough to publish it is to read it, so if you’re in doubt, send it our way. And for those who like to practice rejectomancy, when we say we hope you’ll send us more, we really mean it!

Looking ahead, we’re planning some exciting things – expanding the scope of the Journal, making the issues available for various e-readers, and possibly even putting out some special, limited edition, dead-tree products. Whatever direction the Journal may take, we do hope it will have an impressive life-span. And rest assured there will always be bugs. Oh, yes, there will be bugs.

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4 comments

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I find editing and writing process posts and interviews fascinating in general. It’s always interesting to see how other people do it.

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