30 October 2019

The Last Lesson: Queen vs Hitchcock



Two weeks ago I reported that I had been invited to speak to the Northwest branch of the Mystery Writers of American on the subject: "Ten Things I learned Writing Short Stories."  I listed nine of them and promised to deliver the last one this week.  Here goes!

10.  What's the difference between Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine?  That's the second-most common question I hear about my writing.  (The first is the dreaded WDYGYI?)

For many years my reply was simple: AH buys my stories and EQ doesn't.  But since EQ has surrendered to my dubious charms several times I have to come up with some better distinction.  So here are a few.

Origin stories.  I mean the origins of the magazines themselves.  I think they are useful in thinking about how the editors think: What is in the magazine's DNA, so to speak?  Because as the old saying goes "What's bred in the bone, comes out in the flesh."

EQ was started in 1941 under the editorship of Frederic Dannay, one half of the author Ellery Queen.  Besides being an author and editor, Dannay was an anthologist and a historian of the mystery field.  He was determined to cover all aspects of the field (as opposed to Black Mask Magazine, for example, which had focused on hardboiled) and to stretch the definition of the mystery as well.  Therefore it was not unusual for him to print stories from around the world, stories from "literary" authors who were not considered mystery writers, and reprint stories that had been forgotten or that no one had previously thought of as belonging to the crime field at all.  EQ, for example, was the first American magazine to publish the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.  EQ retains a keen sense of the history of the mystery field, which leads to publishing parodies and pastiches.

AH, on the other hand, was founded in 1956.  The film director had no direct role in the magazine, simply licensing the use of his hame and likeness.  For many years the introduction to each issue was written in his voice.  The magazine was not inspired by his movies as much as by his very popular TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which actually filmed some stories that had originally appeared in the magazine.  Like the TV show, the magazine leaned toward suspense, twist endings, and a macabre sense of humor.  It still does.

Distinctions today.  EQ has regular departments.  Going all the way back to Dannay's day it has featured the Department of First Stories, which has premiered the work of up-and-coming artists who went on to fame such as Harry Kemelman, Henry Slesar, Stanley Ellin, and Thomas Flanagan.  Every issue features Passport to Crime, a story translated from another language.  EQ also owns the rights to the Black Mask name and often features a story in that magazine's hardboiled style.

My description of the beginnings of AH may have left you with the impression that their selection of story types is narrow. In fact, the opposite is true.  You can find examples of westerns and science fiction in its pages, as long as crime is front and center. Fantasy elements  may slip in.  (The rare ghost story can show up in either magazine; for some reason ghosts are the one bit of woowoo that is allowed in the mystery world.)

And some more quick generalizations.

EQ seems to lean more toward the grim, the longer, and the fair-play detection stories.

AH appears to favor the lighter, the shorter, and the twist ending.

It is important to be clear that everything I am saying here is about tendencies, not absolutes.  You can find exceptions in every issue, but if you are trying to decide which magazine to submit a story to first, this might help you.

One thing both seem to insist on, is high quality, which may explain why my overall sale record at AHMM is only about 33% and much worse at EQMM.

Your mileage, needless to say, may vary.


13 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Great explanation of the difference between EQMM and AHMM, Rob. They really are each different from the other under the hood.

joshpac said...

A thorough and thoughtful piece, Rob. My mileage largely matches yours, except that I’ve been much more fortunate at EQMM than at AHMM. My perception is that AH stories average longer than EQ stories; that’s just an impression, though, not something I’ve researched, and I may well be wrong.

Worth noting, perhaps, that the two magazines have for some years now both been owned by Penny Press — yes, the folks who publish all the crossword mags, as well as Asimov’s and Analog — and share the same associate editor, the delightful Jackie Sherbow. They have different editors, though, and Janet Hutchings at EQ and Linda Landrigan at AH do NOT share submissions. If one rejects you, you would need to resubmit to the other one to have your work considered there.

One other significant difference: EQMM’s response time to submissions is significantly faster (generally 2-3 months) than AHMM’s (now usually about 10 months, although until recently it was even longer). On the other hand, AHMM pays a bit better.

I’ve found that some writers are afraid to submit to EQMM and AHMM, since they are so “top of the heap.” I say go for it, though! Both editors welcome work by previously unpublished authors, and by authors with track records who haven’t previously sold to the Penny pubs.

Thanks, Rob, for your piece and for letting me add a few of my own thoughts!

Josh

O'Neil De Noux said...

Both editors and editorial staffs are the tops. They support writers with their editing and encouragement and by keeping the magazines at the pinnacle of the field. Only my best stories get accepted here. The variety of story selection is a treat in both magazines. I am often surpsrised by the story selections but never let down. They are readers-delight and must reads for mystery short story writers. HINT: I think, on occasion, certain stories, no matter how good, don't make it because the magazines are flooded with similiar stories. No way for a writer to tell, so don't get discouraged when you write a story you know is good and it gets rejected. They both get so many submissions.

Eve Fisher said...

I've been very fortunate with AHMM, but have yet to crack EQMM - some day! Some day!

Robert Lopresti said...

Good comments, all. Josh, some of what you said I mentioned in my talk but didn't add to this piece. Thanks for doing so. I also didn't mention my theory that the reason I sell more to AH than to EQ is that I grew up on AH, the magazine and those collections of stories from the magazine with titles like Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories to Make You Wet Your Pants, so in a big way my imagination was shaped by those tales...

Bruce W. Most said...

What accounts for such a slow response time (easily a year) from AHMM versus EQMM? I'm reluctant to submit because it takes longer than submitting a novel or hearing from a prospective agent.

Peter DiChellis said...

Helpful post, thank you.

Re: “if you are trying to decide which magazine to submit a story to first, this might help you” -- it already did help, so thanks again. I was under the impression anything with a supernatural element was good for AHMM but not EQMM. But seems like a low-chance, equal shot for either (in my case an equal shot at rejection, but it’s still a shot right?) So I just sent one to EQMM that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Leigh Lundin said...

To add one crucial point, Janet, Linda, and Jackie are absolutely charming people, kind and considerate. They have no idea how awesome they are.

Unknown said...

I wrote this piece up for any collectors or buyers to know a little more about AHMM...
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine is one of the longest-running crime magazines, having recently celebrated it’s sixtieth anniversary. Although Hitchcock gave his name to the magazine, signed the brief editorial introductions, and appeared on the cover for twenty-five years, he never really had any direct involvement with the magazine.
So here's a brief history of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

The first issue (V1 Issue #12 in December 1956) began at the time when the TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents was in its second season. With ratings very high, it was decided that producing a magazine based on this successful TV series would be equally as successful.
(Note that there were no issues with V1 #1-11 - as it was better to start January's edition Volume 2 as Year 2 with a fresh #1. And there is no issue for April 1957).

The early mags started at 128 pages and were the bound by glue covers, so are easily breakable, but possibly repairable.
In January 1964, page count went to 160 - increasing the content, but also increasing the breakages of the covers and spine.
The artwork for each story back then were usually written by one artist and drawn in a free-hand sketch style. The text wasn't as inviting as it will be in future issues.
The contents however, were superb. So many good, very good and surprisingly, twisted good stories to enjoy each week by so many celebrated authors.
The pictures on the covers were usually Hitchcock in various poses. All a bit ho-hum by today's standards.
In April 1974, the page count went back to 128.

June 1978 started the first run of 34 collectable artist drawn covers of Hitchcock in various comedy poses.
In March 4 1981, the logo and cover changed considerably to exclude Mr Hitchcock (who passed away the previous year).
However, the biggest change took place from the August 1982 issue were the artwork was better and varied, The Mysterious Photograph was introduced, the covers included a small Hitchcock in the corner of each cover, Mystery Classic, Book Reviews, Humor and yes, even a letters page. It is from this issue onwards that the 'Golden Age of AHMM' started.
Each magazine is hugely enjoyable. While it may have less stories than its sister publication EQMM, the quality has remained to the present day.
A change in size by an inch taller and a quarter inch wider was made in the June 1998 issue (as well as EQMM by the same company Davis). While favoured so it can be seen on newstands easier, for me, the magazine lost its compact design and with it, the end of the Golden Age of AHMM. However, all the good stories, competitions, reviews are still present, so it's not all bad - just more awkward to read with a dedicated spine attached to it.
An extra quarter of an inch in height and width was made in the December 2008 issue with a reduced page count to 114.
In June 2012, both magazines became available digitally via the Magzter app, so size no longer mattered.

A quick word on the specials. Collectors soon find a trying task of keeping up with issues missing. This isn't helped much with the specials which regularly combined two months into one - including a double issue page count. The early specials were made to compensate for the loss of the issues being printed every 4 weeks - or 13 months a year - and were made in Sept 1982 & 1983 before moving to a December bonus issue - usually to celebrate the magazines birthday. This was changed in 1997 to the July/August issue and later added a January/February issue as well. Interestingly, EQMM did simular with a March/April issue complementing the September/October issue. All this means for collectors is that, if you're trying to find the August 1997 issue of AHMM, you never will as it doesn't exist... (continued)

Unknown said...

Part 2...
Also a pain for collectors is the fore-mentioned 13 issues a year dating system. From January 2 1980 through to March 31 1982 (there is no April 1982 edition) the magazine was published on a strict 4 week roster which included the day of issue as well as the month and year. So it can be frustrating to find 2 issues for March 1982, but none for April 1982. This was all switched back to a monthly schedule from May 1982 when Eleanor Sullivan and Cathleen Jordan switched editing roles of AHMM and EQMM.
Today, the magazines continue to sell very well and in 2017, both publications became double issues each month, with only a new issue every two months.

Finally, as I've only been collecting these magazines (of which I now have combined over 1,109 in 10 months of collecting), I can say what joy it is to read such a variety of stories that can take you anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Whether it be an old Jack Ritchie story, an involving Joyce Carol Oates or a new Bill Pronzini tale, these magazines - and their associated books - will keep anyone amused for many hours.
So take time off, grab a handle of these wonderful magazines, go on a holiday, an overseas cruise, and get away with murder today.
- Paul Scholz

Robert Lopresti said...

Wow, Paul. Very impressive. Thanks!

Leigh Lundin said...

Paul, can we persuade you to write an article?

Unknown said...

Had trouble finding this site again. Still very new to all this...
I can rewrite some of the above to fit in to a article, or feel free to just use the above. I can add more details, if it doesn't become a bore to anyone.
koinonia1997@hotmail.com
(Greek for fellowship with others of the same beliefs/Biblical times, etc)
- Paul Scholz