Jun 16, 2021 | announcement

The Next Chapter at Fireside

It’s been almost seven months since I took over as Fireside’s interim editorial director after Pablo Defendini’s publication of a racist audio recording of an essay. During that time, we’ve had a lot going on behind the scenes.

To quickly recap: When I stepped in to take over many of the day-to-day editorial operations at Fireside, it was clear that a major contributing factor in the publication of that racist audio recording was that most of the work of running Fireside, and the attendant decision-making, was all concentrated under one person — Pablo — with almost no oversight. That created the conditions for a lot of harm, aside from being unsustainable for Pablo and bad for Fireside. So my goals for righting the ship have been: reviewing our quality control, production, and approvals processes; making sure all audio recordings are reviewed to look for anything else problematic or harmful; bringing in new management to distribute the workload and provide additional oversight on decision-making; and making cuts where necessary to free up funds to hire those new people.

I’m happy to provide updates on all of those fronts today. Strap in! This is going to be a lot.

New Management

I founded Fireside in 2012. In 2017, after I had gone well past the point of burnout, Pablo took on a majority stake in and full control of Fireside Fiction Company. I was and am grateful to him for shouldering that load and carrying Fireside forward. Now it’s my turn again. After a lot of discussion, Pablo and I decided together that the best path forward was for me to resume sole ownership. In addition to giving up his entire stake in the company, Pablo is stepping down from all duties at Fireside.

That said, I will not be staying on as Editorial Director. (When I said “Interim Editorial Director,” I really meant the “interim” part.) Running Fireside before burned me out badly, and I’ve always known that I don’t have the capacity to manage the day-to-day operations of the company long-term again. On top of that, having just me in charge would only recreate the same capacity problems that existed under Pablo. So I’ve hired two fantastic people to really take the reins:

LeKesha Lewis (she/her) is taking over as Publisher, managing Fireside’s business and financial operations, as well as applying her considerable talents as art director, designer, and webmaster. LeKesha is an award-winning SF/F writer and editor, and serves as a founding creator, Art Director, and Project Manager for the World Fantasy Award-winning and Hugo Award-nominated FIYAH Literary Magazine. She also serves as the founding Director of Hugo-nominated FIYAHCON, chair of the 2021 Nebula Conference, and Awards Manager for the Lambda Literary Foundation. She also acquires novellas for Tor.com and researches for the LeVar Burton Reads podcast. She frequently bothers the publishing industry by authoring studies about the treatment and experiences of racially/ethnically marginalized authors in speculative literature. And she had a terrific run as a Fireside guest editor in 2020. She is on Twitter as @Ellethevillain.

Chelle Parker (they/them) is taking over as Managing Editor, shepherding our editorial operations and the myriad moving parts of our production schedule, as well as continuing to serve as copyeditor and proofreader. (Although when I say “is taking over,” I should disclose here that Chelle has in fact been discreetly helping me run Fireside during my entire time as Interim Editorial Director and almost seamlessly took over Managing Editor duties officially on June 1st. It happened with little fanfare, so I want to publicly say THANK YOU to Chelle. I could not have kept things going without their insight, thoughtfulness, and willingness to roll up their sleeves and get shit done.) Chelle is a queer, trans, disabled editor who has a sharp eye for language, the details of running an editorial operation, and calling me on my bullshit. They’re extremely organized and spearheaded the revamping of Fireside’s editorial processes when the magazine moved to a guest-editor model in 2019. Chelle also works as a freelance editor and is the Program Co-Chair for Readercon. They are on Twitter as @chellenator.

LeKesha and Chelle are in charge of Fireside’s day-to-day operations. They will have equal power over their respective realms at Fireside, and will collaborate where those overlap. I’ll have the title of Executive Editor and Owner and be around to provide guidance and advice when needed, and to be another set of eyes when we need to spot-check one another. I’ll also still be in charge of our social media and newsletter communications for now, but our goal is to be able to add more staff in the future — bringing back a social media coordinator role, taking website duties off LeKesha’s hands, taking copyediting and proofreading off Chelle’s, and maybe even bringing in paid interns who would like experience working at a magazine and small book publisher.

Genre magazines don’t make much money, and often run on volunteer labor. But Fireside was founded on a principle of paying writers well, and when the company has had staff, they’ve always been paid, too. This will continue with LeKesha and Chelle. I won’t be drawing pay; my goal is to stabilize our finances and get Fireside to a profitable position, from which we can add staff, increase word counts, and add more features to the magazine.

Financial Situation

The thing is, Fireside is still running in the red, even after cutting our print edition and taking other belt-tightening measures. For a while it was looking like Fireside might need to just shut down.

Over the past months, I have talked to a lot of people about what to do about this. And three of those people — Mikki Kendall, Sarah Gailey, and DongWon Song — have really stepped up to help us. We went through a lot of discussion about what Fireside needed and how to best accomplish that, and we landed on this: Mikki, Sarah, and DongWon are providing Fireside with enough financial backing to get us through the next twelve months. (They’ll have no active role, power, or responsibility for the management of Fireside or for editorial and business decisions.) I can’t thank them enough for all their advice and for their generosity in investing in this magazine and the community we’ve built around it.

That twelve months gives us breathing room, but the reality is Fireside needs to bring in a considerable number of new subscribers over the next year to stabilize and stay afloat (and to repay Mikki, Sarah, and DongWon). We’re going to work hard on a lot of ideas to expand our subscription base, but if you can join us with a subscription now, we’d deeply appreciate your vote of confidence. Despite the tough ride of the last seven months, we’re really proud of Fireside and we believe in it. We hope you do too.

New Policies

In order to avoid anything like the publication of that racist recording happening again, Fireside has a new, simple rule: nothing will be published — on our site, our newsletter, our official social media accounts, etc. — without at least two members of Fireside staff reviewing it and affirmatively signing off on its publication. When making choices about materials associated with stories (art, audio, etc.) we will additionally consult with guest editors and authors as appropriate during the process and give them the chance to review the materials before publication.

Audio Review

In the wake of the publication of that racist audio, Chelle took on the major task of reviewing all the narration Fireside has published since it began offering audio in January 2019. We’re still in the process of that review, but should have news to announce in the coming months about the results and next steps. In the meantime, we are continuing our moratorium on new audio recordings.

Thank You

It’s been a long several months, and we are so grateful for your patience and support during that time. There are too many people to name, but I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer to help, listen, or just check in on me, and double thank yous to the people who took the time to offer advice and guidance when I reached out to them. I am so grateful for all the folks named above for helping figure out a way to keep Fireside alive. I’d also like to thank Lauren, my wife, who has been my rock through all of this. She said something to me a few months ago, when we were talking about the future of Fireside, and it has sustained me as we put these changes together:

“If we’re going to fight for this, let’s fucking fight.”

You’re damn right we will.

© 2021 Brian J. White

About the author

Brian J. White

Brian started Fireside Fiction Company in 2012 as an experiment in crowdfunding and paying speculative fiction writers well above the accepted professional rate at the time. It worked! Thanks, have a great day!

Brian has been informed he has to write more in his bio. Fine! Brian took that experiment through five Kickstarters (and did not die!) and into a subscription model. During his tenure, Fireside published 150 stories, five novels, and one novella, and also published the first #BlackSpecFic report, which examined the massive under-representation of Black short-story writers in the field, prompting conversation, reflection, and change in the speculative fiction community. It remains one of the most important things he has worked on in his adult life. Brian was a 2017 World Fantasy Award finalist in the Special Award, Non-Professional category for Fireside, and Fireside has been nominated for multiple Hugo Awards.

Facing the burnout that is all too common among people who work at small presses, Brian stepped down as editor and publisher in 2017 to regroup and recharge mentally. He returned as interim editorial director in 2020 and resumed full ownership of the company in June 2021 with a great team you can read about below.

In the wider world, Brian is a former journalist who worked as an editor at The Courier-Journal in Louisville from 2006–2010 and at the Boston Globe from 2010–2018, where he was part of the staff that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2014 for the newspaper’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2014. He still lives around Boston, where he works as an editor for a private company and takes photographs, paints miniatures, and spends time with his amazing wife and various cats.