NUTS & BOLTS: INTERVIEW WITH “THE HORROR ZINE” JEANI RECTOR
By Tom Joyce
If you ever get despondent over the state of the publishing industry, think of Jeani Rector. Alarmed about all the publications closing after the economic collapse of 2008, she decided to start The Horror Zine—now in its 14th successful year. In this month’s edition of Nuts & Bolts, Jeani talks about how she got started, what makes for a good author/editor relationship, and what she looks for in a submission.
Q: How did The Horror Zine get started?
A: Back “in the day”, I used to write fiction and submit it to various magazines and ezines. My work was accepted by many, with the exception of a wonderful zine called The Harrow. They rejected my work on a consistent basis. At the time, my biggest goal was to get published by The Harrow.
Then, the economy crashed at the end of 2008. A few months into 2009, almost all of the magazines and zines were going defunct. When even The Harrow closed its doors, I said to myself: where does that leave writers? Someone had to take up the slack and open a new magazine to help make up for all those that closed. I thought: why not have that someone be me?
So in early 2009, I learned how to create a website using Adobe Dreamweaver (there are much better options for websites nowadays, but I still use Adobe, simply because that is what I know), and in July of 2009, I launched The Horror Zine.
As everyone knows, the economy has since recovered. Today, new zines are popping up everywhere. And that’s a good thing. Even so, The Horror Zine remains competitive.
Q: How did you find a readership for the zine?
A: To find a readership, we needed to become well-known. No one will submit if they don’t have any idea you exist.
I started by taking out ads in known magazines and finding lists of horror publications online, then contacting them, asking to have The Horror Zine included. Duotrope was a must.
Q: What are some of the factors that will lead you to choose one story and reject another?
A: There are lots of things that make a story stand apart from the rest. One thing I particularly like is originality, including original monsters. Vampires and zombies are overdone. But, what if someone makes insects the villain, or an unusual creature from cultural myths?
If you need an idea, look within yourself for something that gives you the “creepy-crawlies.” What personally scares you? Are you afraid of heights, snakes, germs, the dark, graveyards? Make up a story about it, and send it to me. If you are afraid of your subject, it might give the story passion.
Ghost stories never go out of style. I am always interested in a good ghost story.
I reject stories that bore me. Too much detail slows down the pace. Too much explanation ruins the suspense. I don’t like being able to guess the ending correctly well in advance.
Sometimes, open endings work. But sometimes, they don’t. I like to see some sort of closure, even if the ending is not a happy one.
The difference between me and some editors is that I look for potential. If I receive a story that has a good idea, but the execution is dull or clumsy, I ask the submitter if they are willing to work with me on edits. If they are, I work hard with the writer to bring the story up to its full potential.
But sometimes, I receive a story that doesn’t have a good idea, and no amount of editing can save any story that doesn’t have a good idea. So, I reject.
Not every editor has the time to go this extra mile of accepting a story that is an “almost” (but not an obvious winner) without the hard work to edit. But, the mission statement of The Horror Zine is to support and promote writers, poets, and artists. That means working to elevate the story to a publishing level whenever possible.
Q: What makes for a great story, in your opinion?
A: First, I have to relate to the protagonist. If I am involved with them, I care what happens to them. That means the problems of the character become my problems.
I prefer atmosphere, the feeling of dread, over “in your face”. Which is why I do not like anything slasher. I want plot, not gore.
The first three paragraphs of any story are known as “the hook.” A submitter needs to hook me right away, or else I become skeptical. For The Horror Zine, that means starting with action, in the middle of the story, then working the explanations into the body of the story. “Show” the story by revealing events as they occur, and don’t “tell” the story through excessive dialogue which is narrating the events: a passive voice. A nice balance of dialogue and action is preferred.
The best story one can submit has a buildup of suspense, and then contains an unexpected and surprising ending, no matter what the subject.
Here are some general guidelines for success with The Horror Zine:
1) start with action
2) familiarize the reader with your protagonist; make them likable
3) provide an obstacle for your protagonist
4) describe how your protagonist overcomes, or at least deals with, the obstacle
5) give the reader hints as to the ending
6) provide a completely different ending than your hints
Q: What are the responsibilities of a good editor?
A: First, don’t be mean. If I choose to reject, I always say, “Remember that opinions are subjective and another editor could feel differently.”
A good editor is humble. They give all credit of a story’s success to the writer, and deservedly so.
A good editor brings a story to its full potential. This is done by correcting spelling and grammatical errors, but that should not be the end of it. Sometimes, rearranging paragraphs in different orders makes more sense. Many times, I feel a story only presents the bare bones and needs to be “fleshed out”, so I ask the writer to add flavor.
Sometimes, the ending is not satisfying, so I give the writer suggestions to rewrite it.
Q: What do editors wish all writers knew?
A: I can only speak for myself. I wish that writers can understand that I am human and that comes with my opinions. That does not mean the submitter is not a good writer. Perhaps the story is simply not to my taste. I want writers to know that rejections are nothing personal.
On our Submissions Guidelines Page, it clearly states that contributions are subject to edits, but nothing will get published without the author’s prior approval.
Even Stephen King has editors.
I try very hard to uplift the stories to a professional level. I emphasize the positives and red line the negatives. I usually explain the reasoning behind my edits.
Some writers listen to me, some don’t. They are free to take their stories elsewhere with no hard feelings. I just remember one time, years ago, when I submitted a story, and it received a lot of criticism. Instead of getting angry, I made the editor’s suggestions and the result is the story that I am most proud of.
Q: How has the industry changed since you started the zine?
A: Oh my god, where to start? Now there is self-publishing which is a positive thing… but the negative flipside is, it has created a glut of writers. There are so many writers vying for the same markets.
The other problem is there are more opportunities for scammers. Because there is such an imbalance between eager, emerging writers and markets for their work, unethical individuals or companies take advantage.
I have two pages to help emerging writers make good choices.
The first is the Reputable Publishers Page (with a list of scam publishers at the bottom of that page) here:
The Reputable Magazines and Ezines Page here:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re trying to achieve with The Horror Zine?
A: This takes us back to The Horror Zine’s mission statement: To support and promote writers, poets and artists.
Q: Where can people find The Horror Zine? And where should they follow you online?
A: Our magazine Viewing and reading are always free each month!
On Facebook (run by our amazing Media Director, Trish Wilson)
Or you can go to my personal Facebook page here.
While most people go to Disneyland while in Southern California, Jeani Rector went to the Fangoria Weekend of Horror there instead. She grew up watching the Bob Wilkins Creature Feature on television and lived in a house that had the walls covered with framed Universal Monsters posters. It is all in good fun, and actually, most people who know Jeani personally are of the opinion that she is a very normal person. She just loves abnormal stories. Doesn’t everybody?
Jeani Rector is the founder and editor of The Horror Zine, which got its start in 2009. She is also the webmaster for the ezine.
ABOUT NUTS & BOLTS
Watch for more Nuts & Bolts interviews on the craft and business of writing horror, along with instructive videos on the HWA’s social media platforms. In upcoming installments, Kaidankai podcast creator Linda Gould discusses what kind of stories lend themselves to an audio format and indie film director Chris LaMartina (WNUF Halloween Special) talks about balancing horror and humor. Please contact me at TomJHWA@gmail.com if you have any suggestions for future interviews. For more about what I’m looking for, see here – Tom Joyce