Running a zine is hard, and not for the reasons I thought it would be, and it's also fun, and not for the reasons I thought it would be that, either. For the first three years of the project called The Sockdolager, I did a series of annual invitation-only anthologies, where I hit up friends for fiction, paid them fifty bucks a story, taught myself how to author ebooks, and put 'em on the internet. It was fun and easy.
Then I went to Viable Paradise, and my co-editor Alison went to Clarion West, and we got "serious" about this short fiction thing. Let's open submissions and take this mother quarterly, we decided.
Having by that point done some short-fiction-submission of our own, we had specific ideas of what we wanted to do differently. We wanted to write as many personal rejections as we possibly could (for a while, they were nearly half of our responses). We wanted to aggressively solicit revisions and resubmissions for stories we liked but which in our view needed more work. And we wanted to be as quick with our responses as we possibly could, keeping turnaround times under two weeks if possible, and under a month at most.
With both Alison and I working, this turned out to be just barely doable.
For the majority of The Sockdolager's run as a periodical, we used a meticulously-tagged Gmail inbox as our submission tracking system. Theoretically we were equally responsible for reading slush, but as time went on, it was clear that Alison was doing significantly more of the first-round rejections, in addition to doing 90% of the work on the limited-run print editions we'd decided to make (including those fuckin' baller cover illustrations.)
Late in 2016, Alison had to scale back her involvement in order to focus on drawing the graphic novel she'd sold, which left me as the sole slush reader.
As 2017...happened, it became clear that I was not as good at staying on top of the submission queue as Alison was. Even with a new database-backed submission system and a dedicated tool for writers to check on the status of their submissions within our system—and even after I made the frustrating decision to stop sending personal rejections—it proved impossible for me to keep the average response time for submissions under a month, to say nothing of the elusive two-week goal.
But worse than that for my enthusiasm was the loss of conversation with my co-editor. I had discovered that my favorite day-to-day aspect of editing the zine was talking about submissions with Alison. It was an ongoing discourse about the craft of short fiction from which I learned an enormous amount, and on which I'd come to rely on as a reason to keep reading. Without it, the editorial decision-making process became a lonely chore. Even when I accepted a story, there was no one to enthuse about it to.
Having entirely missed the Spring issue, I closed submissions in early June, and privately made the decision that after the Summer issue was out, The Sockdolager would have to go on indefinite hiatus until circumstances changed.
Which brings us to now.
As usual, I'm incredibly pleased with the latest issue's table of contents. Rolling the Spring and Summer issue's TOCs together resulted in an extra-long collection of fiction, and it feels like we're going out on a bang. Totally coincidentally, the Summer 2017 issue contains no reprints; it's all brand-new to the world. The authors are a good mix of old Sockdolager favorites and new-to-us writers, and it's as rewarding as it's ever been to be pulling the wraps off a new issue. That never does get old.
I've got some ideas for what I'd like to do with the 'Dolager while we're not publishing short fiction. I'd like to polish our submission system into something other publications could use. I'd like to do some writing on the blog, and maybe try and catch up on the over-a-year-behind podcast.
The stories we've published will remain online for as long as I can afford to host them—which barring catastrophe, should be functionally indefinitely.
I want to thank every writer who ever submitted a story to us. We were always keenly aware of how vulnerable it can feel to send your fiction to a stranger who will almost certainly decide they don't like it as much as you do, and a large part of our decision to pause publication is out of our desire to first and foremost do right by those authors we don't publish. The average quality of work we received was always high and it trended higher over time, which we considered a significant honor.
To anyone who read: thank you. To anyone who paid for an issue, thank you and bless you. To be read is, after all, the point of this racket.
Finally I must thank my co-editor Alison Wilgus. It was always her effort that made any of this nonsense possible. Truthfully, the zine is more the result of her work than mine, and however proud I am of how it turned out, she holds claim to a greater share of that pride. If you have ever enjoyed The Big S!, know that it came to you from her editorial pen more than it did mine.
Again, it has been a privilege to publish this zine. I hope to enjoy that privilege again in the future. Until then.