In case you didn’t notice: Glimmer Train Magazine has left the station for good

When I was in college, a fair number of commercial U.S. magazines published short stories. Many of those are gone now. Those that aren’t gone, stopped publishing fiction–though I have seen rumors that Atlantic will begin including fiction again.

There are plenty of so-called “little magazines” that publish fiction. Competition is fierce. Payment is often low or in contributor’s copies unless you win one of the yearly contests where the competition is fiercer and requires an entry fee.

For thirty years, Glimmer Train Magazine (a quarterly) helped fill the gap. The Fall 2019 issue was its last as editors Linda Swanson-Davies and her sister, Susan Burmeister-Brown are moving on to (as folks say) the next phase of their lives. While the magazine had high standards and a lot of submissions (once again, meaning the competition was fierce), it included many emerging writers and paid fairly for stories that were published.

As Linda and Susan say on their website they hoped to:

  • Publish literary short stories that were emotionally significant. We knew that at its best, a story could add depth and breadth to real life, and those were the stories we wanted to print.
  • Present stories in a handsome physical publication that people would keep, giving the stories the long lives and future readings they deserved.
  • Keep a keen eye out for new voices, favoring pieces by emerging writers.
  • Pay writers well for stories we accepted for publication. (Each year we have paid nearly $50,000 to writers, almost 3/4 of that to emerging writers.)
Glimmer Train Photo

While I’m sorry to see the magazine go, I think it accomplished what it set out to do. Fortunately, the magazine has not been told, so it won’t linger around under new management that may not keep up the high standards of the publication.

Thank you, Linda and Susan, for all of your hard work and for helping keep the issues coming out with contributions from personal finances.

A labor of love, I would say.




Magazines That Just Couldn’t Cut It

For every successful magazine, hundreds fail either because they’re flat stupid, were published before their time, or were written and edited by nuts. Here are my memories of those that didn’t make the grade.

  • Jupiter Images graphic

    Bad House Keeping – Written by trailer trash for trailer trash, but went off the rails when it also tried to appeal to artists, writers and other dreamers who didn’t have time to keep house.

  • Bizarre – Featured photographs taken by readers while they were drunk about stuff that seemed funny at the time but, as it turned out, was trivial and boring later on.
  • Croquet Digest: Readers were never sure whether this magazine was about the game or fried rolls of bread and meat. Those who thought it was about croquettes unsubscribed then many of those who thought the magazine was about croquet claimed to be using croquettes instead of balls because what else were they good for?
  • Hades Home Journal: Editors thought this take-off on “Ladies Home Journal” would document what life was like for most housewives, that is to say, life in a hell of dirty diapers, burnt food, endless dust, and unfaithful husbands. Even those who sent in true stories hated the magazine because they wanted to pretend life in housewife hell didn’t exist.
  • HayBoy: This original spoof of “Playboy” failed because–contrary to marketing predictions–nobody wanted to see cartoons and photographs about scantily clad men working on a farm.  Even the dazzling articles about crop rotation and the center spreads featuring John Deere, Ford, Massey Fergusson, Case, and Farmall tractors couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Homewrecker: Based on high divorce rates, publishing moguls decided there was probably a huge audience of wanton women who were being neglected by mainstream media. This publication pioneered in the publication of ground-breaking techniques for stealing a man away from goody-two-shoes women who were reading “Good Housekeeping” and “House Beautiful.” Basically, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone associated with it was going to hell, so that pretty much scared advertisers and readers away.
  • McBalls: This magazine, aimed at the husbands of women who lived their lives by the gospel of “McCalls,” focused on dangerous methods of barbecuing, high-energy and potentially fatal sports, living lives based on the “hey, honey, watch this” philosophy, and featured centerfolds of stuff that blew up or caught on fire. The magazine had a spectacular first year, but after that it lost readers when most of them died.
  • Photoclay – A bunch of potters in a collective run by visionary manufacturers of wheels, kilns, and other craft supplies, saw the success of “Photoplay” and thought, “why not clay?” As it turned out, nobody much cared about pictures of clay or even the gory pictures of stuff that blew up in the kilns.
  • Popular Seance – This magazine was the best of the best during the spiritualism craze, featuring articles by spirits such as Patience Worth, Ouija Board techniques, and how to contact uncle Danny in the afterworld to find out where the hid all his gold. Then a horde of spoilsports came along and said spiritualism was mostly frauds taking people’s money. Subscribers thought that was a real downer and left the magazine to become Tarot card readers.
  • Everyone can’t produce a successful magazine.

    Popular Quantum Mechanics: When the magazine came out, nobody knew squat about quantum physics, so naturally they thought everything in the magazine was about a bunch of frauds taking people’s money.  How, people asked, could there be multiple universes when one was bad enough? How could a butterfly flapping its wings in Tallahassee, Florida, cause a rain form in Walla Walla, Washington? The magazine was a true gem that failed before people were ready for it.

  • La Vie Fille de la Joie: Hookers, according to the magazine’s cover blurb, brought an infinite amount of joy to men who “weren’t getting any at home.” The photographs and articles, according to even the most Victorian critics, were tastefully done and “made calling a call girl seem like a religious experience.” As had happened before with people just having a bit of fun, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone sleeping with daughters of joy was going to hell. This idea bothered people and they canceled their subscriptions even though they continued to find love with unknown ladies leaning against lamp posts.
  • New Porker: This brave magazine was the champion of pigs and could tell you how to bring home the best bacon, carve a pork roast, and cook center-cut pork chops with out drying them out. The trouble was, most people think pigs are  gross, stupid, and filthy and balked at the idea of leaning anything more about them. Even the hog-calling “Sooie Short Stories” series couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Saturday Evening Fencepost: The trouble began when the magazine couldn’t entice Norman Rockwell to do their covers art featuring farmers, farmers’ wives, and hired hands sitting on fence posts creating sonnets about barbed wire, gates, barns, and silos. Somehow, a nasty campaign by other magazines convinced readers that this magazine was for people who were “dumb as a post.” Even those who knew they were dumb as a post didn’t want to be told they were dumb as a post.
  • Silver Scream: Since “Silver Screen” was a popular magazine, why not focus on the dark site of making movies, starting out with some of the best screams anyone ever heard in a feature film? As it turned out, readers didn’t want to focus on the shower scene in “Psycho” as much as editors thought, so the magazine went under with a whimper a few years after it began.
  • The Smart Seat: This magazine, a jibe at the popular “Smart Set,” featured seats, mainly toilet seats, but occasionally various hot seats and other places people found themselves sitting. The magazine was funny at first and then it wasn’t, some say because a story called “Toilet Seats I’ve Known and Loved” grossed people out. Then, too, legislatures claimed that using the word “ass” in a periodical made the whole thing obscene and got the copies removed from the shelves.
  • If you can’t be Vogue, be Vague.

    The UnAmerican Girl: With “American Girl” all the rage in those days, girls who weren’t American weren’t getting any news coverage. Unfortunately, the name of the magazine gave readers the impression that the magazine was about commies and other nefarious women who were out to take away America’s freedoms. Actually, that was probably true, though it was never proven. Even though many men thought dating an unAmerican girl was sexy, the FBI thought it wasn’t, and that pretty much killed the magazine.

  • Vague: The publisher wanted to compete with “Vogue,” but never figured out how to do it. The result was a wishy-washy magazine that wasn’t about anything other than people who had no idea what they were doing. It was not surprise that those people didn’t have any money, consequently they could afford subscriptions or buy anything from the magazine’s advertisers. The whole thing was so nebulous that nobody ever knew when there the magazine was sold, what it was about, or when it went out of business.

Writing wasting away in Limboville

I’ve been asked what happened to my contemporary fantasy novels The Sun Singer and Sarabande.

printingpressSince both have been well received, I found a new publishing home (Publisher B) after pulling them away from Publisher A due to a disagreement about the contract.

Publisher B had previously come out with many novels I enjoyed, some of which I had reviewed, so I thought I had found the perfect home for my work.

So what happened?

My guess is that staff turnover at Publisher B created a deluge of work that the remaining staff couldn’t keep up with. Nonetheless, when I sent the manuscripts to the publisher in the fall of 2013, I felt the publisher could meet his proposed release dates of January 2014 for The Sun Singer and May 2014 for Sarabande.

These dates were missed with no explanation and I was given a new set of release dates that were also missed with no explanation. Perhaps my request for a cover befitting a fantasy novel was the problem. I said that the covers supplied by Publisher A, while striking, weren’t typical fantasy covers; among other things, they gave readers no clue about the focus of the novels.

Publisher B agreed as did several of the artists he contacted who looked at the covers I’d had before. Yet somehow, no viable artist could be found until late in the summer of 2014. Finally, The Sun Singer was released last August with a nice cover and a great printing job.

E-book Problems

Unfortunately, the formatting of the e-books as a mess. The publisher blamed me for supplying documents that had formatting errors. He was right about that, though I consider the delivery of a manuscript to be the author’s responsibility and the formatting for print, Kindle, PDF and other e-books to be the publisher’s responsibility. I also expect the publisher to make sure the formatting is correct before the books go live on a seller’s site.

It took me several weeks to get Publisher B to remove the e-books from Amazon and Smashwords. I would have preferred the files be fixed and re-uploaded, but this didn’t seem to be happening. Then, Publisher B removed the print version from Amazon and elsewhere even though there was nothing wrong with it.

We had a variety of discussions about how the e-book formatting should be done, my preference being for something that mirrored the formatting of the print version. Whether I was asking for something impossible to deliver, I don’t know.

Finally, several weeks ago, Publisher B sent me an e-mail saying they were ready to release The Sun Singer in e-book (with a simplified formatting) and print.

Publisher B doesn’t seem to understand that the author needs to know the release date so s/he can do advanced publicity, set up give-aways on GoodReads, and talk about the book on Facebook and Twitter.

I asked for the release date and got no response. Publisher B asked me about Sarabande, I answered, and got no response. I asked about being added to the publisher’s blog so I could help promote the books and got no response.

Finally, I used my old e-mail address to ask the publisher if messages from my new e-mail address were ending up in the SPAM folder because we were (I thought) in the middle of a dialogue about moving forward and all I was hearing from Publisher B was the sound of silence. My question about the SPAM queue got no response.

So there it is. Both novels have been in limbo for over a year. Since Publisher B has authors and novels on their list that I like, I would prefer they release The Sun Singer and Sarabande. Whether they will or they won’t is a question stuck in the black hole of zero communication.

What Happens Now?

Now, if you are Publisher B and happen to be reading this, and have been sick, immersed in a family tragedy or a business reversal, then I would be sorry to hear that because I know what that’s like. I wish you had told me and propose that when you can’t keep up with e-mail, then a staff assistant needs to step up to the plate and keep things running smoothly.

If you’re not Publisher B and wish to have your work published, I’ll say that long delays of a year or so are not uncommon with major publishers, though you do need to have an agreed-upon time table for all the steps in the process. One of the benefits of working with a smaller publisher is the hands-on more personal approach as well as a shorter manuscript-to-print time frame.

My mistake here was not nailing down the release dates, with reasonable flexibility, in advance. Also, if small-publisher tradition and/or contract language specifies that the author is responsible for most of the marketing effort, the publisher needs to at least keep the author informed of release dates (and then stick to them) as well as having a blog or a system of news releases that announce the new books. This needs to be in the contract, too. I didn’t get that nailed down either because my back-and-forth e-mails with Publisher B gave me the impression my expectations about such things would be met without being backed up by clauses in the contract.

I’ve been in this business long enough to know better and ended up with my books in Limboville. There are many sites that show standard book contracts. While reading them doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a prospective new publisher to add any verbiage you find missing in his standard contract, you can always try.

I let my emotions get in the way: I was so upset with Publisher A about the contract dispute that everything Publisher B seemed to be offering looked like a breath of fresh air. It’s better to step away from those kinds of negative feelings and hopes and make sure you have a meeting of the minds with a prospective publisher before you sign the contract.

This is your cautionary tale.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Lady of the Blue Hour and The Land Between the Rivers. His short stories appear in The Lascaux Prize 2014 (2014) and Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories (2013).




The beauty of a regional magazine

November 2008 Issue
November 2008 Issue

While newspapers as we now know them will probably be all but gone within ten years (A Former Newspaper Boy Watches News Trends), the world of local and regional magazines has remained strong.

Writing in Folio Magazine earlier this year, Jason Fell said that “While much of the publishing industry grits its teeth in anticipation of a recession and established publishers reign in their print launches, the city and regional market remains hot, thanks to a low barrier to entry and a continued demand for print.”

Living Jackson Magazine, a superb example of regional magazine strength, is headquartered in Jefferson, Georgia, some 60 miles northeast of Atlanta along I-85. The magazine will celebrate two and a half years of publication at this year’s Christmas party.

This monthly magazine with high production values has a strong editorial focus: our county. In this case, Jackson County perched along U.S. Highway 129 between Gainesville and Athens. The website blurb says it well: The quality and quantity of editorial content in Living Jackson is bar none. Living Jackson utilizes the area’s best writers and photographers and Living Jackson is 100 percent local! Readers discover all that Jackson County has to offer through the pages of Living Jackson magazine, and they learn why our lovely area is known as “spacious, gracious and vibrant.”

I’m biased, of course, because I’m right here in Jackson County and have found it a wonderful change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta where I lived for 18 years. I’m also biased because I’m a contributing writer for Living Jackson for many of the book reviews.

If you were to move to Jefferson, the county seat, you would first notice the town square, one of the town’s historic districts, and its 1858 general store (now part of Crawford W. Long Museum) and you would see the quiet city streets, you might stop for coffee at Coffee Philter which all of us will tell you beats Starbucks, and you might stroll through the the old mill–the cotton and corduroy long gone–now used for multiple retail businesses under the Real Deals name.

But if you really wanted to learn about your new county, picking up the last two years of Living Jackson would tell you just who we are and where we’ve been. Our Christmas party on December 5th will celebrate a lot of hard work, dedication and love of people and place.

P.S. Noted on 11/9/21–Sadly, this magazine is no longer in business. Lack of readers. Lack of advertisers. But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted. The photo was a link and with the magazine gone, the link is gone.