Writing In a New Era
This is the second in an irregular series exploring the challenges and opportunities of writing and publishing in the new era of social media, POD, e-publishing, and changing markets. Today I visit with Jim Wisneski, an enterprising writer who has taken an idea from concept to full blown implementation within a matter of weeks. This is not something that could have been done just a few years ago.
The 12 Days project is a compilation of short stories, done on a theme, by many different writers, and then presented in multiple formats, initially as a blog serialization, and then as an anthology in both e-book and hard copy form. In full disclosure, I must point out that I have a short story included in this project. Jim has worked tirelessly to get the project completed in time for today’s launch, and has been kind enough to take the time to share the insights he gained with us. Please welcome Jim Wisneski to Mad Utopia.
Mad Utopia: Hello, Jim. Can you briefly describe the 12 Days project for us?
Jim Wisneski: The 12 Days project is based on the popular 12 Days of Christmas song. Starting today, December 14, 2009 a new set of stories will be posted to reflect that day’s part of the song. December 14 will be a partridge in a pear tree, December 15 will be two turtle doves, etc. leading up to Christmas day having the twelve drummers drumming.
The project is an interaction of writers from all genres, so the mix and interpretation of each writer’s day is going to be really fun to see.
Mad Utopia: Interesting. What drove the concept? What was the creative seed that started it?
Jim Wisneski: A few things sparked this idea. First, I wanted to start something that was fun, loose on guidelines, and something that could bring some writers together. Then a few local channels do “countdown to Halloween” specials with cartoons and movies, etc. and one even did a countdown to the countdown to Christmas. . . yes, that is true – they played Christmas movies leading up to December first to start their countdown to Christmas Day.
I started thinking about it for a little bit, thought about asking for submissions for Christmas stories. I worried about getting too many cliché stories so I wanted to theme it. . . then it hit me about the 12 Days of Christmas. It took me five minutes to title it, set up a blog, and start to Tweet about it to see if I could get a response.
Mad Utopia: So, you used Twitter to find writers. How did that work out for you?
Jim Wisneski: I Tweeted it non stop! Well, actually, I can’t say “non stop” because I had the 12 slots filled in literally twenty minutes. It was like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced before. Here I was preparing myself to write maybe four or five of the days when my in-box exploded.
I couldn’t keep up with who had what day. . . then they were all filled. But the messages didn’t stop. They kept coming. So I decided to open a second round of submissions and have two stories for each day. To be honest, that is what’s going to make this project work – two different takes on the days. I have a couple days where one story is a tearjerker and the other is straight up horror!
Mad Utopia: Which leads me to my next question. Without giving too much away, what type of mix did you end up with, genre wise?
Jim Wisneski: The mix, in my opinion, is perfect. There’s everything in it – and it’s not overdone or cliché. You may not be a horror fan, but come on, when you mix Christmas and zombies how can you not be entertained? Or when you have four calling birds staring you down while you try to decorate your Christmas tree. . . okay, I better stop!
There’s some science fiction, fantasy, and there are the “normal” stories – a few heart-string-pullers and a few that just make you flat out smile when you think about Christmas.
It’s honestly the exact thing I was hoping for – a simple theme with no boundaries and these writers took it to the limits and made it work!
Mad Utopia: What kinds of challenges cropped up trying to get it all to come together and how did you overcome them?
Jim Wisneski: The main challenge was gathering everyone’s information – believe it or not. Some people talked to me through Twitter, some through email, so trying to gather everyone’s information in one shot was actually harder than it seems. For example, someone sent me a message on Twitter asking for a part in it, and then emailed me a follow up. Their names were nothing alike so as a response to the Twitter message I said ‘yes’ and as the response to the email I said ‘no’. Talk about confusion!
Then there was (and still is) the challenge of getting this into print. The stories are, of course, on the blog but when I started reading them, I wanted this to get in print as an anthology. I have a company I’m working with and, fingers crossed, the print version of the 12 Days should be out by the end the year. The main challenge here is that this is a POD printer so estimated costs vs. real costs are very different (nothing is ever as good as it seems during the ‘test your costs’ part of the deal!). I’m trying to work out a system that makes the book as low cost as possible without emptying my personal pockets. So far, so good, but I’ll find out the real cost once the final proof is done and it goes into print.
Another challenge was NaNoWriMo. Many of the writers involved in this project, including me, participated in NaNoWriMo. With my deadline of December 10 for stories to be submitted (so I could start placing them on the blog and for the book), it put a lot on everyone’s shoulders to write, edit, and submit. Overcoming it was pretty easy. . . open communication. I did my best to stay in touch with the other writers and encourage them to keep writing just as much as they encouraged me to keep writing.
Finally, the biggest challenge was waiting for the stories. Since this project had gained quite a bit of popularity I grew very nervous if someone decided to not write for the project. Or if someone forgot. . . or if someone just didn’t care. I didn’t want to have my name in the project more than once and if someone dropped the project at the last second, I would be left with no choice but to quickly throw a story together. To prevent this, I kept updates on the blog asking for everyone to check in and tell me their progress. It worked and kept everyone in contact while building the anticipation for the project.
Mad Utopia: Any insights you’d like to share on the whole end to end production process. Surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant?
Jim Wisneski: The biggest surprise was the response. I figured it would take me a few weeks to gather some writers and then I’d write a few stories myself and just post them on a blog. In less than half an hour, I went from some random guy putting together a blog to Jim, the publisher working on a site, a book, a cover, t-shirts, and gathering 24 stories from 24 different authors!
Another pleasant surprise was the outcome of the stories. I made it clear from day one that it was up to the writer to decide what to do with their day and not a single one disappointed me. That’s risky to do, considering there really wasn’t the ability to reject a story and move on to someone else. That put a lot pressure on me to prove the material good and also on the writer to write material that’s good.
The only real unpleasant part of this was what I mentioned in the beginning about gathering everyone’s name and information. My personal suggestion to anyone thinking of doing something like this – pick a place for people to submit and stick to it. I left the gates open for Twitter, email, text, Facebook. . . and silly me, didn’t think that people don’t always use the same name for everything.
Other than that, I’m impatient when I want something. So waiting for the stories to come in, and for me to gather them, and then to have to work from square one on a book design. . . it kills me! I want to have the book yesterday! But anyone who knows me, knows that’s my personality.
Mad Utopia: How will you determine the success of it all once all is said and done?
Jim Wisneski: Not to sound cliché or mushy, but this is already a success. I was able to spark interest in 24 writers to write. What more could I ask for?
The publishing world sometimes can be so darn negative sometimes when everything seems to be a “NO” and it gets to a writer (I know it gets to me). So to be able to let everyone take a breath and not worry about formatting, length, guidelines, content, etc. it really let everyone just open and have fun.
Now, on the other side of this, I would like to see a whole bunch of visits to the blog, tons of comments, and a couple hundred thousand books sold!
The other success here was that I was able to give a couple writers their first chance to be published – how cool is that?! They will forever carry around a copy of this book which has my face on it (literally, I’m on the cover!) and show everyone, this is where I first started!
Mad Utopia: Do you have any similar projects on the burner?
Jim Wisneski: Yes I do! Can I describe it? NO! This has been so much fun for me that I am hoping to do a few of these a year. The main hurtle is going to see how the printing of the book goes. If it’s as smooth as the company promises me, then yes, I’ll be compiling a lot of anthologies.
Just to give a little taste, I have an idea for a Valentines day book where one half is about love (mushy, gushy stories) and the other half is about hate (broken hearts and horror).
Mad Utopia: When will 12 Days be available? What formats can we expect?
Jim Wisneski: 12 Days starts today, December 14, 2009. It is on the blog, 12days2009. Each day the two stories for that day’s theme will be published there for the world to read at no cost. I only ask that if you stop by, please leave a comment – writers, especially the ones who don’t yet make money off their writing, love comments!
As I mentioned above, I am working on getting the entire thing in print which, if all goes to plan, should be done by the end of the year.
For the ebook fans, I will be taking the book and publishing it in an ebook format too.
And I can’t forget the t-shirts! My crazy graphic designer who made the cover also has her own little t-shirt company, so once I have the book finalized and the authors names and titles, I will be getting t-shirts printed.
Mad Utopia: Thank you Jim. It sounds like an interesting project. Best of luck and much success, on this and on your future projects.
Jim Wisneski: I have to give a big thanks to Jon for not only having me here to talk about this great project but for also being a part of it!
Jim is the mastermind behind the 12 Days of 2009 project along with countless short stories, novellas, and novels. He also writes music – lots of it – and some of it can be heard at 1album1month. His projects other than the 12 Days project include his album(s), Soft Whispers Magazine, his A Line at a Time weekly project, and of course participating in #fridayflash. He doesn’t sleep, drinks lots of coffee, and listens to lots of Guns n’ Roses. His main site to keep track of all this fun stuff is Writers ‘n Writers on Blogspot.