Leading Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy

When I was in college (at BYU) I worked on the staff of a science fiction and fantasy magazine called Leading Edge. University magazines come in three flavors: the pro magazines, run by a hired staff of primarily non-students, the prestige magazines, staffed by students but heavily overseen by faculty, and the student magazines, run entirely by students with little or no faculty oversight. Each magazine has its purpose and place, but for my money there’s no question whatsoever that the most valuable student experience comes, unsurprisingly, in the student magazines. The others get more money, and look prettier, and get distributed more widely, but the student magazines actually teach you how to edit, proof, format, design, budget, plan, and otherwise run a magazine. This is the experience that Leading Edge gave me.

I don’t mean to imply that we didn’t have a faculty advisor; at the time I worked on it, our advisor was Linda Adams, and she remains a good friend to this day. But she subscribed to the Mama Bird philosophy of faculty advisorship, which was essentially “throw them out of the tree and see if they can figure out how to fly before they hit the ground.” She taught us to run a magazine by–imagine that–allowing us to run a magazine. If we had issues we couldn’t resolve she was always available to help, but for the most part we learned on the job, coming in cold and learning from older students and making real decisions and setting our own deadlines and staying up late to meet them and passing along what we’d learned to the next generation of students. Obviously we made poor decisions every now and then, but that’s kind of the point: better to make them on a student magazine than in a real job, post-graduation. We could see all the ramifications of our work, and we could figure out what went wrong, and we could fix it and do better next time.

Let me give you a quick example. We received a story that we loved, and we happily accepted it, edited it, and published it. We were almost instantly informed by a reader that the story had been plagiarized–we had paid someone for someone else’s work, and then published it without that someone else’s consent or knowledge. We had to contact the original author, apologize profusely, and come up with a plan to pay him for his work and make sure he got the credit for it. It was a long, difficult, embarrassing process, but through it we learned not only responsibility but caution; we learned how to avoid plagiarists, how to work with clients, how to resolve business and ethical issues, and how to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. Those are not the kinds of problems most publishing students face, but they are exactly the kind of problems actual publishers face, every day, and our experience on a student-run magazine prepared us for them better than class or seminar we ever took.

Leading Edge helped us in other ways, as well. Because of its nature as a science fiction magazine, it taught us about the science fiction publishing industry. We learned who the big players are, how they work, and what they want in both their fiction and their employees. We learned how the creation of art can be swayed and shaped and sometimes even stymied by the constraints of business and the pressures of the market. When we traveled to conventions and conferences, our status as small press editors helped us talk to a lot of very important industry leaders, and we were often surprised by how many of them were familiar with our magazine–Leading Edge is small, but people recognize it as a source of good writers, good artists, and good staff.

Our work on Leading Edge gave me, my friends, and nearly four decades of other students an incredible education and a huge boost toward ongoing careers. That magazine has produced group after group of editors, writers, art directors, journalists, creative directors, illustrators, publishers, and more. We are senior editors at publishing houses. We are New York Times bestselling authors. We are creative professionals, small business owners, artists, and more. The Leading Edge is not only one of the oldest magazines at BYU, it has a nearly unmatched track record for graduates going on to incredible success in the industry.

And despite all this, BYU continues to cut its budget, reduce its support, and quietly sweep it under the rug. The latest round of budget cuts was not as devastating as some, but are still quite damaging and were made without the staff’s knowledge or input. I will let the current editor speak for herself:

Leading Edge’s funding has been cut. Funding was actually cut before the College of Humanities even told us. While we may not be able to undo this re-budgeting in the near future, we are hoping to inform the dean of the impact that cut creates. Current staff members are going to write the dean to tell him what Leading Edge does for us; we’re hoping former staff members can share what Leading Edge did for them. While Leading Edge itself is far from dead, the lack of funding will drastically change the way it manifests itself unless we can serious increase our circulation numbers.

If you have a minute, and if you loved Leading Edge, please send me an email I can send up to the dean. …

On a more positive note, we are putting together our 60th anniversary issue. It will come out in April (though it may come out in a different form than past issues have).

Thank you,

Kristy Stewart
Senior Editor
Leading Edge

We are sending out a call, here and now, to everyone who has ever worked on or enjoyed the magazine. Make yourselves heard–tell the university that Leading Edge is not only valuable but invaluable; not only useful but incredibly important to the school and its students and their futures. These are the ways you can help:

1) Tell us, and the school, how your experience with Leading Edge helped you in your life. Do you have a career as a writer or editor? Did a skill you learned while working on the magazine help you to get a job, solve a problem, run your household, or otherwise improve your life? Please tell us about it. Emails can be sent to editor@leadingedgemagazine.com, and snail mail can be sent to
Leading Edge
4087 JKHB
Provo, UT 84602
You are also welcome to post your comments here, and I will make sure they get forwarded to the Dean of Humanities.

2) Spread the word. Link to this article in your blog, post it on facebook, retweet it to the world, anything you can do to let other Leading Edge alumni know that the magazine needs their support.

3) Subscribe to the magazine. If we want the university to support the magazine, we need to put our money where our mouth is and support it as best we can ourselves. You can subscribe on their website.

10 Responses to “Leading Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy”

  1. [...] Wells had a much more interesting and intensive experience there and he explains why it was valuable.  I can only [...]

  2. Brinestone says:

    Leading Edge was one of the most valuable experiences I had in college. My only regret is that I have largely lost touch with those I worked with there. Okay, perhaps that and that I didn’t use it more as a networking tool post-graduation.

    I will be subscribing and emailing for sure.

  3. Heather Muir says:

    I got the most lovely personal rejection from Leading Edge. It really helped to improve my writing. Lets keep it alive people!

  4. Brinestone says:

    I feel the need to post again. Point 1 is that a submission to Leading Edge is not a pity submission. Yes, there will be a couple of weaker stories in each issue and some filler. But I can almost guarantee you there will be some awesome stories as well, and the articles are often very interesting. One of my favorite science fiction stories of all time is in issue 44.

    I also feel compelled to explain how I came to join the staff of Leading Edge. When I was a freshman, I would often find myself in the library looking for periodicals to use for one research paper or another. One day, I accidentally ended up finding the section with the science fiction and fantasy magazines, and because Leading Edge said it was BYU’s, I was curious. For months, whenever I had a spare half hour or so, I’d go to the library to read because each and every issue was so awesome. After a while, I tried a few issues of Asimov’s and Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I always ended up going back to Leading Edge. I can’t remember now what it was, but I found the stories more accessible and entertaining, and the art was often better too. I was really surprised that a semi-pro magazine was putting out such a good product. Anyway, when I found out anyone can volunteer, I was there in a heartbeat. I don’t know if there’s any other person on the planet who’s read as many of the back issues as I have, but I can without hesitation say that they are very good and very much worth your money if you like speculative fiction.

  5. Katya says:

    Subscribe to the magazine.

    Done.

  6. Leading Edge is a unique publication for its submission system, in that every story gets read all the way through by at least two slush readers, who fill out comment sheets that list out all the things they like and dislike about the story. Three or four comment sheets for a story is also pretty common, in fact. It makes for a bit of a long process for a story to make it all the way to publication, but it most always ensures high quality, and gives dozens of students plenty of work to do (all done for free, though like Dan Wells said–the experience is worth it). I’ve stuck around for a few years now, and intend to all the way through graduation.
    And the art Leading Edge gets is really stupendous. I loved the artwork for the poetry in the last issue (#59).

  7. Charlie says:

    Leading Edge is the best! I miss it terribly. It gave me a lot of publishing, writing, and editing experience, as well as extra credit in classes and a bunch of nut-job friends. Honestly, Leading Edge Magazine was the shiniest thing on my resume when I graduated, and it helped me immensely in getting a job as a technical writer.

    I’m writing my letter asap! Leading Edge is an experience everyone should try at least once.

  8. Brooke says:

    Thanks for the heads up. Leading Edge was by far my best experience with learning the nuts and bolts of publishing. I can’t imagine students being able to get even half that experience without it.

    I’ll be penning a letter as soon as my thoughts progress past blkd%$&@#asdf!

  9. Scott Armstrong says:

    I’m a proud former Slush Puppy. I’m not working as an editor, but I had a lot of fun reading the submissions, and the feedback I gave and shared with my co-workers made me a better writer. It also made me a spelling, punctuation and grammar Nazi, much to my mother’s consternation, but scores of other writers have benefited. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

  10. Jason says:

    What happened to the mentoring practice at BYU? this sounds like an excellent mentoring project. Mentoring projects don’ bring profits, they bring education.

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