Augur Mag is a homegrown, volunteer-run speculative fiction magazine that focuses on giving a platform and voice to authors, characters and themes generally underrepresented in the speculative fiction scene, and encourage underrepresented authors to submit their works. This collaborative roundtable interview is conducted by Room’s Assistant and Reviews Editor, Micah Killjoy, in conversation with Augur‘s co-Editor In Chiefs, Kerry C. Byrne and Terese Mason Pierre. Join them as they discuss the story behind the magazine’s roots and establishments, the “magic” of the genre, art of editing and nurturing collaborations, and their dreams for the future of the magazine in curating a space that as Terese Maison Pierre phrases, “[will] grow speculative fiction opportunities in Canada.”
ROOM: So first off, I just want to say, thank you again for taking the time to talk. It’s always good to chat with people doing similar work as Room! Can you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Kerry C. Bryne: I’ve recently adopted the term arts organizer for myself, and that feels good. Like it defines how I want my work with Augur to be represented now.
In terms of the past . . . I’ve been writing and in love with publishing for a long time. When I was in university, I was an Assistant at a literary agency, and later spent a year as a Marketing Manager for the Word on the Street. I also grew up running online roleplay forums, wiling away hours writing and managing writers. Writing and creativity and building community is very much something that’s always been a part of me. And it’s what sets the foundation for my work with Augur.
I guess I should also remember to call myself a writer. And, surprisingly, a poet. I am a surprise poet! I think I might have published more poems than fiction at this point, or might be equal, but that’s shocking to me.
And then in terms of, like, not what I do, but who I am—I always want compassionate empathy to inform the decisions I make. I want to be in a space where expertise is met with the beauty of subjectivity. Something that I’ve been talking about recently is how I love liking things, like I just like liking things, and I like that being enough.
Terese Mason Pierre: I’m a writer. I’m a poet. I struggle sometimes with what Kerry mentioned about ‘who you are’ versus ‘what you do’ because I am a creative person. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old, and I’ve been publishing my work since I was 16. I am an extrovert; I love to share my creativity and my art with other people. And I love to engage and consume other people’s art in a critical and conscious way. So, in addition to reading fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, I like to engage with my writing community. Before everything shut down, I would go to a number of events per week, sometimes multiple events per night. I would support my friends and people I hadn’t heard of and read and promote their work. I’m not so good at doing that for my own work, but I like doing that for others.
I also have a variety of interests. I love music and singing. I have two degrees in philosophy. I’m interested in how we talk about how we live our lives, what constitutes a good life, how we make decisions about our bodies, and about how we treat each other. I think those are very important. What else about me? I also play D&D. And I really love makeup.
ROOM: Tell me about Augur magazine.
KCB: Augur launched officially in 2017, but we started planning in 2016. The original team was myself, Alexander De Pompa (our current COO) and our former Senior Editor Mado Christie.
I’d known that I wanted to create a literary magazine since undergrad, when I launched a student journal and fell in love. Originally, I wanted to be in publishing. But a day job in publishing wasn’t possible for me: I didn’t have the years or money to put into additional education, internships, and low paying entry-level jobs. I supported myself from my fifth year of university on, so I needed a stable role where I could make money. When I made that decision, Augur became my voyage into publishing in my off time. It was more than that, too, though. It was also more about wanting to create my own community, and wanting to create a space that would grow speculative fiction opportunities in Canada.
That said, we don’t only publish speculative fiction! We do publish some more realist pieces, but they usually feel a little weird. Like, maybe nothing speculative happens in it, but they feel like something could. So, we’re not we’re not only spec-fic, but right now, we’re the only magazine in Canada recognized by the SFWA [Science fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, perhaps best-known outside of the speculative fiction community for their annual Nebula awards].
ROOM: Looking through augurmag.com and other interviews, there is a lot of mention of creating a safe space for writers. What are ways that Augur does this?
TMP: I take editing very seriously. It’s a careful balance of subjectivity and skill. I care very much about the authors that I’m working with, and I want them to be proud of their writing. I come from a place of knowing what it’s like to have my work edited, and to work with editors, and to have a variety of editorial experiences, sometimes good, and sometimes not-so-good. So, I take in my knowledge and my experience of those anxieties. When I phrase my queries and when I ask authors to do work, I let them know that we’re here for them.
One of the things that I really love doing is connecting with our authors and our past contributors on social media—sharing the things they’ve done even after they’ve published with us, and celebrating their successes. When they publish books, or win awards, I like to share that with my team and my own community.
I joined Augur in December 2017 as the poetry editor, and it’s something I’m invested in. Recently, we got a lot more assistant editors for poetry. I know that poetry is not often a genre that is as culturally consumed as fiction, and nonfiction, so I meet them where they’re at and help them develop those instincts. I do not want to be the sole arbiter of poetry; it would be wonderful if other people could share that as well. And I’m also always trying to hold myself to a standard where I feel I can make a positive impact in other people’s lives, and in the lives of the people I work with. Especially if it’s something that I really love. I don’t want people to fear poetry. I want people to love it like I love it. I have to ask myself: how can I help others? And how can I help address their concerns and the ways in which they might have a different understanding or level of engagement that I do? And how can I make them feel supported and proud and confident in engaging in that work, so they can also assist their authors now and in the future when it comes to poetry.
KCB: I’m going to run through it on a process level. Our author-centricity starts in our submissions process. We receive an average of 2000-2500 submissions for a submissions period of about a month. In order to centre authors, we tend to get back to everyone within two months. It’s a six to eight week process to hear back, and we have a process in there where we let people know when their story has been moved to the next level—usually about 100 out of those 2500 pieces get what we call our ‘long list’. We find that helps promote process transparency with our creators.
After that, we move to the pitch meeting, which is really more of a practice of advocacy than a practice of critique. If no one wants to pitch a story, the story doesn’t get pitched, and we don’t spend time talking about it from a critique perspective. We operate from a position of respect, both for the editor who wants to pitch that piece and for the author. We let the person who’s advocating for that piece speak their mind, and we listen. Then, anyone else is welcome to pitch in in terms of why they think the piece should be accepted. The conversation for these meetings is grounded in an appreciation of craft and opening opportunities to read the piece from a new perspective. We’ve often had moments in our meetings where people who didn’t originally want to advocate for a piece end up advocating for it, by virtue of hearing how someone else is describing it.
I think that by operating in this way we’re treating others with a level of respect. We need to see the craft and beauty in the pieces that we receive, that attitude lets us foster positive relationships with our authors even when they aren’t in the room. And from there we try to get responses out after the pitch meeting within seven days.
Then we kick off our editorial process by sending our production schedules to authors so they know our rough dates. If we change the production schedule, then they at least have landmarks. We also give a description of our editorial processes. We do substantive, stylistic, and copy edit rounds, though not every piece will receive everything. We also include an ‘Augur Promise.’ Essentially, if our author feels uncomfortable they have the emails for all of our leadership, and at any point can email one or all of us to describe what they’re experiencing, and we are committed to conflict resolution.
We’re also working on training our staff to edit with the author in mind, like how Terese mentioned we shape our queries. For me, even when I make a stylistic edit, I like to leave: here’s why I’m doing this or ‘What do you think?’ ‘How do you feel about this?’ It’s making it clear that they are the ones who are in control of their work.
Once editorial is done, we also make sure that our authors see the piece before it goes to layout, after it goes to layout, and sometimes a third time before it gets published, after all possible changes have been made. We want them to have control over the finished product of their piece. Then, after production, we send out author surveys to collect feedback from our authors anonymously, and when we get critiqued, we immediately look at putting it back into our production process. So those are the concrete ways that we’ve put author-centricity into the way we function.
ROOM: What would you say your vision is for Augur now?
TMP: The main goal, at least for me, is increasing our community engagement. Our Twitter community is quite large, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from them. In 2021, and onward, finding innovative ways to both maintain and increase that level of engagement is key for us.
And then last November we organized and launched AugurCon, an online conference for speculative literature in Canada. It was a full day on a Saturday with panels and workshops. Some of the writers lived in the States, but most were in Canada, all talking about topics that were important to us, like Canadian speculative literature and what that was, and if that was, you know, valuable to have and to still talk about. We also held fiction and poetry workshops, and an industry event where we invited agents and editors to come and talk to anyone who had questions. That was quite successful but a very long process. We applied and got Toronto Arts Council funding, but then the pandemic happened. So, we had to figure out how to adjust, and it took a lot of planning and a lot of hours and energy. But we had a team of about 11 people working on it, and it was a success.
KCB: We also made the decision where paying was optional. That was one of my favorite parts: we had a goal for revenue and no idea what would happen if we made a free pass available. But our community was amazing, we hit our revenue goal and had people attending with free passes. Seeing that model work was kind of revolutionary for me for breaking down myths about what you can and cannot do, and how you can and cannot include people. So that was a huge win for me, as well.
TMP: And what Augur is now? We’re all sorts of excited about the future. We have so many good ideas. And we want to support each other and help each other grow and learn new things. We’re still very passionate about supporting creators, paying them more and maintaining staff.
KCB: We’re all volunteers and we’ve only lost one staff member since 2016. Our readers have turned over, but in terms of our staff, our retention rate Is just . . . retained. I’m constantly honored by it. We do a team survey and one of the questions on the survey is ‘How long do you anticipate being with Augur?’ with the answers ‘One years’, ‘two years’, ‘three years’ or ‘for the foreseeable future.’ And people just keep hitting like ‘for the foreseeable future’ and I almost break into tears.
TMP: The team as a whole does excellent, but we, individually, think we can do better . . . I don’t know how that works [laughs]. But we’re all happy to be here. Making a positive impact and helping other writers feel confident and proud to share what they write is a very important mission for me. Because, to me, writing necessitates community and being in conversation with other writers. That’s part and parcel of what that label ‘writer’ means for me. I personally cannot be a writer and keep my writing to myself, I need to share, and I want to help other writers feel like they can share too. And if that means that I can do that by publishing their work with Augur, then that’s excellent.
ROOM: What are your dreams for Augur?
KCB: Augur Magazine is one project of our nonprofit, the Augur Magazine Literary Society. Part of that is we want to grow our programming into something broader, like arts programming and literary programming beyond the magazine. We’re also interested in running workshops for writers and community members. But a lot of my other personal ideas include intensive workshops or you some sort of like mentorship program or writer-in residence program. But this is far, far in the future. And also my, like, little personal headcanon.
My big dream for Augur is I would like us to get to the point where we’re a small press. (We’re going to be a print magazine in the very near future!) I want to be able to publish specifically novellas and chapbooks. I want that to be a self-sufficient nonprofit press with paid employees. Or at least where everyone who touches it gets paid. So that’s kind of like, a multi-year from now. Dream plan.
ROOM: That is THE dream. Paying people for creating and supporting art is so magical.
KCB: We’ve managed it for our authors, you know, I mean, like 11 cents per word for authors, which is still not a survivable income. And we need more resources for paying the people who make the arts happen. It’s a huge gap. So, we’re gonna figure out how to do that at some point. It’s gonna happen.
ROOM: Are the other things you feel excited for or projects you want the world to know about?
KCB: We’re launching a sibling magazine that’s called ‘Tales and Feathers’. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter later this year or early next year. And what that is, essentially—I tweeted about a year ago how I was tempted to create a fantasy magazine for stories where nothing happened. I think it got like 500 likes, and like a whole bunch of retweets and wonderful peer pressure. And then the part of me that loves taking on new projects, it was just like, ‘Why the fuck not?’ So, it essentially will be either short, short fiction or flash fiction: 2000 or 2500 words and under. And it’ll be loosely fantasy genre—anything that can fit within fantasy genre because we don’t want to get hyper-specific. And the only requirement will be that it’s more about a moment, or character dynamic or a setting, or consideration, just a little experience of fiction, than about a plot or having a point or having a purpose. It’s for those of us who grew up enjoying the training episodes of anime or the quiet moments in Studio Ghibli movies or pure character-driven content like the way Robin Hobb lets you sit with her characters. That’s some of the inspiration for it.
TMP: I don’t know how relevant this is, but I personally am interested in going to more events—panels and conferences and cons—and telling people about Augur. Last year I was at FIYAHCON, which is run by FIYAH magazine, a Black speculative literature journal in the States. And I read at HawaiiCon and at VirtuousCon. And this past month, I was at Flights of Foundry, and I’m going to be at the Nebula conference in June. I just want to go to these sorts of events and tell people about Augur. If that translates into submissions, or people knowing about us, then that’s great.