Furry Book Month Publisher Q&A: Zooscape

The furry writing community made an important milestone this year. For the first time, there is a professional-paid venue specifically aimed towards the furry market. That is Zooscape, a quarterly e-zine produced by Mary E. Lowd and sponsored by FurPlanet.
Today, Mary E. Lowd will talk a little about how Zooscape came about, and how important it is to have a professional market in the furry writing community.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and the publisher you are representing.

Hey, readers, I’m Mary E. Lowd, the founder and editor of Zooscape.  Before Zooscape, I was the editor for five volumes of FurPlanet’s ROAR anthology series.  I actually primarily see myself as a writer and have quite a few books and short stories of my own published.  However, I really, deeply, profoundly believe in the importance of furry fiction (largely because it’s what I want to read), so when I saw places in the furry writing scene where I could make a big difference by stepping up as an editor, I felt called to do so.

Zooscape is the first pro-paying, SFWA-qualifying short story venue for furry fiction.  A lot of us in the furry writing scene had been wishing for a market like Zooscape for years before the zine actually launched.  I hope that Zooscape lives up to those dreams.  From what I’ve seen of the reaction to it from outside the fandom, it seems like it’s performing admirably as an ambassador for furry fiction to the mainstream sf/f community, which was part of the point.  Zooscape’s stories are all available to read for free online, so they’re easy to share with potential new fans of furry fiction.

What is your favourite thing about the furry fandom?

I love animals.  I love stories.  I love stories about animals.  So, the furry fandom provides a nexus for two of my absolute favourite things to meet and combine, and it lets me meet and connect with other people who understand those passions.  Before discovering the furry fandom, I had to deal with people asking me, “But why otters?  Why make the characters in your sci-fi book OTTERS???”  After discovering the furry fandom, I didn’t have to fumble for reasons or get lost in self-reflection about why I couldn’t just conform to standard writing practices and make my characters human.  No, I could just say, “Because it’s furry.”  And that is so much better.

What made you decide to get involved with the furry publishing scene?

Teiran at FurPlanet asked me if I would take over the reins for editing ROAR, and I realized that I could see a lot of possibilities for how I could draw on my connections in the broader sf/f writing community to get a wider base of submissions.  It was a chance to really pull writers from inside and outside the fandom together, and so of course, I accepted the editor position.  After a while, I realized that I might be able to provide more for the fandom by founding an online zine, and there were other good editors available to take over ROAR.  So, I moved on to Zooscape.

What do you believe makes a good story?

Otters and spaceships.  But seriously, I’m a big sci-fi fan, and much of what I love about the sci-fi genre is that it’s about asking questions and considering possibilities.  What would the world be like with a new technology?  What if we lived on a different kind of world?  Of course, that kind of mindset doesn’t have to be limited to science-fiction and, in fact, dovetails really nicely with furry fiction.  What would life be like if you had wings or hooves?  What kind of society would otters build?  So, beyond the standard answers of — characters the reader cares about, an engaging plot, and beautiful prose — I think that bringing a sense of wonder and curiosity to a story, infusing it with interesting ideas, helps make it good.

What are some of the biggest challenges with publishing in a relatively niche market?

The main problem I’ve come across with publishing furry fiction is simply that a lot of people don’t know what it is.  Either they’ve never heard of furry fiction, or they have some pre-conceived, overly limited notion of what the term “furry fiction” means.

Furry is a very broad genre.  Basically, it’s any kind of fiction that significantly features an anthropomorphized character — so, for instance, The Last Unicorn and The Brave Little Toaster are both furry.  But a lot of people don’t even realize that Watership Down — one of the cornerstones of the genre — is furry fiction.

If writers don’t know the name of the genre they’re writing, they won’t know to send their stories my way.  And if readers don’t know the name of the genre they love, they won’t know how to find books and stories to read.

What are some of the best parts of publishing furry books?

I love that I get to make writers’ dreams come true by publishing their stories, and I love it when I get to see a reader deeply connect with one of our stories.  That’s the whole point.

What is the ideal writer to work with like?

Ideally, a writer will follow the guidelines we’ve posted on the Zooscape website when submitting their story.  You wouldn’t think that’d be a high bar, but if you do that, you’re already ahead of the game.

Novels vs Anthologies. Which do you prefer working on, and how do they compare in terms of sales?

I could answer this as a writer… but as a publisher, I’ve only worked on anthologies and a magazine.  Those are very similar.  Zooscape releases three to four issues per year, and each issue is like a miniature anthology.

What do you believe is the biggest misconception about the process of publishing, either specific to furry publishing or generally?

If an editor rejects your work, that doesn’t necessarily mean there was anything wrong with it.  That just means the particular piece wasn’t suitable for the particular market at that time.  There are a lot of amazing stories out there, and there simply isn’t room for any given publisher to take every single piece that deserves an audience.  And since editors do receive so many submissions, they don’t necessarily have time to give personalized feedback on… well… almost any of them.

So, good luck, and don’t let the rejections get you down, even when they’re mere form letters.  And find somewhere else to look for feedback, because even if an editor wishes she could give feedback to all the writers who submit, she very likely has to choose between giving feedback and being able to keep up with the sheer volume of submissions.

It’s always said “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but just how important is cover art to the success of a book?

Short stories don’t generally come with cover art, especially when they’re published exclusively on the internet.  However, I find a piece of art to go with each story anyway, because I think it makes them more eye-catching for readers.  Also, as a writer myself, I know how nice it is to see my story adorned with a piece of art that the publisher carefully selected for it.  Getting cover art is one of the best parts of being a writer, and while I can’t capture that full effect for short stories, I think it’s still nice to make sure they each have a little something to go with them.

Is there anything you would like to see more of in furry fiction?

I’d like to see more science-fiction.  Also, more Hugo and Nebula awards.

What does it mean for furry writers that there’s now a professionally-paying, SFWA-qualifying market for short furry fiction?

The hope is that by having a pro-level furry zine, readers and writers outside the furry fandom will begin to take furry fiction more seriously. Those of us who’ve been inside the furry writing scene for the last decade know there’s a lot more to furry fiction than outsiders often realize — it can be so many different things, and yet, there’s still sometimes a stigma against focusing on animal characters too much and definitely against being labelled as furry. Zooscape is trying to change that by showing the mainstream writing scene that furry fiction can be all the things that other types of fiction are — just about animals.

Ideally, Zooscape will pave the way for more furry writers to join SFWA, and it will show writers who are already in the mainstream that it’s okay to share the stories they’ve written about animal protagonists. And even more than that, it’s okay to call them furry. In fact, it may even help them find more of an audience.

What has been your favourite book to work on recently? Why?

Uh… I’ve been really enjoying writing Otters In Space 4… but you mean as a publisher.  So, in that capacity, I just put together the line-up for Zooscape’s December 2021 issue, and while it involved some extremely difficult choices, I’m very, very excited about how it’s turned out.  The December issue will be Zooscape’s first issue paid at the new, pro-level, SFWA-qualifying pay rates, and that’s a pretty big deal.  I’m really looking forward to sharing it with the world.

We hope you have learned a little about Zooscape, and that you’ll check out the December issue when it is released.
Check back here tomorrow for an interview with another of the fandom’s writers.

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