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.


I want to thank everyone who submitted stories for consideration in The Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology. We had a great turn out. Sixty-five people submit a total of 167 stories. As usual for #fridayflash, we have a nice mix of genres, so there should be something for everyone in the final collection. I think I contacted everyone who submitted with a reply email to let you know I received your entries. If you did not get a reply from me, ping me at the Mad Utopia email address and I’ll be sure to confirm your submissions.

Submitter’s remorse

I had some people contact me privately after they made their submissions, to ask if they could swap out one of their stories for another one. Being a nice guy, I said sure. So it only seems fair to me to extend that offer to everyone. If you submitted one or more stories for Best Of, and now would like to change your mind on one of them, simply contact me via the Mad Utopia email (the same one you made your original submissions with) to make the switch. Those of you who have already done this, please refrain or I’ll end up in an infinite fairness loop. We wouldn’t want that.

Please note, this is not an offer to add an additional story, just to swap one for another. And please don’t beat yourselves up second guessing. Your submissions were great. But, if you submitted early you may have posted a later story for #fridayflash you liked even better. This is your chance to remedy that.

The deadline for this offer is 11:59pm this coming Friday, January 8 – firm.

The work begins

Thanks to all the folks who volunteered to be first round judges and/or editors. As it stands now the judging load is about ten stories per judge. I think that’s a bit much. I’d like to see it closer to five or six so it is not such a burden on each judge. Yep, I’m looking for more volunteers.

If you would like to volunteer to be a first round judge please email me at jstro AT swbell DOT net and I’ll add you to the list. I’ve already emailed all my earlier first round volunteers, so if you have not gotten an email, and thought you had volunteered, you slipped through the cracks. You can either breathe a huge sigh or relieve, or shoot me a new email revolunteering. You do not need to be a #fridayflash Best Of story contributor to be a judge.

Reader’s Choice Award

Entries are now closed for Reader’s Choice nominations. The Random Number Fairy dropped by and selected post #2 as the winning reader. Congratulations J. C. Towler, the fairy dust settled on you! Please contact me at the above email address and I’ll arrange to get you the $25 prize. How’s that for a nice start to the New Year?

Look for a poll later this week where we will actually choose the Reader’s Choice. The nominees are:
Bathroom Monologue: Succubyebye, by John Wiswell
First Foot by Sam, aka, @FutureNostalgic
Puma and Jaguar Save the Planet, by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
Slide Into Satin & Gold, by Michelle D. Evans
Silver Bullet, by Linda Simoni-Wastila
The Fable of the Great Horned Owl, by Barry J. Northern, and
The Touchstone, by Lily Mulholland

Once again, thanks to everyone who participates in #fridayflash in any way, shape, or form. Readers, writers, tweeters, judges, editors, and artists: you are all the best. I value each and every one of you.

Have a terrific New Year!


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.


A common dilemma faced by emerging writers is that things they post on their blog are considered “published” and therefore of no interest to many publications. Yet they are told to build a platform, i.e. a loyal following of readers, so as to become a more attractive prospect to potential agents and publishers. Sounds like a classic Catch-22. What’s a struggling writer to do?

Take heart

It is true that many publications will not accept submissions of flash fiction, short stories, and poetry previously posted on your personal blog. But there are many publications that do. Some of them even pay pro rates. It is possible to build a following and still find a market for your fiction.

A quick check on Duotrope’s Digest turned up no less than 245 publications that will accept reprints – stories that have already appeared in public. Forty-three of these pay semi-pro rates. Sixteen of them pay pro rates. These figures are based on a quick search on Duotrope using these criteria: Any genre, Any theme, Flash fiction, Any media, Any sub-type, and Reprints (in case you can’t read the image to the right). Your results may vary depending on how selective you make your search.

The point is, you can find markets for your flash fiction even if you have posted it to your blog. It may take a while. It may even turn out to be a fruitless quest. That is true for a lot of fiction, previously posted or not. But by venturing out into the public you will gain significant exposure, experience, and confidence as a writer.  Plus, you just might sell it.

All in all, not a bad thing.



Best Of 2009
There are less than four weeks remaining in the submission period for the Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology, so it’s high time for a status update.

So far we have received 24 submissions from 12 different individuals. The Wordle to the right gives you a feeling for the mix we have to date. I hope to see many more submissions before the deadline of 31 December, 2009. See the post, Announcing the Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology for complete instructions on how to submit. If you’ve posted a #fridayflash anytime this year (thru December 25th) you can submit it for consideration.

Important Links:
Random Thoughts Of the Day: a few notes on Yog’s Law, how judging will work, and my thoughts on editing.

Announcing the Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology: the formal announcement. This post contains the full submission guidelines and instructions on how to submit.

Best Of 2009: musing on how a crowd-sourced anthology might come together and a call for volunteers. I have gotten a lot of support but am still open to volunteers.

Anthology Anyone? The post that got it all started. Be sure to read the comments and feel free to chime in, even at this late date. It’s never too late for a great idea.

A Possible Contest

I am thinking of having another reader’s contest in conjunction with the anthology. What do you all think of a Reader’s Choice Award? The idea here is that readers (not #fridayflash authors) could nominate their personal favorite in a new contest post. Then a random winner will receive a prize. After nominations close a poll of all the nominees would be posted and the winner would be included as The Reader’s Choice, if the author agrees to be included. Otherwise they get a mention and a link to their story.

This is not community voting for inclusion in the anthology. Rather, it is a way to promote visits to your blogs and to generate some buzz about the anthology. Thoughts?
Word cloud generated with http://www.wordle.net/


Yog’s Law

I am a firm believer in Yog’s Law; money should always flow toward the author. Things like “poetry contests” where everyone who enters is a winner and gets published in the collection, which is then sold back to the entrants have always bugged me. I don’t want The Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology to be like that. While the anthology will be available for sale, probably both as an ebook and as a POD, I don’t want the participants to have to pay for a copy of it.

So, everyone who submits a story to the anthology, whether they get accepted or not, will receive an electronic version of it free – probably as a PDF. I cannot offer you a free copy of the POD simply because physical books cost money to produce and ship, and I can’t afford that. So, while money won’t flow toward you, at least it won’t flow away from you either.

Genre Request and Judging

I added a request that you include the genre on the same line as your title. The reason for this is I will ask all judges to identify any genres they prefer not to judge. It makes no sense to me for someone to judge a genre they do not read or like. If you already submitted without the genre listed don’t worry about it. I’ll figure it out. It will just make life easier on me if it is included from now on (but won’t get you eliminated if you forget).

Second round judging will be done by a panel of judges selected by me. So far Steven King and Dan Brown have not volunteered. I hope that’s not too disappointing.

I reserve the right to select up to four “Editor’s Choice” works for inclusion over and above what the judges decide. That does not necessarily mean there will be four Editor’s Choice stories. But there might be.


We now have four volunteers for editing who have rather extensive editing experience. They include newspaper copy editors, anthology editors, and editors-at-large. So far they are all fellow #fridayflash writers. We have an amazing pool of talent here folks. You impress me every week. If you have experience editing, I’d love to hear from you. You do not have to be a #fridayflash contributor to be a volunteer.

Editing will mainly consist of line edits. Spelling and grammar errors will be corrected without reservation. More substantiate edits will be passed back to the author for coordination and revision. The author will have the final say. It’s your work.

Don’t Cry For Me

I am not going to finish NaNo in time. Don’t weep, wail, or gnash your teeth. It’s OK, really. I came to the realization a few days ago that there is no way on Earth I am going to finish my novel by November 30th. There is simply too much going on that commands a higher valued demand for my time. Something had to give, and NaNo was the something.

As soon as I made the decision I felt a great sense of relief wash over me. I told my wife I felt “clarified.” The novel will continue, and will most likely get completed, but on my own time in my own way. I wish the best of luck to all my NaNo friends and encourage you to carry on. I will most likely be right in there with you next year.


Today is the the six month anniversary of #fridayflash. To celebrate I am opening up submissions for the Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology. We have discussed this anthology in previous posts, and from all the discussion I have become convinced it is something we can not only pull off, but pull off in style.

The reason I have confidence in the project is the amazing response I got from the #fridayflash community. I asked for people to contact me if they were willing to do some of the work involved on a volunteer basis. I’ve had no less than a dozen people volunteer so far. We have three people working up proposals for cover art while three professional editors have offered their services. With teamwork like that we can’t lose. If you would like to volunteer please read this post and then contact me via email. If you have practical editing experience I am particularly interested in hearing from you.


  • The anthology is open to all stories posted under the #fridayflash hashtag since its inception right up through Friday, December 25th.
  • The submissions period begins today, this very instant, and runs through Thursday, December 31st.
  • All stories must be 1,000 words or less, not counting the title.
  • Stories can be edited and revised prior to submission.
  • Authors may self nominate up to three of their own stories. The reason for the limit is so the author gives serious consideration as to which of their stories are their very best. This will act as the first filter.
  • All stories should be flash fiction, that is, a story that stands on its own merits, not one of a series which requires prior episodes to be understood by the reader. Most of the stories I’ve read as #fridayflash qualify, even those that are part of a larger stage. Don’t let this requirement dissuade you from submitting, rather have it guide you as to which stories to choose.
  • The author grants non-exclusive print and digital rights. This means you are free to do whatever you like with your stories provided they still fall under the rules of submission for other venues.
  • You cannot nominate a story written by someone else, but feel free to contact them and strongly encourage them to submit it. In fact, I strongly encourage you to do so.

How To Submit

  • All submissions will be handled via email. Send them to madutopia@gmail.com.
  • Email each story separately. Use Best of 2009 as the subject of the email.
  • The story must be in the body of the email, not an attachment.
  • Make the first line of the email the Title, followed by the genre. (Genre request is new, don’t sweat it if you already submitted without genre. The genre request will be made clear in Monday’s post.)
  • Make the second line of the email your name as you would like it to appear in the anthology. I strongly recommend you use your real name, or your standard pen name, and not your Twitter user name.
  • Paste the story as plain text as the rest of the email.

A Word About Judging

  • First Round Judging will be done by volunteers using a score sheet in an effort to assure consistency.
  • Judges will not judge their own work.
  • Names will be removed from manuscripts prior to distribution to judges.
  • Second Round Judging will be conducted by a panel selected by me.

I will post more details on how judging and editing will be conducted at a later date, possibly as early as Sunday (but don’t hold me to that). I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has participated in #fridayflash to date, and a warm welcome to anyone who joins us in the weeks to come. Let’s create a killer anthology together.


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.


Thank you all for the thoughtful comments and suggestions you’ve made on Anthology, Anyone? I’ve read them all and they have been most helpful in clarifying my vision on where I want to go with the anthology. Here is a rough outline of what I propose.

Where I stand

I agree with those who suggested a Best of 2009 instead of a six month anniversary anthology. It makes more sense, both due to the hectic nature of this time of year, and as a set up for an annual event. It also gives people time to come up with new pieces to post in the coming weeks, which might help us grow the community.

Every story ever submitted as a #fridayflash, between launch and the end of 2009, is eligible for consideration. Some writers have come and gone, for whatever reason, and may not even be aware of this anthology. If you have fond memories of a certain piece please go back to that author and tell them about the anthology so they can submit. I can think of three or four off the top of my head that I would be proud to share space with.

The nuts and bolts

Submissions will be done via self nomination. Everyone can submit what they feel is their best work for consideration. No limit on the number of pieces you can submit. But remember, #fridayflash is intended to showcase your best efforts, so be reasonable about what you think is your best stuff. I’m hoping for two or three pieces from most folks. That should get us a nice batch of stories to choose from. Actual submission will be done via email. Details on how will be included in the formal announcement, coming out in a few weeks (I have to celebrate the six month anniversary in some manner!).

Which brings me to the selection process. I liked Donald Conrad’s idea quite a lot.

“Winnowing? Use a panel of judges/editors… Each are given a percentage of the stories to read and rank without attribution. The top, say 60%, are then passed to the next judge; again without attribution and without previous scoring…”

This appeals to me for two reasons. First off, I lack the moxy to approach professional editors and ask them if they would kindly judge potentially hundreds of pieces of flash fiction on a volunteer basis. That’s asking an awful lot. More importantly, I want to explore the whole concept of community participation. I’m a big fan of Open Source projects, and I’d like to see how this can be applied to the editing phase of the publishing business.

Many of you said you would be willing to help with editing. I’d like to ask for volunteers to become, in effect, slush readers – to do that stage one winnowing that Donald talked about. If we get enough volunteers this task can be made manageable.

The second phase of the selection process will be done by a panel of judges. Just who ends up on that panel is yet to be determined. It may end up being just me, but I hope I can recruit some additional help. If I end up on the panel I will take my own stories out of consideration.

I think this should be done on a free sample, pay for the full product basis. I think doing that will give us all a better sense of just how that oft touted model works. We really are writing in a new era, and I think it best we learn the ropes first hand rather than simply reading about others experiences. Either way it turns out, huge success or big financial flop, we’ll all end up the wiser.

Those pesky profits

There have been several suggestions on how to handle the profits, if any. I really like Jeff’s suggestion.

“I’d rather all profits go into a pool for buying #FridayFlash promotional items, such as a Nook or Kindle or $100 Barnes & Noble gift certificate that we somehow give away to a reader (not one of us authors).”

We are not likely to earn a lot on this anthology in the first place. Dividing that all up, even if it turned out to be a few hundred dollars, probably won’t even get you a Happy Meal. So pooling the money into a bigger pot, that we can use to promote #fridayflash makes much more sense to me. In the long run, attracting more readership will pay us all much bigger dividends. I’d like to hear more discussion on this. Will anyone be disappointed if any money earned goes back into #fridayflash as reader prizes?

Other good ideas

Lily suggested the anthology contain, “a short bio on each author, including their Twitter handle (if they have one) and a link to [their] blog…” I agree completely.

Tony suggested we include “a brief history of how #FridayFlash came about…” and a “list of the authors who have participated, along with links to their writing blogs…”  Sound good to me. But I think  we will have to contact anyone not directly involved to get their permission to list their name and blog. That could be time consuming, but should be manageable.

How you can help

I’d like anyone who is serious about helping to send me an email stating what they would be willing to do. My email is jstro AT swbell DOT net. Make your subject FridayFlash Volunteer. Don’t worry, there will be no heavy lifting until after the first of the year.

I need the following in way of volunteers:

  • Sleuths – to help track down authors who have fallen by the wayside. This actually could begin now, so the authors have time to respond.
  • First round judges – to act as the initial filter. I’ll send you the judging form and a pile of stories. Judges will not rate their own work.
  • Editors – to markup stories for correction. This will likely be more work than first round judges, requiring a more careful reading, redlining errors, contacting the author about the errors, making the final corrections, and sending the corrected manuscript back to me. Authors will have final say.
  • Artists – for front and back cover design. I have a design concept in my head I’d like to bounce off  you. Also, I have been reading up on Kindle formatting, and have specs on size and resolution for that platform.
  • Other stuff – anyone can volunteer for stuff I’ve failed to mention above. Marketing. Reviews. Things I haven’t even considered. Just shoot me a note.

As always, I’m still open to further suggestions. Feel free to comment, pro or con, on any of the above.

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