With the approach of the new year, it’s time for us to celebrate another anniversary of DargonZine’s founding by looking back at the year gone by. 2001 really wasn’t a bad year for us, but it doesn’t compare very well with our annual performance since 1995. Perhaps we just needed to take a little rest after five consecutive years of growth!
The Dargon Project’s health can be measured in a number of ways, but they all center on our two main constituencies: our readers, and our writers.
Twelve months ago, it looked like we were doing great with our readers. We had a record number of subscribers, and we were getting more feedback than ever from them via the new story rating system we’d implemented. With that in mind, last year we planned to put a great deal of effort into bringing new readers to our site through press releases, print advertising, and so forth. Unfortunately, the only Dargon writer with any public relations experience, Brandon Haught, had to leave the project at the end of January, so that initiative never took place. To make matters worse, our primary means of publicity was taken away from us when our ISP forbade us from posting issue announcements to fantasy and writing newsgroups such as rec.arts.sf.written, an action that we still strongly disagree with. Because of that loss of visibility, our rate of new subscribers has dropped for the first time in five years, and our circulation has contracted slightly. With fewer than 750 subscribers, we go into 2002 needing to find a new way to reach fantasy fans who will enjoy our stories.
2001 presented similar challenges in terms of our writers. Typically, we have two to three dozen writers on staff; about half are longtime participants, and the other half are writers who have recently joined the group. Despite having established a mentoring program back in 1998 that encourages new writers by pairing them up with Dargon veterans, only two new writers had stories published in the magazine in 2001. In addition, the shortage of stories from our freshman class was matched by an unprecedented lull in contributions from our upperclassmen. All year long, it seemed like every one of us had something going on which took precedence over writing and the goals we’d set for ourselves. On top of that, in February we lost two of our most productive veteran writers: Max Khaytsus and Mark Murray. With very few new stories to print, we abandoned our publishing schedule in the latter half of the year, putting out four fewer issues and ten fewer stories in 2001 than we did the year before. Similar to the situation with our readership, we enter 2002 with a sparse pipeline of stories, and the hopes that things will pick up again soon.
Of course, 2001 wasn’t all negative. After about five years’ effort, we finally finished adding 17 years’ worth of information to our reference database; after writing descriptions for 8500 appearances of characters and places in our stories, our Online Glossary is now complete. We also enhanced our mentoring program by creating a FAQ to help new mentors understand their responsibilities, and provided them with a forum for exchanging advice and opinions with other mentors. And we helped our writers in several other ways: by giving them a new CD-ROM with every available bit of Dargon reference material, producing a detailed and insightful FAQ about co-authoring, and starting our first interactive online chat sessions for our contributors.
But despite these accomplishments, 2001 was still a year of challenges. We have been challenged to find new and better ways of accomplishing our mission: getting the word out to prospective readers, nurturing our new writers, and keeping both our new and veteran writers productive. In 2001, our old methods broke down, and now we must stand up and address these issues in the coming year, our 18th year on the Internet. Shortly after this issue is distributed, our writers and I will be discussing our goals for 2002 and how to do a better job at what we do. Since you, our readers, are a large part of what makes the project work, we’d love to hear any suggestions you have regarding these specific challenges. Please send any thoughts on this topic to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and I will share them with our writers.
In the meantime, I’d like to introduce the first chapters in two fabulous new two-part stories.
“Jakob Sings of Monstrous Things” is a wonderfully eerie and haunting story. It is Victor Cardoso’s third story, after having joined the project back in 1999. And veteran Jim Owens brings us a fascinating parable in his two-part “The Measure of His Love”, which has taken nearly four years to make its way into the pages of DargonZine. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did.
For the conclusions to these and other great stories, stay with us in 2002 and beyond, as we continue to share the wonderful stories written by our staff of aspiring writers.