Writing in a New Era


A sock puppet smoking a pipeI hope not. I saw an article in Newsweek last week that discussed the problem of sock puppets in social media. What are sock puppets? More accurately the question should be, who are sock puppets? Sock puppets are people who post fake reviews lavishing great praise on their own works while slamming the works of their competition – under pseudonyms, of course.

In the words of Captain Hook, “Bad form, Peter.”

Sock puppets are active in many fields which rely on user feedback on social media. These include hotel, restaurant, and yes, book reviews. While it might be a violation of some sites’ terms of service, it is easy to set up an alternate user profile on most social networks and popular websites. There are even legitimate reasons to do so. But it is a severe breach of faith with your fellow Internet travelers to use such a profile to shill your own work or tear down the work of others. It also erodes the overall faith of the public in product reviews, which is bad for everybody.

It is a wild and wide open world out there on the Internet, and some will take advantage of that situation for a leg up. But there is hope on the horizon. The Newsweek article discusses how progress is being made in algorithmic solutions to catch sock puppets in the act. One from Cornell University was tested on a popular travel advisory site and was able to detect fake reviews at a 90% rate.* That’s pretty damned impressive.

Now I ask you, if you were planning a vacation and discovered that some of the glowing reviews of your potential holiday destination were in fact posted by the resort itself using fake names, would you feel comfortable sending them that reservation deposit?

Likewise if a reader finds out that you, as an author, have be posting glowing fake reviews of your latest novel under a false identity, do you think they would be more or less inclined to buy your book? I would certainly steer away from it, for the yuck factor if nothing else.

As an author you have two main things going for you: your body of work, and your reputation. Don’t risk one to get a momentary bump up in the ratings for the other.
~ jon

© 2012, by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

*To Catch A Sock Puppet, by Josh Dzieza, Newsweek, September 24, 2012
Photo by J.M. Strother, 10/10/2012


5 Thing ThursdayThe five top lessons I learned in doing the Best Of Friday Flash – Volume One:

1: Word Processing Beyond The Basics

If you are like me there are style controls built into your word processor that you’ve never used and may not even realize were there. It turns out these style controls, for headings and paragraphs, are essential when laying out a manuscript if you want to avoid stress induced insanity. Some of the key styles I discovered are well worth setting up include:

  • Heading 1 – for story titles, or chapter titles if doing a novel instead of a collection of stories
  • Heading 2 – for authors
  • TOC Heading – for maintaining sanity and generating the TOC (see 2, below)
  • Body Text First Line – Used to make the lead paragraphs non-indented and with a little added space between it and the author’s name.
  • Body Text Indented – Used to indent interior paragraphs, rather than using vertical white space to set them off. It is important to minimize vertical white space where practical as over the course of a manuscript extra white space can significantly add to page count, and thus to list price.
  • Body Text Scene Break – At scene breaks you need a little extra vertical white space to cue the reader on the shift.
  • Body Text Minutia – In addition to indentation and vertical spacing, Styles also defind such properties as Font, Typeface, and Size. I set up Minutia to handle all the text on the copyright page so it did not take up too much space.
  • Body Text Bio – I used a slightly different style for the author’s bios to help set them off from the main text of the stories.

Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have Style settings. Until this project I never used them. Now I would not layout a manuscript without them. The advantage is once you have them set up, and you decide you’d really like all those authors to be in Comic Sans instead of Arial Narrow, you change it once in the Style and it applies to the entire manuscript. This saves you a ton of work. Get to know your Styles, they will become your best friends.

2: Table of Contents Tricks

There are two methods for laying out tables of content, one for ebooks and one for print books (see 3, below, for other ebook vs print variations). For ebooks your table of contents should not have page numbers. Readers of ebooks can adjust font size, which of course effects page layout. For most ebook formats page numbers are meaningless (PDF being the exception). Instead, the table of contents should be hot-linked to jump to the title within the text. That is one omission I made on the BOFF, I did not hot-link the TOC. I was simply too frustrated at that point to deal with it. I hope to update the BOFF ebook with a hot-linked TOC sometime in the future, and if you have already bought a copy I will replace it for free at that time.

Print books, on the other hand, need tables of contents with accurate page numbers. Fortunately most modern word processing packages will automatically generate tables of contents for you, based on the styles (see 1, above) you’ve set up. This works pretty well out of the box for most situations, but there is one major oversight. If you try to set up a multi-line TOC (i.e. a TOC based on Header One for Title and Header Two for author) you end up with an horrid academic paper type of TOC. To wit:

Her Migration ……………. 11
Shannon Esposito ……… 11
In Memory Alone ……….. 13
Al Bruno III ……………… 13

and so on.
I’m sorry, that looks like crap in a collection of short fiction.

What I wanted was:

Her Migration | Shannon Esposito …………… 11
In Memory Alone | Al Bruno III ……………… 13

Trying to do this out of the box with the TOC layout tools available in your word processor will drive you nuts. I spent days on this little problem. Finally someone on the OpenOffice forums offered a work around that does the job for print versions, though I would not like it much for PDF. His solution: create a tiny line of text at the top of each story with the title, a separator (I used a pipe | ) and author. Set it up as a special header type in your Styles (see 1, above), and make the text white. The faked out header will not be visible in the printed version and can be used to set up the TOC with the out of the box tools. This will work with PDF output too, but a reader could “discover” these fake headers when selecting text. It’s a rather kludgey solution, but it works.

By the way, the reason for the pipe instead of , by as a separator is it saved horizontal space, meaning some of the longer Title/Author combos did not wrap onto two lines for a more favorable aesthetic.

3: eBook Formating vs Print Book Formatting

I covered a good portion of this when discussing the table of contents, but there are two other main differences between digital and print worth noting – page breaks, and footers. Generally you don’t need page breaks in an ebook. As mentioned before, readers are likely to monkey with their font sizes, which may blow your nicely laid out page breaks out of the water. Avoid the frustration, both on your part in setting them up, and on the readers part when the turn the “page” only to find the last word of the last paragraph in that chapter. Instead, rely on your Styles (See 1, above) to give the reader a satisfying white space separation between between scenes and chapters. (Don’t quote me on that, I am not 100% sure ebook readers respect Style spacing, but I think they do. I’ll know more once I actually have an ebook reader.)

Footers are used to place and format page numbers. Thus you need them in print books and you need to eliminate them for ebooks. Yes, you will end up with two separate and distinct copies of your manuscript when done, one for print (and PDF), and one for digital.

4: Project Set Up At CreateSpace

I could do a 5 Things on CreateSpace alone, but in all fairness, they are very responsive to feedback. The main thing you need to do with CreateSpace is get familiar with their set up menus. I suggest you do this with a fake book you work end-to-end, with no intention to actually print it, and then delete the project once you’ve got it all figured out. The main problem is that CreateSpace uses multiple steps and it is all menu driven. Some of the menu choices are not obvious, some of them are downright frustrating. For example, when setting up CreateSpace insists on an “Author”. I am not the author of the BOFF, I am the editor. There is a sub-category for “Editor”, but it seems to be for listing the editor in addition to the author, like you might see on a textbook. In the post process survey I mentioned this little problem and was please to get a response from CreateSpace informing me that if this should crop up in the future all one need do is request they manually change you to Editor before you commit to print. As I said, they do seem to be quite responsive.

The other problem with CreateSpace is if you make a change to your cover or your content, or if they find a error in your uploaded manuscript which violates one of their set up rules you have to fix it and then wait up to 48 hours to have it reviewed again. It was not until layout was completed that I discovered the bar code box overprinted the bottom text of the back cover. I had to contact the cover artist and ask her if she would move the bottom text up some to eliminate the overlap. Then I had to upload the new cover. Then if they find another error you repeat the cycle. I did three or four cycles, which chews up considerable calendar time. So what kind of errors are we talking about here?

Your cover indicates your are J. M. Strother, and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. My bad. 48 hours.

Your cover indicates you are J. M. Strother and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. What? Oh no, my name is in the minutia twice. I only fixed one! My double bad. Another 48 hours.

We have found a reference to Amazon.com in your text body. If you list Amazon.com you must indicate at least two other markets your manuscript is available from. Say what? That one just seems insane to me, but who am I to argue. I deleted the reference to Amazon.com (sorry Christopher) and resubmitted. Another 48 hours.

You get the idea. In the post process survey I suggested they point out multiple errors the first time around so they could be fixed all in one cycle. They got back to me right away and said they would look into doing just that. I kind of like these CreateSpace folks.

5: Book Pricing

CreateSpace has a list-price estimator. It’s kind of hard to find, and not all that accurate. It guesstimated the BOFF would cost $8.99, about two bucks more than I would like, but a price I could live with. But when I got done and asked to finalize it the actual list price came out to $10.99. I was dismayed. As much as I love the BOFF I thought most folks would pass at that price.

I expressed my dismay online and Laura Eno suggested I try a different format size (6” x 9” instead of 5” x 8”), and to use Arial 10pt instead of Times New Roman 11pt. I made those changes, which significantly reduced the page count. This was accomplished in no time via (drum roll please) the Styles (see 1, above). Then the cover had to be resized and both cover and content uploaded again. Doing all this brought the BOFF in at $7.99, much better than eleven bucks. At this price we make 5 cents on each copy sold via Amazon, and $1.65 on each sold through our CreateSpace eStore. (By the way, adding just two more pages to the BOFF would knock that Amazon royalty down to 1 cent. Tightening up stories by controlling vertical white space is critical.)


So, the lessons learned here are: get to know your word processor’s Styles and Table Of Contents tools, preplan your manuscripts both for print and digital formats, and try to minimize your page count. I suggest you make a fake book and take it up to, but not including, the approval stage at CreateSpace so you can familiarize yourself with the menu structure. Then just delete the sample project and go for it. Also, ask for help when you need it. It will save you untold amounts of hair.

Let me know if any of these points need further clarification, or share your own tips in the comments below.


Two items caught my attention recently. First there was this posting on The Publetariat concerning ebook pricing: Pricing to Fail: Case Studies in Dumb Pricing. Basically, it states that if you overcharge what the market perceives to be a fair price for electronic content, you won’t move many units. Pretty simple economics, really.

Then I saw an article from the Columbia Journalism Review about a newspaper in Massachusetts, The Sun Chronicle, which has started charging their readers for the privilege of commenting on stories. That’s right, they’ve put their comment system behind a pay wall.

My initial thought was, “Well, that certainly ought to cut down on the number of comments they receive.” I was right. According to the article, the number of people who comment has dropped from about 6,000 to just twenty.

Apparently the idea is, by charging a nominal one-time fee (thus eliminating anonymity) all the trolls who typically muddy newspaper comment threads would drop out. This, in turn, would elevate the quality of the discussion. Evidently it worked like a charm. Trolls, it seems, are cheapskates and cowards.

The article states “that removing the option of anonymity encourages a different type of commenter to participate,” and quotes the publisher, Oreste D’Arconte thus: “So far, the tone of the conversation has been excellent.”

Would you be willing to pay to comment at your favorite news site? Maybe some people would. In which case it begs the question: How much do you charge people to comment? As the first article points out, charging too much pretty well dooms the project, no matter how good the end product. The Sun Chronicle decided 99¢ was about right.

I’m fascinated by this idea and am thinking of moving to this model. After all, experimentation is the name of the game here at Mad Utopia. Instead of charging 99¢, I’ll charge $1,000,000. That should work nicely. I probably won’t get many comments, but man, I’d only need one.

So, what do you think? Is it crazy for newspapers to charge for commenting, or is this really a brilliant idea whose time has come? Feel free to chime in. Don’t worry, your comments here are free – for now.

Photo by drb62 via Flickr Creative Commons.


Today I bring you a guest post and a challenge from fellow #fridayflash aficionado, E. D. Johnson. He has challenged himself to a writing exercise that just might be crazy enough to succeed. And that’s what Mad Utopia is all about, folks, finding new and exciting ways to approach writing in the new era.

Please welcome, E. D. Johnson.

The #FridayFlash February Challenge

First and foremost, I would like to thank Jon Strother for allowing me this avenue of insanity, via a guest post on Mad Utopia. We’ve become pretty good virtual friends over the past several months, and I appreciate his support. We even had a genuine mystery that needed to be solved. It may one day become a topic for #FridayFlash.

Speaking of #FridayFlash, that is why I am here today. First a little background.

I waffle on and off of #FridayFlash, so some people may know me and some may not. I have been involved since the early days, when we were still picking the name in fact. Over the course of time we have discussed lots of ways to innovate and improve the event so that more people can be involved in a less chaotic fashion.

I took a little break in November and December (work related, not disgruntled or anything) and came back around the middle of January. I thought I was doing good with my little Parrant stories, because I wrote them basically back to back, though still stand alone in the tradition of #FridayFlash. When I mentioned that on Twitter, Deanna Schrayer (@deannaschrayer) told me that David Shrock (@dracotorre) had already posted to the middle of March. I grumbled a little bit, and in the course of that conversation, broached the idea of having a whole year’s worth of #FridayFlash. Deanna and others called me crazy, but I took it as a personal challenge.

The challenge is simple. Create enough #FridayFlash stories between February 1st and February 28th to cover from February 1st to December 31st! That’s right, one year’s worth of #FridayFlash in twenty-eight days.

Thus begins the #FridayFlash February Challenge. It is similar to NaNoWriMo in scope, so finishing should be possible. I am a big fan of alliteration, therefore, for February, I propose fabricating fifty-two #FridayFlash fiction stories for everyone to follow throughout the year. Is that enough alliteration? I invite anyone who wants to play along or give encouragement to do so. Wish me luck!

Editor's note: Luck!

Bio: E.D. Johnson is a new author with a BA in English. He is the creative spark behind Geek Treasure, and an early adopter of #fridayflash. You can follow him as @geektreasure on Twitter.

Absolute Xpress logo

Please welcome Tina Moreau, Manager of Absolute Xpress, to Mad Utopia. Absolute XPress (AXP) is a Direct-To-Reader publisher of e-Books and paper-Books with a focus on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. AXP is an imprint of Hades Publications. Tina comes to us today to explain AXP’s Flash Fiction Challenge, a quarterly anthology of flash fiction open to emerging as well as established authors. I’ve tweeted about the Flash Fiction Challenge several times over the last few weeks. Here is your opportunity to learn more about it, directly from the source.

What is the Flash Fiction Challenge?

The Flash Fiction Challenge started almost a year ago with its pilot anthology, Seven Deadly Sins. As social media and electronic reading grow, we find a lot of people mentioning that they would like to read shorter stories than what you normally find in anthologies. We thought Flash Fiction was the answer and it’s been a success for us.

After working out the process bugs with a second anthology, Creatures of the Night, the Flash Fiction Challenge has become a quarterly anthology. Each challenge has a specific theme that becomes the title of that book. The first quarterly anthology of 2010 is called Thieves and Scoundrels and AXP will be accepting submissions on this topic until January 15th.

How does the Challenge fit into the overall philosophy of AXP?

As stated on our website: Our goal is to publish quality books in both the electronic and traditional print formats, and work with both emerging as well as established authors, to give you (the reader) “great titles when you want them.”

To fit with that goal, each anthology is published as both a print book and an e-book (in various formats). Our books can be found on various online book stores, as well as a few select brick and mortar stores, and our distribution continues to expand everyday.

AXP also has another goal, one we take great pride in. Since we are smaller and newer we can take more chances. We want to help new authors get their foot in the door of the publishing industry, but not just by publishing them. We do what we can to help and encourage our authors to build their platforms, learn to market themselves and use technology to get readers interested their works. Of course, in order to achieve this level of author attention we can’t publish as many titles as larger publishers.

What do the authors get out of being published in the challenge?

As a small press our payment structures are varied. At present we have a pool of money we set aside for each Flash Fiction Challenge and the payments for authors is divided out of that pool by the number of stories selected for each anthology. It ranges between 1¢ and 2¢ per word for world-wide rights in all formats, but as we grow we anticipate our payments will increase as well.

Authors published in the Flash Fiction Challenge can expect AXP to get them involved in the marketing efforts for the anthology. We also try to establish relationships with our flash fiction authors so they will consider AXP when they finish that novella or novel they’ve been working on.

So what can an author do to make sure they get selected?

As with any publisher, we plead with authors to read the guidelines. We only accept submissions that are pasted into the body of an email, and they have to include the author’s name, story title, word count and genre at the top of that email.

Aside from the guidelines though, I’ll give you a sneak peak at the things we are looking for:

  • Does it fit within the theme, accepted genres & word count?
  • Is the writing easy to read? Correct use of spelling/grammar?
  • Is the story idea original? Does the idea capture the reader’s attention/ imagination? Is the story complete?

That’s it. If you can say yes to these questions then you have an excellent chance of being accepted.

If you want more information about the Flash Fiction Challenge, check out its official home on the web: http://absolute-x-press.com/flash-fiction-challenge

Tina Moreau is the Manager of Absolute Xpress. She runs the office, takes care of the authors, liaises with artists and editors, does some marketing and manages the Flash Fiction Challenge. Her goal is to help Absolute Xpress become an imprint that publishes well written and compelling stories from fresh voices in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres.

Writing In a New Era

This is the third installment in my series, Writing In a New Era. Look for a follow-up post from Tina which will explore that theme, and how Absolute Xpress approaches the challenges of today’s publishing environment, in the not too distant future.


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.


Writing In a New Era

Chinese Whisperings Banner

Today I launch the first in what I hope to be a series of explorations into some innovative writing and publishing projects. As mentioned Monday [add the link], there is a lot of upheaval and turmoil in the the publishing world, with new challenges faced by everyone from the writer right on up through and including major publishing houses. But challenges mean opportunity. Today I discuss an innovative collaborative writing project, Chinese Whisperings, with co-editors Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson.

Mad Utopia: What is Chinese Whisperings?
Jodi & Paul: Chinese Whisperings is an anthology of interconnected short stories by ten emerging writers. The first volume, The Red Book was created using these guidelines:

  1. Each writer was to take a secondary character from the preceding story and make them the main character in their story.
  2. Each story had to reference back to the story preceding it.

Mad Utopia: Who is involved?
Jodi & Paul: Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson are the founders of both eMergent Publishing and the Chinese Whisperings anthology, as well as being the editors and two of the contributing writers.

Our other writers for this first volume, The Red Book, are:

Mad Utopia: What was the genesis for the project?
JODI: All great projects need two things in the beginning – a great idea and someone to believe in it. In the case of Chinese Whisperings it was lots of tiny ideas which I had filed away in the “too hard for now basket” which then cross-pollinated each other.

To grow the idea I needed to share it, to see if others thought it could possibly work. I enlisted the help first of my partner Dave, followed by my Dad but it was Paul I really needed. Was it possible for ten writers to write ten stories and weave them together? Yes, he said. “It is crazy enough to work.” Along the way we got distracted and eMergent Publishing was also born.

Looking back now, without Paul, there would be no Chinese Whisperings. The task of writing, editing, designing, administrating, personnel management and publishing has been colossal and beyond anything I could realistically have done alone.

PAUL: Jodi and I had been kicking around a business idea for the better part of a year, but knew we needed a relatively low-risk project to test the waters with. In a previous NaNoWriMo Jodi had toyed with the idea of an incredibly ambitious series of interconnected short stories. We combined that concept with our own proto-business – eMergent Publishing – and Chinese Whisperings was born.

In many respects it was also born of a frustration at the publishing market, the perception that people won’t buy short stories the way they will buy novels, and if you didn’t fit in to the rigid boxes the major publishing houses assign you to, you wouldn’t get picked up, published or promoted.

We decided that authors had to take ownership of their creativity, and market themselves and their words. Of course, this also entails a larger share of the pie for the writers

Mad Utopia: What do you hope to achieve in the course of executing the project?
PAUL: First and foremost, we want to create an anthology that is exciting, well-written and well-received, one that sells and, if it doesn’t turn a profit, at least breaks even.

We want to raise the profile of our writers, all of whom are just starting out.

We want to generate enough enthusiasm and interest to keep this project going for several more volumes of anthologies, with a larger stable of writers involved. Eventually we’d like to have two volumes coming out each year; one from the Northern Hemisphere and one from the Southern Hemisphere.

Finally, we want to prove our idea isn’t crazy, so we can move on to Phase Two of eMergent Publishing…

JODI: My big hope from the start was to create an anthology which stood out from the rest – one which has readers excitedly anticipating the end of one story and the beginning of the next. If one person reading our anthology falls into this category I will be happy. If hundreds or thousands do – I’ll be ecstatic.

The second thing I wanted to do was create an opportunity for collective writing. Paul and I have both written collaboratively but the opportunities beyond blogging are rare. Collaborative writing is fun, crazy and it pushes most, if not all of your buttons, but for the brave there are so many benefits to writing this way, as most of our writers have fond.

The next thing was to value the input of writers. We didn’t want to just “buy” a story but for the anthology to be an “ongoing financial concern” for all involved. Each writer gets 8% of the sale price, with the remaining 20% going to cover the cost of administration. This is an important part of eMergent Publishing for the future – writers getting the lion share of the sale price of their work.

Lastly we wanted to market a product which would be available for purchase in “your local currency.” This means when readers go to purchase the electronic form of the anthology from our website they will be able to so in Australian, US or Canadian dollars, the Pound or the Euro. We’re also considering other currencies.

Mad Utopia: What challenges had to be overcome to achieve success?
PAUL: The challenges have been numerous. Jodi has edited non-fiction before, but not fiction. I had never edited anything before! That has been a steep learning curve. We swap the “good editor” “bad editor” caps around.

The logistics of such a project have also had their own particular issues. You can plot timelines as much as you like (twelve times in our case) but Life Gets In The Way. Personal problems, computer disasters, misunderstandings – the whole gamut of problems that any project could encounter have arisen at various points.

The project features 10 writers, but recruiting 10 people was tough, as was retaining them. Since inception, 13 writers have been attached to the project.

We can look back and laugh at the original 90-day project timeline – but it is sobering to think that originally this was all going to be over by the start of August…

JODI: It sounds quite silly in many ways – but time differences have been really challenging. I’m in Brisbane, Paul is in London, the rest of our writers are scattered across the planet. As I write this the three Aussie writers are awake (unless Jason did night shift last night); the Pauls, Emma and Jasmine in the UK/Europe have been asleep for hours. Dale, Rob and Tina in North America are getting ready for bed.

This means three things – final dates for things have to be managed from a last person to be in there point of view – which means for me half way through the following day. Secondly conversations in real time are difficult. For Paul and I to meet up and talk it’s meant, until recently, one of us has had to sacrifice sleep.

PAUL: Usually Jodi…

JODI: All I am saying is it is a good thing we Skype and not video conference at 5am. Lastly, it is rare everyone involved is running at full, alert, mental capacity. The fact we’ve got this far, given this fact, continues to astound and amaze me.

The other challenge has been combining three opinions of a piece of writing into one final piece. Most of the writers involved are previously unpublished, few have had editorial comment or guidance and many have been challenged by having their work edited – in some cases quite extensively. It has meant, for us as editors, supporting, nurturing and encouraging our writers, opening channels to allow three way conversations and giving everyone permission to say “no” if they don’t like the edits or the direction. I’ve learnt editing is often more about listening than it is about telling.

Chinese Whisperings: The Red Book is available for purchase as an electronic download or via POD from December 1st. If you have questions about Chinese Whisperings, eMergnet Publishing, or collaborative writing in general please don’t hesitate to join the discussion in the comments section. Jodi and Paul will be happy to discuss their approach to Writing In a New Era.

Jodi Cleghorn

Jodi Cleghorn

Jodi Cleghorn is an Australian writer, based in Brisbane , who works across genres. Influenced by theme (and the voices in her head) her stories fly under the thematic banners of love, loss, betrayal, the dynamics of power, time and the eternal question what if? Fiction and nonfiction collaborations in 2008 spawned a new respect for the process of writing, the value of co-writing and a renewed admiration for the talents of fellow writers, ultimately leading Jodi to found Chinese Whisperings with Paul Anderson. You can begin your exploration of Jodi’s creative world at Writing with Passionate Abandon.

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson is a Scottish writer who lives and works in London. The work isn’t writing, and it doesn’t provide a living, but you can’t have everything. He writes urban fantasy, gothic horror and “stuff that freaks his wife out”. Chinese Whisperings will be his first publication as an editor, and also as a writer. It may not even be his last.


The tag line for this blog is, “Writing In a New Era.” There can be no question that we have entered new and challenging times, not just for authors, but for everyone across the board in the writing and publishing business. Traditional publishing is contracting. Electronic publishing is expanding at a phenomenal rate. Some agents and publishers are actually encouraging new authors to make a name for themselves via self-publishing before trying to break into traditional print, a thought that was anathema just a few short years ago. We have Kindles and nooks, Espresso machines in bookstores, podcasting and video book trailers. In short, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

But times of great challenge are also times of great opportunity. While some in the industry despair, others embrace new and innovative ideas with open (if quavering) arms. Only a fool does not fear the unknown, but only the successful overcome that fear and act upon the opportunities presented. Such are the people who will shape the future of writing and publishing.

I plan to highlight some of these people, and the innovative projects they are working on, from time to time on Mad Utopia. I think I have a lot to learn from them in my own quest for success, and want to share their insights with you. Issues I hope to explore include:

  • the genesis of their concept
  • what they hope to achieve
  • challenges faced, and how they were overcome
  • any remaining challenges, and prospects for the future
  • and, of course, introduce you to the people involved.

My first installment will be this Wednesday, when I discuss the innovative collaborative writing project, Chinese Whisperings, with co-creators Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson. I hope you’ll drop by to learn more about this exciting endeavor and the ten authors who are part of it.

If you would like to highlight a project you are working on please DM me on Twitter or via email. My email is jstro AT swbell DOT net. Be sure to include Writing In a New Era as the subject.

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