Sunday, June 21, 2015

EDITOR INTERVIEW: George Wells of 'Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry' Ponders Submissions and a New Publication

Short fiction publisher Empire & Great Jones has grown into a three-tentacled monster with their newest line Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. Zetetic is a word with Greek roots and means really awesome publication . . . er, something. This line of short fiction, like E&GJ’s other lines, is semi-pro ($.02/word, or higher, depending on how their Patreon campaign goes) and is generally open to submissions.

Unlike sister journals Spark and Ember, Zetetic publishes their stories online, where all can bask in their glorious glory! And I’m not just saying that. With stories from Stone Showers, Dino Laserbeam, and Clive Tern, it really is pretty glorious. The fiction is short, the fiction is odd, the fiction is memorable. 

Check out their June issue here.

With us today is George Wells, managing editor of Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. He’s here to tell us about the journal, what they look for in submissions, and the best book to hold close as the apocalypse of the written word approaches.


Zetetic’s homepage states that We want to create a space where readers can find unique writing that they can connect to, that will make them say, “This was quite unusual, but I loved it.” Can you offer a specific example of a writer or work (outside Zetetic) that fits the bill? What, to you, is something that is weird and wonderful?

Kurt Vonnegut is an early example.  My senior English teacher in high-school had a book rack of stuff that he liked but wasn’t part of the curriculum and we were allowed to borrow those from him.  I read Slaughterhouse Five overnight and came back the next day a bit irritated with Mr. Veatch for not including that on the curriculum instead of When the Legends Die, the book we were working through at the time.  He listened to my rant, expressed his delight at my appreciation of the book, but informed me that the school board would never let him do that. 

Despite the fact that Vonnegut is still such a popular author, there’s something so odd about the way he wrote that I find his popularity a bit surprising—but encouraging. 

I also read In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, and remember being entranced by this world that didn’t make any sense but somehow did.

Life after God by Douglas Coupland is another example.  It’s a novel told in short stories and vignettes and accompanied by simple drawings.  I’ll admit that I even tried to write in that style, failed miserably, but ended up with something completely different and unusual for me, so maybe I got the headspace right, at least.

And I did enjoy When the Legends Die, too, by the way.

What sets Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry apart from other publishers?

We’re looking for unusual writing, but we want to reach readers, not just other writers—although we do hope they like us, too.  We even point this out in our mission statement: Many markets are so focused on finding daring new forms and unusual voices that they deliberately eschew storytelling, which leads to venues aimed more at writers than at the average reader. We don’t just want writers impressing other writers with their nifty experiments; we want the general reading public to say what we do when we find that one piece: “This was quite unusual, but I loved it.”

Are there any story ideas/themes/styles that you’re tired of seeing come through the slush? Any that you wish would come through?

Oh, goody!  I get to shake my cane at the clouds!

I don’t like poems without titles.  It strikes me as pretentious, like the poet is saying, “My words are so clear and deep that a title would only dirty them.”  It’s not that hard to come up with a title; take two or three words from the poem or crib Shakespeare.

Writing about writing = Blecch! I almost universally hate Ars Poetica and Meta-Fiction.  The pain of the writer’s journey is fine for blogs and forums, but beyond that, it’s simply not that interesting to the average reader.

I would love to see more of what we have so far.  New ways of expressing ideas that are a bit off kilter but still accessible. 

Every new business, no matter how well planned, hits unexpected speed bumps along the way. What unseen challenges did you face when starting Zetetic?

Technical issues have been the biggest.  Brian Lewis got me set up with the site, fixes all the big things, and gives me guidance, but I’ve had to learn a lot about how things work, since he’s already got so much on his plate.  What you see right now is mostly his doing and I’m taking on more, but slowly.

We had also hoped to see more reader donations. We pay our contributors, and readers are encouraged to donate directly to the author or poet on the page, but we’ve received exactly one one-dollar donation in almost three months.  That’s a bit disheartening.  We’re writers, too.  We want writers to make lots of money.

The other thing that concerns me is traffic.  I’m surprised at how low it is on some pieces, and it seems that some writers don’t realize how much work they have to do to promote their own writing.  We can only do so much.

How long is the lifespan of a submission from the time it is submitted until you send that acceptance/rejection email, and what kind of process does it go through?

Between a couple of days and about a month.  On the one hand, we don’t give feedback, so that speeds up the process, but on the other, we’re sharing readers with Spark and Ember—who do offer feedback—so I have to give those queues priority.  So when readers have time, they jump over to the Zetetic queue to read and vote on a few pieces.  I then take a look at what we have when the votes are positive or negative.  If I’m not in total agreement, I might take it to our online meeting room and ask for comments from the readers or else discuss it directly with Brian if I really like the piece but everybody else voted no.  On rare occasions, I hand-pick before it even gets votes if I’m just that sure of it.

However, we’re still new, so we’re not drowning in submissions, and since the acceptance rate is low for any magazine, I’m stilling culling some from the Spark and Ember queues, and Brian has sent me several pieces himself.

Okay, the apocalypse is upon us! It’s not zombies or nukes or nuclear zombies. It’s an apocalypse of the written word. Every book, digital and print, is gone. Like a Twilight Zone episode. What one book do you guard with your life as the book thieves storm your house?

This is going to sound odd coming from a writer, reader, and editor of fiction, but it would have to be For the Time Being, by Annie Dillard.  It’s a collection of thoughts about existence and spirituality based around sand, birth defects, religious writings, and other seemingly random topics that delights me every time I read it—and that’s about six times now.  It’s quite unusual, but I love it!

What's in store for 2015 and beyond?

More money for our writers and more writing.  We’ve started a Patreon campaign with goals for paying our writers 4¢ per word and increasing frequency of publications.  Right now we pay 2¢ per word and publish twice a week, but we need to aim higher.  Writers deserve to be paid a decent rate and we don’t want to resort to selling advertising space on our site.

We want to pay writers more so that readers get better and better stories, too. It’s amplifying—readers pay the writers better, we continue to attract great unusual pieces, readers get more cool stuff to read, so they want to pay the writers.

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