HomeAll postsThe cost of Dark Matter Zine

The cost of Dark Matter Zine

I’ve been running Dark Matter Zine for over 13 years now. There has been an enormous personal and financial cost associated with this endeavor. Let me explain.

Financial cost

Everyone who’s run a website understands at least some of the financial costs associated. The domain name and hosting are, generally, small ongoing costs. However, when you are getting on average about 100,000 page views per month, the cost of hosting is several hundred dollars a year. Especially if you want a reliable host that provides customer service to – for example – block the bots that mysteriously used up all my bandwidth within days of me commenting about an all-male startup space.

That’s right, some guys in Brissie banned women from their workspace. I commented publicly. Then, coincidentally, a handful of bots crawled my website until it crashed. I, as a woman, was unable to convince my host to block the bots. My male husband who is a professional IT guy had to do that.

So a decent host is essential.

Then there are the plugins to provide an on-site search engine that actually works, a plugin to help me with SEO, plugins to … there’s a long list. As I type this, there’s an alert that 5 plugins need updating. Only 5? It can wait.

Most of these plugins cost money. Some are a one-off cost. Others are an annual fee. And any one-off cost only lasts until the plugin is superceded or we have to rebuild the website because html keeps changing.

Conservatively, I estimate Dark Matter Zine costs my husband and I well over $1000 a year to run.

Crowdfunding? Yeah, let me tell you what went wrong…

If you’ve been following DMZ since the early days you might remember I had a “donate” button up for a few years. Well, I botched it.

One very generous person made a significant contribution towards DMZ acquiring its first video camera. That person wishes to remain anonymous but I want to say, again, THANK YOU.

DMZ began as a PDF I mailed out to people. After it became a website, I changed my email address. I even opened a new Paypal account for the Donate button. BUT I never managed to figure out how to change the code so any donations did not go into the new email’s Paypal account. There probably weren’t any but… sigh.

Why didn’t I fix it?

Problem was, this was around the time RMIT staff were making life horrendous. Like the time a man said in response to my requests for large print photocopies for class work, “I will prevent disability access because you’ve asked too many times… I will prevent disability access to teach you a lesson” while sitting in his wheelchair.

The situation was so awful and RMIT delayed my appeal so long that my GP gave me WEEKS off from uni on medical leave. She said attending class so I could witness OTHER students completing classwork was bad for my mental health.

The Disability Liaison Unit manager even organised a large print letter, sent via express post, to tell me to cease and desist asking for large print photocopies for class work and to cease and desist crying on campus because it was upsetting other staff and students.

The degree of vindictive malice that motivated a large print cease and desist letter in response to requests for large print photocopies for disability access in classrooms still blows my mind.

And the students who joined with the staff to bully and shame me for being there and shame me for needing disability access. I can’t even.

So that is why I FORGOT TO FIX THE DONATE BUTTON.

Fast forward to 2016 when I realized that the button was connected to an old email account.

I still couldn’t fix it so I deleted the donate button.

So for the entire life of Dark Matter Zine, running costs have come out of our housekeeping budget. Meanwhile I’ve had entitled men lecture me on how I should pay them to contribute to DMZ because they’re entitled. I even pointed out that DMZ makes no money. Not good enough. One told me he didn’t care if we didn’t have money for food, I should still pay contributors to contribute. I said I’ll do the work, kthxbai. (I never asked him to contribute anyway so I don’t know why he was so concerned with bullying me over the financials.)

The other costs of running DMZ

Ironically, if the financial costs of running DMZ were the only costs, I’d be happy. But the higher costs, the most damaging costs, are the costs of pissing off entitled people.

I started DMZ because I belonged to a club, joined the committee because they needed people and I started editing their newsletter. After a few months (maybe 3 months?) the president phoned me up and fired me. The inciting incident was organizing an event with international authors and publicists at this club for the first Friday night of AussieCon. People were FURIOUS. How DARE I do such a thing when people with entitlement issues wanted to attend AussieCon (at a cost of hundreds of dollars) and didn’t want their poorer club mates to have an exciting event to attend without the exorbitant cost?!

So the president fired me. Within days of that phone call I decided to start Dark Matter Zine. I didn’t need anyone’s permission to do something like this.

(Thank you to the people who checked in with me at AussieCon and the following Continuum Convention, who asked me to return and offered me “any position” I wanted at the club. It wasn’t just the bad taste in my mouth though, it was also the travelling home after the club that was a killer. One time, due to a failure of public transport, I didn’t get home until about 4am. I longed to join one of Melbourne’s spec fic clubs after that but our geographic location was a killer.)

Oh so wrong

I didn’t think I needed permission to start a zine. I was apparently wrong.

After starting DMZ as a PDF emailed out to people, I discovered that there was a group of men in America who objected to a woman (?!) in Australia (?!?!) starting a zine without their permission and without them mentoring me. The backlash from these people inspired Through The Looking Glass (Being Schooled by the Smofs) and A Troll Too Far. There were other posts but I realized that the more air I gave them the more they attacked.

(They were FURIOUS when I took those posts down and removed all links to their stuff, which is when I knew I was doing the right thing. Also I threatened to dox people coming onto DMZ to abuse me. Posting someone’s service provider as a warning shot ended that particular skirmish.)

Ironically, if they’d politely offered some guidance I would have been grateful. But they were too proud for that. Instead they vilified me and even lied about me (that’s defamation and libel). I was DEVASTATED.

PDF zine publication

There was a website that published all the PDF zines for the speculative fiction community. In the beginning they published mine but fairly soon it took weeks and several “reminders” then they’d publish mine so far “below the fold” that you wouldn’t have seen it unless you were looking. Basically, it first appeared alongside PDFs published weeks earlier, no longer appearing beside the recent releases.

Between that and Facebook cutting my page views from over 9000 to below 100 in the space of one week in 2011, I decided I needed a website. Hubby wanted to build it for me and, well, if you saw the first iteration you’d know it was TERRIBLE.

Thanks so much to Darren Turpin, of Angry Robot Books at the time. He sent two lengthy emails offering constructive criticism and advice. I appreciate that SO MUCH. Hubby still insisted on building a second website but this time he had Darren’s advice in hand. It took 6 more months but that version was MUCH improved. And since then we’ve built at least 2 complete new websites as software dated. It’s exhausting. And supportive feedback, like Darren’s or even a “well done” is as rare as hen’s teeth.

The trolls, the entitlement

Since building the website, authors featured in glowing reviews and interviews lashed out. There were some I refused to interview, those I understand. But the authors to whom I sacrificed time and effort to support? Not cool.

I realize *that* author sounded drunk in *that* podcast but she never reached out to make amends. Instead, one of her friends started stalking and bullying me. This lasted actively to my knowledge until 2016.

And there were many others too.

It seems like people who want to sell books believe an internet fight or scandal will help them sell more books. Count me out.

Like the author who deliberately hit me with a table at a pub event for no apparent reason. He attacked me on social media repeatedly, ending with me blocking him twice. (I made the mistake of accepting an apology after the first time.) And last year, just after I moved back to Melbourne, he contacted me to ask me for an apology for smiling and being nice about him injuring me? Or something? Anyway, police tend to take threats of violence made in email a bit more seriously these days. So hopefully there won’t be too much more of that.

There was also the Great Pile On of 2021 incited by an agent and an author who were about to auction the author’s books in the US. So they decided to whip up a frenzy with me as the target. Thank Dog for SFWA who investigated, sent me copies of their tweets, asked for my side of the story, then invited me to participate in their Nebulas Convention.

This week…

Recently there was an article about how a former staffer is suing HBO and part of his case revolves around HBO executives ordering staff to discredit, harass and generally troll critics who said things they don’t like. (Not sure which article it was and I’m too tired to find the social media interaction, but here is one such article.)

So SOMEONE who has a beef about something I said a few years ago about John Scalzi and Theodore Beale’s conflict being performative replied, lying about me to discredit me. If they hadn’t mentioned Scalzi and Beale, which was irrelevant to the thread, I never would have assumed that the person is connected to Scalzi. I may be wrong. Big coincidence though.

And why now? Presumably because Scalzi wrote a book with a Maaori character and people are talking about it. I replied (not to him) and said beware. His book Locked In was largely better than I expected but it ended with two highly toxic extremely ableist tropes: suddenly disabled people were healed (Paul Darke’s normality drama; Darke is himself disabled and objects to this trope) and the only disabled people remaining at the end of the book WANTED to be disabled. On the basis of that slap in the face to the disability community, I warned people to beware. So many absorb crappy books like All The Light We Cannot See and believe they’re good instead of toxic shit written without a modicum of research or commentary regarding misappropriation. If you don’t have the decency to research blindness and albinism don’t write it.

Hopefully Scalzi did his research. Employed sensitivity readers who weren’t overwhelmed by his celebrity so they could give incisive feedback. That kind of thing. But I don’t know. And now it appears the likes of Scalzi are coming after me again.

FML

In the coming year I’m looking at getting an assessment to see if I am actually on the autism and adhd spectrums. Apparently both run in my family. However, the things that the Scalzi-focused person said about me on socials recently are abhorrent. Even when I am exhausted, stressed and unfiltered I don’t say things that vile. I am angry and hurt that anyone is seeking to discredit me with these lies. Anyone who does so is no feminist, no feminist ally. They’re bigots and bullies.

I’ve also had an incredibly shitty 18 years. I’m worn out, burnt out and sick of being a doormat for abhorrent people. I need time to heal.

And I get more shit for my efforts on DMZ than I have ever had support, financial, verbal or even people having coffee with me to shoot the breeze. Exceptions to this are the amazing and fabulous Wendy Orr who began as an interview guest and now phones me if she feels I need a supportive ear. I love her so much! And, of course, my husband and son.

2024

I’m not technically *shuttering* DMZ but I’m taking a few steps back. No more attempts at weekly podcasts. Maybe monthly, maybe just sporadic when people make specific requests above and beyond the usual publicist bulk emails.

I’m not sure how many reviews I’ll be writing. I feel obliged to follow through on reviews for books received. Stepping back will give me time for reading and catching up on that pile. It remains to be seen if I trust the authors not to launch WWIII if they don’t 100% like and approve of every word in the review.

However, the National Library Archives and Trove have a copy of DMZ for posterity because they consider this website to be a “significant” Australian website. So even if I eventually shutter the whole website or it breaks and I don’t fix it, the current content will be available for as long as the NLA and Trove have the software and the funding to make it available.

Finally, if you want DMZ to continue, feel free to contact me with your support. I’ll even do coffee over skype if that suits. I’m not asking for money but if a group of people want to contribute financially, talk to me about ways I can make that safe alongside your expectations for your support.

Nalini Haynes and seeing eye dog Silkie on our way to listen to Richard Flanagan speak about his book Question 7.

Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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