On March third I sent out a form questionnaire to 15 editors of science fiction and fantasy magazines. There were 22 questions which were intended to furnish the basis for an article entitled, "The Editors Say." Now over a month later, six editors have responded, and the article is entitled "Some Editors Say."
They were returned, honestly filled out, by William L. Hamling of Imagination; Jerome Bixby, of Thrilling; Ed Ludwig of Fantastic Worlds, a new "little" magazine, Anthony Boucher (also for J. Francis McComas) of The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction; and H. L. Gold of Galaxy. Paul W. Fairman of If, demurred by saying he hadn't been in "the game long enough to answer intelligibly." Either he didn't read as far as the second page or he doesn't know what he wants in his magazine or how much he pays.
What follows should not be construed to be the opinion of all prozine editors. But if they have differing opinions, or if they take offense, by God, they can send my questionnaire back! The following is based on what these five editors say. (For objectivity, not clarity, all my statements and comments from now on are in parenthesis).
They have read fanzines, usually to keep abreast of current fan news, opinions and trends, although some like fanzines for the fun they get out of them, Fanzines come in all classes. Their editors seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of putting them out, but don't put enough effort into them to attain a quality format. In fact, some of them are downright sloppy!
As for the most popular fanzine, that's Slant, because it has a fresh approach, high quality of writing and wit, and Walt Willis. Next is the Science Fiction Newsletter & Fantasy Times, for accurate reporting and the latest fan news. After that is Rhodomagnetic Digest for intelligence, liveliness, and good production, although it is sometimes too controversial.
Quandry is next because it is generally mature and interesting. Peon is more mature and unpretentious than most, and is more discriminating in its choice of material. Others specially mentioned were Fantasy Commentator, Fantasy Advertiser, Destiny and Fan Faire. (Note to other fanzine editors; don't feel discouraged. They may read yours, and there are ten other editors that might like your mag).
In these editors' opinions, the percentage of active fans who read their prozines range from 1/2 of 1% for Imagination, to "under 10%" for Galaxy. An average active fan comes in all shapes and sizes. A good number are in their middle teens, with above average intelligence and imagination, but too many tend to be slightly confused in a neurotic sort of way, a bit snobbish about science fiction and emotionally immature.
An inactive fan, reading but not writing or participating in fandom, is more mature, and often hasn't time to participate actively because he also has to earn a living. An inactive fan reads what he likes and follows no fads. As for the feuds sometimes carried on between fans, Hamling thinks they do nothing but hurt science fiction. Bixby says they are "usually preposterous" and Boucher, laconically, "Nuts!"
Boucher and Gold, editors of higher quality magazines, don't have readers' columns because the majority of their readers don't want them. Hamling and Bixby have them because the readers want them and because they think it helps circulation.
As for writing, most of the professional writers are not fans, of course, but, since s-f is so radically different in many ways from other fiction, the best s-f stories are by fans. The worst material that Thrilling Pubs. get is from fans, while Ludwig says that "fan material submitted is five times better, usually, than the material submitted by non-fan readers of writers' magazines." (However, most good material submitted to any magazine comes through agents, irrespective of whether the writers are fans or not).
Seeing your work in a fanzine may give you courage and objectivity, but few fanzines are particular about the quality of the material they print, and you'll get no editorial aid from them. If a fan is really interested in pro writing, he should try an agent or a magazine that helps and encourages beginning writers. Fanzine editors will only encourage. The most promising fanzine writers now are Tony Duane, Tom Covington, Lin Carter, Jan Romanoff, Lee Hoffman, Herman S. King, Walt Willis, Clive Jackson, Russel Branch, Vernon McCain, Bob Silverberg, and two others, Joe Kennedy and Len Moffat are already on their way.
If you're sending stories to the following magazines, here are their "pet peeves."
IMAGINATION: Nice suspense and action opening and good buildup towards climax, then writer suddenly decides to get cute with a twist that leaves whole story up in the air but is veddy, veddy stylish.
THRILLING WONDER: SUPER SCIENCE: Slice-of-life and mood-piece stuff.
FANTASTIC WORLDS: Postage due on manuscripts; also sending in mss. without first checking to find out what kind of material the magazine uses.
FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION: The plot of the man who-is-dead-all-the-time-and-doesn't-know-it.
GALAXY: Any story that lacks literary skill.
According to the editors, the reasons why most stories are rejected are:
IMAGINATION: They're just not good enough.
TWS-SS: It doesn't have a real strong story. If it had one and still bounced, it wasn't an interesting, plausible, or well-written story.
FANTASTIC WORLDS: The idea is too trite. Editor Ludwig said he had received, in three days, "seven humorous stories of the devil arriving on earth, and 14 stories about the hero seeing a strange old man who, the climax reveals, has been dead for 73 years."
Summing up the prozines attitude toward fans, Horace L. Gold, who saved Galaxy last year by finding new backers, should be quoted:
"When s-f was fighting for a toe-hold, fandom kept it alive. For that, if for nothing else, s-f owes fandom a great debt.
"Today, however, with s-f becoming increasingly widely accepted, organized fandom can present a genuine danger to an editor or publisher. Active fans obviously write more and demand more than those who are inactive, and any number of magazines have made the mistake of construing those opinions as general ones; the result? Count the number of magazines that have gone out of business.
"Understand this . . . fandom is the unshakable, dependable core of s-f readership, the people we can rely on for steady sales, and for this reason has supportive value that rates appreciation ... when not in direct conflict with those of the majority of readers.
"For, you must recognize, non-active readers are undeniably the major market and they are the ones who ultimately decide whether a magazine is to be a success or a failure. Magazines that have depended entirely upon fan sales have failed; witness the appalling number that have suspended publication.
"A realistic assessment would be about this: fans are exceedingly important to the success of a magazine, but their special requirements can be economically suicidal when granted at the expense of the general readership.
"Do I like fans? Love 'em! But as a professional editor and writer, I have to consider the demands of fandom and those of non-active readers, and follow the ones that produce the greatest effective results. A deplorablt commercial attitude, no doubt, but I'd rather have a live magazine that arouses fans' ire than a dead one that reaps their encomiums and ultimate condolences."
(and there you'll find more information than a million questionnaires would unearth!)
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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