A Writers' Exchange

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You may be looking for The Writers' Exchange, one of the bureaus of the N3F.

Zine
Title: A Writers' Exchange (also "Writers' Exchange")
Publisher:
Editor(s):
Type:
Date(s): December 1991-?
Frequency: every two months
Medium: print
Fandom: multifandom (tends to have a focus of Star Trek: TNG, Quantum Leap)
Language: English
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A Writers' Exchange is a letterzine edited by Lorraine Bartlett.

It contains many articles and essays about fandom and writing, letters of comment, and zine reviews.

Mind the Apostrophe

Pay attention to the title of this zine. From the editor in issue #2: "Grrrr. Recently I ordered return address labels for Writers' Exchange. Not only did they decide to change the location of the apostrophe, they also doubled the order at no extra charge. So now I have 2,000 address labels I don't care to use."

Description and Purpose

From the first issue:
You hold in your hands a complimentary issue of Writers' Exchange. Wow - it's really a letterzine! When weeks went by and no submissions arrived, I was beginning to think I couldn't pull off this first (experimental) issue. You'll find it's full of interesting articles and letters. As we get into this, I'm sure regular features will surface, but I (we all) need input--in the form of your letters, opinions, articles, reviews-on any subject that pertains to writing/editing/zine publishing. Still, for this first issue, I've reprinted two articles which appeared elsewhere, hopefully exposing them to a whole new audience.
From the third issue:

One of the W.E. readers mentioned to me that this little publication could be deemed "preaching to the choir." Maybe so, but she (and others) seem enthusiastic about it nonetheless. My question: has anyone gotten any direct benefit from the articles printed to date? (A cue for a testimonial if! ever wrote one!)

I started Writers' Exchange not only to talk writing, but to offer a forum for fanzine editors/publishers to discuss the kinds of problems we encounter. Such as: the value of adzines (most have 200 or less subscribers - how can one reach the greatest audience?); the seemingly never-ending recession and zine sales; the value of sharing letters of comment with your contributors (and why don't more editors do it?), etc. I'm curious as to how other editors feel about these and other subjects common to our breed.

Summaries

From an ad in the July 1993 issue of GAZ: "A quarterly letterzine devoted (but not limited) to fannish writers and writing. It's an open dialog between writers, editors, publishers, and interested fans. It. contains letters, reviews, articles and interviews by and with experienced fan (and professional) writers. (Just about anything will be considered asl long as it relates to writing.) "

From an ad in The Monthly in 1995: "A quarterly letterzine devoted (but not limited) to fannish writing, editing, publishing. Includes articles, letters, opinions, reviews. You're invited to share your views on fannish writing/editing/publishing. Issue #1 costs only 32¢ (or a stamp). Issues 2-14 are available at $2 each. SASE for contents."

From an ad in The Monthly in 1996: "A bi-monthly letterzine has changed its focus. While it's made of fannish devotees, we're no longer limited to fannish writing, editing and publishing. Are you hoping to make the jump from amateur to professional writer? Then join our desktop discussions."

Fan Reaction

1992

I want to thank you for another issue of WRITERS' EXCHANGE. Just think, you've provided a place where writers and editors can talk about the nitty gritty of the profession without boring disinterested friends, family, and significant others. That in itself is a boon to mankind. [1]
WE arrived yesterday and was eagerly devoured. I really love having contact with other editors and also hearing from the writer's side. Sometimes we all feel cut-off and sort of like the Lone Ranger. [2]
I was excited to see that first issue of WE. there has got to be a huge audience for this. Sounds like the writer's answer to M.A. Smith's wonderful, if short-lived zine for fan artists - ARTFORUM. [3]
There are so many other things I want to comment upon, but the pages of WE would overflow if I did. I hope that WE doesn't just fade away due to lack of readers or (worse) writers! I certainly will do my best to LoC. It would be a shame if lack of participation killed off something that has the potential to do so much for so many writers. Thanks for a great litte publication. [4]

1994

...discussions on ghostwriting vs. editing, when it's acceptable to change something without the author's input, pet grammar peeves, and such. There was also an informative 4-part primer on Guns and Gunpowder..." [5]

Issue 1

A Writers' Exchange 1 was published in December 1991 and contains 19 pages.

Issue 1: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

A topic for discussion I'd like to introduce is continuity in our favorite shows. It affects writers much more than it does casual viewers. If the universe you write in has good continuity, then it's easy to get the information you need for a particular story. However, if the script editor isn't doing his or her job, then you have a problem.

The program I currently write for is Quantum Leap. While it's fun to watch and I enjoy it very much, it appears they keep lousy track of what has come before. Examples: two dates (different years) have been given for the death of our main character Sam Beckett's father. They never seem to keep straight how many degrees Sam has, or how long his friend AI was a POW in Vietnam. These details count. Worst of all, in a recent episode the character was presented as being married, something we had never had any indication of before.

It's difficult to make sense of these things when the producers don't appear to care about their own programs, or hide behind the excuse of "it's only fantasy." How long before you reach a point where you simply can't deal with the continuity errors any more, and either stop writing or quit the fandom altogether? I haven't reached that point, but I know of others who have.

How do other fan writers feel about this? Has your favorite universe done you wrong? How do you research a fandom when there are no clear answers to your questions?

Most of the writers I know hunger for feedback, and I hope we'll find some of that within this zine. Almost anything is welcome except vitriolic review-the kind of response that serves no purpose other than to get hostility off the reviewer's chest. I've read such commentaries and even if I agreed with the gist of the remarks, I felt bad for the reviewee, because there was no fodder for improvement, no constructive suggestions to take to heart. I mean, that's the point of the whole exercise, right? A review shouldn't be a stomping ground, it should be a garden. Maybe a well- fertilized garden CD, but something from which new things can grow.

On the other hand, there's not a whole lot to be gained from stuffily polite responses to a work, either. I've been in a couple writers' groups like that...yawn. Everyone was so careful about each other's feelings- probably because they didn't want to be stomped on when it was their turn-that nobody got anything out of it. "It was an interesting story." Phooey. It takes effort to come out with good, constructive comments, but it's certainly worthwhile. Not only does the author learn something, but in the process so will the reviewer. I know there are going to be a lot of things in Writers' Exchange other than reviews (and I'd like to see evaluations of entire zines, completed stories, and maybe even single scenes), but I hope the comments I see will be offered in this constructive, positively worded kind of approach.

I look forward to having this letterzine as a focus where editors, publishers and writers can share their unique points of view-hopefully we'll all begin to understand one another better, and therefore avoid the occasional squabble or hurt feelings. At what point does an editor step over the line? When does an author's behavior turn from reasonable protectiveness into a Miss Piggy prima donna attitude? What are the different factors that motivate an editor to accept or reject a story?

Since I am new to the writing world (I've had only one story published and am working on two more), I have a couple of questions I'd like answered.

When is an "editor" of a fanzine an editor and when is he/she just a publisher? It seems to me that some "editors" will edit stories-with suggestions--and send them back for rewrites, while others just publish them. Should editors who accept first drafts be avoided? Should they change their title to publisher and get someone else to do the editing?

What should you do if you don't have friends to "bounce" stories off of before sending them out? Should an editor be expected to send back every piece for rewrites?

Issue 2

A Writers' Exchange 2 was published in March 1992 and contains 35 pages.

from issue #2, Jim McNair
from issue #2, Jim McNair

The topic of the month is "Fan Q's - Quality award or popularity contest?"

This issue contains cartoons by Jim McNair.

Issue 2: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

What are the views on the purpose of a review versus an LOC? It's always been my contention that a review is written to advise a possible consumer of the pros and cons of the merchandise. This would mean you hit the high points and low points, comment on the general quality, give an opinion as to whether or not you think you got enough for your sheckels (with BRIEF comments on how the low points could have been bettered or corrected). A review is intended to be read by a consumer. An LOC is written by a reader to provide the contributors and editor with an opinion of the particulars of the zine, where individual contributions are discussed in detail, high points are lauded and low points are discussed in terms of criticism anu suggestions to remedy the situation. An LOC is intended for the edification of the editor and contributors.

Having won a Fan Q doesn't appear to be grounds either qualifying or disqualifying me with regard to answer Lorraine's topic of the issue- although the wording begs a certain type of answer. Let's review the process, shall we? Fan Q's are supposed to exist to reward quality fanzine work. Well, that's a noble cause indeed, as the dearth of LoCs in fandom often leave writers, artists, poets, filkers, and editors feeling lonely and depressed. Everyone needs support and appreciation and fans are no exception.

So how do you get nominated? Fan Q's may be nominated by members of MediaWest or just about anyone who wants to pay for the privilege (and let's face it, $1 is a pretty nominal fee). The number of nominations and the category in which you're nominated determine whether or not you make the final ballot, which tilts nominations in favor of zines with large print runs. After all, if you only sell 50-75 copies of a zine and you need 100 nominations, , you aren't getting on the ballot, assuming that everyone who reads the zine (and that includes copies in lending fanzine libraries) sends in a nomination. However, those numbers can be adjusted to your advantage if friends and contributors also nominate the zine (it's gauche to nominate your own work-which means that an editor can't nominate a zine they edited, but a writer can nominate the zine to which they contributed).

Then again, whether or not you can get on the ballot has a lot to do with the other zines nominated, or not nominated, in your category. For example, a Starman zine may reach the ballot in a Starman category because eight other Starman zines were nominated, but if only one other Starman zine receives a nomination for 'best zine' both end up in the 'multi- media' or 'miscellaneous' category, where the number of nominations might not be enough to get either zine into the top five nominations and on the ballot.

Then there's the mystery of the final voting procedure itself. Members of MediaWest and just about anyone in the free world can nominate and vote for a nominal fee. The odd thing is that few members of MediaWest vote, either emphatically boycotting the awards process for whatever reasons, not really giving a damn, or simply forgetting to vote. Those that do vote may vote for their favorite zine, but many have seen no more than three or four of the zines on the ballot, which means that they; a) don't vote for fandoms or in categories in which they're unfamiliar or have no interest, b) do vote in unfamiliar categories on an 'eeny-meeny-miney-moe' system, c) vote for people or zines they know by reputation or may have seen good work from in the past, d) vote for a particular fandom in a multi-media category simply because they like that fandom more than the others, or e) vote against a particular person or zine for whatever reason.

So the zine most likely to win a Fan Q should have a large print run, plenty of recognizable names as contributors and/or editors, have many readers and/or contributors willing to make the effort to nominate and vote, and be part of a 'flavor of the month' fandom. An editor who contacts readers and contributors and advises them of Fan Q eligibility may be accused of self- promotion...or praised for going that extra mile to reward hard-working contributors.

The funny thing is, quality really doesn't enter the nomination or voting process. Oh, we might hope that someone will nominate or vote for a zine because it's a quality publication and sometimes that actually happens, but a good quality zine with a small print run has no hope in hell of winning a Fan Q. Yet, it's the only game in town and if you want to play, you play by the rules.
Overall, I think Writer's Exchange is very professional looking. The typeface is easy to read and the graphics are cute and add to the sense of fun. I do have two suggestions that might make Writers' Exchange even better. First, I think two or three staples "down the spine" would be better than one. I often fold over my magazines and newsletters when I'm reading them, so that I have only one page in front of me at a time. (I read them at work, and when the boss comes along, they're easier to hide when they're folded over!) I find that zines with two or three staples are easier to fold because there's more support.
The first issue of Writers' Exchange arrived and had a lot more variety than I expected. I was expecting to see strictly Trek, but the scope was fortunately much wider. Even the statements I disagreed with were well argued, and the little illos were a nice addition. It's also one of the few first issues that already had LoCs! A very nice job all around.
I never show my friends any of my stories while they're in progress. I show them to acquaintances and pen pals. Close friends (and relatives!) CANNOT give objective feedback on a story, so don't even try. An editor who wants everybody to rewrite won't stay in business very long, since they have unreasonable and unmeetable standards.

I did enjoy Kate's article about writer's block (though I don't know if it can help me---':"I may be helpless!) and Anne's article was fun. Actually, everything I read was good. The only problem I can see that you might have is that you don't want to end up with nothing more than a bunch of writers lecturing each other how to write better. I mean, that's good as far as it goes, but a lot of writers out there secretly think all this sort of stuff is obvious and old hat, and some of it probably is. We'll all find things in the articles that we already know, but the nice thing is discovering those little gems we didn't know.

My point is that eventually the zine can serve writers in a more important way: discussing our specific writing problems and what we can do to solve them. For example, I could write in and say that I'm having trouble with the scene transitions in my Edward Scissorhands story. Is there anyone out there's who's had that problem and has any suggestions on how to solve it? Then maybe someone would write back in the next issue and give me some hints that are really useful. That's the kind of thing I'd like to see in the zine- writers discussing specific problems and other writers helping come up with solutions. If you agree, maybe in this next issue you could solicit writers to discuss their problems. You'd have to make it clear that they should be specific without being overly detailed or wordy. It needs to be on a general enough level that other writers can gain something out of the discussion, too.

I have a problem with saying "an editor should NEVER rewrite." I think what matters is why the editor rewrote the story. Sometimes it's quicker, cleaner and clearer to revise an article or story yourself, than to · hint to an author about what changes should be made. Particularly if there's a deadline to meet. I don't see what the problem is: the author is in charge of the content and quality of his/her own story, while the editor is responsible for the zine. The author can always say "No way, Jack. Not with my story you don't" and go on from there to a publisher or another editor. Or the editor can say "Bag the story, guy. If you don't understand where I'm coming from, I can't work with you."

Acceptance of editorial changes depends on how the author feels about the revision process. If she feels raped, she shouldn't allow the rewritten story to be published. If not, it's not a problem in the first place, so why worry about it? The editor has to take the time to explain why they made the changes, and build a basic level of trust with the author. In turn, the author needs to write back, saying what changes were acceptable and why, and what ones weren't and why not. The mutual feedback loop's the only way that both sides are going to grow, producing better fiction and improved editorial critique in the process.

A good editor doesn't fall off a tree; she has to go through the same learning process that a writer does. If you want to be treated fairly as a writer, grant your editor the same courtesy and let her/him know what slhe's doing right or wrong when working with you.

Speaking of keyboards, aren't they marvelous? I am so spoiled, and I love it. I went from writing by hand to word processing and my entire pattern of creating has changed-for the better, I think, and I'd hate to see what would happen if my toys were taken away and replaced with pen and paper. Shudder!

Issue 3

A Writers' Exchange 3 was published in June 1992 and contains 28 pages.

It contains a cartoon by Jim McNair.

The topic of the month: "Rejection letters: should an editor resort to the dreaded "form letter," or a personal reply complete with a critique?"

From the editorial:
Welcome to Issue #3 of Writers' Exchange. We're growing in numbers, and I'm hoping to more than double the subscriber list while at MediaWest*Con, where this publication will have an opportunity to be seen by probably the largest gathering of fannish writers/publishers in media fandom.

The editor notes: "I have an unlisted telephone number, so please don't try to find me via directory assistance. You'll only reach my parents, who live on the same street, and won't give out my number anyway. Drop me a postcard if you have a quick question."

  • Atop the Soapbox, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (3)
  • Addressing the Unspeakable, essay by Jean Lorrah (grammar and more: "Fanzine writers and editors are among the last true lovers of language. You have no idea what a pleasure it is to have a forum to reach people who care.") (4)
  • Why Media Writing is Easy -- Why Media Writing is Hard, essay by Cicatrice du Veritas (8)
  • A Fan Writer's Reference Shelf by Roberta Rogow (writing resources, non-fannish: "Every trade has its tools, from the simple hammer and nails of the carpenter to the complex computers used by everyone from astronauts to office workers. A writer's tools include word processors/typewriters, paper and disk/diskettes...and other books. If you are serious about writing, you will build up a reference collection of your own, so that you can find specific information in your chosen area at any time, inside or outside of library hours. A writer should have a good standard dictionary handy, as a matter of course; access to a middle-of-the- road encyclopedia like the World Book is useful, too.") ) (9)
  • By Any Other Name, essay by Doranna Durgin (about pen names) (10)
  • Handling The Science in Science Fiction, part II, essay by Jeffrey Kasten (12)
  • Building on Writer's Block, essay by Cicatrice du Veritas (14)
  • Analytic Tools for the Intuitive Writer, essay by Colleen Philippi (17)
  • Letters of Comment (18)
  • The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: reviews of Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, and Quantum What?, and "Antipoetry and the Corruption of Muse" (a mini literary magazine), see those pages (26)
  • Submission Guidelines (28)

Issue 3: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

The suggested topic -- a form letter vs. a personal reply with a critique: Anne and I don't have a form letter; we write some sort of personal reply to each person who submits. Whether or not we include a critique depends on a number of things-why we're not accepting the story, how much time is available, how many other submissions are waiting to be dealt with, and how good/bad the story is, for instance. We try to encourage those who show promise, but for submissions that are just plain awful, we usually resort to being as diplomatic as possible, maybe using just the dreaded "doesn't suit our current needs." From the other side, as a writer, I don't much like receiving form letters from fanzine editors. Of course, I have received very few, or at least very few that really looked like form letters, although they might have been a fairly standard format the editor had on disk and modified as necessary for each submission.

Should an editor ever rewrite someone else's material? Normally, I would say nay, but a special situation arose a couple of years ago where I ghostwrote, with the author's permission, two stories. My name did not appear on the finished manuscript, and unless you are familiar with my writing style, it's unlikely anyone would know I had done it. The author presented me with a rambling, error-ridden manuscript that had been painfully and lovingly typed. As is my usual practice, I waded through it and found a good solid story nestled in there. The author had trouble expressing the ideas, but they were there nonetheless. I set back a long reply with suggestions to rework the story to make it suitable for publication.

The author politely explained to me that the suggestions were an impossibility due to the author's own disability and I was asked if I could step in and polish up the story. I agree, not so much because I thought I could 'save' the manuscript, but because the original idea and story were solid. I tried very hard to keep within the boundaries of the level of vocabulary the author possessed so as not to change the feel of the story. I think I was fairly successful, however, it is not something I would willingly do again. I spent a lot of time and energy editing and reconstructing those two stories. In this case, it was more important the author get some much- needed praise and the ego-boo of seeing the work in print. And from the beginning, we had an understanding that I was not simply playing God with this person or the story.

I am a firm believer in expecting the best from my contributors, regardless of their level of expertise, and this was indeed the author's personal best, and it took a lot of courage to send that manuscript out to someone the author did not know, and could not gauge what sort of reaction it would receive.

I still don't know if I did the 'right' thing in this instance, and did I actually hinder rather than help the author? Did I do the right thing? I don't know. So far as I know, the author has not written anything further, and has perhaps moved on to other pursuits.

Without getting into a "can you top my editorial horror story" contest, I would like to submit one of my personal experiences with an editor who changed material. I gave the editor permission to change a few word choices and the occasional punctuation. I was horrified when I saw the story in print and realized that she'd also taken it upon herself to remove key words and phrasing that provided the set-ups for jokes or word play, up to and including entire punch lines.

Let it be understood that I make no claim for comedic talent. If an editor doesn't get the joke, then it had better be looked over carefully and possibly reworked, because there's a good chance the reader might not get it either. But, following the Mel Brooks' theory of comedy, the editor should have gotten at least one out of five. Which meant that the editor and I had a major problem - our sense of 'funny' didn't jibe. It happens. And I now know better than to submit any humorous pieces to that editor-or at least to demand a proof copy and before the zine goes to print, so that I can change back any changes.

Regarding whether to send a form rejection letter or an in depth 'critique' letter... I'll admit to sending both. I often send a form letter when an unsolicited submission does not fit my submission guidelines (i.e., I don't print zines containing submissions from this or that fandom, the story is adult or slash, the submission is so eligible I can't even read it, etc.). That generally means that I haven't read the story. I don't think I have a right to edit or critique work that I have no intention of printing at a later date. Editing or critiquing work can't help but have some impact on the product and I don't want to infect a submission with my editing style and personal preferences if that submission will later be edited and accepted by someone else.

If I receive a submission that appears to fit my submission criteria, I read it immediately. Then I read it again. If the story fits most of my submission requirements and has promise (whatever difficulties are inherent), I give the writer a tentative acceptance, with the understanding that subsequent drafts will be needed to correct the problems I've had with the manuscript. It's possible that the second reading will confirm that there is no way in hell I could accept that story for whatever reason (i.e., actions crucial to the plot are completely out of character, plot holes or historical inaccuracies in validate the premise, a lack of any coherent story- telling or grammar on th e part of the writer, etc.). And then it's up to me to tell the writer why.

There's no easy way to say "Sorry, but I can't accept what you've done, now go away quickly." Honesty is the best policy, but it can be viewed as brutal, even when couched in the softest and kindest phrasing. When you tell a writer, "I don't think Catherine and Vincent would react in such and such a way in this situation," the immediate response often is something like, "Well, MY Catherine and Vincent would!" (shades of Roberta Rogow's article on 'character rape') or "My friends say they would!" or "Who the hell are you to tell me what these characters can and can't do?" Caught up in moral indignation, the rejected writer often fails to remember that they sent the story to the editor because they wanted to be printed in the editor's zine. The very act of submitting work to an editor indicates that the contributor is willing to accept the editor as the authority on how characters will behave and how stories are structured in that zine. There's always room for give-and-take, but if there's a major gap between the editor's views and the contributor's views, then the contributor should find another editor and another zine.

The best thing to do is try to enumerate all of the problems you have with the submission is a clear, concise letter. There's a difference between detail and depth-detail can be helpful to a writer, while depth can be time- consuming, pointless (you're not going to print the story), and downright disheartening. If I like the person's style and I think they have promise, I invite them to submit something else to me in future and enclose a copy of my submission guidelines. The last thing I want to do is discourage a person from writing again. And even though I may look at someone's current work with dread and revulsion, who's to say that four years down the road they won't be an accomplished writer I'd beg for submissions?

A story from the school of 'I should know better by now.' I received a submission that wasn't perfect, but that fit within my guidelines and which could be corrected by careful and compassionate editing if the author was willing to roll their sleeves up and get to work. Mter the third draft, which still wasn't quite there, the author informed me that there would be no further drafts, because she didn't do more than three drafts on anything and felt three was sufficient effort on her part. Either I wanted the story or I didn't.

I wasn't sure. Yes, I liked the story, but there were still some rough spots. She had a word processor and corrected drafts weren't difficult to produce. I had told her on more than one occasion that she only had to send me the corrected material, not the entire story, so postage wasn't the problem. In fact, she never told me why she'd adopted this policy, if it could be seen as such.

I started questioning my request for additional drafts. I'm sensible enough to know that perfection isn't possible and that some writers haven't reached the point in their craft where excellence is consistently within reach, ifit ever will be. I refused to rewrite the story, finding that action morally repugnant and artistically reprehensible. I had plenty of submissions, so I couldn't use that lack as an excuse. And I could easily have sent the story back to the author, promising her a copy of the zine, but informing her that I wanted the zine to be the best it could possibly be and that her story, as it now stood, just didn't make the mark.

The bottom line was, I accepted the story as it stood in that third draft. It will be published some time in the corning year. It isn't a great story. It isn't even a particularly well-constructed story. It still has the same spark of potential greatness that I first saw in it, but unborn and drifting in-between the writer's unwillingness to participate in the editing process and my own spineless refusal to stand up to the writer and lose the story, along with all the time and energy I'd spent reading and editing it. I don't think I'll be very proud of that zine. And I'll probably never accept anything from that writer again. But maybe next time I'll know enough to say 'no' at the right time, and do right by myself, my zine, my other contributors, and the writer.

I am still searching for good editors. As a writer, I agree with the view that a good editor NEVER rewrites a story. Aside from all other arguments, how is a writer going to learn to remedy flaws in his/her own writing without doing rewrites? There are several of my friends whom I originally met as editors, who still serve that function for me, and although I shake while I wait for their considered opinions, I know that any time I have to spend reworking plot lines/scenes/characters will only be to my benefit as a writer. If the editor rewrites the story, the author not only will never really understand what was wrong with the original, s/he will in all likelihood repeat the "error" in future work.

This said, I also must say I cannot agree with Elaine Batterby that every story should have to be rewritten. Perhaps this is just a quibble on the meaning of the word "rewritten." "Rewritten," to me, does not mean surface flaws fixed, continuity problems dealt with, and possibly an extra scene or two. "Rewritten" means tossing out major portions (say, 20 percent or more) of the story, and having to put new material in its place. There are flaws in every story, flaws that can be corrected by an editor's helpful hints; but rewriting should not be an inherent part of every story's edit. If an editor finds that everything submitted must be rewritten, perhaps s/he should look to his or her guidelines. If authors are submitting work that fulfills the guidelines but still has to be rewritten, stricter guidelines would seem to be in order.
As a reasonable neophyte of a writer, it was not until very recently that I truly understood the meaning of the phrase "write what you know." It seemed to make no sense to me-how could I know things about Betazoids or androids? Where do you go to get the experience to write about what it feels like to be a Borg, or a man who lives underground and looks a lot like a lion? In the course of my writings in the past two years, though, I have found the key to that phrase, which I am sure everyone but me already knows. But, for any other neophytes who may bewail their lack of experience with pulsars and alien lifeforms, let me say that "write what you know" is shorthand for "use what you understand in your writing." If you have firsthand experience of losing a pet-that can be used as a springboard for work with grief. You have to adapt your own experience to fit the character you're working with-but your own experience must be the base. Find what you have in common with your characters, and let that part of you guide the way you work with their emotions and insights.

Issue 4

A Writers' Exchange 4 was published in March 1992 and contains 16 pages.

From the editorial:

Yo! Anybody out there? The submissions were practically nonexistent this time out, which is why this issue is so small

[...]

Just as WE#3 came out, I went to MediaWest*Con with very high hopes. After all, Writers' Exchange is a vitally needed newsletter, right? The con is full of writers, editors, publishers, and a very large zine-buying population. The subscribers list for #4 will be positively bulging at the seams. NOT!!! I was surprised (and a little hurt) that this publication was met with such blatant indifference. People weren't even willing to take a flyer, let alone a FREE copy of issue #1. I sold fewer than 10 subscriptions. That saddens me. If you read Marty Siegrist's LoC in this issue, I do believe you'll find (as I did) that she's right. Perhaps the people who need a publication like this simply are too arrogant to want it. Well, if you don't mind the preaching to the choir - I don't. I like to talk, and read, about writing. So if you like the same thing, keep coming along for the ride. So far, I've sure enjoyed it.

It occurred to me that perhaps one reason for the lack of letters and articles could be a touch of guilt. For those of you who are sharing your issues-PLEASE, keep doing it! For those of you who borrow issues, PLEASE feel free to participate. I didn't start Writers' Exchange as a money-making endeavor. (HA! What true-fannish endeavor is?) Let's just talk writing and maybe have some fun at the same time!
  • Atop the Soapbox, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (2)
  • In My Opinion, essay by Sara Arnold (about editing and the willingness to be edited) (3)
  • Handling The Science in Science Fiction, part III, essay by Jeffrey Kasten (4)
  • Letters of Comment (7)
  • The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: review of Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine?, see that page (13)
  • Guidelines (15)
  • cartoons by Jim McNair-Brown

Issue 4: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

Sara Arnold's gentle complaint about the continuity failures of those who produce the shows some of us write about interests me. I frame this concern like this: shows like ST present a viable set of characters in a coherent world. There comes a point where these elements take a life of their own in the minds of those who receive them and are touched by them. It gets to the point, I think, where the "fans" can reject or at least dispute certain choices by the studios. It's irritating, I grant, that QL producers can't be bothered even to keep AI's dates in Vietnam straight, but, finally, who cares? Write your story and make up your own mind. Your readership in turn will decide if you make sense in terms of the medium you've picked. Take what you need, use it. I find what fans do, generally, a lot more interesting than what the commercial machines who crank out the "product" do with it. Though let me not forget to thank the studios for at least getting things rolling!
Sara Arnold raises a valid point about continuity. Even professional universes are not immune to continuity problems. For example, in Anne McCaffrey's DRAGONFLIGHT, Lessa goes back in time using the pattern of the door of Ruthera Hold and the position of the Red Star on an antique tapestry. Yet in THE WHITE DRAGON, Lord Jaxom states that she used the stars on the tapestry as her guide. A minor screw up, but it is there. In War of the Words, the producers changed between the first and second seasons of the show, and the second producer (Frank Mancuso, Jr.) changed the format radically. Fan writers either do straight-forward first season stories, straight-forward second season stories, or alternate universe second season stories. The best bet seems to be using those pieces that seem to fit together best and ignoring everything else. For most WOTW fans, this means finding a way to bring back Ironhorse and/or Norton Drake. Many writers come up with a different ending to The Second Wave" or ignore it completely. Others literally bring Ironhorse and/or Norton back from the dead.
As far as criticism goes, if you have to tear something apart, suggest some way to fix it! The only really negative (i.e. derogatory) criticism I've gotten was from George Schithers for a story I sent him when he was Editor-In-Chief at AMAZING! Negative criticism doesn't have to be derogatory; if something is wrong, just say what seems to be wrong, not that the writer's an idiot. Negative criticism is pointing out the problem; derogatory criticism is a personal attack, which should never be tolerated.
I have only once run int.o a zine that didn't edit material, and they advertised it up front. (I don't think they took everything they were offered, though.) Most editors can and do make suggestions on the stories they receive. I have had stories accepted without editing and some that needed rewriting. In most cases, an editor will send back a story for rewrite if they think it needs it. Frankly, the only time an editor should rewrite a story for a writer is when the deadline is super tight on the LAST issue of a zine and they should always give the author the option of withdrawing the piece. This, to me, is the only time when it is allowable.

A portrait can be an illustration, and a damn' satisfying one. But doing nothing but portraits is not illustration, no matter how skillfully they're rendered. Especially since so many artists, neos and even more experienced ones, work exclusively from the stock stills that everyone has seen a bezillion times before. Where's the creativity or artistry in that? If that photo is such a good story illo, why don't we just screen it and toss it into the zine there, without wasting time or effort conning and/or coddling an artist? Particularly since the straight photo will probably look better than the artist's rendering, anyway. If we wanted stock repro of stock stills, we would use a xerox machine, not an artist, yes? Myself, I always like a mixture of portraits and "action" illos. (And, truth be told, mine often aren't really illustrations in the true sense of the word; they tend to be portraits/character drawings that bear some relation to the story at hand.)

As for artwork's having a place in zines, I say "yes!" While I don't particularly like illustrations in most pro novels, I very much prefer that my fan fiction have illustrations, and the occasional graphic frills. Let's face it, media fandom is pretty much visually oriented; fans for the most part want to see their heroes (and I'm no exception). Too, good artwork adds to the overall look and feel of the fanzine itself as a work of art, something on which much care and attention were lavished. Illumination of manuscripts didn't really add anything to the basic understanding of the text, I suppose, but it set a tone. It draws the reader in, rests and pleases the eye, focuses the mind on the page and the story, and so on.
Why don't zine editors take chances? Well, actually, many do, in a way. Fan publishing is a gamble, and can be an expensive one if things don't go well, as both you and I know. However, I assume you mean in terms of trying different things with stories, zines, and artwork. First off, I'm not always sure just how much you can do that's new and bold with zines. Besides, I am reminded of the saying about writing, that you can't break the rules until you have a solid enough understanding of the rules to know that you're breaking them, and why. Many zine producers are not there yet. And, their beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding, I don't think zine producers (editors, writers, and artists) are always as creative as they think they are, nor are buyers as adventurous as they'd like to think. In fact, we tend to be a pretty orthodox bunch. If you look at why people buy zines, you'll find that most want to read about their current fannish fetish, and I don't exempt myself from that. They also tend to have limited resources-in my case, both in financial and spatial terms (I've got no room for zines in my tiny house, and so have to limit what I buy-and therefore must focus on their primary areas of interest).
(Is Writers' Exchange) preaching to the choir? Yeah. Those who believe that improvement is not only possible but necessary are eager for this sort of publication and dialogue. Unfortunately, they're already motivated to improve, and so aren't the ones who need it the most. They would eventually improve by dint of hard work and effort, regardless. Those who really desperately need this sort of discussion and advice are insulated against it by their own ignorance and self-satisfaction. None so blind as he who will not see, and none so deaf as he who will not hear, after all. This isn't solely in fandom, either. Have you noticed that there is a cult of ignorance, a worship almost, of lack of intellectual prowess or achievement? Redneck is in, science is out.
I recently got a contributor's copy of a zine containing a story that Anne and I co-wrote. When this particular story was accepted, after a minor rewrite, we had it proofread by two more people (besides proofing it again ourselves) before sending it to the zined on disk in the format requested. So I was quite dismayed to discover that the editor (who did not send out galley proofs) had changed two things that we had correct in the first place-'you're' for 'your,' when the possessive was required, and omitting the object of a transitive verb. Reading through the other stories showed me that this was not simply a matter of a typo and a mistakenly omitted word; there were similar errors in several other stories. It was a real shame, because otherwise it was a very nice little zine.
Rejecting any story for a fanzine with a form letter is very tacky. You can't pay them if you do accept it, so the least you can do is give them a personal rejection. Form letters are used in prozines because they get too many submissions to reply to all of them personally, meaning hundreds or thousands a month. No fanzine has ever gotten anything like that level of submissions.

[A male fan addressing another fan's (female) comment in the previous issue]: No, you didn't do the right thing by ghostwriting. There was nothing wrong with rewriting the story, but no one should ever do a massive rewrite without credit, even on a story you aren't getting paid for. Any time a writer does more than a tiny fraction of a story (say, 5-10%), their name should go on as a collaborator. The original author didn't write a good percentage of the final draft, so there's no reason he/she had to be the only name on the byline.

Ghostwriting without credit is largely on the way out among professionals, since the people who do the actual writing are insisting, usually successfully, that their names be included on book covers (a few exceptions still exist, such as Goulart's Tekwar books and the book claiming to be Reagan, but these are rare).

Issue 5

A Writers' Exchange 5 was published in December 1992 and contains 31 pages.

The topic of the month: "How to give W riters' Exchange a more "fannish" bent" and "Who are your favorite fannish authors (and why)?."

From the editorial:

his issue marks the one year anniversary of Writers' Exchange. What better time to talk about its viability! To continue or not to continue, that is the question. I say let's keep going. The problem is that while a lot of you enjoy reading WE, statistically speaking, not that many of you are contributing. I can't constantly be strong-arming people into contributing, or pulling guilt trips (as Kate Nuernberg suggested - I really hate to grovel. I did that for this issue - which I happen to think is the best to date. What's the answer???

Several people have already written to me about extending their subscriptions. I don't know what to do about it yet. But since I budgeted so well for the last four issues, those of you who took the chance on a new letterzine and bought a one-year subscription will get the next issue free! I'll talk about the viability of taking subscriptions next time out.

Kate also wanted to know how many people subscribe to WE. As of this issue - 40. And I usually send out about 10 contributor/freebie copies as well. I'm hoping that many of you share your copies with friends, too!

Issue 5: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

Okay, okay, you made me feel guilty! Are you happy now? Well, I guess it got you what you wanted, because I'm writing this letter. I wouldn't be too upset about the lack of contributions for your latest issue. While I know it's disappointing not to get response, I think participation is down all over this summer. Others may have had different experiences, but I have had fewer letters for my Professionals letterzine for my September issue (I haven't written a letter myself in two issues!), contributions for my proposed zine have been slow in coming, and I have gotten very few LoCs on my latest zine, which came out in May. I myself have been slow in answering both fannish and personal mail. I wonder if the Martians are sucking up all our energy with their latest invention....

I find it very disappointing that people weren't more interested in your publication at MediaWest. The only reason I can think of is that people may be tight on money and not able to purchase items of a "non-essential" character (read "non-zine").
About preaching to the choir - are we really here to preach or are we here to exchange ideas? Do we want to teach the ignorant masses how to write (if we do we are fooling ourselves) or do we want to exchange ideas with other writers? Most of the people who commit my pet peeves are not going to stop just because I point them out to them. Some of them will because some of them care; some of them will point out to me that I commit errors which drive them crazy. And those are the people I want to talk to.

My two cents' worth on the continuity question: of course, I agree that everyone (including TV shows) should be able to be consistent about the date someone's father died or whether a character could historically have been in two places at once. But consider the problems of creating a continuing universe. Have you ever been writing a series when, years---or months-after your introduction of a certain character, said, "Gee, I wish I hadn't done that?" And what if your second impression of that character-or situation or whatever - is so much more interesting than the first, or simply allows you to write a better, more complex story? A case in point (and forgive my failing memory for not remembering specifics) is M*A*S*H. Early in the series, Margaret Houlihan (who evolved more during the series than any character ever has on TV, I believe) makes a passing comment about her mother who is a kleptomaniac and loves going into stores and stuffing clock radios up her sweater. Years later, a kinder and gentler Margaret finds reason for her own behavior and personality in the fact that her mother died when she (Margaret) was very young. Perhaps you think that the author should have stuck to the original history and woven the more complex Margaret out of historically correct facts. You would possibly be right. But the later script was lovely and sensitive and should not have been sacrificed to the fact that we all watched reruns faithfully and knew that Margaret's mother was very much alive.

Ideas rather than details should perhaps be dealt with more meticulously. But over a period of years, even the creators of a series can (and should) evolve new ideas about their series. I'd rather have that than the creator abandoning the project whole cloth and moving onto something else for whatever (financial or creative) reasons. So when Donald Bellisario throws a line into the final episode of the season like "Success has nothing to do with leaping, now you know that," we might feel betrayed that this is contrary to every comment or motivation of Sam's in previous episodes ("I'll be stuck here forever if I don't do what I'm here to do!"). Or we might feel betrayed that it was used as a throwaway line and not demonstrated to us - and Sam - through the direct experience of an episode. Whatever - it's still an exciting possibility for future complications. And whatever you think of Sam losing his personality and absorbing Oswald's-we've never seen him do that before - that's an exciting possibility, too.

Discontinuity can help make a single episode work, even if you may want to disregard that faux pas in future episodes. I know this is weak writing and you should take the time to make it work, and we should do that in fan fiction. But they don't often have that luxury in the TV industry.

[...]

I guess, in the end, as with any other aspect of writing, the effect of your end product - how well your story succeeds - will determine whether your methods should be tolerated.
Some people are not capable (at certain points in their writing careers) of writing up to an editor's expectations. But they are capable of doing the very best job that they can do. I've worked with some people who really try and really work a lot on their stories, but they hit a point of saturation where they really don't understand and really can't do any more. At that point, I quit and publish the story. The author has learned something, even if her story still has problems, and she deserves to be published. If I saw a spark of genius or a good idea or a good characterization in that story, then I trust that the readers will, too, and enjoy it on that level, even if they see the flaws. Editors are not on this earth to frustrate the beejeezus out of writers so that they never write again. (This is not to say that you should put up with sloppy writing, laziness, or someone who has a predetermined cutoff point for heaven knows what reason. I'm afraid I'd have very little patience and no motivation to print her story.)

What does [do fans] consider to be a "chance" that zine editors should take? I think most fannish writing is all across the spectrum and if you want to write something or publish something, you'll have an audience for it. Death stories? Alternate universe? Cross universe? Slash? Future? Past? First person plural narrative? From the point of view of the goldfish? Why not? (There do seem to be certain restrictions, based on why-we-are-all-here. Do you want to publish a story which details the childhood of a criminal that Crockett and Tubbs killed in episode #99? Do you want to read a story about Nick Ryder's sister protesting the Viet Nam war? Maybe you would, but we usually get our fix of these sorts of stories elsewhere. We read fan fiction to read about Crockett and Tubbs and Nick Ryder.

Take chances on artwork? Your reproduction methods and costs dictate what media you can publish, but people already print pen and ink, pencil, colored pencil, water color, charcoal, and drawings on textured paper. You can publish both portrait or illustration, depending on what your artists want to send you. What else is there? Abstract mood pieces that can be used as title art? Renderings of the other characters in the story and not just the "stars of the show?" Cartoons? Caricatures? Art that has a sense of design, balance, technique, but doesn't represent "the guys" quite literally?

How do you take chances? And how do you invite your writers and artists to take chances with you?)

The only way a publisher can take chances by herself is with the design and layout of the zine. There are two ways to do this: A) Have a lot of money and buy yourself a computer with the right kind of software (like PageMaker) and a printer that makes it look like something or B) Have a lot of time to cut and paste and do press type and hand ink borders and rub-on dingbats. I don't have either. Does anyone have an alternative?

I am of the mind that any of these things in the hands of most publishers is dangerous. Sorry about that, but I have seen a few too many zines that fell in love with technique and forgot taste. "If one graphic is good, then two are twice as good" doesn't always follow. I have always been interested in publication design, but I have a hard enough time sometimes getting a zine out to accomplish anything beyond the KISS method (keep it simple, stupid). Simple does not have to mean ugly, but it can be less than exciting.
I was quite sorry to hear that WE had not been received as it should have been. I would have thought MediaWest would have been a perfect place for WE to pick up adherents. But, sadly, I think Marty's right-those who need this the most are those disinclined to pick up WE. There seems to be a real snobbishness in some zine ed circles and they cling to the old adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - so they never move forward. Compounding the problem is the lack of education/discernment on the part of the buyers. They are ignorant that there could be better product out there and so continue to support zines that stagnate. Those of us who dare to point out the emperor has no clothes are often shouted down as being unreasonable or just plain mean-spirited. After all, it's "only" a hobby, right? (Hmph.)
Why is art considered "sacred" when we'll belabor a writer for rewrites? (Just curious.)

There's just no easy way to tell someone you don't want to use their work. (I've been editing fanzines for about 15 years now, and believe me, I agonize over every one I have to write.) Most who responded agreed that it was best to at least give a reason for the rejection rather than the dreaded "it doesn't fit my needs" form letter. I have never written one of those letters...but I may start.

As has also been discussed within these pages, there's a large faction in fandom who does not believe in the dreaded word REWRITE and cannot/will not accept even the slightest of criticisms. Usually these people will simply take your name in vain and find somewhere else to have their golden words published because let's face it, there isn't a lack of fanzines out there.

Lorraine, your editorial in Issue #4 hit very close to the heart of the problem. Your comment, "Perhaps the people who need a publication like this simply are too arrogant to want it." Absolutely! You have had a face- to-face encounter with what I refer to as the "How-Great-I-Am" complex that seems to be strangling fandom. There is always a healthy splattering of HGIAs at any con. You can see them, dressed like their favorite author, lounging in the hallways, glaring at you because you interrupted their concentration. (I don't know about you, but I do my best writing when alone in the study, not in the middle of a corridor. Besides, the extension cord isn't that long....) However, Media*West seems to attract more than its share of HGIAs.

The HGIAs are too good to need something as plebeian as Writers' Exchange. They already know all the answers. They are going to ascend any day now to P*R*O writers. They don't want to be weighed down by fannish baggage. The truth of the matter is that they need WE more than the rest of us. The HGIAs have broken a cardinal rule of writing-they have stopped growing. Anyone reading WE is using the articles as a way to grasp new concepts or applications, to become better writers. The HGIAs simply stagnate. They don't want to change-they don't need to! They are perfect. They write the same thing over and over again until people finally start ignoring them and their material from sheer boredom. Think about all the Big Name Pro Writers who simply disappeared after a while.... Hmm, could there be a connection? Could fandom reflect life? That's a scary thought.

Some random thoughts on your proposed topics for this issue: I suppose one way to stamp "fannish" more c1early on Writers' Exchange might be direct discussion of writing problems in specific fandoms Oike the continuity problems in Anne MacCaffrey's dragon series and WOTW mentioned by Tammy Croft, or Don Bellisario's infuriating refusal to ever commit to just how Sam's leaps work in Quantum Leap). As the writers who read Writers' Exchange are a mixed lot, I'm not sure which fandoms would generate the most discussion, but I'm willing to put money on TNG and QL as big topics!

Another idea might be more emphasis on what it is that makes "fannish" writing different from other kinds of writing-and similar to them, as wel1. After all, "shared universe" is a big thing in the science fiction world now-many people are writing in worlds created by others, using either already created characters or a mixture of original and created, which is a pretty good description of what we do. TV script writers also face the same problems we have; how to take people and places established in the audience's minds by others, and tell a new story within the parameters that have been established (more or less).

Maybe we could use some discussion on how far you can push a character or storyline's "envelope" before what you're writing becomes an original work that has borrowed familiar names. We all have worked with alternate universes; how "alternate" can you go before you've lost touch with what you purport to be writing? I've read some utterly wonderful 'zine stories which have no relation to their media "setting" except for extraordinary coincidences about names and residences. Terrific fiction; terrible "fannish" fiction, because those people who were so well portrayed were nothing like the characters we met in the series. When does it stop being "alternate universe" and start being original characters and setting? How little of the work we're based out of do we need to have and still call it "fannish"?

Frankly, I think all writing should be held up to professional standards-i.e., it should be the best that it can be. And I think that a lot of the professional press' condescending attitude toward fanzines comes from the lack of standards on the part of (fan) publishers. I don't know about you, but I intend to one day make my living as a writer and I want people to critique my work. How else am I going to learn?

Professional writers tend to be an arrogant bunch about fan writing. At least those who are in the SF & FANTASY WORKSHOP are. The WORKSHOP has a "Ready-Made Universes" critique group, but it isn't emphasized much. The general attitude is that the group was formed to keep the writers who write "that sort of thing" quiet. Never mind that some of the writers first saw professional publication with 'fan' stories-some where published in Darkover anthologies and others did Witchworld stories. In fact when I joined the group, the coordinator had just had a story published in a Witchworld anthology and would soon have another one in the Catfantastique anthology. Pretty good, huh? And what are the Star Trek novels from Pocket Books but fan novels? And have you noticed that the standards there seem to be declining? (At least the Classic novels.) Frankly, a large section of Writers' Exchange's potential audience may be being siphoned off by the SF & F Workshop simply because it is a "professional" organization, and I think that's too bad; the Workshop is often too professional - and intimidating. I mean, the last newsletter had part three of a series on the psychological aspects of story enjoyment!

I suppose the best way to give Writers' Exchange a more 'fannish' bent is to discuss more 'fannish' topics. For example, why not discuss media copyright vs. literary copyright the next time around (this coming from a rather heated discussion on GEnie where several professional SF & F authors freaked when they realized what fanzines were...and rightfully so)? Or what about someone writing an article about fannish idioms that affect fannish writing (such as the label 'Mary Sue,' talking heads, etc.)? Does fandom, by its nature, discourage experimentation in written form and style? Anyone willing to talk about different types of fan fiction (fan fiction as an 'alternate' to a program, fan fiction faithfully continuing the premise of a program, crossovers, etc.)?

I suppose my favorite fannish authors are the people who can take the essence of a program, including the unfulfilled promise of 'what might have been in a perfect world,' and make it 'literature.' This doesn't necessarily mean that the story could be an episode of the series, but that there's a logical progression from the program to the conclusion of the story. Of course, I have to be able to read the damn thing without wincing at poor sentence construction, inappropriate word choice, inadequate description, leaping plot holes in a single bound...you know what I'm talking about. I've found I can't dismiss incompetence or inaccuracy simply because A.J. gets to bleed on Rick for 20 pages. Maybe it's because I'm not a 'fan' writer, but a writer. Or maybe it's because I still can't get the damned blood out of the carpet from the last time it happened.

Too many times it's been too easy for editors, fans and readers to find something wrong with stories. Granted some things cry out to be ridiculed, but lest we forget the ever-present ego. EVERYONE-writers and editors alike-need stroking. I've published a few issues of a newsletter, each time mistakes (typos), etc. were eagerly pointed out. But not too many stated that it was well put together.

Stories are different, yet the same. A writer needs to know the good points as well as the bad. Editors need to say "great phrase," or "this really works," as well as the criticism. And after the piece is published, by all means share the letters of comment the readers were kind enough to send. I was recently mentioned in a LoC, unfavorably, it it was still welcomed input. I was told the story lacked feeling, that the author's presence wasn't felt. I was glad that I had removed myself from the plot enough to sound like I did my homework, instead of living the story-line. Yet another LoC on the same story said it had impact and tugged at the reader's emotions. Some reviews should be shrugged of, but most should be listened to. I agree with Lorraine's review of "Wanna Buy A Fanzine..." that criticism should be taken constructively, not personally.

Issue 6

A Writers' Exchange 6 was published in February 1993 and contains 16 pages.

The back cover is by Lee Shackleford.

The topic of the month: "Are zine editors really more lenient with artists than writers?" and "Media copyrights vs. literary copyrights."

From the editorial:

Fellow writers, Hey, bet you figured that opening meant bad news, huh? Well, sort of. For the past couple of issues I've been hedging-should Writers' Exchange fold or not? Issue #5 was wonderful-full of great letters and articles. This issue has good stuff too, but not nearly enough of it.

Truthfully, I don't want Writers' Exchange to end-despite the lack of interest. Okay, 40 or so readers shows that it reached a bunch of interested people, but not even half of the audience I thought it would capture. Okay, so WE doesn't end-but I am going to put it on hiatus. I've got a couple of big projects that have to be accomplished this spring. First if all, I have to finish my mediazine, RERUN 11-1 need to get it ready for MediaWest Con. The second biggie-I'm moving! My husband and I have bought a wonderful new house and I want to settle down in it and decorate it and love it over the summer. I figure by the fall I'll be ready to tackle WE again.

So, what I want to do is collect SASEs from those of you who are interested in going for round two of this little tome. And if you should write an article or want to respond to the letters in this issue, please feel free to do so. I may make some changes in the guidelines. I'd appreciate any comments on how WE can be improved. I'll drop you a line around the beginning of August to let you know where things stand.

My thanks to all of you who took a chance by subscribing--and many thanks to all who contributed!

'Til then, keep writing!
  • Atop the Soap Box, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (2)
  • Should Editors "Edit" Art, essay by Charlie Kirby (3)
  • Working with the Writers: My Experience with "Vonegran's Veil, essay by Pat Ames (5)
  • Said Bookisms, or "What I Did On My Summer Vacation", essay by E. Michael Whitmore ("About three years ago, I found myself privileged enough (with money nonetheless) to attend a Summer Writer's Workshop on Science Fiction/Fantasy. The class was taught by Nebula Award winner Nancy Kress (author of the novels "An Alien Light" and "Brain Rose"). Every year she invites another author to join her, and that year the guest was James Patrick Kelley.... There were 12 of us in the class and we each had to bring a short story for the two authors, and the rest of the group, to critique.") (6)
  • Letters of Comment (9)
  • The Good The Bad, The Ugly: review Downloading Aliens #1, see that page (15)

Issue 6: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

With respect to your "Atop the Soapbox," you asked why you aren't getting more zine reviews. I used to do zine reviews all the time, until I managed to alienate most of the editors in UNCLE fandom. Why is that? I told the truth. That's usually the last thing an editor wants to hear. I can hear people screaming from here. It's true though-no one wants honesty. It's every editor's ugly stepchild. After all, you have slept with this zine, it has been your focus of attention for months, to have someone come along and blast the zine for being unimaginative, poorly put together, difficult to read, filled with typos, etc. I just had someone write to me complaining that her story appeared full of typos. "How could that happen?" She was upset and angry, but I'd wager a week's pay that if you asked the editor about it, she wouldn't know what you were talking about. From where she stands, the zine is fine. After meeting with considerable opposition, I gave up reviewing zines. Now the only ones I review are those that I like through and through with little negative comments. Cop out? Maybe, but I have my own writing to think about. Alienating all your prospects just doesn't make good career sense.
Thanks for the kind words about my article on fanzine writing in Writers' Digest, December 1992. I tried to give a reasonable and reasoned explanation of how to write for fanzines. Most of the people I talked to who read the article liked it. I have heard that a few people were afraid that I had opened a can of copyright worms no one wanted to open. So far, no lawsuits.[6]

Are editors more lenient with artists than with writers? Let's just say that artwork is harder to come by and a LOT harder to correct when it's "wrong." An editor can request a rewrite of a badly written or plotted story, but a drawing that is out of focus is harder to adjust. Also, many editors can't send the artists their requests until they have the stories finished, and if the illos don't come in until the last possible minute, the editor then has to make the choice: run the story with a bad illo (tacky), run the story without the illo (impossible), or miss the deadline, and maybe a major convention, like MediaWest or Shore Leave (also impossible). Most editors would rather have a drawing slightly off-kilter than none at all.

There is also the question of technique, or lack of it, in fannish artwork. Artwork takes time and training, and a certain talent (you could say the same of writing, but art is a specific talent). Beginning writing is "fixable" by the editor; a piece of artwork is not.
As far as the media copyright vs. literary copyright debate goes, my own feelings are that literary characters shouldn't be used in fan fiction UNLESS the characters are in the public domain OR you know that the author(s) won't mind. Media copyrights are a different kettle of fish, primarily because media universes are essentially franchises with many people working with the same background/scenarios. As such, they fall into a gray area where personal judgment must determine how far you go. I think a lot of fan writers are aware of this already; I've seen very few zines that use literary universes though media universes abound.

Issue 7

A Writers' Exchange 7 was published in September 1993 and contains 18 pages.

From the editorial:

Welcome to Writers' Exchange #7. It's smaller than I'd hoped and pondering this I had to ask myself why I continue to subject myself to this kind of stress. Here's what I came up with:

A.) I'm a glutton for punishment

B.) I truly feel there's a need

C.) I'm basically a nosy person and like reading other people's opinions first D.) All of the above

The correct answer: D. As usual, I was disappointed by the number of SASEs I received to indicate interest in continuing this here rag. (Nine - although that's almost 25 percent, so maybe I shouldn't bitch too loudly). And at the last minute I only had to strong-arm a couple of people to come through with submissions, but here we are with the first of four more issues.

On the plus side, I sold more issues of WE at MediaWest this year than last-that's an improvement!
  • Atop the Soap Box, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (2)
  • Just Who Is Editing My Story?, essay by E. Michael Whitmore (3)
  • A Sign of the Times, essay by Lorraine Bartlett (about poorly written public signs) (5)
  • Why I Did Not Write My Novel Over Summer Vacation, essay by Lorraine Bartlett (6)
  • I'm Currently Reading (7)
  • Letters of Comment (8)
  • Self-Help Books, essay by Lorraine Bartlett (13)
  • Neos Tackling Fandom, essay by Lorraine Bartlett (13)
  • Guns and Gunpowder: A Few Facts on Weaponry, part I by Tammy L. Croft (15)

Issue 7: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

Why is art "untouchable" and any editor who (God Forbid) suggests changes or asks it be redone is seen as unreasonable? Granted, there is room for individual interpretation, and (while) I usually let the artists run with whatever scenes strike their fancy, I am not above making suggestions. I have never rejected a piece of art, except in the case where it was clearly plagiarized. I would never dream of putting my hands on someone's art to 'enhance' it and I've suffered from this same indignity myself. Same goes for a manuscript - I'll correct grammar mistakes, but wouldn't dream of altering the text without consulting the author.

I don't know that I agree that anyone can be a writer. Not everyone can be a gifted writer, true, but like art, I think writing is a talent, one which has to be honed through diligent practice. I am an adequate writer, thought not often an inspired one and I KNOW how hard it can be to make that story coherent.

Sadly, we seem to buy into that us-vs.-them mentality and everyone rushes to choose sides in the artist/writer debate. Maybe it's easier to pick on the writer since the artist is perceived as having a more "delicate" mental state and few editors are artists themselves, where the bulk of them would appear to be writers or at least dabblers in that craft.

We got a slew of really awful stories, which we dutifully read, turned down and included reasons why, and we have been blasted with return letters telling us what brutes we are and don't we know True Talent when we see it? ("But all my friends loved it"-that's the most common refrain.) Sigh. This has come on the tail of me getting just a tad fed up with fandom after having dealt with it for the past 20 years, so this has not been sitting well with me. I guess my old age is showing and my patience is finally wearing thin. The problem is a lot of these folks have no concept of fannish etiquette or just common sense good manners. Grrrr.

There's something I call "generic art" versus "illustration." Now, illustration sometimes isn't that anymore, either, depending on the artists' methods. I'm talking about the difference between artists who send you a bunch of work and let you "match" them to what you have in the zine, and those artists who are sent a story and draw a specific moment in that story. Pros and cons? "Generic art" speeds up the zine process. You don't have to wait for the stories to start the artwork. On the other hand, the art doesn't quite fit. Sometimes. Sometimes you luck out. Sometimes you end up with artwork that doesn't fit anywhere. Another problem-not exclusive to generic art, but more common here-is the use of publicity shots (unaltered) as illustrations. I know this is difficult to get around for some artists and some fandoms (I happen to own a 35 mm camera, a good VCR, and for a while a roommate who took damn good pictures). But the key word here is "unaltered." Mix and match faces (if there is more than one character in a photo), change their clothes, play Frankenstein and put a head on a different body pose (this is possible to do without being hilarious), put in a different background. Of course, generic art can't be too specific and therein lies the problem-in order to alter a publicity photo effectively, you have to have the story in your hand.

The other problem with most publicity photos? The actors are looking directly at the camera. Which means the characters are looking at the reader. Nothing takes the reader out of the dramatic feel ofthe story faster than having an illo look directly at him. (Watch TV. Moonlighting did it. Lovejoy does it. But they do it for effect.) Also, try to have two characters in an iIlo relate to each other when they're both looking at the camera. Go on, try it. (And what moments do we as readers-and writers-like best in a story? The ones where the characters are relating to each other.)

And pardon me for mentioning another problem with generic art/publicity photos; you'll get the exact illo from two different artists. I did just recently in my QL zine, "Play It Again," and received them far enough apart in time that I didn't notice until I put together the zine. Any thoughts on this from editors out there?
Just a comment of interest to Pat Ames as an editor. I, of course, did not read the story she sent back for a fourth rewrite, and she seems to ask for a much more extensive rewrite than I have ever asked for (i.e. her approach is different from mine). But I wonder about a story that was "easily one of the most innovative, interesting and creative pieces of fan fiction I had seen" but yet "was not ready for publication." Is there some point at which a story is not perfect, but yet represents honest effort on the part of the writer, a worthwhile experience for the reader, and deserves to be published? (I'm not picking on this story in particular, but am asking in general). If you as an editor felt this positive about some of any aspect of this story, should it not be shared? And a related thought-is there a point when the writer of a decent story can do no better and deserves to be published?

A lot of fans confuse reviews and LoCs-a review is written for the perspective buyer, the LoC is written for the editor and contributors of a zine. A suggestion was recently made that a reviewers background was important in considering whether a reviewer was qualified to review fanzines-that's just damned silly. Anyone who buys and reads zines and can put together a coherent sentence stating why they thought they did or didn't get their money's worth is a reviewer. A good reviewer is someone who can support a statement of I liked/didn't like it with sound reasoning and a bit of judgment and who is willing to dedicate the time to do more than simply read the zine.

Not that reviewers deserve any particular accolades for taking that cross upon themselves...but they're very aware that extra time and effort expended on behalf of improving the quality of zines in fandom may get them crucified. Some fans confuse their personal identities with their work; a criticism of their work is taken as a personal criticism. Even if the review is more favorable than critical, its the critical bit that blackens their hearts and eats away at them like an ulcer. They attack the reviewer on a personal level, leaving many good reviewers-like Charlene-to simply throw up their hands and walk away. After all, who needs the abuse? That's the major reason fanzine r.eviews are few and far between. In fandom today, a fanzine reviewer has to be someone who has nothing to lose, whether it be accessibility to a fandom or the loss of sleep from anonymous phone calls at all hours.

Me, I'm lucky - I'm not tied to anyone fandom and my ego isn't inextricably bound into how many copies of a zine I sell or whether someone will accept one of my stories. And if push ever came to shove... I've got a sister who was a member of the FBI and who now works for the IRS. That's why I'm still writing reviews. And why I can afford to continue.

Issue 8

A Writers' Exchange 8 was published in December 1993 and contains 28 pages.

The topic of the month: "What works best for marketing your fanzine? • flyers • word of mouth • conventions • adzines?"

From the editorial:

Two weeks before the submission deadline for WE#8 I had nothing in the way of submissions. Zilch, zippo, nada! I had already written my "soapbox," complete with parable and quotes from near-has beens about how cruelly fate had treated them, comparing it with Writers' Exchange. It was really sad. Then I got a Loc from Pat Pflieger. Two days later, Pat Ames sent in her article/questionnaire. Then I received an article from Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman. And on and on.... All of a sudden I had an issue-and unlike last time out, I didn't have to threaten, cajole, or rack my brain to fill pages of this rag.

Writers' Exchange still doesn't have a lot of subscribers, but I'm hoping that y'all are sharing your copies with MANY people. There's a lot of juicy stuff in here that is just begging for comments. Don't be shy! If you haven't got a page worth of comments-send in a post card! And remember-you get your issue free when you contribute!

It occurred to me that a lot of people think WE is supposed to be some kind of "teach-you-to-write" newsletter. That wasn't my intent at all. Actually, this issue fulfills my hope that WE would be a vehicle for sharing the ups and downs, the highs and lows of every aspect of zine editing/publishing. So if you've been putting off contributing because you can't come up with an article on grammar or story-construction, then just share with us the problems and successes you've had with your own zine.
  • Atop the Soap Box, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (2)
  • Never Call A Zine "More Misadventures", essay by Lorraine Anderson (about her zine, More Misadventures, see that page) (3)
  • Walking the Line: An Editor's Nightmare, essay by Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman (5)
  • The Symbiotic Relationship Between Editors and Contributors, survey results by Pat Ames ("At MediaWest 1992, I was on a panel to discuss the symbiotic relationship between editors and contributors. To get a handle on this topic and generate some discussion, I developed this questionnaire (attached) and distributed it during the panel and left the extras to be picked up during the course of the weekend. It was designed as an anonymous questionnaire, and I received seven responses.") (9)
  • Letters of Comment (14)
  • I'm Currently Reading (22)
  • Guns and Weaponry, A Few Facts on Weaponry Part II, essay by Tammy L. Croft (23)
  • Just for Fun, filk to the tune: The Chisholm Trail (26)
  • Guidelines (27)

Issue 8: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

I wasn't sure what you really meant by writing "a REAL book." Then I read an article about Nan Dibble, author of the first "Beauty and the Beast" novelization; and I remembered what a different art form the two are. If you're writing "fannish" works, your audience already knows the material, so you don't have to actually create the believable characters, plausible motivation, or even-in some cases-all the witty dialogue; they're already in place. But REAL books have to do all that-very frightening. And editors notice things you never even thought of, when

they look at your work.
A question I've always had about zines: What exactly is everybody's motivation? I read zines to re- experience the pleasure I find in the original. The stories are written by someone who loves the show, because she loves it-not because she's paid. It's fun to see what someone else has dreamed up. But is that it for everybody? Do people basically see them as outlets for their daydreams? Is anybody using zines as a training ground for a professional career? Because in that case you'd hope that artists and writers would be more willing to work with a good, critical editor. After all, as Lorraine points out, the world of publishers is a "real, cold, cruel world" which has no patience for prima donnas.
Advertising for zines. I seldom subscribe to adzines and I have yet to get to a convention so I'm dependent on flyers and word of mouth for information on what zines are out there and how good they are. (In fact, I collect flyers.) I'm more likely to order a zine if the flyer tells me a little about the stories, than if it simply gives a bit of background on the zine and lists authors. And, I want to know if there is any special project/fund raising connected with the zine. There are some organizations that I don't want to contribute to (PETA is the primary one) even by proxy, because of ethical reasons that quite frankly have no place in this zine. So, if any of you who put out zines are contributing part of the price to any organization for any reason, please put this (fact) on your flyers. You'll save yourself a lot of hassle and grief from buyers how really don't want to contribute to certain organizations.

Being at a convention with a fanzine is the best way to sell [a zine]. A lot of people do not buy through the mail. A lot of people come to cons prepared to spend money (especially for fanzines) and it's easier to get them to open their wallets than if they are sitting at home thinking that there's always tomorrow.... A lot of people are actively looking for something to buy at a convention because it's the one fix they get all year. And it's gotten so that there are many multi-fandom consumers out there that you don't necessarily have to match the "theme" of the con to the universe of your zine.

Next best, to me, is word of mouth. If your last zine was good, word will get around that you have a new one. If there's a monthly or quarterly newsletter in your fandom, you may not even have to advertise (not all take advertisements). Or some of these will publish an announcement without your knowledge (they are wonderful people). Perhaps you shouldn't rely on this as your sole means of advertising, but it certainly sells a lot of zines.

If you can't be at a convention with your zine, be there with flyers. Most fans collect flyers from the flyer tables and go through them when they get home. Even if you're there at the con with your zine, take your flyers. Surprisingly enough (I always find it so), you will hear from some people "I didn't see your table at the con." So if they miss you, you'll still get a sale.

I find sending flyers through the mail always gets a good response-not just those who have sent SASEs (with more frequency, at the time they order your zine, people are sending SASEs for the next issue). Keep a list of everyone who orders, and send them all flyers, even if you have to pay for them yourself (add it to the cost of the zine if you must). But I find this more than pays for itself. The one possible drawback is that if fans find out they'll get a flyer without sending a SASE, they'll stop sending them.

Issue 9

A Writers' Exchange 9 was published in March 1994 and contains 16 pages.

The topic of the month: "Problems you've encountered while selling your zines at a convention."

From the editorial:

H i and welcome to issue ·#9. Sorry it's kind of skimpy this time out, but as much as I twisted arms, people insist on having normal, everyday lives that don't include Writers' Exchange. (Shame on you!)

Be that as it may, I've already decided to continue WE beyond issue 10. (So have your checkbooks handy in June!) Not because of the HUGE amount of subscribers (HA!), but the fact that such a small readership continues to support this publication with submissions astounds me. And because I'm still finding it to be fun, what the heck!

In the meantime, I'm going to bust my butt to get the next issue of WE out in time for MediaWest, so if you could send those cards/ letters/reviews/articles (boy, I'm really optimistic, aren't I?) as soon as possible, it would be an enormous help to me. I'll be in Dealers' Hall (barring no screwups), so look for the signs on the walls. You may want to pick up a copy of RERUN 12 at the same time. (Shameless plug--see, Star, I can do it, too!) It'll contain the work of many people whose articles, and letters of comment have also graced the pages of this publication!
  • Atop the Soap Box, editorial by Lorraine Bartlett (2)
  • So You Want to Write for Television, essay by Lee Eric Shackleford (3)
  • I'm Currently Reading (6)
  • Letters of Comment (7)
  • Guns and Gunpowder, a Few Facts on Weaponry (Part III), essay by Tammy L. Croft (12)

Issue 9: Excerpts from Letters of Comment

I can't comment about other people, mostly because I haven't really interacted with other zine writers and editors very much. I suspect that most people do see zines as an outlet for daydreams. I may be wrong. But as for Thyself, yes, I am hoping to use zines as a training ground for a possible future career as a professional writer. However, I'm not indiscriminately writing about shows and genres that I have no knowledge of; I write stories about those shows that I enjoy. And, if applicable to the story, I try to flesh out at least one original character, one who can stand on his/her own in an non-media story.

In fact, it has taken me a number of years to realize the value of fanzines. For a long time (being somewhat isolated here), I had the idea that zines were the place where substandard writers were published. (Don't kill me!) So I just kept trying the big" magazines, and while I got some very nice rejection slips, I was never published. Perhaps, with the skills I learn in writing for fanzines, I will, someday, get money for what I write.

Having been in fandom for decades, mostly as a fan artist, I find myself in the new position of being a writer. My art has been adequate and sometimes a source of pride, but more often than not, it's quick and dirty and out there before I can even begin to think about whether I like it or not. Writing, on the other hand~ has been a new (gulp) experience.

I have never been opposed to altering or changing my art, even scraping it, if necessary. Sometimes starting from scratch can be fun (yeah, right), but I try to do my best whatever that is at the moment. I've always considered everything I do a submission and as such was not loath to have it rejected. When doing submissions, I try to come up with something the editor will like; that failing, I do what I'd really like to do. Invariably that hits the mark better than my first attempt. Fan art is not were I get my strokes. I air brush t-shirts as a modest side income and my air brushing is a great source of pride for me. It also gives you a great deal of experience in trying to read people's minds as to what they really want art wise. So having worked with the public, I think I have a good attitude about my art. I am not the Goddess, nor is my art sacrosanct, just tell me you love me and I'll be a happy fan artist.

I may be a strange aberration in fandom, artists and writers seem to think they are God or the Goddess, not wanting anyone or anything to touch or change their creations. I can only say it's fandom, and real life has no place in fandom. At least it didn't use to. Now the body politic and female PMS seem to be the order of the day in fandom. Whatever happened to good friends and fun? I'm so old, I can remember when it was fun, connecting with new people from across the country and even in other countries. Meeting people with like interests and sharing something wonderful. Now it's profit (Yeck, poohy) and the devil take the hind-most (don't you just love those old adages that really have meaning). Whatever happened to camaraderie and common sense?
I went through Star Trek, Star Wars, Elfquest and MacGyver fandoms. When I found myself in Beauty and the Beast fandom, I didn't find the kind of stories I wanted to read in zines. People were writing lovely, lyrical stories about that wonderful first kiss, or that glorious great love that Vincent and Catherine had. I wanted dark and dirty, dangerous and sensual. I wrote my own stories. A fanzine editor (one of my best friends now, in the real world) liked my stuff and got a great deal of LoCs from readers who also enjoyed my different approach. I was hooked.

[...]

I love to write. My only problem is finding good and true editors and proofreaders to work with. I had a fairly decent editor/proofer (she was new to fandom), but when. I was approached by a publisher to write a crossover story (Forever Knight and Highlander) she came unglued. "You changed Nicholas (FK), you can't change him, you can't make him something other that what he is!" (I made him a vampire who couldn't kill anymore.) She was very upset, I explained about alternate universes and how this was my fantasy about the TV fantasy characters. She wouldn't hear of it. It ended her editing and it ultimately ended our relationship. Oh well. So, here I am writing daily and rewriting and looking and hoping to find that editor who will take me under his or her wing and bleed all over my text. I live for it, I want to learn more about this craft. I am not an excellent writer, yet, but I'd like to be one when I grow up. I do consider myself a damn fine storyteller. My problem is too many ideas, not enough time to write them all down! All I really need is that perfect red pencil pusher who will come into my life and change it and change it and change it. How do I find that editor who will make my words shine? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that one out. Anyone want to volunteer?

Wanted: editors, proofreaders and friends in fandom. Eccentric old lady who writes weird and erotic stuff seeks to meet and maintain relationships with way-cool editors and proofreaders. Must be lively and alive. Must be willing to work long, hard hours and must be fluent in many fandoms. For a great read, after I've rewritten it 27 times, please contact Star (yes, that's my real name) Urioste (pronounced U (like in glue)-ree-oss-tay). I've got the ad all ready, but where do I put it? Surely, there must be some damned fools, I mean really intelligent and competent people out there just looking for me, right?}}

I have happily carried over ten fat zines to Kinko's here for copying. Got to know managers, schleppers, the attractive man who makes their free deliveries. Never a job was botched, nary a problem-until it came time for this latest. I marched in with my manuscript ready to go-and there was not one recognizable face in the place. The careless young feller I met at the order desk quoted me a price four times what I might have expected and couldn't begin to help me with my simple paper choices. I was out of there and down the street to a place with more stable personnel. Hate to ditch the people who treated me so well before, though.

Issue 10

A Writers' Exchange 10 was published in June 1994 and contains 20 pages.

The topic of the month: "Researching a story: How do you go about it? Any tips you can offer?"

References

  1. ^ from a letter of comment in "A Writers' Exchange" #3
  2. ^ from a letter of comment in "A Writers' Exchange" #4
  3. ^ from a letter of comment in "A Writers' Exchange" #4
  4. ^ from a letter of comment in "A Writers' Exchange" #5
  5. ^ from Morgan Dawn's notes, accessed December 15, 2010
  6. ^ KEEP OUT OF MY YARD