The idea that became A Million Ways started life way back in 2016. We had just opened our café, The Short & Sweet Co. in Mill Lane, Wimborne and we ran a writing competition to coincide with the Literary Festival in May.
We had about thirty entries, from ages 5 to 85. A real range of ideas and genre, all on the theme of ‘Wimborne’. The following Christmas we ran another: ‘Fairytales: The Sequel’, and this was equally well submitted, some new writers coming into the mix.
The following May, for that years Literary Festival, we ran a third competition: ‘MicroFiction’ and that acted as the content for the magazine whilst in development.
Although it hasn’t been that simple, its been an interesting process and, at times, frustrating. The frustrations came from having too many ideas and being unable to decide on a clear direction and the magazine, then named SHORT, was much larger and had too many sections, too many collaborations and just too many ideas. This was in August 2017. I had planned the first issue to be out in September. It just wasn’t happening, so I left it on the shelf for a month, let the ideas sift through my brain.
Towards the end of last year I picked up the project and started looking at every independent magazine I could find.
I subscribed to Stack, which send you a different independent magazine monthly usually something you’d never buy but always interesting, always something to engage you. I had the subscription for several months and by then I had a much better idea of what I wanted to produce. And what could be produced.
I discovered a world of independent publishing and magazines that I didn’t even know existed, but it was so encouraging to see so many different projects and ideas. It’s staggering, the scope of these highly professional, beautiful magazines. My eyes were opened and then the research really began.
To name all the inspirations, each of which shaped AMW a little, ruling things in as much as out, defining the idea, limiting the scope, designing and refining it all the time, would take a page or two but I shall try:
Delayed Gratification. Popshot. Electronic Sound. Structo. Firewords. Drift. Breathe. Soccerbible. Ferment. Double Dagger. Eye. The Move. Zoetrope: All American.
As well as the websites: Newsstand, Stack, Issuu, Magpile, MagCulture & Magma…
The biggest defining influence and the one that really kickstarted A Million Ways into life was Popshot Magazine, now Quarterly and, in my opinion, has changed direction after its recent acquisition. It’s lost the essential ‘it’. Hopefully, it will return, but some excellent writing and illustrations, as well as a great overall feel and design, make it one to seek out, although if you’re a purist, it’s not strictly independent anymore but it’s roots are.
So, in January this year, the project really picked up, and using the entries for the MicroFiction competition back in May, I shaped the first prototypes. Over the next eight weeks, I produced seven evolutions before finally deciding upon the look and feel for A Million Ways. That’s said, I expect I’ll evolve it some more prior to Issue One. Who am I kidding? Of course I’ll tinker with it.
(I did, and since we’ve sold out of Issue One, I’ve reformatted it again to include more content… I imagine this will happen at least once a year.)
With regards to the content and the general ethos behind the magazine, I have to credit a few of our customers with having some input. There are a few customers who, like me, write for competition or for story slams or just for fun. We talk about ideas, and what we are working on, and it was during these many conversations that it dawned on me how I could make this project a real thing.
I had entered a competition in January, The Dorset Writers Prize run by the The Little Red Writers, and I was talking with Richard Nicholson, one of our coffee lovers and a fellow writer, and he said he was entering too. The deadline was January 7th, and we both struggled to meet it as it was over Christmas and that’s never a quiet time to just sit down and get something down.
I mapped the story in my head and then began to write it on the 5th, eventually finishing it about thirty minutes prior to the deadline at midnight. It was too long and I gave it a rush edit, no polish and sent it in. I also sent in something I had sent for competition back in July, a story I really liked and had worked on. Might as well, I thought, I put work into that, no point it just sitting on my hard drive where no-one can see it. So I added it to the entry, paid the fees and went home. Tired, but pleased I’d written something. Got it out.
I saw Richard the following week and we talked about it. He simply couldn’t make his work, and so enjoyed a Christmas break instead. I said what I had done. He said he wished he’d thought of that and he could have entered a few bits. The seeds were being sown.
If I had some stories on file that I had written for competition and never got anywhere with them, surely others have too? Richard agreed. I’ve entered loads, got somewhere, got nowhere but people in general have never read the work. The wrong judge, the wrong theme, just not right for this issue…etc… They are just sat in my files, doing nothing. No-one will ever see them.
BANG! That’s the idea. That’s it…!
And that was how it was born. From that chat, from that competition. ( On a side note: I received notification a few weeks ago that the story I added at last minute has been selected as one of the final twelve and will be published in the anthology. Great news.) Delighted. Vindicated almost, but certainly reassured that the idea was good., solid, sound. Proven.
I don’t have any formal training in magazine design, editorial, publishing or marketing but I enjoy it. I like the process. I like the idea that you can produce anything you want, but there are rules, responsibilities and lessons to be learned. So, in February, I attended a class run by Rob Orchard & Marcus Webb from Delayed Gratification (half price if you are a subscriber) entitled: How to Produce an Independent Magazine.
It was brilliant. Half negative (why you shouldn’t even start…) and half very positive (…but it’s great if you do because it’s the best thing ever!). It reassured me that I had done a lot of things they had without even thinking about it, and hadn’t even considered some others, but it was a good push and I was already heading in the right direction.
A month later A Million Ways launched to little or no fanfare.
One of the things that I learned from the class was simply to ask. Ask people for submissions. Explain what you are doing, what you want to achieve. You never know what might come of it. So, with that in mind, I went through all the issues of the literary & fiction magazines I had and contacted the writers whose work I had liked directly. Long shot, but if you don’t shoot, you certainly can’t score.
The response has been great. To get submissions from quality writers I admire like James Hatton, CS Mee, Rhys Timson as well as Gail Aldwin (our first ever submission!) has been really encouraging, and all have been very complimentary with their feedback. I’ve had to learn the editor role, treading with care and hoping not to offend writers with suggestions for changes but I’m in a different role entirely now.
Judging competition submissions is relatively simple, and they are read as submitted without editing. Either good enough or not. Winner, or not. Simple.
With a magazine, I have to consider the themes of the edition, but also edit work to make it fit onto a certain number of pages, source illustrations for each piece, but also consider the message that the issue will send out about the publication itself.
Has the piece got enough merit to be published?
Is it going to offend anyone or suggest that we condone the actions within the story, even though its fiction?
Do I have enough submissions yet, and if not, what am I going to do?
Does the issue have balance and read well? Do the stories sit well together?
And so on, plus a million other things that will make it a unique and interesting magazine that appeals to a broad range of people, not just the writers and their families…and so on, and so on…
I hope so. I’m enjoying doing it, it’s a creative process and they are never easy, especially when you place your work in front of the world to look at and pick over. I keep asking myself, especially whenever I get to a point I’m happy with it and stop tinkering with it, the same question: Is it good enough?
We’ll see. I think so. I hope so. I just hope I can avoid the dreaded second album syndrome.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton