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A conversation with Bill Olver

Bill OlverBill Olver is a longtime writer, editor, and zinester from Baltimore, MD. A journalist and playwright, Bill is best known for his Big Pulp line of publications, including the quarterly Big Pulp fiction journal; the LGBT-themed Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet; the political science fiction anthology, The Kennedy Curse; and APESHIT, a collection of ape-themed genre fiction. By day, Bill is a researcher and writer for a federal government contractor. 

What is Big Pulp?

Big Pulp is a quarterly genre fiction journal, as well as an umbrella brand through which I publish fiction anthologies and other magazines. I publish science fiction and fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance fiction and poems, leaning more towards the literary end of the scale. I have a very broad opinion of what constitutes science fiction or fantasy, or other types of genre fiction, and try to reflect that eclecticism in whatever I publish.

 

Let's do some history. How did the idea of founding a literary magazine come to you?

I worked on both my college newspaper and literary journal, so it’s something I’ve done (off and on) for almost all my adult life. In the 1990s, some friends and I published a very low-budget literary fiction journal during the zine craze, in part to help develop our own writing and to meet other local writers. Around the same time, I wrote news and feature articles for a small start-up independent newspaper. Those two projects gave me the publishing bug.

When online publishing began to take off, I started thinking about publishing another magazine. I had a lengthy internal debate on the type of publication I wanted to put together before settling on Big Pulp. In fact, I came very close to putting out an art and poetry journal in a newspaper tabloid format before my plans changed.

At the time, I was writing and reading a lot of fantasy and horror fiction, so my thoughts started moving in that direction. Ultimately, I decided to put out the kind of magazine I wish I could find in bookstores – something with a little bit of everything that I like. There are a lot of excellent genre magazines out there, but I don’t like reading a lot of mystery stories consecutively, or fantasy, horror, etc. I like to mix it up, and that’s what I try to do with Big Pulp.

 

What was (or is) the most difficult and frustrating aspect of this adventure?

Sales are the most challenging area. Big Pulp is still relatively new and I publish a lot of emerging genre writers, so convincing readers to try something unfamiliar can be tough. Competing with writers who publish their work for free is also difficult and can be discouraging. I know people who have purchased Kindles and then filled them with nothing but free e-books. Our quality of writing is very high, but it’s hard to compete with something given away for free.

On the plus side, I get excellent feedback from my readers. People who buy the books love them. Like all publishers, I just need a lot more of them.

 

And the biggest satisfaction?

My favorite part of the process is working with writers and artists. There’s nothing more satisfying than talking to a happy writer who’s just placed a story with me, or hearing from contributors when their comp copies arrive in the mail.

Several writers have told me that they targeted Big Pulp specifically as one of the publications they wanted to break into as they started their careers. Knowing that I have a reputation as a reliable and quality publisher, and that writers are proud to see their work in the magazine and our anthologies, is incredibly gratifying. I’m consistently amazed by the quality of submissions, and I work very hard to make the publications something writers are happy to show off. 

And hearing from someone who enjoyed one of our books is always great!

[I servizi di Sul Romanzo Agenzia Letteraria: Editoriali, Web ed Eventi.

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Big PulpDo American agents and publishers read literary magazines looking for new authors?

I’ve read interviews and articles that suggest many do. I believe they also monitor some of the annual “best of” collections of short literary and genre fiction. I don’t think Big Pulp has broken into that level of attention, but I think we’re on the cusp.

I read a lot of literary and genre fiction journals, but for enjoyment, not to find new writers. The submissions process is very open to new writers, and in fact, a number of my writers have made their first sale or first paid sale to Big Pulp.

 

You have to deal with writers and their egos every day. Is that hard?

When I started publishing online 6 years ago, this was one of my concerns, but I’m happy to say it’s been a very minor issue. I can think of only a handful of cases where a writer was difficult to deal with, or someone gave me grief over a rejected submission. Most of the writers I’ve worked with have been very professional, and a few have developed into online acquaintances and friendships. Even when I’ve dropped the ball on something – not often, but it happens! – they’re very nice about it.

I’ve talked to some small press publishers on the literary side who have had problems with egos and competitiveness, but I’ve found the genre community very welcoming. I also try to pay that forward when I can. I’m happy to share whatever I’ve learned about publishing over the last few years with other small press publishers or writers considering self-publishing.

 

What's the next step and your dream for your Big Pulp line of publications?

In 2013, I published three themed anthologies in addition to the magazine, and those have all been received well. I plan to continue in that area for the near future, with 1-2 themed collections each year, depending on my sales.

My publishing daydream has always been to have a line of genre magazines, trying to recapture some of the fun and excitement of the classic era of pulp fiction, but with a modern sensibility to the writing. So this year, I’m trying out some new magazines under the Big Pulp umbrella. I have a science fiction and fantasy magazine, a horror/mystery magazine, and a romance magazine. Child of Words, my new SF&F magazine, launches in March, followed by (horror/mystery) in May, and Thirst (romance) in July. I have some other genres in mind, so if these do well, we could see a small expansion in the future!

In the long-long term, I would love to publish novels, but that is going to remain a fantasy for now. One nice thing about being a small press is that I can change course quickly to apply what I learn and what I hear from readers and my writers. I expect my publishing plans to maintain some fluidity for that reason.

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