And so, it’s been a year.
The Maul published its first issue in September 2023. I think it’s important at moments like this to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we’re probably headed, and to thank all the folks who’ve diligently supported us so far.
The Maul started as an idea I had while talking with my friend Evan about literary journals. I’d been submitting to hundreds over the past few years and had a pretty good idea of how they worked. Or at least I thought. At the time, I was also teaching a reading intervention course. During that undertaking, I talked to a lot of kids about what they wanted to read, in pursuit of finding them a favorite author or book series in the off-chance it kept them motivated. I found kids that age (middle schoolers) consistently wanted horror, but they felt no one really provided it for them. Adults and elementary kids? Plenty of horror around for them. But kids at that awkward age between ten and fourteen? Bupkus.
I remember telling Evan this, and talking about how they need a magazine, and then my eyes went wide, and I said, “Oh my God! You could call it The Maul!”
I sat on that idea for three years.
After a while, with the idea for a new magazine fermenting in my brain, a confluence of factors pushed me to make the attempt. First, I was growing dissatisfied with my teaching job post-pandemic. I wanted a way out, and it seemed to me that a small number of dedicated people were able to edit magazines full time. (And yes, I knew it was a tiny fraction, and yes, I had the hubris to believe I could be one of them) Second, my writing was getting…odd. I find writing therapeutic, and so I let my stories wander in pretty much any direction they are willing to go. Sometimes this makes my overall result fairly convoluted and hard to follow. I got editing from freelance editors to try and pinpoint ways to fix it, but to little avail, at least in the way of commercial success. So I started The Maul partly because I feared that being an author was a non-starter for me. Truth be told, I probably jumped the gun on that, and possibly should have tried to work through it. But I also genuinely feel my skills are more suited to editing and project management, and it gives me more dopamine. So I’m glad I made the switch (I also learned I’m much better at non-fiction writing, so I do some copywriting these days). Finally, my twin toddlers at home started actually sleeping. As your kids get older, you end up slowly getting your life back. As I slowly got my life back when my kids turned two, I realized I wanted to try something to take up a little space with a dumb project. And so, it struck me one day that I’d already had an idea for an outlandish project that might actually be of benefit and substance. So the idea for a horror magazine started to become more than just an idea.
Early supporters included my wife, Samantha, Evan, my brothers and my sister-in-law, and lots of folks who were willing to answer my questions whenever I cold-called them (via email of course, I’m not a monster) about how to start a magazine. Neil Clarke was willing to even to do a sit-down with me for an hour, answering questions and making puzzled faces at the weird and not-sustainable ideas I was already pitching to myself that, once I said them out loud to someone who actually knew what they were doing, eventually fizzled and died like pop rocks. Thank God for Neil.
Support from my wife was unwavering. She let me start an LLC, devote an hour a day to working on this project (which I still try to quota on days when the third baby we eventually had isn’t keeping us up all night), take the odd half-day here and there to do some of the leg work needed to manage a project that involves a lot of people, and most importantly, spend some of our own money on paying authors for the first few issues.
The Maul, in its current format, costs about eight hundred dollars an issue. That’s a pittance to some, and a heavy financial investment to many. I’m a schoolteacher (I did not quit my job, which, looking back, I would have deeply regretted) and my wife works HR, so the latter is more true for us. Samantha was cool about me financing this project for the first year, which we’ve done. We’re hoping some revenue can help pay more costs moving forward. But we’ll get to that.
In the summer of 2022, after researching magazine editing and business ownership for roughly three months (not enough time, in hindsight), I had the website up and running, and so I opened submissions to The Maul, and advertised on what I remember to be three Facebook groups. We had a Twitter at the time as well, with about twenty followers.
Within five days of opening, we received two hundred and fifty submissions. By the end of the month, when submissions closed, we’d gotten seven hundred and fifty.
One thing I did not know at the time was that Duotrope and Submission Grinder seek out magazines like ours (which pay SFWA rates) and place them into algorithms for authors to find quickly and easily. This means that if you let the right people know about your magazine, the number of submissions can explode overnight. That’s more or less what happened to us.
I can’t say I wasn’t completely prepared, as I had done some slush reading for Flash Fiction Online when Suzanne Vincent had been the editor. Once The Maul’s submissions tapered after those first couple of days, the rate of about twenty submissions a day was roughly the same as I’d seen at FFO. So I’d had systems in place to handle a large volume, and I had time off, since I don’t teach in July. I wasn’t quite ready for it all to happen at once. But I was excited, because I, in my naivete, thought that subscribers might also sharply increase.
Egg on my face there, I suppose.
The Maul, though it did not explode with patrons the way it did with submissions, grew steadily there for a while. We were getting new followers on Twitter everyday. We’d get a new patron on Patreon about once a month. A few people bought the Amazon copy of each issue as it came out. And we were gaining a reputation as a magazine that was mostly easy to work with (despite my general lack of knowledge) and was fun to read.
We also gained slushers. Steph, Aleksander, AC, Laura, Emmaline, Bryanna, Cat, and William are in many ways the heart of the magazine. I have been lucky for them to reach out to us and help as much as they have. They’re invaluable to our process and they are one of the main reasons we’ve had such spectacular issues so far. Also, they are kind, patient, and hilarious people.
But as The Maul grew, as lucky as we’d been, we hit a few snags as well.
We had the “formerly New Talent” debacle. That was part-misunderstanding, part-incompetence on my part. If you missed that one, I’ll spare you, but suffice it to say we changed a section of our website to better reflect our values. We made a post about it back in March. We created an entirely new website for that endeavor called The Food Court. But in that mess, we probably lost some real heavy-hitting submitters and fans due to our lack of due diligence.
Then we dealt with Twitter imploding. Which, as for our own end, is partially my fault (not Twitter itself imploding, that’s all on the anti-woke billionaire putz). I relied too heavily on social media for advertising. We still don’t have an advertising budget, and we need one. But it’s not in the cards right now. So for the time being, we’re going to try to transition to other platforms, but somewhere down the road we’ll need to build enough equity to advertise somewhere. Twitter’s drop-off really ground us to a halt. We were gaining twenty new followers a day right before the algorithm changed, and we were getting close to a hundred likes per post for a while, including advertisements for our services which included links. Then one day, everything fell off a cliff, and we still can’t get over thirty likes to save our lives. That one hurt us pretty bad.
And I’d be taking more proactive steps to correct some of this, except the third thing that ended up really throwing us was my wife getting pregnant. Now, to be clear, we already had two kids. But daycare costs $250 per week per kid where we live. So suddenly the eight hundred every three months to pay for a magazine disappeared. Tie in inflation and we’re running ragged. We can barely afford to keep our domain name and Canva subscription. Plus, the sleep deprivation still hasn’t quite let up. Our wee lad is now three months old, and I could wait another three to be sure he sleeps a bit more consistently, but Samantha and I are now getting about five hours a night, and to be honest, I can roll with that.
Now, any business owner will tell you that you have to roll with the punches. And I did that by essentially taking what I referred to in my head as a small hiatus. I felt like we started this new thing, and then the ground moved right underneath our feet, and I just needed a moment.
But now that September is here I am going to attempt to lift us out of that mode and dive back in to getting this mag off the ground. But, we have to do that with less money, less advertising, and less time.
How the fuck are we going to do that? Well, here are a few of my hair–brained schemes I’m going to try out this fall.
First, we’re going to start making a social media video once per weekday. Personally, I have loathed putting a camera on my face. But I think I’ve finally found a way around that. We’ll see. People are either going to be amused by it, or wish me an early death. Fingers crossed.
Second, I plan on changing our funding model. I’m not going to pay money out of my own pocket for an issue, at least for the next two years (while my currently four year olds are still in daycare), and hopefully never again. I have three ways I am going to attempt this. Either we’ll get a small kickstarter (five hundred) to fund each issue, and we’ll publish whenever we get one fully funded. Or, another option would be a Patreon campaign. This is probably the least likely. I calculate it as a hundred patrons total would be needed to fund an issue every three months. Unlikely, but hey, a man can dream. Thank you, by the way, to all our current patrons. You all keep hope alive for us. The last ditch effort on this would be to change the pay rate completely to a royalty model. Essentially, I’d divvy up the gross sales for all issues via Amazon, along with new Patreon subscribers for that publishing period, and distribute them to each author. This would most likely leave folks with far less pay per word than eight cents. However, it would make it so we wouldn’t be stuck in limbo should we be unable to run a kickstarter through successfully, and I still wouldn’t have to pay out-of-pocket with money I don’t have.
I am hoping to put our first Kickstarter out by Halloween.
The last thing I’ll mention here about the Maul’s future is our inaugural Office Holiday Party. This issue, to be published on the first night of Hanukkah each year, will be written by our slushers. They will in fact be paid via the royalty model listed above. Our slushers are volunteers, and deserve so much more than what I can give them. I want to show them some appreciation. And of course, their participation is completely optional. I encouraged them to submit their very weird, nearly unpublishable trunk stories. It should be a blast . Note: it will not be safe for children, just like most office holiday parties.
And with that, I think you’re caught up. Cthulhu willing, we still have at least another year in us. Like I said, I have hopes that this can gain enough momentum that I can do this full time. I’d love The Maul to be a monthly mag which works with an independent publishing house to get copies in people’s hands. I’m willing to put the work in. I hope you’re interested in coming on this journey with us. Drop me a DM anytime, and consider becoming a patron. Or fund us on Kickstarter. Or kick me in the balls if you see me on the street. I’m not picky. I just want people to smile when they read our stories about monsters, torn flesh, and the occasional contagious clown.
A magazine so hip, no one’s heard of it