Wednesday, 6 August 2014

An Experiment in Publishing and Workshopping


I’ve recently become disenchanted with the traditional (Milford Rules) Writers Workshop format because I find it too negative and lacking in incentive to write more/keep writing. So, I’ve been looking for alternatives and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Late last year, I wrote four good stories in as many months. It was the most consistent level of production I had enjoyed in over 30 years of writing. 

I found it on Wattpad –  specifically in an event called a “smackdown” where 20 writers would compete in an elimination-based contest to write stories containing a pre-determined set of elements. I was only ever involved in one Smackdown, but I am proud of every one of those stories. In my case, the person running the Smackdown had some sort of computer meltdown and the final round never played out. So there was no “winner” – which was fine with me, because that’s not the main reason I was participating. I was doing it to challenge myself and to get myself back in the swing of regular production (and keep myself there).

As happy as I was with the stories, only two of them got revised and polished before I discovered that having made them available for free on Wattpad turned them into used goods - which most professional and semi-professional magazines were not willing to “republish”. Since Wattpad publication in itself gets no respect, the stories become ineligible for awards. In a private smackdown – none of the stories will be reprints except the ones you use in the anthology that may or may not come out of the smackdown - depending on your group's rules.

The process of starting such a workshop would begin with you sending out an invitation (or registering in some sort of central location) and could be laid out as follows:

Join me for a private smackdown.

What is a private smackdown? A somewhat competitive writing workshop that could make you money.
The participants will consist of four writers who can see the benefits and enjoy the incentive of this sort of workshop/competition but don’t want to “publish” their "entries" in a free public forum before they are ready for the big time. 

The event itself might consist of four rounds. By signing up for it - each participant is agreeing to set the rules and adminster one of the four rounds.
 
Each of the four writers writes a story to each of the round deadlines and will be judged by their three competitors. So the writers themselves judge the contest. There should be no discussion about the smackdown stories between any competitors concerning the writing or during the judging.

Competitors should decide heading in what the actual stakes will be.
Each of the four competitors has to post about the smackdown on their own blog, Wattpad, FaceBook and/or Twitter page.
The rules
Each Round is 10 days long. The judging period can be three or five or 10 days – as decided by the other members of your smackdown.
What’s at stake: You win bragging rights. Ie: If your other smackdown participants are Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortezar and J.D. Salinger, you get to post on your own page that you
“Defeated Albert Camus, Julio Cortezar and J.D. Salinger in round two of a private smackdown.”
Maybe the losers have to also post that they just lost a Private Smackdown to competitor A.
Every posting would contain links to each other’s pages –

How is this a new publishing model?

Stories that come out of the smackdown can be collected in an e-book available for purchase at Kobo or Amazon or wherever. The antho could contain the winners of each round – and the highest ranked story from any participants who didn’t win any round. Every participant must contribute at least one story to that e-book. It's to the advantage of the other participants to make sure the other participants produce a story they'd be proud to share a TOC with. None of the writers ever gives up rights to the story.

You can write a story in your own universe as long as it contains at least four of the following essential elements. All should be central to your story or chapter.

Here is a sample set of elements:
Round one.
Theme: The consequences of victory are not what you expect.
Colour:  Yellow is the colour scheme.
Must employ a particular bit of Graphic Art. Participants are required to incorporate a particular image, (or song or meme). Or you can give everyone a choice of three or four or ten images (or songs or memes). If you use visual art of any kind – one of the images can be used as the cover for the e-book and the artist can get a cut of the royalties. All four artists should promote the book.
Setting elements: every story MUST give strong significance to at least two of the following:
·        A special pair of eyeglasses
·        A goldfish
·        A fossil
·        A shadow that moves or distorts
·        A campstove
·        A wall

The Judging. No points are awarded for inclusion of the elements.
Points is awarded for each of the following:
Up to 5 pts.: Is your main character as three dimensional as they need to be?
Up to 5 pts. Are you secondary characters as three dimensional as they need to be?
Up to 5 pts. Is the story gripping? How badly did to want to finish it?
Up to 5 pts. Is the setting well drawn?
Up to 5 pts. Is the story arc satisfying?
Up to 5 pts: The state of the MS…. needs lots of editing=1 pt. Submission ready=5 pts.

One point deducted for each case of clunky exposition.

Extra points are awarded for: The strength, evocativeness, poetry of the writing itself? One point for each great line.

As far as I know, smackdown is strictly a Wattpad word. If anyone can suggest some alternate nomenclature – please do.

I think four participants would be ideal - but can see it working with as few as three and as many as six. If people drop out, the remaining participants can decide whether to carry on, to discontinue or to replace the writer you lost.

When it's over, you can sign up for another go round with the same group; take an indefinite break and sign up for another one whenever you feel like you could use a kick in the pants or whenever you get invited/challenged by someone you'd love to be in a workshop with, never do it again, revise the rules and send out your own invitations. The possibilities are endless.

Anyone involved in more than one smackdown at the same time would be required to reveal that at the outset.

So, WHATTYA THINK?
Does anyone wanna play?

Feel free to copy/paste these rules and customize them to send challenges to other writers. It is IMPORTANT to only invite writers who you feel are at, near or above your level of writing ability/story craftsmanship. It's a bonus if having their name of the TOC would help sell the antho that comes out of your workshop. There are going to be lots of busy writers with either no need to participate or interest in such an “event.” So don’t pester writers who are above your paygrade.

This is an idea in progress. Everyone’s input is invited.