Monday, May 10, 2010

Exposure by Community

There is a certain kind of Submissions page that bothers me. It rants about what the zine doesn’t want to see and strikes a deliberate attitude at the writers who want to work with it. It also lacks something: it has no Payment section. It might even claim it’ll pay you in exposure.

It's great to get some readers, but how conceited can an editor be? You’ll reward me with the honor of it being known that I did work for you?

We all wrote for free at some point. Once I actually paid to write; that was college. After graduation I wrote for free to build my confidence and make connections. Even after my prose started selling, I’d write for a friend’s site without charge. I have no problem helping people and causes I like. But there is a business somewhere around here and saying you’ll pay me in exposure is an insult. You’re not exactly McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and you know, paying sites grant exposure. Being profitable enough to pay your writers is an indicator of having a big audience – the kind a writer would want to be exposed to. If you're going to write for free, there needs to be warmth.

#fridayflash is attractive because it subverts the exposure-based system. Dozens of readers willingly buzz around the hashtag, leaving compliments and feedback, starting conversations and sharing what they like. It’s a community that exposes you out of personal engagement. The “networking” here is reading and working with your peers; you get more attention for spreading goodwill. Communities like this make bitchiness obsolete in the free scene. Social networking can turn Blogspots and Wordpress blogs into viable webzines (heck, those two sites provide templates for most of webzines anyway).

Twitter scenes like this one encourage a community that isn’t tied to a magazine or web brand, but a brand that fluctuates based on what everyone feels like contributing. I write a lot of humor for Fridays; Anthony Venutolo writes in homage for Kerouac and Carver; Barry Northern records audio fables; Carrie Clevenger writes her dark materials; Jeff Posey writes tales of Native Americans. Intrepid writers like Marisa Birns and Tony Noland try to write different genres at least every few weeks, if not weekly. Some people do it for the love or the hope of a little attention; others are sharpening their skills for careers in letters.

I strive for and admire improvement. It’s why I post daily. I can’t catch all my own typos (few writers can), which is why I leave notes about typos in my comments. It’s a public service when somebody (usually @mcantor) catches my flubs before too many others see them. You may have seen my rarer gigantic critiques in Comments, which come when I’ve got the mental energy. If writers are trying to improve then, in addition to the praise that keeps us from hanging ourselves, we need feedback. I try to isolate what was hilarious, or felt awkward, or needed better explanation. If I think it can sell somewhere, I try to notify the author. This, too, is what the community can do for each other.

I’m hardly the only maven for fiction sales. Every couple of weeks somebody shares a new contest or zine opening with me. And if you befriend the community, #fridayflash readers will follow you to wherever your fiction goes. Your weekly entry doesn’t have to be tied to your blog; it can be a guest post elsewhere or a professional sale. I saved the announcement of my first pro-rate sale, “Alligators by Twitter” at Flash Fiction Online, for #fridayflash. The result was wonderful; Twitter users left more compliments than any other FFO story for April and it was retweeted by a dozen kindly souls. Members of the community make exposure for each other. So in a way, it pays in exposure.

For the cynics who think everyone is only out for themselves, I provide the one time this networking actually paid. In November 2009, I was diagnosed with severe gallstones. Surgery was necessary. I’m uninsured because of medical conditions and the procedure cost over ten thousand dollars. After friends urged me into making a PayPal donation account, I put up just one post explaining my circumstance.

Friends promoted for me; I couldn’t, largely out of embarrassment and the inability to sit up. Friends like Jodi MacArthur. Linda Simoni-Wastila. Michael Solender. Laura Eno. They tweeted it, put it on Facebook and added the Pledgie badge to their blogs. They cared. Half the donations I got were from people related in some way to this community.
I even got a personal check from J.M. Strother, the founder of #fridayflash.

#fridayflash is not an island of weekend writers. It is one of the labels under which the community shares work. #fridayflash writers crossover with #amwriting, #weblit, #pennydreadful, #writechat, #scribechat, #writerslife. Regular #fridayflash writers edit and promote magazines like Pow Flash Fiction and Full of Crow. Last week one of G.U.D.’s editors dropped a story into the network. I met Jodi and Michael through Six Sentences; Peggy McFarland through Harbinger*33; Strother at Editors Unleashed. The writing community keeps getting bigger and more useful the more places you click. It's a far cry from a snarky Submissions page.


  1. What a wonderful post, John! I have seen those kinds of Submissions pages and have been annoyed by the tone, too.

    Many even use ALL CAPS when they tell you what they DON'T WANT. And exclamation points!

    One of the best things I did was join Twitter last summer. I didn't want to, couldn't see why I would. But friends encouraged and I thought I'd try it out for a week or so.

    I met #fridayflash and a wonderful community of supportive writers.

    You are so right. There's no snark there. Just plenty of encouragement, sharing, laughs, and help whenever one needs it.

  2. Right on, brother. Twitter and #FridayFlash has pretty much changed my life. I'm more productive, and I feel my writing is improving. All this in approximately six weeks.

    I didn't/don't know any writers offline. Now I'm part of a community that encourages me, and I love giving it back to others. Like Marisa says, it's one of the best things I ever did.

    I love hearing your story about it. Gives me another reason to love this group.

  3. An old colleague I recently reconnected with is convinced that this is the new route for writers. We all motivate each other and then work together as editors and even readers. It's a brave new world the internet has spawned, and who knows where else it will take us.

  4. This was a wonderful post John. I can't believe the friends I've made through #fridayflash. I'm still working my way up to talking about it at my blog because-as I told Jon Strother- I'm worried that I'll start a coherent post that will morph into me blubbering and going on and on about how much I love Laura Eno, Marisa Birns and all the other wonderful people I've met through this experience.

    I love reading other people's work, and I feel honored that they put it up for free and let me do it. This is a great community and one that Jon Strother has every right to be proud of, and each and every one of us has benefited from the experience in some way- if we have allowed ourselves to do so.

    *steps down off soapbox*

    Goes and has lunch.

    Karen :0)

  5. When I see that sort of submissions guidelines page, I close the window. Screw them, if they want to be jerks and give me absolutely nothing. There are people I will write anything for and it's because they treat me like a person, daughter or sister...not an idiot.

    Agents fall under this same snark umbrella, as the risk of starting fires. I'm too old to put up with snark, stupid, and passive aggression.

    Good post John.

  6. Nice post, John. When #fridayflash started out I had no idea how it would grow, or where it would lead. It's grown nicely, and has lead to many new and wonderful friends. It really makes my day when read how it has touched someone in a positive way.

  7. Well said, John. I started noodling around on Twitter, following writers, publishers & editors, but it wasn't until I got involved with #FridayFlash that I really understood what a distributed social community could be.

    I posted a while ago about what it's meant for me as a writer, but I could just as easily talked about what it's done for making new friends, getting new perspectives, seeing (and creating) new opportunities.

    Thanks for this post, John. You summed it up brilliantly.

  8. John, this is eloquent and wonderful (and it helps you mentioned me!).

    For me, #fridayflash has given me the community I craved, and I too can't get over the support and help. The compliments are great, as well as just knowing someone is reading your words. But what's even better, are the people who not only read the story, but take the time to suggest gentle edits.

    I feel like this community has become an invaluable tool to improve my writing, and I too, am thrilled with the friends I've met.

    John, you rock.

  9. Damn straight John. Reading agents requirements and editors smug guidelines makes me want to get out the frankincense and goat blood! a little number.
    What you are doing here is the best thing you can do- OUT THEM. After people read this, I guarantee you they will think twice about submitting pieces to assholes. It really works me up when I have to jump hoops for a publication and their response comes back without a formal address to me (Dear Erin,) —many just skip that, but if I don’t even address the proper agent, they state clearly that my query will be rejected without even reading it! Also, their letters are often filled with typos—unbelievable. That’s when I mark on my spreadsheet, “illiterate jerk-off…extra blood on this one”
    Killer post.

  10. It is amazing how like minded people gravitate to finding each other. I couldn't agree with your thoughts more and on your take on the wiring community /independent press scene. there will always be "those places" with the trendy following and snooty submission process and then there will be places like CROW and Calliope Nerve that while maintaining literary standards, are there as much for their writers as their readers. I for one am proud to be your pal John and have your work at the NOT and come by BM for a routine flush!

  11. I always love reading people's feelings and opinions about #fridayflash, and I'm honestly not surprised at how so many different people think the exact same thing: that #fridayflash is one of the best thing that happened to them.

    Wonderful post John! :)

  12. Preach it, brother! Actually this is extremely helpful for young writers (like myself) who are wary about where to send submissions. That's why it was so rewarding for me to find a real community of writers who absolutely can't live without the written word and post weekly (if not daily!). You feel less alone in the world. :)

  13. I certainly couldn't add anything to what you have said or the others have commented. I am thankful to have been led to the talented group of people at the #Fridayflash scene. Great post, John.

  14. That's a pretty perfect explanation of just how and why #fridayflash work. Great post.

  15. Thank you all for the warm reception to my essay. I'm glad my feelings resonate with the community. The response seems to have validated my point - specifically, the response on Twitter. It was retweeted by @peggywriter, @shadowsinstone, @karenfrommentor, @johannaharness, @marisabirns and @gracecrone. None used Twitter's "Retweet" function, all electing to RT by hand so they could add a personal comment. When I thanked them for it, the thanks was retweeted by @karenfrommentor and @writeinlife. It's very touching when people like things so much that they just have to add their sentiment. Thank you all.

    Then again, I lost a follower on the blog today. So maybe it still offended somebody's sensibilities...

  16. I say screw them too John. Sorry, my evil horror writer self is showing. I'm proud to have you as a colleague in #Fridayflash. Your feedback is always anticipated eagerly.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for writing this. I'm never quite as eloquent. ;)

  17. Thank you for the encouragement, Carrie. Though I've written several Horror short stories, I'm a big marshmallow underneath it all. I want everybody to get along. It's why those Submissions pages bother me.

  18. Excellent post, John. Like Marissa, I joined twitter just to see what all the hubub was about, but didn't see how it was worth my while - until #fridayflash. I've met so many fantastic writers, people who read, encourage and offer constructive criticism to aid that all important learning process.

    Standing ovation for this post, my friend.

  19. I always value your feedback, John, because it's useful and well thought-out. Feedback is the word too, not just praise, you let us know when you think things could be improved too, which is wonderful.

    It's always easy to find you in Comments : yours is the big block of text. You make some interesting points here. My main concern is that writers are not undervalued. What the publishing markets need to realise it that without us wordsmiths they'd have nothing but empty blog templates and reams of rotting paper.

    Nevertheless, there're two sides to every story. I try to consider the editor's position as much as possible. I think much of the negativity we see in submission guidelines must come from sheer exasperation at seeing the same things appearing in stories over and over again. It's good for editors to share that information -- it might help us avoid cliches and overdone tropes -- but they should do so in a positive way.

    I'm glad you value our community, it means a lot to me as well, and I hope you guys across the pond get the fair and free-at-point-of-service health reform every country should have as part of their constitution.

  20. All I can do is reiterate what has been said before. I didn't see the big deal about Twitter until #fridayflash. The community is awesome, and I've been 'introduced' to so many other wonderful writers and blogs this way.

    And I completely agree with the post.:)

  21. Nicely put, John. I think more respect on all sides wouldn't hurt, but I too have been amazed at the kindness and generosity of strangers on our circuit. I feel I've made some good friends online that someday will be in my 3D world. It makes me happy to see our progress...

  22. What a conversation this has turned out to be.
    Excellent, thought-provoking essay, John; it seems to sum up all our feelings so well.
    I'd never heard of fridayflash or twitter until a few months ago (thanks to CJ Hodges-MacFarlane for turning me on) but now I feel like you guys are among my closest friends... how weird is that? I mean, truly weird...
    I keep wishing we could all meet up and share some coffee and get to know each other a bit. I tend to forget that most of you are a zillion miles away - it just seems like you're in the same room as me.
    Thank you John for your smart words.
    And thanks everyone for, well, for being you.
    *blows her nose - stupid heartwarming post by Wiswell makes her sniffle*

  23. Well said, John :-) One day I'll do a post of what #fridayflash has meant to me ... you have touched on many of the highlights. When I launched myself headlong into #fridayflash I was still teaching myself to write using the Gotham Writers Workshop guidebook ;-) Now I have many flash stories under my belt, a rough draft for a novel thanks to #nanowrimo and more ideas for short and long pieces than I will ever be able to write in a lifetime. I have made many dear friends in our community which has meant more to me than anything with respect to writing, as well. It's *all* good and major thanks & congrats to @jmstro and to all the wonderful writers and readers :-)

    And by the way, John, your critiques are *always* welcome on my work - I welcome all constructive criticism, so fire away ;-)

  24. Great post, John. I only joined #fridayflash a month ago, but I've definitely felt welcomed into this community. I think this is the new wave for publishing, and I also think there are people out there (like the editors who write those submission guidelines) who just don't get it. There are a lot of people in publishing who are stuck back in the old way of doing things, where the author was dirt, and they don't understand the world is changing.

  25. Wonderful essay John. Well done.
    The point you make: "Being profitable enough to pay your writers is an indicator of having a big audience – the kind a writer would want to be exposed to." is exactly why I don't submit to those zines.
    #fridayflash is just the right kind of "for the love" for me.

  26. Holy F*#@cking cow, John. Look at all these great writers right here on your page.

    They've probably said it all, but I fully agree about the *payment in exposure*. If an ezine wants to come out and say it's for the love, that's perfectly fine, because a good portion of us write for the love.

    The #fridayflash community is wonderful, supportive, and lovely. I wish I could be apart of it more, but you know I support all you guys and gals ALL the way.

    Thanks for writing this and the plug *blush!*


  27. You actually made me sniffle...
    This fridayflash community which as you said, branches into others, is so full of supportive people. I love being a part of it. I've met kindred souls (such as you, my dear) who I am glad to call friend.

  28. John ... This was my favorite post of the week... You hit so many nails on the head that I'm speechless.

    I bow to you.

  29. While Bukowski's best herald is bowing John, and a whole pileup of grand authors are shouting high praises upon your hill, I'll let you know simply, thus strongly, that my eyes danced reading your essay or rant or rouse, wondering at the speed of light your mind telegraphed the mere type to speak forth.

    You do it so well. Honoured to know you more and more through it, in writers' worlds, Harbinger*33 and where we do run into each other at some fortunate day in this here world. Blessings & Gusto, ~ Absolutely*Kate

  30. What a wonderful post John. You describe perfectly how I feel about the #FridayFlash community, even being marginally related. (Until this Friday, that is, heh.)

    I shall spread the word. You made me sniffle too. :)

  31. This response has been overwhelming. I'm so glad this touched people; I had no idea it would touch so many. The irony is that this post about the exposure by community idea got more exposure than any #fridayflash I've written participating in the community! It's been great to see you all write your thoughts here. I keep coming back to read them over again.

    Barry is certainly correct that many times such snarky guidelines are the result of exasperation. I can only imagine the disgusting things that wind up in submission in-boxes. However, if you write something in anger, you should have the good to sense amend it or take it down the next day. These zines tend to leave their condescending Submissions up permanently. Nothing validates that. Every day, their exasperation is broadcast and new innocent writers who are investigating their markets. If somebody wrote something in anger, then took it down, I'd be inclined to forgive and forget. I know I've written angry e-mails (thankfully I've only sent one in my life; every other time I had the willpower to wait to the next day, when I'd return to sanity).

    Sorry for making people sniffle.

  32. Great essay John, and I couldn't agree more. Like many others, I didn't use Twitter until Jon, among others, pushed me to write fiction, (I had been writing strictly nonfiction), and join in the #fridayflash group. It's the best thing that could've happened to me, and my work, hands down.

    The anniversary of my nonfiction blog, which was also my first blog ever, just happens to be the same as that of #fridayflash. I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to express my gratitude and reflect on what this community has meant to me. This means I'd better get with the program and turn those "first thoughts" into a true essay, and quick! ;)

    Thanks for this heartfelt work.


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