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Podcast Chat With Robert Swartwood 13 September 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.
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I recently had a lovely Skype chat with Robert Swartwood about flash fiction, Every Day Fiction, e-books, and other related things — here it is as a podcast on his blog:


Of course, I ramble rather a lot, as I usually do when I know I’m being recorded. But we covered some interesting ground, and it was a pleasure to have that conversation. Also, Robert has one of the nicest podcasting voices I’ve ever heard. He sounds like an old-time radio show host, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Veronica Lifts Off At Last! 23 January 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.

Today is a special day.

Lifting Up Veronica by K.C. Ball began serialization this morning at 12:01 AM, and for me that marks both the end of a long road to get to this point and the beginning of a whole new adventure.

Things I have learned so far:

  1. Promotion is by far the hardest part of publishing, and it’s a fine and delicate line between sharing and shilling.
  2. It’s both exciting and stressful to be right on the cutting edge of publishing, doing something different. There’s no textbook for this. Most bloggers and reviewers don’t know quite what to make of it. Even dedicated readers who are comfortable with technology and flash fiction and reading online need to be convinced to give it a try. Every day there’s some little thing that I think maybe I should try differently next time, some area where I need to sharpen my skills, some new angle to look at. The learning curve is steep and I never quite know what’s coming, and I love that.
  3. The level of support and interest from my personal friends, online acquaintances, and EDF readership has been completely unbelievable. I have been particularly surprised to see who among my various circles has stepped up to support this project. Even beyond just buying a subscription, it has truly amazed me to learn just how many people believe in me and my publishing venture enough to reach out and spread the word among their circles. All I can say is, wow. Colour me stunned.
  4. Plenty of people out there think that a) small presses aren’t worth anything and if you’re not one of the big six you should just go home and cry and that’s never going to change, b) all publishers are parasites whose reign is coming to an end as self-publishing is teh awesomez and writers can get to all the readers by themselves, and/or c) book bloggers are the new gatekeepers and arbiters of what’s good and what’s not, so better start bowing and scraping now. It’s kind of depressing to learn how many book people think like that, really.
  5. There are some absolutely wonderful people in the writing and publishing world and it’s a privilege to know them. Especially K.C., who is not just an amazing writer but an all-around lovely person and super professional and a pleasure to work with.
  6. I’m now certain that I’m meant to be a publisher. I love this work. It’s like being an explorer discovering hidden treasure, and being the one to carry it out of the jungle and show it off to everyone — I didn’t create the treasure, and it isn’t my treasure to keep, but I get to be the one who holds it up and says, “Hey guys, look what I found! Isn’t it beautiful?!”

Getting Comfortable With Paying for the Right to Consume 18 November 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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On Wednesday, a tweet from Books on the Radio and subsequently a Facebook discussion drew my attention to an article titled “RIAA claims you do not own your iTunes music purchases“.

Well, no, of course you don’t, and you probably don’t own your ebooks either. Didn’t everyone know that?

Any time the consumption of content is dependent for access on a proprietary system or service, ownership is impossible. If your music files are (legally) playable only on iTunes, or if your ebooks are (legally) readable only on an app or product from Amazon or Apple or wherever you bought them, you don’t have the free title implied by the word “own”. Your privilege to consume the media you’ve purchased can be withdrawn if the content seller ever decides to block or close your account, and the fine print gives them the right to do just that.

Buying digital media in any proprietary format is essentially the same as paying for access to any other digital content — playing a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft, watching movies through Netflix, etc. — the only difference is that, instead of paying a monthly access fee for the privilege of accessing the content, music and ebooks are often (though not always) accessed on a per-item payment basis. And based on what I’ve seen, no one seems overly troubled about not “owning” the contents of Netflix or WoW. No one expects to be able to keep on accessing the contents and benefits of those sites after cancelling their subscriptions.

This suggests that as a society of digital content consumers, we are getting comfortable with the concept of paying for the right to consume it without needing to own it.

Still, we seem to have a bit of a problem when it comes to ebooks and digital music.

Could it be that we still think of “books” and “music” as physical objects? After all, the idea of a book or a CD/cassette/LP as an “ownable” item is pretty much ingrained in us.

I remember my uncle giving me a paperback copy of Dragonflight for Christmas about a million years ago (I was probably about thirteen or fourteen, not sure now) — I still have it, a little bit dogeared and more than a little bit loved, and with it goes the memory of that Christmas and the thrill of discovering a new favourite author. I have an equally cherished old paperback Signet Classics edition of Romeo and Juliet that accompanied me on many kayak camping adventures with my father, as one of our rituals after making camp for the night was to read Shakespeare aloud. And I have an ancient audio cassette of Servant’s Caught in the Act of Loving Him, given to me by a boy named Caleb from my swimming class in the summer of 1984 — his parents were in the band — I’ve often wondered what happened to him. I could go on, listing dozens if not hundreds of other cherished books and tapes, and later CDs, that I’ve gathered over the years, each one tied to a special memory or associated with some place or time or holiday or event in my life. Many are signed by the author, or inscribed by the gift giver with date and occasion.

The point is, we form attachments to physical objects.

Readers have never owned the content of printed books either. Listeners have never owned the songs they’ve played. That’s what copyright is all about, and those little messages saying all rights reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced, etc.

But we were accustomed to owning the physical representation of the creative material, and inherent in that ownership was a lack of limitation as to how we could treat it — not the content but the physical form in which it was purchased. No amount of legal wrangling can really prevent people from doing as they please with material objects that they own, whether that’s buying and selling, or lending and sharing, or giving as gifts and hoarding as treasures. The physical packaging of creative material hovers between two worlds, since it blends the right to access and consume the creative content (a permanent, indefinite license for as long as the item survives in a consumable form) with the ownership of a physical object (with all the marketplace value and sentimental attachment that implies).

Ebooks and digital music have no physical representation. There’s no object to be owned, and nothing to which you can form an attachment — one digital copy of a text or music file is generally indistinguishable from another, so it’s impossible to feel sentimental about a particular collection of bytes. There’s no rational difference between access to an ebook and access to a sweet apartment in Second Life; both are content that one entity can licence the use of from another entity, under whatever terms both parties can agree on. As long as that works for you, embrace the digital age. Just don’t assume that you “own” anything.

If the first part of the problem forms when we expect to have some form of ownership of ebooks and digital music, because we’re conditioned by the past to expect ownership of “books” and “music”, the second part of the problem forms when content vendors present the licence to consume as “ownership”. Netflix and WoW don’t pretend anywhere along the line that you own anything; it’s clear to everyone right from the top that the subscription involves access and consumption, not ownership. But sellers of ebooks and digital music know that on some level we expect to “own” our books and music, so words like “licence for personal use” and “access to content” (and the limitations around that licencing and access) are not placed front and centre but tucked away, nowhere near the “buy it now” button.

Going forward, I think that consumers of digital content are going to develop an increased understanding of what it is that we are buying — that our comfort level with paying for the right to access and consume digital media is bound to grow as it becomes more and more the norm. I also hope sellers of digital content are going to support that comfort level by being honest about what it is that they’re selling, rather than playing on our physical-object possession impulses.

For myself, when I want to own a book, I will buy it in hard copy — preferably as objectively lovely an edition as possible (I personally tend to favour foil-stamped clothbound hardcovers with beautiful dustjackets and nice quality creme pages), preferably from a bricks-and-mortar independent bookstore — and whenever possible I will have it signed by the author. I will ask people who give me print books as gifts to incribe them with the date and occasion, and I will remember and value the giver and the occasion whenever I re-read the book. I will embrace my object-possession impulses.

On the other hand, when I just want to read something, I’ll go and browse my favourite digital content stores and, if I see something I like at a reasonable price for access and consumption, I’ll go right ahead and pay to download it, without expecting “ownership”. I can live with an indefinite long-term rental.

A Fascinating New Measure of Story Appeal 9 January 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.

There are a variety of ways we can gauge how much any given story appeals to Every Day Fiction readership.

First of all, anyone who reads EDF knows about the star rating system. Underneath the story there are five clickable little stars; it’s the old scale-of-one-to-five, and while it isn’t a perfect system, it does overall give a general idea of how each story is received by our readers, especially when taken in the context of how many votes the story has received. For example, our all-time highest-rated story, “Snowman” by Shaun Simon, is currently at 4.5 stars with a total of 553 votes to date, and a newcomer to the top stories list, “Seventeen” by Virgie Townsend, is already at 4.3 stars and 78 votes less than a week after publication. By contrast, an average story is rated in the mid-3s with a vote count in the 40s.

Since we also allow reader comments on our stories, those are another measure of how a story is received by our readership. In some ways it gives a more accurate picture of a story’s appeal (or lack thereof) since the opinions and discussion tell us more than a simple star rating can, but at the same time, less people take the time to comment, and sometimes the comments and star ratings can present two different pictures — a mid-3s rating with lavish praise and “best story in a long time” type comments, or  a higher rating but comments full of nitpicks and debate. For us as editors, and for readers who follow the story comments regularly, there’s also a difference between from familiar commenters (our regular commenters who offer their opinions about many or most stories, and whose  preferences and pet peeves have become apparent over time) and unfamiliar commenters (who could be random newcomers to the site, friends of the author, or longtime readers who generally read without commenting). There are some downsides to allowing comments on the stories, but that’s a subject for another day, and in any case, many of our authors cite the reader feedback as one of the best things about EDF.

In addition to the star rating and comments, we can also track the number of reads a story gets. This is what you might call an invisible measure of the story’s appeal, tracked behind the scenes. It also isn’t an obvious measure of a story’s appeal or lack thereof, since the fact that someone navigates to the story’s page and stays there for more than a few seconds doesn’t necessarily mean the reader liked the story, but when a story’s reads spike up, that tells us that the story is spreading — and some of them really spread: “Darren Is Updating His Facebook Status” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley has been read over 24k times, “The Only Difference Between Men and Boys” by Nicholas Ozment has been read over 57k times, and “Photographic Memory” by Nadia Jacobson has been read over 84K times. Readers blog, stumble and tweet about stories that catch their interest, so when a story starts to reach wide numbers of people, that’s a pretty strong measure of its appeal.

These three things are, to me anyway, old news. We’ve been following the comments and noting the number of reads for our stories since the beginning, and the star rating system was introduced shortly thereafter, early in our first year of publication. So it was particularly interesting for me to see a new measure of story appeal emerge.

Hello, Facebook. Yes, you can now “like” EDF’s stories on Facebook. At the bottom of each story, just below the star rating, there’s that little pale-blue thumbs-up “Like” button with the tiny darker blue Facebook “f” beside it — when the story is first published it exhorts you to “Be the first of your friends to like this” — and as time goes on it gives the number of “likes”.

I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first. “5 people like this.” “3 people like this.” “7 people like this.” Big deal, right? Occasionally a story gets no love and only has that lonely “Be the first of your friends…” message hanging on next to the button. And then I started noticing some slightly higher numbers. 16 people here. 42 people there. But it really hit home to me that this has value as a measure of the story’s appeal when I saw that “Seventeen” by Virgie Townsend had an unprecedented 75 “likes”. Yes, 75 people had told all of their Facebook friends and family and co-workers and ex-classmates and vague acquaintances and random strangers who friended them to play Farmville or Sorority Life that they liked this one little gem of a story.

And that is why it’s significant.

Because star voting is totally anonymous, and even leaving a comment on a story can be done with a pseudonym and in any case is only seen by readers who’ve already arrived at Every Day Fiction — it doesn’t infringe on any other part of the commenter’s world, and commenters can, if they wish, craft an online persona for the EDF community that is quite separate from anything else they do.

Social media, on the other hand, is your real life — when you click that “Like” button, you are telling your people, mostly (hopefully) actual friends whose good opinions you (presumably) cherish, that you’ve found a story worth reading. It’s not anonymous, it’s not about creating a persona, it’s not restricted only to people who are already up to their elbows in reading and writing.

So I’m watching those Facebook “Like” numbers. It’s fascinating to see which stories people are actually willing to tell their friends about.

Decisions, Decisions 8 February 2010

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.

So, an editorial decision is just that — a decision. And like any decision, it is subject to all the factors of the moment.

How badly do we need stories to fill the calendar right now? At the end of the month, when I’m desperate for pieces to fill open spots in the upcoming calendar, and I’m actively hunting for one more humour piece and two to three speculative genre pieces, chances are that I’ll feel a little more generous toward a marginal piece if it would meet one of the urgent needs of the moment. In fact, if I have 48 hours left before the calendar posts and I’m still a story or two short of a full month, that critical decision sometimes becomes one of panic rather than a calm, cool intellectual selection — not “is this good?” but “will this do?” At the start of the month, when I’ve just put a calendar to bed and have at least two solid weeks before I start to worry about the gaps in the next one, I can afford to be more critical and pass up something borderline on the chance that something else decent will come along before I get into a jam again.

How does this stack up against what I’ve just been reading? After a string of uninspired failed-relationship and spousal-murder pieces, dead-cat and dead-baby stories, and a few more variations on the bad-humans-punished-by-wise-aliens-or-deities theme, even Jesus-on-a-motorbike starts to look halfway decent in comparison. On the other hand, if I’ve just read something that blew my socks off, even a very solid and moderately original piece is going to suffer by comparison. And because we have to keep up with the avalanche of incoming submissions, I can’t just read one thing at a time with palate-cleansing breaks in between. Comparisons are odious, yes, but they’re part of this game.

What’s going on in my world? When I’m busy up to my neck, with a stack of book orders to fill and queries to answer and authors to pay, an editorial team to manage, potential problems to defuse — and a teething baby on top of everything else — maintaining a calmly objective frame of mind is challenging, to say the least. I tend to trust my slush readers’ opinions more when I’m under pressure, when there isn’t time for debating and conferring. I never intend to be hasty in my decisions, but sometimes there just isn’t the leisure to reflect critically on every aspect of a piece before giving it a final yes or no. Did a slush reader like it? Did I enjoy it? Did I notice any hugely glaring flaws? Okay, done.

There are times when I say yes to something, send out the acceptance, and then later wonder what it was I’d liked about it (sometimes EDF’s readers hate these ones, and sometimes they love them — there doesn’t seem to be a predictable correlation between my post-acceptance doubts and subsequent reader reactions). There are also times when I say no, send out the rejection, and then wish I’d said yes after all. The fact remains that something made me say yes or no, and it’s futile to second-guess that all the time.

But here’s the thing:

To snarky commenters who think that what gets rejected can’t be worse than what we’re publishing… yes, it can. A lot worse.

To snarky commenters who think they know something about the quality of what we’re rejecting… no one is objective about their own work, or their spouses’ work, or even their friends’ work. If you’re not one of our slush readers, you don’t know anything about what we’re rejecting, beyond your own little circle, so don’t pretend that you do.

To snarky commenters who think gratuitous rudeness makes them look insightful and clever… it doesn’t.

My decisions may not be perfect, but they’re my decisions to make. So to snarky commenters who think they could do better… go start your own magazine.

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