Each writer, Rob explained, would choose from a variety of “junk” objects bought by the curators at garage sales and thrift stores. A smiling mug. A Sanka ashtray. A JFK bust. Then, we would write a short story about the object. Whatever we liked. A fiction. Thereby, at least as I saw it, imbuing this seeming “worthless” object with a greater value, sentimental or otherwise. The story and a photo of the object would be posted on the website and put up for auction on eBay. Readers would be invited to bid on the item. If they won the auction, they would win the object and a printout of the story. No one would be “deceived” into believing the stories about the objects were true, as their fictional relationship would be made clear, and the proceeds of the auction would go to the author, who would retain the rights to the story. Or, as Rob puts it: “Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a ‘significant’ object!”
Archive for the 'fiction' Category
A year ago today, artists and writers celebrated International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, an event where hundreds of them release their work online for free. I wrote about the day over here. Apparently it’s to become an annual event, and today’s the day.
An anthology of short fiction can often be an odd specimen.
When the book is put out by a large New York publisher, the anthology editor usually works with a small pool of solicited writers. After pitching an idea and getting the book approved, the editor approaches these writers with the theme and asks them to submit either original or reprint stories inspired by it.
The result is typically a mixed bag. While some of the writers use the theme as a springboard to compose brilliant stories that might not otherwise have been written, others inevitably dig themselves into a rut. The end result is a narrative that seems forced, dragging itself through the entire plot until it lies flat between the book’s covers. Without digressing too far into literary idealism, it’s easy to tell that the author wrote the story because it was solicited, not out of some bout of inspiration. This is partially why book reviewers often select a few gems out of the table of contents and then remark that the anthology is “hit and miss” — a collection of failures and duds, a few mediocre page-turners, and one or two brilliant pieces that will go on to be nominated for awards.
Whether the newly-launched site Anthology Builder is the cure to this trend is hard to say. Launched late last year, it’s the creation of Nancy Fulda, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom and fiction writer who lives in Germany. With the cost of book production steadily decreasing through Print On Demand, the company allows the customer to compile his or her own table of contents and cover art online and have it shipped in print form.
Fulda, who is also an editor for Baen’s Universe (a short fiction ezine), said that Anthology Builder was born out of her own frustrations as a beginning writer; she wanted to sample stories from multiple publications to get a feel for an editor’s taste, but buying sample copies is expensive. There was no way to pluck out a single story for a quick read without purchasing an entire issue.
“Later, when I started publishing stories, I realized how ephemeral the lifespan of a short story really is,” she told me last month. ” A story would appear in this month’s issue of a magazine, and by next month, everyone had forgotten it. It was old news, and three or four years down the line, there really was no way for someone who liked my writing to track down that story, even if they were willing to go through the effort.”
A few months ago Fulda became frustrated because she had a list of stories she wanted to read but no easy outlet from which to purchase and read them — especially since she lives in Germany. So she wrote and published a post on her blog expressing her desire for a “do-it-yourself anthology website.” Initially, she hoped that someone else would create this site, but after a rush of positive feedback she decided to make it a project of her own.
Anthology Builder’s submission process is designed in such a way so that only reprint short stories are accepted. “We only take stories that have been previously published in a paying market, and even those, I sometimes filter based on whether I think they’ll be a good match for our customer profile,” Fulda said.
Melissa Mead, a 40-year-old writer living in New York, has 11 reprint stories available at Anthology Builder. When I asked her how she originally became involved with the site, she replied, “Actually, I just thought it sounded like fun. I saw some entries about it on LiveJournal, thought it would be a nice way to get some reprints out there being read again, and gave it a try.”
Her marketing of the reprints so far consists of “shamelessly plugging it on my LiveJournal and a few boards kind enough to put up with me.” Like others I spoke to for this article both on the record and on background, she said that she didn’t expect to make much money off the site in the near future. “I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fascinating idea with great potential that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to help promote,” Mead said, “and because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d rather have my reprints out being read than gathering metaphorical dust on my hard drive, whether I make money from it or not. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d love to see it really take off.”
At the cost of $14.95 a book the customer gets to choose 350 pages worth of fiction. For every book sold, the authors get a split of $1.50, the money divided between them based on the word counts of the individual stories. “I had a choice between charging $30 per book and snagging a quick easy profit and charging $15 per book and giving the site a chance to become truly popular, to really become a place where readers come when they want short fiction,” Fulda said. “That’s my dream — to have Anthology Builder become like a mini-Amazon. When people read about a book online and they want to buy it, they go to Amazon, and they find it. I someday want to have enough fiction on the site that when people read about a short story online, the knee-jerk response is to go to Anthology Builder and add it to their next purchase.”
But how realistic is this goal? As I previously documented in a Bloggasm article, short fiction is becoming increasingly hard to market, and few profitable online models have emerged.
Samantha Henderson, a secretary from southern California who has stories available through the company, told me that she didn’t know if the site would become financially viable for authors. “I think it’s a very small niche because the genre is a small niche,” she said. “If they could expand it to other genres — say mystery — as well as mainstream they might sell a lot more product, but I don’t know how difficult it would be or if that is their intent.”
But even Fulda acknowledged that any profitability would come later rather than sooner, and that she has a significant hurdle in marketing the site. “The whole thing is kind of a gamble that way, and we won’t know whether it will pay off for another two or three years,” she said. “But in the meantime, I’m having fun, and I’m providing what I consider to be a truly valuable service to the writing community.”
A few years ago, Jason Sanford became visibly frustrated. It was during a conversation with the editor of a year’s best short fiction anthology. When Sanford asked the editor to consider stories published in his online literary journal, storySouth, the editor responded that he didn’t consider online magazines to be “real” publications.
Sanford, 36, once edited for Meadowbrook Press, a publisher distributed by Simon & Schuster. Five years ago, he launched storySouth to showcase fiction, nonfiction and poetry from what he calls the “new south.” To him, his free online publication was just as legitimate as any print journal. With an average of 1,000 visitors a day and a rigorous editorial process, it reached a wider audience than most university publications. In his frustration,the Million Writers Award for online fiction was born.
“A few years ago I wrote an essay which made the case for why online magazines give more exposure to new and emerging writers than traditional literary journals,” Sanford said. “Basically, most print literary magazines have a total circulation of between 500 and a 1,000 copies. This results in fewer readers than a site like storySouth receives in a single day. When you add in printing costs to this equation, then it’s easy to see why so many literary magazines are either establishing online presences or going totally online.”
(Jason Sanford, creator of storySouth and the Million Writers Award)
For the Million Writers Award, readers, editors and a round of judges nominate stories that were published online in that year. Stories published in print journals are considered as long as they also appeared online. At the end of the nomination period, Sanford chooses 10 of those stories as finalists. He then sets up an online poll and the public is encouraged to read and vote on their favorite stories. This year, the winner received a $300 cash prize from the Edit Red Writing Community. The winner for 2007 was Catherynne M. Valente, for her story “Urchins, While Swimming” (originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine).
According to the award’s creator, the nominees gain more notoriety which can boost their careers.
“Winning awards helps any author in his or her career,” Stanford explained. “Due to the internetÃ¢â‚¬â€where anyone can publish their workÃ¢â‚¬â€and the increasing numbers of books being published each year, more writers than ever are competing for attention. This makes it hard for deserving authors to find readers. When authors receive awards, that helps them rise above the clutter. An award tells a reader to check an author out; to take a little bit of their valuable time and see if this writer might be worth reading.”
Valente, the winner of the award, agreed with this idea. The author has had her novels and poetry collections published by both small and large publishers for years, but has only recently begun to sell short fiction.
“I hope it will increase the visibility of my short fiction, which often gets overshadowed by the novels,” Valente said. “But awards always help–I think the best thing that the Million Writers Award has done is to drive hundreds of people to read ‘Urchins, While Swimming.’ Most of those people would never have seen it otherwise, and that’s a fantastic result. Time will tell if it will drive my short fiction further.”
For Valente, deciding whether to publish a short story in an online or a print publication often takes deliberation. When considering print publications that don’t pay pro rates, she first considers whether she could reach more people through her blog.
“The advantage of online publications, as I see it, are these: they are not beholden to print costs, and are therefore often more adventurous in the work they will accept,” she said. “They have the potential to be seen by many, many more people than any print magazine or anthology, if the story is widely linked and catches on…also I do feel that the short fiction community is enlivened by the internet, and I love participating in that–to me it is a lot like the old oral tradition, with computers as the campfire around which we gather to tell stories.”
Though it’s impossible to gauge the Million Writer Award’s direct effects, short stories and essays that originally appeared online have begun to be selected for year’s best anthologies. The Best American Short Stories, for instance, recently published a short story by Cory Doctorow that was first printed at Salon.com. I pointed this out to Sanford and asked if his motivation for running the award has changed over the years.
“Yes, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I started the award. However, you are correct that in the last year or two, ‘best of’ anthologies have begun to reprint online fiction,” he replied. “While I praise this change, I’m not sure it’s really that big a deal. What we’re seeing are more traditional print authors publishing their works online; as these authors publish outside the dead-tree-bindings of print publications, the best of anthologies are following them. What I don’t see are these anthologies publishing much work by authors who have published almost exclusively online. While the Million Writers Award honors all online fictionÃ¢â‚¬â€including stories by established authorsÃ¢â‚¬â€one of our strengths is that we also highlight new and upcoming writers who are only known online. I don’t see the print anthologies doing that. Perhaps they will in the coming years. Until then, I’m simply happy that the Million Writers Award has helped raise the profile of online fiction.”
Have you come to the conclusion, like countless others, that the novel as an art form is dying, but you can’t figure out what killed it? Well Edward Champion has created a convenient list of possibilities for the final death blow to the genre:
HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a helpful list for New York freelancers who need to write a needlessly alarmist newspaper piece about what may be killing the novel. So if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve run out of ideas and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite know an angle, here are some casuistic ideas for your future pitches! Remember, if you collect a check from any of these ideas, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m only asking 5%. Be sure to send a check to me within 45 days after the piece runs. Good luck and AllahÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s speed!
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