About

Announcing the ElectricStory.com Community Site Beta!

For two years I've been planning this site, and I'm excited to finally get it going. Welcome!

Publishing is changing rapidly. eBook and Print on Demand make it possible for small publishers, or authors themselves, to distribute work affordably and scale to meet a high level of demand. We’ve been in business over ten years and always understood that in the emerging publishing environment, marketing is critical and difficult. We’ve made some good and bad bets on marketing. We are now making a new one, our biggest yet. We believe the time has come for community-driven publishing on the Web.

The major publisher-driven author-community initiatives to date have been interesting but lacking in some critical areas. For example, Time-Warner's failed iPublish initiative made the following mistakes:

  1. did not empower the community to really participate in final publishing decisions;

  2. did not have a reputation-scoring system to recognize those of superior editorial authority;

  3. locked participants into unfavorable publishing contracts, drawing down the condemnation of powerful author-advocacy groups and discrediting the system among professionals;

  4. did not promote their published books;

Recent writer-community sites driven by large publishers repeat these mistakes, if indeed they are mistakes. They look more like a plan to exploit frustrated writers, by creating an audience to whom they can pitch vanity publishing.

The ElectricStory.com Plan

Publishing-for-profit cannot be completely egalitarian, but it can be a lot better than the current big-publishing-conglomerate paradigm, where a very few gatekeepers impose their tastes on the public (or cynically chase after what they perceive to be the public taste) and let good work go begging for years or even indefinitely. If publishing is to be more egalitarian, more people need a say in what gets published, but not everyone's say should get equal weight. It's not fair that good writers and editors with years of experience be lumped in with those who are completely untested. Therefore, we propose assigning a reputation rating to our members that determines the weight their opinion will have in making editorial decisions. As members participate on the site and show their acumen, they'll improve this reputation. I've drafted several plans for reputation advancement and crafted the database underlying the site to implement a range of them, but first I need to see how people actually use the site and then revise my thinking accordingly. That’s why, among other reasons, I am running this preliminary beta release.

Obviously, identifying editorial acumen by any standard other than appeal to hard sales figures is very subjective, but just as obviously sales figures are not a good measure of literary quality. Therefore, we are going to separate the two concerns somewhat, giving precedence to the admittedly slippery standard of "literary quality." A person's editorial reputation on the site and their advancement in reputation depend on our having a good seed group of writers with editorial experience. They will set the tone for the site and recognize other editors. A person's feel for the commercial prospects of a book is (maybe) a separate issue. Therefore, a few people who elect to adopt the role of "Sales Follower" (or whatever better term we adopt) can earn both an editorial "reputation" rating and a "market-sense" rating. Whenever a sales follower reviews a book, they will rate the book on its literary quality and on its commercial prospects. (We need to tread carefully here, because the market-sense rating could betray an author's confidential sales figures to a savvy analyst; therefore, we will not reveal a member's market-sense until they have rated a fair number of books.)

Ratings and Publication

Members review each other's work on the site and assign it a quality rating, from 1 to 5. They must make a good written defense of their rating. Other members may ditto one other rating on each work, lending the weight of their reputation to that review/rating. Frivolous reviews and their associated ratings will be deleted by a site admin.

The confidence behind a rating is the sum of the reviewers' reputations. A work’s current rating is determined by this formula:

(points equal to the sum of each score times its rater’s reputation) / the sum of the reputations.

Therefore, a work given a 5 by a level 10 (50 points, 10 reputation) and a 3 by five level 1 members (15 total points, 5 total reputation) would have a score of 65/15, or 4.333 at a confidence of 65.

Instead of having to know the aggregate reputation to make sense of a rating, we assign a "Heft score," that is, a rating that allows you to compare everyone at a glance. To generate a Heft score, every new project receives a 2.5 rating at a confidence of 100, and when actual people rate the work, they budge the Heft one way or another. The Heft for 65/15, in this example, would be 2.74, that is, 315/115.

Once a work achieves a certain rating threshold at a certain confidence, the author will be offered a publishing contract from ElectricStory, but the author is free to refuse it without obligation. An author can take the rating a work receives and use it to promote the work anywhere they like. Hopefully it will become a valuable marketing tool, whether the author chooses to publish with us or not. We hope to offer a fast-track into book and magazine sales throughout the industry and to help build the audience that will buy our members’ work.

The threshold of rating score and confidence an author needs to reach before we publish is yet to be determined, but the amount of confidence needed will most likely follow a sliding scale above a certain rating, for example, a work with a 2 rating will never be considered publishable, a work with a 3 rating may be considered publishable with a very high confidence and a work with a 4 or 5 rating will be considered publishable with a relatively low (though not insignificant) confidence. Also, a minimum amount of time may need to pass before a work is considered properly vetted. All this is to be determined. Finally, it is very likely that we will have an ElectricStory.com staff veto of some kind in place. The community will decide what gets published only to a limited extent; we may cede it more power as we refine our system. In any case, we're determined that the voice of the community be very strong. We want this to be a bottom-up, not a top-down, process; otherwise, we are just carrying forward the same old publishing paradigm.

Marketability Rating for Those Who Elect the Sales Follower Role (contact an admin to get this role)

The marketability score is independent of the rating score and does not reflect the reviewer’s opinion of the work’s quality, just their prediction of the work’s relative sales potential. A reviewer should rate marketability by their prediction of the sales of the work relative to all historical sales over a certain period (maybe six months). A one-star marketability rating would predict performance in the lowest 5%, a two-star in the sixth to twenty-fifth percentile, a three in the twenty-sixth to seventy-fifth, a four in the seventy-sixth to ninety-fifth and a five in the top five percentile. Users build up a market-sense score for their profile. The formula is as follows: sum of (3 – abs[solute value](market rating – performance after sample period) ) * odds multiplier depending on what other reviewers were predicting for that title and the author’s (not reviewer's!) past performance. (Standard odds multiplier, in the absence of data, might be 4 for 1 or 5 rating, 2 for 2 or 4 rating, and 1 for 3 rating.) In other words, a reviewer who predicts good sales for the next Stephen King novel and is proved correct stands to gain far less than a reviewer who accurately predicts success for an unknown author (or dismal failure for the next Stephen King novel, for that matter).

For example, with the standard odds, if a reviewer rates three books’ marketability as 1, 3, 5 and after six months those books rate out at 2, 4, and 5, the reviewer would score as follows:

So this reviewer would have a total market-sense score of 21, with an average of 7.

A member’s market-sense score may not be revealed to the community at large until they have reviewed a good number of books (and enough time has passed to gather sales data) . For obvious reasons, we will take an interest in members who have a superior market-sense score.

Dittoes

In addition to rating a given work, those of reputation 5 or higher may assign a ditto to one other review of that work and thereby lend the review the weight of their reputation. The number of dittoes your reviews receive (and the reputation of the dittoer) will factor into how we increase your reputation rating on the site.

Submissions: Novels, Short Stories, Extracts, Gaming Sourcebooks

The main point of the site is to vet novel-length work, which may include novels, story collections, nonfiction (generally histories and writing guides for the F&SF genre), and sourcebooks for open-source roleplaying-game systems, like the D20 system. Individual short stories, novelettes, and novellas are also welcome, and may be considered for publication by our partners doing periodicals. We may also package an anthology from time to time. If you wish to post a proposal or sample, please check the box on your project that identifies it as such. We need to be able to distinguish between proposals and complete drafts.

If the community deems a work publishable according to our standards and if a staff editor concurs, then, as stated, we'll offer the author a publishing contract for a novel or short-story collection. Getting sufficient attention for novel-length work may be difficult for many authors, so we suggest you submit as the first draft of your project a proposal and three sample chapters. You may be ineligible for publication based solely on that submission, but you can gain valuable feedback and submit the entire work later as a subsequent draft. Note that drafts and not projects receive ratings, so when you submit a new draft of a work, all the ratings that attached to the earlier draft stay with that draft and do not carry forward. This may be good or bad, depending on the reception of your initial draft.

Reading the Slush Pile

A valid criticism of publisher-run author sites is that they offload editorial work to the community. However, on our site, in exchange for their effort, our community assumes significant power and individual authors have great control over their publishing fate. We aim to refine our system so that the endorsement of our community is a high endorsement indeed. We will implement policies to discourage frivolous tit-for-tat reviewing and popularity contests. We only want reviews from those who have actually read the work. As a writer, you have better things to do than market your work around the clock. Making "friends" with everyone on the site (putting them in your default-reviewers list) and plaguing them with requests for reviews will not help your prospects beyond a very limited horizon. If a review is frivolous, betrays ignorance of the work, or is not clearly impartial, we will remove it.

Professional Editors

We will have professional editors on the site who may wish to pick up work regardless of the community consensus and who may choose to give work special endorsement. Our high-reputation members should expect to be paid eventually. Exactly how is not yet clear to us. We view the new role of publisher as essentially that of packager in the world of POD, eBooks, and online promotion, and we envision several different arrangements we can facilitate between author, artist, and editor while taking on the distribution, marketing, and accounting functions. It may be that authors and editors become more closely joined in the future and share revenue (and credit). Perhaps they negotiate a relationship through some kind of bidding scheme. It is too early to know. One thing we find curious is all the talk online about the obsolescence of editors. For our company, at least, we anticipate that editors will be increasingly valuable.

Please feel free to use the contact link at the bottom of any site page to send us a message, we'll do our best to reply in a timely way.

Sincerely,

Bob Kruger

President, ElectricStory.com, Inc.®