Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Further Thoughts on Marvin Kaye and Weird Tales, Plus Some Suggestions

Last fall I wrote a detailed review about the first issue of the latest version of Weird Tales.  One of the commenters, Chap O'Keefe, said he had sold a pair of stories that were scheduled to come out in subsequent issues.

Since then, there's been little news about when those issues would appear.  At least until last Monday (June 24).  Mr. O'Keefe updated the status of his submissions in a follow-up comment.  I'm reproducing it in its entirety: 

Since the above was written, including my comments, much has changed at the new WT.My own latest shock came in an email from Marvin Kaye earlier this month in which he welshed on his acceptance of the two stories he was going to run in his magazine. Once upon a time you could count on an editor's word, and his written word was as good as a handshake. The whole sorry tale is told in full in the introduction to my new Amazon Kindle eBook Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales You might like to run the guts of it as a post in your new blog -- a salutary warning to all who rely on gatekeeper publishers! In fact, it gives my small ebook a third, very weird tale. Story is "excellent" but editor and co-publisher Kaye must put it aside so he can re-open his "submission portal" to other, unseen stories ... Huh? Has the man lost lost it?
And here's a follow up comment with more information:

 I understand this situation affects several more writers, too. Kaye said, "I regret to inform you that the publisher of Weird Tales has decided to pass on quite a few stories, yours included. This is a measure to reduce our huge fiction inventory." Kaye owns the rights to the Weird Tales magazine title and is co-publisher, so there is little we can do about what, as you say, is a pretty unheard-of thing to do, except WARN OTHERS. Kaye has offered no fee, just a promise that "If you have not sold your submission elsewhere, try us again in 9 months. If we have room at that time, it will be an automatic sale." Note the "ifs"; note what his previous promises were worth.

I bought and read WitcheryI reviewed it at Amazing Stories, since the traffic is higher there.  I found both stories to be quite enjoyable and recommend the book.  It's only $0.99, so it's a steal.  The introduction alone is worth that.  If you're interested in Weird Tales, you should read the introduction.

My purpose here isn't to repeat the review, but to discuss some of the implications of what's happened.  I'm not privy to Mr. Kaye's counsel, and in fact have never met the man.  I've always enjoyed the anthologies he's edited along with the first issue of the new Weird Tales.  My overall opinion of his taking the reigns of the magazine was that This Is A Good Thing.

Now I'm of a different opinion.  Frankly, I can't begin to imagine what's going through the man's mind.  Why on Earth would he reject stories, perfectly good stories that he'd already accepted, just to reopen to submissions?  If he's the editor can't he open the slush pile when he's good and ready?

Of course, if you recall, Kaye announced that excerpts of the novel Saving the Pearls would be appearing in the first issue he edited.  This is a book that many people in the sff community believed to be racist.  Publisher John Harlacher eventually (and belatedly) nixed that idea.  (Events summarized here.)  Maybe Harlacher is the one insisting on reopening for submissions?  I don't know, but at this point it's a possibility I'd consider until I learn otherwise.  None of which helps Mr. O'Keefe or any of the other authors who have received these letters.

I've seen reports that the magazine is foundering, at least in part because it has lost newsstand distribution.  I don't see why that should be a problem.  There are a number of magazines that seem to be doing quite well that don't have newsstand distribution or even print editions.  They run on some version of a model of electronic subscription and free stories online.  Perhaps you've heard of some of them.  They include but aren't limited to:  Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Nightmare, Clarkesworld, and Galaxy's Edge.

So here are my suggestions.  Mr. Harlacher can take it for what he thinks it's worth, assuming he ever sees this.  First, change your business model.  Adopt the basic model of the magazines listed in the previous paragraph.  Forget about newsstand distribution.  The print format genre fiction magazines such as Asimov's, Analog, F&SF, EQMM, and AHMM saw their circulations drop for years until they began to produce electronic versions.  Since then things seem to have improved.  Magazines such as Realms of Fantasy have tried to make a go of it as print periodicals and are no longer with us.  Learn from these publications, both print and electronic, what works and what doesn't.

Replace Marvin Kaye.  As much as I enjoyed his anthologies for the SFBC, and as much as it gives me no joy to write this, Kaye seems to have gone around the bend as an editor.  Find someone who will find new and exciting weird fiction while respecting the history of the publication, avoiding unnecessary controversy, or poor editorial decisions.  Kaye's selection as editor was too divisive, and his decisions since then have only made things worse.  Someone who can restore faith in the publication needs to be the editor.  (Good luck finding this person.)  Ann Vandermeer brought new readers to the magazine while alienating many of the long-term fans.  I think at least for the near future, the publication should have a mix of fiction that is broader than anything Kaye or Vandermeer published.  Ideally, if WT published 4-6 stories a month or 2-3 every 2 weeks, there should be plenty of variety to please a majority of readers in both camps.  Not all, but a majority.

Those are my thoughts on how improve the magazine and get it back on its feet, as well as restoring its reputation.  I realize not everyone will agree with them.  That's fine.  I'm making these suggestions in the interest of initiating a dialogue.

I'd like to thank the person who linked to my review in the Wikipedia article on Weird Tales


  1. I know some folks who were thrilled to get acceptances to Weird Tales but who probably won't see the stories in print there now. Very upsetting.

  2. Dropping accepted stories for re-opening the slush pile?

    Weird, indeed.

    The only 2 logical deductions are, as you say maybe Harlacher didn't like the choices or Kaye just lost confidence in his choices. The latter would lead me to ask, "what's to stop him from hesitating/changing-his-mind on the next round, too"?

    1. Having read the two stories in question, I find the changing his mind option to be disturbing. They're both good. I especially liked the first one, "Black Art in Vyones" as it was an homage to CAS and very much resembled something he might have written.

      O'Keefe (the pen name of Keith Chapman, the byline on the collection BTW)quotes in the introduction a further email from Kaye: "the pressure to reopen the submission portal has been growing and we can't ignore it any longer."

      That makes absolutely no sense to me. If the magazine has lost newsstand distribution, and AFAIK hasn't scheduled publication on a second issue, then why would the publishers be under pressure to reopen the slush pile. Where is the pressure coming from? Waddaya mean ya can't ignore it? Who's really in charge here?

      My sympahty to the authors who have been burned in this mess. I really like WT and hope the publishers can revamp their business model to make a success of it.

  3. Thank you for the handsome review of Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales at Amazing Stories. I hope readers will find it helpful. The problem with self-published eBooks is their sheer quantity (tens of thousands) and the lack of quality control. With genre fiction it's almost impossible to find the stories you might be looking for, and when you think you have, disappointment can ensue if the purchase proves poorly written, edited, or formatted -- sometimes all three! I wonder how many readers have thought, "I'll never be caught again."

    Your suggestion about electronic versions supporting famous print magazine titles is one that WT should be following, and I think it has tried. But without a regular publication schedule, I fear it will never build a loyal following. It will also need to show that it intends to honor its promise to produce a magazine that reflects its traditions as well as breaks new ground.

    1. You're welcome. I hope the review will send you a few sales.

      You bring up some good points, which I'd like to address.

      First, there is a huge amount of material out there, and you're absolutely correct about finding the types of stories you like that are well-written. That's why I'm focusing on indie published and small press titles in my posts at Amazing Stories. Hopefully most readers will use the sample feature to keep from getting burned.

      I agree WT needs to honor its promise to break new ground and honor its history and long-time fan base. Until it does, I don't think it will be very successful, at least not in the short term.

      IIRC the only electronic versions of WT were a few PDFs of selected issues. This was a few years ago before the electronic revolution in publishing really took off and were only a secondary source of income.

      All of the electronic magazines I mentioned above are without print versions with the exception of Galaxy's Edge. It has both, but it seems to be following the online/subscription model of BCS, Clarkseworld, etc. as its main model. Galaxy's Edge started up earlier this year with a bimonthly publication schedule. II just got the third issue a couple of days ago. It has new fiction, reprints, a novel reprinted as a serial, and new columns. I think Resnick has an outside backer, but it seems to be doing well so far. If WT could do something like that, even quarterly, I think the publication could gain enough traction within a year or two to be a major market.

      Although at this point I'm not holding out a great deal of hope...

  4. I believe the one Kaye-edited WT (#360) so far was also issued on various electronic platforms. Certainly I bought it myself as a PDF; I live on the other side of the world and it was the best option, saving on scary postage costs while still giving me the look of the print-edition pages.

    You and your followers and far from alone in expressing concern about what is going on...or rather not going on. The SFF magazine historian, writer and editor Mike Ashley, who has been active in the field for decades, has written:

    "I find myself rather concerned over what Marvin Kaye is doing at Weird Tales. I always admired his anthologies of years ago and generally thought he had good taste, but his attitude since he took WT over is rather more questionable. Ann Vandermeer was doing such a brilliant job. If he only got WT out more regularly he could use all of this 'excellent' material, and build up a market for the magazine again. I suspect the majority of potential readers has no idea the magazine still exists, let alone that it appears at such a constipated rate."

    Again, I would urge writers who have dumped WT acceptances to issue their material as inexpensive ebooks, and WT followers to support such publications. (Remember, they can also be read on PCs and other devices as well as Kindles!) I'd like to see some evidence that will convince Kaye and partner to get their project back on its promised track. Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales is just 99c at Amazon.

    1. Where did you get the Mike Ashley quote, and is that a full or partial quote?

      The thing I like about the model so many other online publications are using is that they are available on multiple platforms. PC, Kindle, Nook (which is what my subscriptions are through), etc. I read the WT issue Kaye edited in PDF format because that was all I could find.

      If any other authors who've been dumped by WT act on your suggestion to publish their works themselves (and I hope they do), I'll help promote them here if they will shoot me an email letting me know the work is available.

      And BTW, I think Witchery is underpriced. I'd pay $2.99 for two stories and an introduction.

    2. Mike Ashley's comments were made in an exchange of email correspondence. The quote already given was preceded by "Thanks for that latest news." It was followed by one other separate paragraph:

      "Oh dear. I hope your stories surface in a more attentive and responsible magazine.

      I didn't include the last paragraph as I felt it had been overtaken by the publication of Witchery.

      Pricing ... Unfortunately a large sector of the ebook readership appears to assume that their purchase of a gadget like a Kindle entitles them to free reading for life! There is little understanding that professional writers, too, have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Of the 99c price of my book 70c is kept by Amazon, although the writer is responsible for editing, formatting, providing a cover, and most importantly marketing.... Oh, and I'll also have to pay the taxman!

      But I don't want this to look like I'm always complaining. I truly want the WT fan base to have access to the stories and to be allowed to enjoy them. This should not be impeded by the third controversy in which Kaye has become embroiled in his short WT ownership/editorship. First came the unseemly manner in which Vandermeer and her team were dumped. This was hardly over (with Vandermeer appointed to a contributing editor role) when the Pearls row broke (and Vandermeer resigned). Now we have this revoking of story acceptances, which fans here and elsewhere have rightly condemned as "shoddy and unprofessional."

  5. I don't think you're always complaining, although you certainly have reason to. And I understand about people wanting free reading material.

    If you know of any other WT authors in the same situation as you who publish their own work, please have them get in touch with me or let me know. Like I said, I'll help them promote their stuff, although I can't guarantee I'll be able to review all of them at Amazing Stories.

    1. I'd be happy to help them promote their stuff, as well. Sorry to hear about what happened to Chap O'Keefe and others.

  6. Victoria Strauss, who looks after the Writers Beware section of SFWA, has asked the following: "...if you know other authors who've been similarly affected, please ask them to get in touch with me. Thanks again."

    Victoria's email is beware@sfwa.org

    I realize that other writers might not want to draw attention to themselves as openly as I have -- times are hard for everyone who is mid-list or lower, which means most of those who would consider WT a possible market -- but I'd urge anyone concerned and who reads this to contact Victoria in confidence. We can do without editors who are not prepared to keep their word.

    1. Thanks for Victoria's contact info. That's probably the best way to approach the situation.

  7. Well, I sold a poem to Weird Tales (via Darrell Schweitzer) in 2005, got paid for it, was eventually told it would be in a WT anthology due out in 2008 that never happened as far as I could tell, I assume was lost and forgotten by the VanderMeer days, and I'm sure re-forgotten about now. So I feel everybody's pain. :)

    1. Thanks for sharing. I hate to hear that. Hopefully it will see print someday.

      Also, the site has moved to http://adventuresfantastic.com

      Please drop by.