FILLER 523

BY

DEAN


GRENNELL

If some of the readers are puzzled by the titling of this column, I'd like to note that the various "Fillers", 528 of them, can be found in a publication of the same name, obtainable for a paltry 25¢ from the writer, whose address is 402 Maple Avenue, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The one at hand is reasonably apropos.

Last installment we discussed the more mechanical aspects of producing a readable fanzine. This time I propose to talk about the more-or-less psychological phases of fan-editing -- how to maintain a smooth-running, well-oiled relationship with readers and contributors. Though it may be true that I don't always practice what I'm about to preach, it is equally true that your path will be measurably smoother if you do as I say and not necessarily as I do.

To begin with, let's recognize the basic difference between the fanzine and the prozine. A fairly popular prozine may run to a circulation of 100,000 or more. The average fanzine has a "press-run" of about 75 and 250 copies. There are a few fanzines that print up to 1500 copies but we're not concerned with them here. If their editors don't know what they're about they will soon be out of the game, litho charges being what they are.

The fanzine editor is personally acquainted, to varying degrees with nearly everybody he sends his magazine to. In most cases he has carried on correspondence with them at some time or another. If he is a knowing sort of fan-ed, he gradually builds up in his imagination a sort of gestalt compounded of the preferences, prejudices and foibles of his entire readership. A pro-ed tries to do the same thing but the vastly greater diversity of his readers makes the chore much more difficult.

So let's say, for the sake of hypothesis, that you are editing a magazine that goes to 150 people. You want the magazine to be popular and, with this in mind, you want the readers to enjoy it.

Does that sound a little obvious, put that way. Perhaps it is, but if one is to judge by some of the fanzines that turn up, it's a point that many a fan-ed never sees. How can one hope to please his readers with a fanzine composed chiefly (or entirely) of such tasty ingredients as imitation prozine stories, so trite and dull that they wouldn't rate a second glance at SPACEWAY; book and movie reviews, at once ponderous and pretentious and shallow as dew in a birdbath; ads from someone who has the September 1953 issue of PLANET to sell (no front cover) and wants to buy the June 1954 issue of BEAUTY PARADE. Those are but three samples of the guff of which crudzines are made.

But fan-eds continue to hopefully accumulate 6 or 8 pages of such material and mimeo them with indifferent skill onto the cheapest paper they can buy. They send them out to all the fan-eds whose addresses they can find, with invitations or demands to trade publications. They send them out to all the pro's whose addresses they can find with invitations or demands (the latter seems preferred) for material. And then they sit back and become understandably puzzled and hurt by the lack of any kind of reaction.

"So what," you ask, "are they supposed to put in their magazines if they want to titillate the reader's interest?"

That's a good question and I'm glad you asked. Happily enough, I have what I think may be the answer in one word.

Egoboo.

There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that makes a reader feel at home in a fanzine like seeing his own name mentioned a place or two somewhere in the pages. Even though he may try to give the impression that he is possessed of becoming modesty, in his secret heart each of your readers is fairly fond of himself. If you give him the impression that you share his fondness, a bit of that selbstliebe will spill over onto you and your magazine.

All of this is quite basic in the human-relations field and I am stating it rather baldly, I suspect. I confess to a bit of misgivings over the possible effects of revealing trade secrets like this. Can't help but wonder if Pete's and my mutual readers will scan Grue with a new eye after reading it. But the truth of the matter, so help me, is that Grue's readers are fairly apt to find egoboo cropping up every ish or so because I honestly like them. If a fan-ed doesn't like his readers the fact is damnably difficult to conceal and if such is the case, why bother to put out a magazine in the first place?

But that, as I said before, is the prime difference between a fanzine and a prozine. Campbell, for example, can't work in little references to his readers because a mere listing of their last names would fill the whole issue. But scan through any of the more popular fanzines and you'll find passing mention of several of their readers in every issue. This is not mere coincidence but a clear case of cause and effect.

But what's the objective behind all this mutual back-scratching? Why worry about what the readers think? Isn't it, after all, your magazine, to do with as you like? What do you hope to gain?

If those are your questions, then maybe you look at things differently than I do. But I figure that even the most successful of subzines can't expect to take in much more than enough to cover the cost of the materials that go into it. You'll never get money for the countless hours of work that go into even a mediocre sort of fanzine. Face this fact squarely and recognize it for the basic law of nature that it is.

When you plant your ink and staples and paper and stamps and cultivate them with the best job you can possibly do of arranging the ink upon the paper, I can only presume that you're hoping for a harvest of comment -- both in the form of letters and reviews in other fanzines and the occasional friendly prozine that deigns to notice the fan press. I imagine it must be pretty discouraging to send out a whole issue of a fanzine and get nothing back but a couple of poctsarcds. I wouldn't know, thank Foo.

So we'll work on the assumption that you're primarily interested in comments coming back via first class mail. Those are the cream of the fan-ed's egoboo. Those are his wages for the weary hours spent slaving over a hot mimeo.

But before we go into the matter of extracting the most letters of comment from your investment of time and materials I'd like to note that there is an unescapable law of diminishing returns at work here, forever preventing a fanzine from getting too big and too good. The catch is those self-same letters just mentioned.

You see, nearly every one of those letter-writers is going to want some sort of direct answer to his letter of comment. And about the time you get to the point where you are cranking out 150 copies and getting back 75 letters something has got to give. Even if your magazine comes out every three months, it simply isn't in the cards to answer 25 letters a month and still keep your magazine coming out with its high standards unimpaired. Even if, by really superhuman exertion you answer the letters of comment a certain percentage of the readers will reply to your answer and you will shuttle back and forth forever like a small boy who must use a dixie cup to carry water back and forth for an elephant. Sooner or later you must perforce neglect some of your correspondence if you're going to keep the magazine going and the person neglected will stomp off in a snit, perhaps canceling his sub and making room for some newcomer to take you over the same weary hurdle all over again.

It can go the other way too. Some fan-eds make a conscientious effort to answer each and every piece of mail that comes in, even if it means neglecting their magazine. The end result of this course is that after the magazine dies a death of attrition the correspondence will eventually peter out and vanish. Gafia lies down this path but there are fates worse than Gafia.

But enough of such morbid topics. You still want a sensible amount of comment on your magazine and you want to know how to get it. The answer, as previously noted, is to give your readers a feeling of participation in the magazine. One of the best ways to do this is to maintain a department of letters from readers. Here again the path is not entirely free of pitfalls for the unwary. A letter department can be one of the most interesting things in a fanzine or it can be one of the dreariest.

Encourage readers to shoot off on tangents by printing tangential material and comments that readers made in letters of comment about the previous issue. It is well to minimize the amount of comments where the readers merely say "I liked 'Lunar Schooner' in your last issue," or "For cripes' sake, 'Lunar Schooner' stank! The author should be shot!" Such comments are an invaluable aid to the editor in steering a course designed to please the majority of readers but they make dull fare for the rest of the readers.

And it's a good idea to make an effort toward including a little from everybody rather than two or three pages from just a few people. If you have a letter column and Joe Fann writes you a letter, he expects to see it in your next issue. Skip him a time or two and he will say to heck with that guy -- he doesn't print my letters anyway. Here again there is a law of natural selection at work. Writers of the less-stimulating letters tend to be winnowed away in time. But I mustn't let that observation go without noting that you will inevitably lose some of the best ones and forget to include others you should have used. I doubt if there is a more efficient letter-loser in the business than the writer of this article.

So much for your steady readers, but what of the new reader and subscriber? Somebody sends you the price of your next issue -- what do you do about it? Do you just file away the address, pocket the coin and forget it till it's time to mail out the issues? Alas, I'm afraid I'll have to confess that such is frequently my own procedure but I know better. It's not the right way to do things.

It's not so bad if the money arrives just as you're on the point of mailing out an issue. But if there's going to be a month or so between the time you get the money and the time your new customer gets his issue, then it's a very good idea to acknowledge it with some sort of thank-you note. Aschnouck as it turned out later, sent a barely literate card listing his subscription schedule as "3/25¢, 6/50¢, 9/75¢, 12/$1 ..." on up around 48/$4 or thereabouts. Thank foo I only sent him a quarter because he only had three issues left in him at that time.

I resolved in those days, that if I ever got to publishing a mag myself I'd always write a welcome-note to new subbers. But alas for good intentions, I haven't always been able to make it. The fact remains that it's a very good idea if you can swing it.

I had intended to take up the matter of dealing with contributors and prospective contributors in this installment as well. In fact, the filler number was chosen with that theme in mind. This is the same thing that happened last time when I started out with #97 and wound up with a column that should have been headed #87. Oh well ... drop by next issue and we'll make another stab at it.

the end

** Dean A. Grennell


Data entered by Judy Bemis, proofreading by George Flynn

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