How A Sci-Fi Magazine Uses Facebook to Sell Issues

When authors talk about promoting their books, the “S” word isn’t far behind.

Everyone knows social media is important for writers in some abstract context, but they’re not sure how it actually works.

That includes me.

I’ve tried investigating it all month, first by interviewing author Holly Robinson about how she uses Twitter. Then, by taking a look at the Facebook Pages of famous authors.

Now, I wanted to talk to someone who runs a magazine to see how Facebook is working as a marketing platform.

Here’s my interview with Shane Collins, the editor-in-chief of The Speculative Edge, a sci-fi magazine that’s just five months old.

What on earth made you start a new fiction magazine in this day and age?

Haha, great question!

Prior to The Speculative Edge, I had worked as an editor. I knew exactly how to creatively handle a magazine, but didn’t have much experience with the business end.

I really wanted the full autonomy to do whatever I wanted, and it’s been a lot of fun.

There are a million and one fiction magazines out there – a lot of them excellent – but we’re original in two ways.

First, we strive to publish work that helps to bridge the gap between “genre” and “literary” writing. We want great stories, but we also want work that says something significant.

The other way is that we don’t just publish fiction. We publish poetry. And reviews. And essays, and interviews… Oh, and excerpts. We also have annual fiction and poetry contests, themed issues, and previews of upcoming TV shows.

We want to be a fun magazine – the kind of magazine we’d want to read ourselves. A big way we do that is with variety.

What was the process of getting the magazine started?

The very first thing I did was create a website and Facebook Page.

The Speculative Edge’s Facebook Page.

We needed a headquarters – a way to disseminate information, to tell people about all the awesome stuff we were doing.

I had experience with Google Sites, because that’s what I use for my personal author page.

Much like my first car, our site is ugly, but it gets the job done.

Now that we have a (somewhat) steady and reliable income, one of our next goals is to revamp the website.

The next step was to start getting submissions. I spent a couple weeks sending over all of the magazine’s specifications and guidelines to places like Duotrope, Writer’s Market, and Ralan.

Once they added The Speculative Edge to their archives, we were ready to go.

How did you initially build your audience?

This was a three-pronged plan.

The first was actually just getting the magazine listed on various writing websites.

“Writers need to support other writers” is a common saying, but it’s very true. Many of the people who read small press magazines are writers and the same is true for us.

The next was really just word-of-mouth. We’d go to writing conferences and conventions and tell people what we were doing.

We talked to college professors and students. We told our friends, families, coworkers, the mail man, even that weird guy who sleeps on the bench in the park. We told anyone who’d listen.

Our third strategy has been Facebook Ads. We’ve managed to accumulate a loyal following through Facebook, though their restructured approach to business posts has kind of hurt us there.

How have you used Facebook to promote the magazine?

Aside from the ads, we’ve used Facebook in a number of ways. It’s been an excellent platform to tell our audience about new issues and current sales.

We’ve also used it to give away free digital copies. I love doing this because with digital copies, we’re not losing money and it’s a great way to get the magazine to people who haven’t read or heard about it yet.

A lot of our word-of-mouth strategy was done via Facebook.

I joined different Facebook groups with our target audience in mind (science fiction groups, writing groups, and even masters writing program groups) and talked about what I was doing.

I gave away a lot of free digital copies and more than a few recipients ended up getting subscriptions.

What kind of things do you find work best on Facebook?

Which Facebook are we talking about? Haha. It seems like Facebook goes through a major “upgrade” every week.

Besides the ads, we’ve had some successful strategies.

One of them was posting funny pictures.

Funny pictures get shared and liked, which means fans’ friends can see The Speculative Edge’s pictures.

People then “like” or “share” the picture and it gets our page more exposure.

Another is our ongoing “Name That Character” game, where we’ll post a picture of a character from a speculative movie or TV show. The first person who names them correctly wins a digital copy.

What results have you seen from those efforts?

Giving away digital copies on Facebook has gotten us definite results. They’ve translated into stronger Kindle and Nook sales, as well as digital subscriptions.

As relatively new magazine, how does the submissions process work? Do you get a lot of submissions? 

We already get a lot of submissions.

All our submissions are sent via email and, between all our different features, we get a couple per day. For fiction, I think we reject about 80% and poetry is slightly higher.

We strive for stories that have literary merit. I like character development. I like thought-provoking ideas and stories that make you ask questions. And though it’s not on our guidelines, my personal tastes lean toward dark and gritty stories.

Most importantly – how’s it going? What have these initial five months been like and what do you have planned for 2013?

It’s going great! It’s been a ton of work – more than I ever expected – but I’ve loved every minute of it.

In January, we have the results of our first poetry contest. We have some great themed issues coming up as well. Like I mentioned before, one of our short term goals is to revamp the website.

We’re also currently conducting a survey to get input from our readers. Once we get enough feedback, we’ll look at all the data and tweak the magazine accordingly.

This could mean more online content, reader-picked themed issues down the road, or even new monthly features. Stay tuned because we have a lot of great stuff coming!

And thanks a lot for having me here, Blaise. I had a lot of fun!

The breakdown

1. Free stuff can help build your audience: think about giving away free samples of writing to intrigue potential readers.

2. Facebook pictures help boost visibility for your Page if they’re fun and shareable, because once fans share or like a picture, their friends can see the picture and see that your Page posted the picture. 

3. Facebook groups can be a great way to find and engage with people who have your similar interests.

4. Change has defined Facebook this year — as the company tries to please stockholders, new ‘upgrades’ make it harder to get visibility for free.

5. 80% of short stories are rejected by The Speculative Edge.

6. Submissions are very common, even for new magazines: Shane gets about 2 to 3 submissions per day. That means about 60 to 90 stories are competing for 3 to 5 slots each month. 

7. Interactivity is the key to social media success: Shane isn’t just using Facebook to keep in touch with readers, he shares the latest news about the magazine and conducts surveys to see what the magazine should improve in future issues.

Looking for more help? I’m working on a guide to Facebook & content marketing for early 2013.

If you’re interested, sign up for The Creative Brief, my free monthly newsletter, and I’ll email it to you as soon as it’s ready!


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