At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.
I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.
As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to ironsoap.com, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
A separation of the microfiction stories from the ironsoap.com site.
A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).
What’s To Come
The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on ironsoap.com. My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.
Danielle Dreger wears many (baseball) hats. By day she is a teen librarian north of Seattle and by night she is a YA writer of stories set in the humid hell of Central Florida. Danielle spent her formative years in the Tampa Bay area driving into neighborhood signs, breaking curfew, and writing bad poetry before moving to Boston to become a librarian. She now hangs her Tampa Bay Rays hat in Seattle. Her short stories have appeared in Stratus, Driftless Review and Fiction Fix. She can be found online at www.danielledreger.com and Twitter @danielledregerb.
As I write this, my little ezine/blog content experiment is rolling halfway into its fourth month. In all honesty, it’s going a lot better than I thought it would, and I was pretty optimistic about it. I’ve received a ton of truly phenomenal microfiction submissions, found audiences and support from some completely unexpected places, and discovered I have something of a passion for editorial work.
But after a quarter of my trial-by-fire year, I started examining things at a higher level than just “read this next submission! layout the next issue! format this accepted story for posting!” What was working, what I wished I’d done differently early on, how things looked financially, whether the schedules and formats I’d established were sound, basically evaluating everything from top to bottom.
The first result of this was a minor re-design of the aesthetic elements. It was something I’d planned to do starting in Volume 2 but I realized I didn’t want to wait. I also made Nikki the Managing Editor, really just formalizing the work she was already doing behind the scenes. Guidelines were set for guest editor spots; plans set into motion for the Volume 1 edition which will collect all stories from Issues 1 through 6; contingencies were established for the budget; realities for the social media presence were addressed.
But the biggest and most glaring source of contention from this examination was the way the stories were being rolled out. Friday posts felt like they were being lost in the shuffle of weekend plans (partially confirmed by the traffic numbers and the relative responses to “in case you missed it” reminders the following week). But moreover the monthly issues with only four short shorts felt like they weren’t being given sufficient treatment in the ezine. In fact with two 600-word editorials per issue (one from me and one from the guest editor), the ratio of story content to meta or editorial text was 2:3. For a fiction publication, that seemed a little funny.
In taking stock of the year, I looked back over the site and I noticed something a bit depressing: there were a grand total of nine new entries here in 2015, assuming you don’t count new pages created for publications. And the year before was only about twice as active. Unlike in 2013 where I had only one child and averaged well over a post a week, that means this site has not exactly been a hotbed of activity for a couple of years now. And that’s a shame because I like having reasons to come visit this site other than just “hey there’s a new page for a short story I just got published.”
It’s a shame but it hasn’t been some kind of crisis-level circumstance. Because the truth is I like blogging and doing interviews and free short fiction but those things actively compete for the same time blocks as my regular fiction writing. I’m not currently willing to sacrifice the time I carve for writing on site maintenance. If I had the kind of time that would permit me both, perhaps that would be ideal. But I don’t, so for the past couple years I’ve played the hand dealt to me and tolerated an infrequent posting schedule.
But upon reflection there is more than one way to flay a feline. If I myself lack the time to write special site content, perhaps I could instead solicit interesting things to post. Sure, it’s a little strange to have my site—ostensibly dedicated to my writing—populated by other’s work, but it’s not like it’s unprecedented. And really, this site is more about stories than anything else. I don’t have to have written a story for it to be worth sharing.
So, as an experiment, over the next year (at least), I’ll be dedicating the site to some different types of content beyond the journal-style blogging I may have originally intended to fill this space.
The most exciting thing I’ll be doing is revising my microfiction series as an ezine which will be integrated into the main site feed. Each Friday I’ll feature another flash fiction piece of about 200 words, written by an amazing author who is (probably) not me. If you are a writer and want to contribute, submissions are now open, and I’m a semi-pro paying market. I’ll collect each month’s worth of stories into an issue and will do at least two volumes of six issues. If there’s money and interest to support it, I’d love to release these volumes into a print collection as well.
I’ve already lined up several fantastic stories and you’ll get a special sneak peek next Friday as a bonus Christmas gift with the first guest 200 CCs story.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. Not just because it means I get to try my hand at the whole editor-in-chief thing, or because it means if all goes according to plan there should be something new here every week, but mostly because I really like the 200-word format. And, above all else, I can’t wait to see what other writers do with it. Already the stories I have to share are amazing and have stayed with me long after reading.
Another thing I want to open up the site to is book tours or published short story promotions. Other authors who have books coming out or who have new fiction publications and want to discuss the behind-the-scenes aspects of writing their stories can have their work discussed and promoted here. This is basically the book tour thing but I’m also interested in featuring shorter fiction than just novels. I have three pre-made questionnaires, one dealing with world building, one for the challenges of editing, and one for characters. If you have a publication you want people to know about, this is the way to get it done.
I would love to have at least one of these per week, but I also have seen other author’s sites get flooded with book tour posts so I’m not too keen on running more than two in a row. That means its probably a good idea to get requests in as early as possible. For more info and contact details, head over to the newly revamped Projects page.
5 Star Reviews
I’ve already been doing this for a little while but I thought I’d state officially that this was a Thing I’m Doing. I try to write at least a little something about each book I read over on Goodreads and for the past six months or so I’ve been cross-posting my reviews of books I rate with five stars here. The reason for focusing on only five star books is that these are basically my top book recommendations and I think it’s in keeping with the theme of the site (awesome stories) to highlight the books I read that mean the most to me.
Admittedly, this is a little tricky because I find occasionally I’m inclined to rate a book five stars (instead of a very strong four star rating) just so I can feature the review here. My internal rating system is a bit fluid to begin with and my opinion about rating things at all is fairly nuanced. But the more I’ve thought about it since starting this, the more I believe having the bar between four star book (which I usually think of as a book I’d recommend to pretty much anyone) and a five star book (which per the cross-posting becomes a de facto recommendation to literally everyone) is useful to have.
Because I read at inconsistent rates and there’s no guarantee about how many really great books I’ll read in a given period of time, these are going to be far less frequent and very unscheduled. Since I write them regardless of inclusion here, I feel it’s a nice way to talk about great stories here with no additional loss of writing time.
I haven’t totally abandoned the freeform, journal-style, or random unformatted fiction options, either. Like I said, I enjoy writing those; I just can’t justify the time commitment it would take to populate a site with them. And of course I’ll still be updating the Published Work section with new stories as they get published.
My hope, of course, is that all this will result in a site that is worth visiting regularly, especially if you’re in the mood to read or hear about great stories. It’s what I’m all about.
I decided to do some datamining to understand how insular my own reading world may be. The results were perhaps predictable (in part because I read a lot of “mainstream” books), but disheartening. Of the 66 books I checked—and note that I omitted graphic novels and anthologies because of their multi-creator aspects—I came up with these numbers:
Now there is some margin of error there. I didn’t research very much so this was largely based on my existing knowledge of the authors. But I think the takeaway is pretty clear: there’s not a lot of diversity happening here. Particularly problematic is the extreme whiteness of the authors represented here, which is exactly the sort of thing #weneeddiversebooks and others are talking about.
So now that I know, I’ll be making a much more concerted effort to diversify my literature. I think for the remainder of the year I will eschew a book if it doesn’t fit into at least one of the non-white, non-straight, non-male categories above. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.
2014 was quite a ride. For me, anyway. After all, it’s not every year that you have a baby, move to a new town, get a new job, and make the first wobbly baby steps into a dreamed-of venture in the span of twelve months. And let’s be honest, most of that stuff all happened in the span of about three months in the middle of the year. For awhile there, I was just sort of holding on as best I could, trying not to get completely overwhelmed.
But I’m not complaining. 2014 wasn’t a flawless year, of course, but it was more good than bad and, for that, I’m grateful.
On a personal front, things are far more stable than they were a year ago. My second daughter arrived in the spring, making our family feel more complete. I’m gainfully employed with a company I like, working with people I respect in a job I’m pretty good at. We have a place to live in a town that feels like home. My older daughter started school (Kindergarten) and seems to be thriving there. My wife and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary and couldn’t be happier.
As a writer, I feel like my ten year plan is proceeding along at an acceptable pace. I followed up my very first publication just over a year ago with six new short story publications, including my first print pub. I landed my first pro-paying acceptance near the end of the year. One of my stories received an Honorable Mention from the Writers Of The Future contest. I even earned a tiny bit of money from my writing.
I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again this year. I started in 2011, where I completed the challenge by rambling 50,000 words of useless nonsense about a reluctant Djinn and … a guy? …Who wishes for his wife’s boobs to be bigger? I think? I’m not sure. It got weird.
I skipped 2012 intentionally, as I had a lot of other projects I wanted to work on and didn’t want the disappointment of failing. Turns out the disappointment of not even trying wasn’t much of an improvement. So I resolved to go for it again last year, and barely squeaked out my 50K on a fantasy/detective hybrid thing. Again, I didn’t outline the plot (though I did a ridiculous amount of world building prep) and it turns out writing a mystery/noir thriller without a very clear idea where the plot is going is Not A Good Idea. So I finished—from a NaNo perspective—but, as with the Djinn story, it didn’t get any further than that. I may revisit the fantasy/noir later; it’s shelved for now.
Now this year I’m back at it. If you’re following along on Twitter you may have noticed me griping late last month about trying to come up with a project idea. I had a few concept seeds that seemed like they might be worth exploring in a longer format, but I had a hard time making them mesh in any cohesive way. I toyed with crime story frameworks, science fiction trappings, angsty YA-lit variants, all sorts of things to make something click. Eventually I settled on a horror/supernatural story and set out trying to outline the thing.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to improve my writing skills by focusing on short fiction. Along the way I’ve read a ton of it, both to learn from what was out there and to see what was selling as I tried to align my submissions to markets that were (more) likely to buy my work. And in the process I developed a love of short fiction.
I could easily say that liking short stories isn’t particularly a recent development. But considering how well short work scratches the reading itch without the commitment inherent in choosing a new novel, it’s kind of surprising that it took me this long and this particular circumstance to get me truly invested in it. It simply didn’t occur to me earlier to seek out short fiction—other than the occasional author collection or intriguing theme anthology. I certainly never thought about subscribing to or buying fiction magazines.
I recently had a conversation with some other writers in which it was observed that sometimes it feels like short story readers have a 1-to-1 overlap with short story writers. That basically the only people who care about literary or genre magazines which run less-than-novel-sized pieces are people who are writing in that format. Maybe that’s untrue or unfair. But what I don’t think is controversial is the idea that short stories could be getting more attention than they are from pure readers.
My hypothesis is that maybe these publications just don’t get enough non-writer-y attention. Perhaps if someone explored some of the available options with a focus on their value to readers; if there was a concerted effort to get conversations started the way they’re started about books—with the added benefit of more inclusiveness since it’s much easier to get a group of people to read a ten-page story than a 300-page book—the short fiction community might not feel so insular.
Enter The Short List. This will be an experiment. For as long as it feels fun and engaging, I’ll choose a different publication for each installment and offer mini-synopses, reviews, and essays about the selected issue. My intent is to spread the focus around: professional-paying, high-profile publications will sit alongside indie and niche collections. I want to do genre magazines and eclectic anthologies. But more than anything I’m going to focus on these selections from a reader’s perspective. What’s the value like? How fun are the stories to read? How likely is it readers will find themselves sharing their favorites with friends? I specifically won’t be talking about the publications’ submission process or pay rates. Cover price may be a factor, art design might come up. What won’t be discussed are topics like the ease of working with the editors, what kind of submissions they’re looking for, or how frequently they respond with personal feedback.
The format may change and evolve over time. I do want to consider this a somewhat critical evaluation of each selection, but I don’t really care to fixate on ripping apart stories (and authors) I don’t care for. I also don’t have much interest in carefully curating my selection of a given publication based on issue or theme. The way I see it, any reader should be able to pick up any issue and be well-rewarded for their time and money. So I won’t be cherry-picking too much.
But here’s my hope: if you love to read, I hope you’ll read along with me, at least sometimes. I want to start conversations, introduce people who love to read to stories they might not otherwise have seen, connect new fans with new favorite writers, and get people excited about short fiction publications for the joy of reading bite-sized stories.
Stay tuned for the first edition of this feature coming very soon.
It’s been over a year since I launched this site and I was getting a little weary of the obnoxious laser light show look. So I’ve made a few cosmetic changes. If you see anything that looks wonky—in the “font is the same color as the background” vein, not in the “I hate your design aesthetic” category—please give me a shout at email@example.com.
Meanwhile I’m working on some other things to try and drag the site back from the hiatus I accidentally imposed on it during my stint as a stay-at-home dad*. I hope you’ll bear with me.
I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.
I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.
The Aspiring Voices Contest
So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.
I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.
There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.
On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:
Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.