HANK: Intrigue. Revenge. Plotting and planning and scheming. Rejection and excommunication.
And that's BEFORE the fiction even starts! If you've ever wondered what would it be like to edit a mystery magazine, don't touch that dial. It's got all the suspense and conflict of a top-notch thriller. How do I know? Sandra Ruttan, the editor-in-chief of SPINETINGLER, tells all. Including how to win her heart. (And also how to make her very very angry...)
HANK: What's Spinetingler?
SANDRA: Spinetingler is an ezine that was started in late 2004. Sometimes, for newer writers, it can feel like you have to be "in the club" before your work is even taken seriously. Spinetingler wasn't built on publishing names; it was created to publish good stories,
regardless of who wrote them.
HANK: Do you remember your first issue?
SANDRA: Yes. Vaguely. If I remember correctly, it was in our first issue that we published a story called Jesse's Toothbrush. I know it was very early on, and that story still makes me laugh. It's about a man who becomes obsessed with his girlfriend's toothbrush.
HANK: And it was good?
SANDRA: I think the story was good. At the very least, it was memorable. That one's stayed with me, some crazy guy who's practically having an emotional affair with his girlfriend's toothbrush. That's a special brand of crazy.
HANK: Well we're talking mystery authors, after all. And now, it's really evolved...
SANDRA: It grew into a forum for reviewing books, interviewing authors and featuring other sites online that were worthy of note. I've always been a natural champion for what I love,
and Spinetingler provided an official forum for helping writers with talent get more exposure. It's amazing to think about how much Spinetingler has grown over the past six years.
HANK: It used to be--in issues, right?
SANDRA: Yes, in the past, Spinetingler was produced in issues. It's now an ongoing, continuous publishing format, which means we can respond in real time to breaking news in the industry if we choose, and we have greater flexibility with our publishing schedule. There are also more
people involved. For the most part, I don't select fiction; our fiction editor, author Jack Getze, does. Sometimes I'm asked to look things over and give a second opinion, but that's not common. Brian Lindenmuth handles all the non-fiction, recruits reviewers and contributors and tries to ensure there's new content daily.
HANK: It must be so much work! DO you get a lot of inquiries? Over the transom submissions?
SANDRA: We're getting tons of submissions. In fact, we reject an awful lot of stories that are really, really good. Since Spinetingler was MWA-approved, the submissions have increased even more. Jack would like it to grow to the point where we're publishing one story a week,
but we're also committed to a minimum payment of $25 per story, and that means we have to work within a budget. If ad revenues increase, we'll publish more, as long as the quality of the work is maintained.
HANK: What makes a great story? How soon can you tell? (Is this a question for you? Or should we ask Jack?)
SANDRA: Well... it depends on the story. Have you read My Name Is Priscilla?
The genius is truly in the reveal. Sometimes, you know right away you've got something special. Sometimes, it's that "wow" factor that comes after you've seen how it all unfolds. I'm actually partial to those stories. The quality of writing has to be strong and engaging
to keep a person reading, but if feels like it's building to something and it pays off, it really pays off. Which is much better than starting off strong and fizzling out with a weak ending.
HANK: Wait--I'm off reading...oh, wow. Sandra, you guys are truly..well. Anyway. So--what advice do you have for someone who wants to submit?
SANDRA: Follow the submission guidelines. And don't submit to us if you don't want to be published by us. Jack recently went through the headache of accepting a story, working with the writer to edit it and bring it up to a whole new level, the story was slated for publication and at the 11th hour the author pulled the story and decided to enter it in a contest. He was, understandably, furious he'd invested time in this writer, only to have them take advantage of
his editorial services.
And if he wants the writer banned for life, I'm fine with that.
We've had a few authors who've been difficult, and since this is a labor of love for us, and we volunteer our time and work hard to see that these writers get paid something for their
efforts, I won't make anyone work with someone who's proven they're unprofessional.
HANK: Oh, yikes. Interesting to see the world from the other side. And revealing to know you're taking names! So--Do you think of it as a "magazine"? Do you think paper magazines are on their way to oblivion?
SANDRA: I do think of it as a magazine. I'm not convinced paper is about to die. I don't like reading on my computer, and e-readers haven't reached the price point where I'm tempted to try them.
HANK: Wait. What? How do you read your own e-zine??
SANDRA: I don't mind reading online in small bits. But I'm a slow reader, and a book typically takes me 10+ hours. I'm not going to sit and read for hours at a time online. Ezines are like blog surfing to me, so they work for me; books online don't. Not yet.
I still like holding something in my hands and flipping the pages, and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way. I think we provide different services, and I think we can complement each other. We can publish content daily; print magazines can't do that. But print
magazines have an archival value that we don't have. There's good things about both formats.
HANK: So what scares you these days?
SANDRA: I'm more optimistic about the industry than some people seem to be. I think you can put your backlist out on Kindle and work it and maybe even make a lot of money for a little while, but eventually the demand will dry up. You have to keep producing at that level, in
volume and quality, in order to maintain those sales. I'm nervous about the possibility that some of the recognized authors leading the charge to self-publish via e-books are setting everyone up for disappointment. Writers who won't achieve overnight fame and fortune and huge readerships, and readers who will find there's so much more crap to wade through that they can't find what's really good anymore.
This is a huge concern for Spinetingler. When I set up authors to do guest columns, I have to decide if I'll take self-published authors, or if I'll take e-book authors. I'm still nervous about opening the floodgates. I don't have the same rules as some of the other organizations - I have no problem with a product that's been professionally edited. Even small POD presses that aren't covers for Vanity Presses have to invest money in putting out a book, whether they pay an advance or not, so there's at least a vetting process in place. I'm really nervous about throwing open the floodgates to products that haven't been screened by anyone other than the writer
putting them up for sale.
A few months ago, I'd received a review copy, and it seemed legit, so I started it. I wasn't wowed straight off, but I hadn't abandoned it. Then, a few days later I got an email from the
author, saying that because of review feedback he'd re-written the first chapter and was mailing out a revised copy. That gave away the game, and I was also furious, because he didn't hire me to edit and critique his book; he asked me to review it. I review finished books, not manuscripts. You want a critique, ask me straight up, don't try to pull an end-run to get free editorial services. That was time I could have spent on a real, finished book.
So, I'm nervous. And I continue to take these decisions about how to proceed one step at a time.
HANK: What do you wish you had known?
I wish I'd known just how petty people could be. When writers argue over rejections or slam you on sites because they assume you must have a prejudice against them because you didn't publish their stuff it really puts you off. This is the reason most sites prefer to work with professionals.
I really want new writers to have a chance to develop their craft, but so many make it extremely difficult. I've found the more established the writer, the more professional and easy to work with. It's never the professionally published authors who argue over editing their work; it's the people we've never heard of. And if there was one thing I wish new authors could grasp it's just how important it is to foster good long-term working relationships. I will say that's
probably something I've learned more from doing this than anything else.
HANK: Wow. Sandra. Thank you! You're terrific. Questions, anyone?