Initial HOUSE Project — Logistics

The prior post proposed as a possible collaborative fiction writing project a themed, compiled selection of short texts solicited from multiple authors, to be published as an e-book:

Establish as the volume’s unifying premise a thematic element or thread that spans diverse genres and styles, inviting writers to contribute manuscripts that address the unifying thread in some way. Stand-alone stories, fragments of longer pieces, non-narrative fictions would all be fair game. Even short texts not typically regarded as fictional — theory, autobio, meta, abstract simulations — could be incorporated into the thematic compilation.

This post outlines various logistical activities required to get such a project launched and accomplished.

Soliciting Contributors:

  • Write a project announcement, encouraging inquiries and submissions to send an email to Ficticities.
  • Post announcement on Ficticities homepage.
  • Send emailed project announcements to creative writing professors (undergrad, MFA) encouraging students, graduates, peers, and themselves to consider contributing to the project.
  • Encourage those who send emails to Ficticities to spread the word through their own networks to other potentially interested writers.

Rationale: The proposed experimental Project is intended to explore the possibility of writers joining forces to run syndicated publishing Houses, so attracting large numbers of participants would be best. Writers who have taken creative writing classes will already have had the experience of working with and editing one another’s texts in a collective context — skills essential to the Project and eventually to the Houses. While the writing professors may be professionally committed to operating within the traditional publishing industry, doubtless they are aware of the obstacles their students and colleagues face in getting published. The Project offers an immediate publishing outlet for contributing authors, while also pointing to the possibility of an alternative publishing ecosystem in which writers exert greater control over selection and editing. Writers telling other writers: it’s an apt dissemination vehicle for moving forward on a writer-run collective agenda.

On a personal note, I don’t hold a degree in fiction writing, nor have I taken creative writing courses in school. My commitment to broadcasting the Project to writing academicians is largely pragmatic: I don’t have a wide network of fellow writers to spread the news, and there aren’t many readers of Ficticities to call on for participation. Additionally, it is possible that formally educated writers are more personally committed over the long haul to the art and craft and profession than are the hobbyists. They might also be more likely to “get it” — the rationale for the Project and for the Houses, the fairly abstract idea of linking one’s texts to an intertextual unifying thread.

Authors:

  • No requirements as to publication history, education, references, commitment to postcapitalism.
  • Writers submitting manuscripts are to include a brief note about how they see their contribution relating to the thematic strand unifying the compilation.
  • Set a date for submitting manuscripts.

Rationale: Biographical details might bias the writers’ blind review when selecting texts for inclusion. Of course if all goes well the participating writers might get to know each other through the editing and compiling process, which might enhance the chances of their forming more long-lasting collaborations. The drop-dead date is a traditional constraint, presumably serving as additional incentive for interested parties to get on with it. If response is poor the volume editor and the contributors already on board can either extend the deadline or pull the plug.

Contributed texts:

  • All forms of text are appropriate: short stories, fragments of longer narratives, essays, memoirs, poems, recipes, sermons, prophecies, ecstatic utterances, advertisements for nonexistent products, fake news, simulations, formulae, lists, outlines…
  • Nothing longer than 5,ooo words.
  • Previously published and to-be-published texts may be submitted, if approved by the original publisher.

Rationale: Writers shouldn’t have to craft a new piece specifically for submission to the Project, inasmuch as the main experimental agenda has to do with collaboration in editing and selection and formatting and distribution. The word limit makes things easier on the editors. The broad definition of “fiction” is there in part to separate the project from traditional short story publications. It’s also a more abstract attempt to outscope the meaning of fiction, perhaps recapturing some of the original meaning of the fiction as “that which is invented or imagined in the mind,” derived from 1from the Latin fictionem, “a fashioning or feigning,” originally “to knead, form out of clay.” Language is an invention; the connection between a text and what it describes must be imagined.

Editing:

  • There will be an individual volume editor, responsible for coordinating the overall quality of the book’s contents.
  • Each manuscript author agrees to edit 2 submitted manuscripts and to review 2 other manuscripts recommending acceptance or rejection.
  • Each manuscript will be edited by 2 authors who have submitted manuscripts to the Project.
  • Editing protocols and methods will be made available to all author-editors via tech reports, podcasts, discussion boards, etc.
  • Editing will be completed in a timely manner; e.g., within 2 weeks of receiving the manuscript.
  • Edited manuscripts will be reviewed by 2 authors who have submitted manuscripts to the Project. If both reviewers recommend publication, the manuscript will be included; if both recommend rejection, the manuscript will be rejected. If there is a split vote, the volume editor will cast the deciding vote.

Rationale: Being explicit about expectations that contributing writers will also serve as editors and reviewers should reinforce the experimental syndicated House-building aspect of the Project. Contributors who have prior experience performing these functions will be asked to help specify expectations and procedures for editing and selecting texts. The volume editor — mostly likely me — will coordinate these peer-directed editorial activities.

Publication:

  • There will be an individual volume publisher, responsible for the final copy editing, formatting, and distribution of the compiled volume.
  • The book will be published as an e-book, offered in both Mobi and EPUB formats to achieve compatibility with the most widely used text reading devices. There will be no hard copies printed.
  • No restrictions will be imposed on duplicating and distributing the book.
  • Authors’ copyrights of their own contributions will be explicitly noted in the book.
  • Contributing authors’ bios and websites (with hotlinks) will be included.
  • Authors may cite the book as a publication.
  • Authors may use contributed texts in other publications without seeking permission or referencing the book.

Rationale: Hopefully somebody will step forward to be the volume publisher who’s more adept than I at e-formatting. My wife Anne has the skills and the experience, but I’ve not yet asked her to jump into this particular frying pan.

The copyright issue isn’t clear to me: are Creative Commons and copyleft licenses the way to go here, or is it enough to grant authorization to make copies in the front matter? And if individual authors retain copyright of their own contributions, what would an overall volume Creative Commons license actually mean in practice? If these issues can’t be sorted out cleanly, it remains important that the e-publishing format not impose artificial technological barriers to duplication, contrasting the Project’s approach to the big online platform retailers’ restrictions.

Distribution:

  • The e-book will be offered at no charge to any and all readers.
  • There will be no presence on Amazon or other retail platforms.
  • A hotlink for downloading the volume will appear on the Ficticities website.
  • Authors with contributions included in the volume will be encouraged to put links for downloading the book on their own websites.

Rationale: Contributing authors aren’t likely to balk at offering the compilation for free, inasmuch as it’s not that different structurally from other respected short fiction compilations at no charge to readers. This experiment is about turning out a good book; figuring out the revenue stream, if any, is deferred until later projects. The Amazon platform is to be avoided because it reinforces the book-as-commodity capitalist scheme for distributing books that the Postcapitalist Fictions experiments are attempting to supersede or evade. Encouraging contributors to use their own websites as nodes for downloading the book might point toward a wide-area distribution network that can be extended in subsequent experiments.

The next post in this series will elaborate on the strands that might be used as unifying themes for the Project’s texts.

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