Chris has established a separate web-site for the Eurocon 1997 Small-Press Stream.
Interview with Chris Reed (from Beyond the Boundaries magazine):
After graduating from the University of Sheffield, Chris's publishing interests secured a job there in press and PR. He went on to set up and run the university's in-house graphic design bureau, but he left in winter 1995 to pursue a freelance career. Today, the name BBR encompasses not just the magazine that started it all, but a business that covers the whole spectrum of graphic design, publishing and distribution.
Beyond the Boundaries (BTB): How did you get into magazine distribution and was it intentional?
Chris Reed (CR): Distributing the overseas titles came first. I'd been reviewing American magazines in BBR, but readers complained that it was impossible to get hold of them in the UK. So in 1989 I started importing just two fiction magazines, Space & Time and New Pathways, and it's grown from there.
The New SF Alliance (NSFA) also began in the same year, when a group of small press editors met up at the Iconoclasm convention and shared a table in the dealers' room. None of the small press groups at the time really provided the infrastructure we were looking for, so we decided to join forces and set up our own. Sales at the the combined table at the convention showed that people liked the convenience of buying different magazines from a single contact point, and that's how the NSFA Catalogue came into being.
BTB: Can you tell us a little more about how BBR Distribution and the New SF Alliance work today?
CR: At the moment there are two catalogues, the NSFA Catalogue and the BBR Catalogue. The NSFA Catalogue is just for the British publications, and features only the most recent issue of each magazine we stock. It gets updated every couple of months, and includes 15 to 20 magazines plus assorted other books and chapbooks; not all the magazines are in all of the time, as sometimes the current issue has sold out and we're waiting for the next one to be published.
The BBR Catalogue features all the magazines and books we carry from outside the UK. As it's a lot of hassle for people to send money abroad we try to keep a comprehensive selection of back issues in stock, as well as all the current issues of the 40-plus titles we represent.
BTB: Do you specialise in the distribution of 'speculative' magazines only?
CR: If by 'speculative' you mean the whole gamut of SF, fantasy, and horror, through the so-called 'slipstream' to the avant-garde mainstream, then yes that's what we specialise in. But it's not just magazines, but books and short story collections by many authors well-known to magazine readers.
BTB: Small press magazines (especially SF ones) are notoriously unpredictable. Some last no more than one or two issues. Others become standards. What, in your view, is the secret of a long-lived magazine?
CR: It's probably easier to find reasons why magazines don't last and why they are so unpredictable. Most small press magazines are run as hobbies in people's spare time, so when most editors start out they've no experience of assessing manuscripts, laying out a magazine, marketing the product, or anything like that. Some find that it's not as fun as they thought it was going to be, or they get bored and start new projects. Quite often their personal circumstances change and publishing a magazine is no longer such a high priority. So I don't really think there is a secret of a long-lived magazine - it seems to be more a matter of luck!
Saying that, I don't think you should judge a magazine's success by how many issues it's published. Editors will have different reasons for setting up their magazines, and I'll bet you've got quite different criteria for Beyond the Boundaries than I have for BBR. Some magazines like Strange Attractor and Zero Hour burnt out after only a handful of issues, while others, like Peeping Tom and Flickers'n'Frames, are well into their twenties. Irrespective of whether they're still going or not, so long as they've fulfilled the personal goals of the people who set them up, all those magazines are successful.
BTB: Does your experience of small press publications lead you to believe that the current increase in popularity of SF in TV and films is actually causing a decline in the amount of SF being read by the general public?
CR: Not particularly. SF in books and SF in film/TV are two completely different beasts with two distinct, but overlapping, markets. I'm more of the opinion that books in general are in decline due to the rise of video games and satellite/cable TV. People are too impatient to read books any more. I'm just as bad - these days I much prefer to read short stories than novels!
BTB: Which area of speculative fiction is your favourite and why?
CR: Well, I cut my teeth on Michael Moorcock at school, and reading a lot of Spanish, South American and Russian literature at university shaped my taste considerably. I like weird stuff, writers like Don Webb, Misha, R.V. Branham. But I get so many manuscripts for BBR, and read so many speculative magazines to review for the BBR Directory, that these days I'm more likely to read outside the genre if I want to relax.
BTB: When you do have the time to relax, what recreational activities do you like to pursue?
CR: Being self-employed, you're always at the mercy of the next paying job, and with so many things happening at once there's always something to do in one area if another one's quiet. On top of that, there's such a thin line between what I do for a living and what I do to relax. Right now I'm enjoying learning HTML so I can put the catalogues on the Internet, but that's a skill that can then go on to generate income. Working on BBR is very much for the pleasure, but having the magazine in my portfolio has itself generated graphic design commissions. Then again, maybe I'm just adept at avoiding all the DIY and decorating that needs doing round the house!
BTB: What do you like/dislike about being British?
CR: I'm not particularly moved either way, I suppose. I lived in Madrid for a year as part of my degree, so my cultural tastes are quite catholic. I miss that whole Spanish thing sometimes, it's much more relaxed out there. But we live right on the edge of the Peak National Park, so it's easy to escape, and Chatsworth's great for showing to American visitors!
BTB: Talking of things British, how does the British speculative market compare with those abroad?
CR: I don't think the British small press has really recovered from all that 'slipstream' hype of a few years ago. All that just seems to have generated is an endless round of white middle-class angst. By comparison the North American scene appears much more vibrant. I think it's because small presses are taken much more seriously over there - many of the speculative titles from small press outsell genre titles from the big New York publishers. The British small press perhaps does too good a job at breaking in new writers, as it only seems to be regarded as a stepping stone by authors en route to wider recognition, rather than as a valid outlet in its own right.
BTB: From your experience in distribution, what advice would you give to a new writer?
CR: Every editor will tell you to research your market before submitting your material. Obviously you can't buy a sample copy of everything, and because the small press is invariably mail order it's difficult to know what to buy and who to trust. That's why we tried to take out some of the hit-and-miss by setting up the NSFA Catalogue - it's a well-known, well-established, reputable supplier with a code of practice for dealing with customers.
But we can't stock every magazine being published, and so subscribing to market news magazines like Zene and Scavenger's Newsletter is an excellent investment. They'll keep you up-to-date with the latest requirements, tips and hints, as well as bringing you feedback from other writers on how they've been treated by editors.
BTB: And finally, are you working on any special projects at the moment and if so can you tell us something about them?
CR: There're so many things in the pipeline! Obviously after all the upheaval of going freelance I want to get the new issue of BBR published, as it's been way too long since #22 came out. And as I mentioned earlier, I'm keen to get to grips with designing for the Internet, and getting the catalogues on-line is another big priority. Finally, the BBR Directory is turning into a really exciting project. It used to be the reviews section in BBR but we get so much stuff that we've split it off into a separate publication to keep it right up-to-date, and that'll be published on our website as well. So it looks like I can escape that decorating for another year yet!
The NSFA Catalogue of British small press magazines is free for A5 SAE from NSFA, c/o Chris Reed, P.O. Box 625, Sheffield S1 3GY, UK, and can be viewed via the Internet at http://www.syspace.co.uk/bbr/nsfa-cat.html.
[Many thanks to Chris Reed and Beyond the Boundaries magazine for the above interview]