Reasons to Write — Survey Results

Backstory:  Last November I launched Ficticities by issuing an invitation:

Enter a collaborative laboratory where fictions are transformed from commodities into cultural resources, from entertaining distractions into worlds that extend their borders widely and freely in the collective imagination; where readers and writers build an alternate fictional multiverse together. The Experimental Agenda: Readers and writers collaborate in designing, building, and testing prototypes for an alternative postcapitalist fictional reality.

I put up a series of posts exploring the design space for forming an anarcho-collective alternative to traditional publishing and self-publishing, with writers organizing themselves into publishing houses and distributing their e-books through reader-run duplicating libraries. I expected these posts to stimulate interest and discussion among fiction writers, leading toward the launch of a few demonstration projects. Unfortunately, those posts mostly rattled around in a solipsistic echo chamber, so I took them all down and regrouped.

On to Phase Two. The plan was to conduct surveys assessing fiction writers’ opinions about two central questions: (1) Could writers and readers of fiction jointly run an open access e-book publishing house of distinction? (2) Would they want to?  In order to attract writers to the site, and thereby to answering the survey questions, I would read and link to short fictions published in online literary journals.

Methods

On 18 March I put up the first survey, designed to evaluate why fiction writers write fiction. I then wrote posts linking to 57 short fictions in an effort to recruit respondents. The Google Forms online survey technology worked nicely: respondents’ results were recorded (anonymously) and aggregated on a dedicated file, making analysis easy. However, the method for recruiting respondents sucked. Few of the linked writers clicked through to the Ficticities site, and even fewer completed the survey. Four people completed the survey, one of whom was me. I don’t know how many of the other three were authors of short fictions linked on the website.

Results

There’s not much point in running statistical analyses on such a small sample. However, to the extent that those four respondents reflect any sort of consensus, some very tentative conclusions can be drawn:

Fiction writers want to interpret the world, to imagine and create, to make an impact on the world, and to have people read what they write. Self-expression is less important.

Fiction writers write for its own sake. It’s also fairly important for them to master the craft and to be regarded as good writers by other writers, by publishers, and by critics.

Making a living from writing fictions isn’t a particularly strong motivator, either directly through selling stories/books or indirectly in padding résumés for jobs as academicians or editors. It’s more likely that writers take those paying jobs in order to support their fiction-writing habits.

Survey questions addressing identity issues — self-expression, thinking of oneself as a writer, associating with like-minded people — were deemed less important. However, the two respondents (I wasn’t one of them) who answered the fill-in-the-blank question at the end of the survey — What is the main reason you write fiction? — emphasized aspects of self:

expression of my freedom

It’s fun. It’s challenging, and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. The main reason that I write fiction, though, is because I have ideas that intrigue me and I can’t not turn them into stories.

Discussion

Results, though scant, are intriguing; plenty more questions could be posed that would shed light on the postcapitalist publishing agenda. And the online litmags do provide ready access to lots of fiction writers. The challenge is to lure those writers more effectively to the website and to the surveys.

For the first survey I cited recently published short stories, relying on the stories’ authors googling themselves and clicking over here to Ficticities, then clicking again onto the survey. That didn’t work. I would need to track down the authors’ email addresses or websites or Twitter accounts, letting them know about this website and specifically inviting them to complete a survey. It’s not easy to find online contact information even for published short fiction writers, so no doubt I’d miss a significant percentage of eligible respondents. Still, if I could reach half of the story authors it’d be a worthwhile tactic.

Do I need to read and comment on and link all of these stories in order to establish my credibility and to attract the authors’ attention? Or could I just send them emails; e.g.:

Dear So-and-So: I saw your story in the recent issue of X Magazine. I’m conducting a survey of fiction writers and would like to invite you to participate.

I could embed the survey right in the email; alternatively, I could put a link to the survey posted here at Ficticities. I’d establish a deadline for responding — let’s say 2 weeks — after which I’d post the findings here on the website and roll out the next survey, notifying the invitees by email. Then I’d do another fresh wave of emails to new authors. Hopefully writers find the survey questions and answers intriguing, luring many of them back to fill out multiple surveys and thus amping up the response rates. This rolling process of enrolling survey respondents would also build up a reservoir of possible participants in demonstration projects suggested by the survey findings.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

 

 

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One thought on “Reasons to Write — Survey Results

  1. The main reason I wanted to survey fiction writers in Phase Two was to evaluate the feasibility and desirability of an anarcho-collective publishing scheme as previously outlined in Phase One. Maybe I should listen to the resounding indifference encountered in both phases. Theoretically feasible and advantageous but seemingly impossible to get off the ground: a lot of socio-political innovations fit that description. Maybe there are plenty of anarchist fiction-writing collectives out there experimenting: if so, they’re an advance-guard action rather than a mass movement. And like most avant-garde experiments, they’re destined to sputter out. Some are remembered awhile, maybe even celebrated for their inspired radicalism; most die in anonymity if not in disgrace.

    Surveying writers of published short fiction might identify their central tendencies and their average viewpoints. A radical advance-guard experiment doesn’t draw those in the middle of the bell curve; it attracts outliers. Outliers are notoriously hard to find and don’t play well with others.

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