I could use some SLF…

I could use some SLF brainstorming help -- I have three big questions for you.

So here's the thing. I founded the Speculative Literature Foundation in 2004, and wanted it to be a non-profit arts organization for the field, to offer grants and awards, to train writers in applying for arts grants, to be a resource for readers and editors and teachers. Like the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), but focused on speculative fiction.

We did some cool things along those lines, and we're still doing some of them (the Gulliver Travel Grant, the Older Writers' Grant). We're also planning on new ones (contributing funding and publicity for the new Translation Award.) Other projects are either on hiatus (the Fountain Award, the Mentor Program) or effectively moribund (the Small Press Co-op), and we need to decide whether it makes sense to revive them.

Now that I'm finally sleeping eight hours most nights again (HOORAY!!!), and the house renovation actually has an end in sight, I'd like to get the SLF back on track. My family is done with the babies, and with moving come March, so barring unexpected life occurrences, I actually project a fairly calm future for the next several years. It's a good time to put some more energy into the SLF, giving some time back to a community I love. Also, working on it makes me really happy. Okay. Then the question is -- what exactly should the SLF do?

I have some ideas. But I think maybe I should stop trying to just generate projects myself (or with the help of a few brave volunteers), and throw this question out to the community, since we're trying to be a community arts organization. What could the SF/F community use at this point, in terms of grants / awards / services? What do the writers / editors / artists / readers / teachers need? Any suggestions?

That's actually Question 1.

Question 2 is about publicity. I was thinking that whatever the SLF does, we need to be better about publicizing it. And part of that would ideally be having a vibrant site that served as a community hub. A cool place to hang out. Since we're a non-profit, it'd be ideal for us to do that -- we don't have any financial motivations that might potentially conflict (publicizing a particular magazine or press or author's books, for example). So then the question is, how do we become one of your go-to sites for SF/F stuff? The sort of place you check in every week, or even better, every day? What would bring you back? (I wish I could just serve everyone tea and samosas. Sigh. But maybe giveaways?)

And I guess that leads to Question 3. One publicity option is a group blog. But more than that -- a community blog. Specifically, one with a new post, and a new writer, every single day. We'd sign up members of the community in advance to write posts -- and not just writers. Readers too, and editors, and artists, and teachers, and publishers, and hey, filkers and whomever else. And it'd be okay (even encouraged) to publicize your own work as part of your post, but your post shouldn't be just an ad. It should be more like a little mini-essay, say 250-1000 words, on a topic of your choice. Sort of like the Strange Horizons articles, but more informal. Unedited by us -- you write what you want to write.

Although perhaps we should have a filter; someone who managed the blog, just to knock out any pieces that were clearly inappropriate? Completely off-topic to speculative fiction, or pure advertising, etc. Do you think that's important? And if we had that person, they could also manage it so that we were always running a week or so ahead in terms of backlogged material, just in case someone got sick or otherwise couldn't post when they were scheduled to? And I suppose we need someone to actually sign up and schedule bloggers, even if we're going to be very open about who gets to participate. So I guess we need a Blog Wrangler if we do this, or possibly a team of them.

I'm imagining blog posts sort of like this:

  • Ben Rosenbaum riffing on Judaism and science fiction and parenting
  • Jed Hartman talking about balancing writing and editing for Strange Horizons :-)
  • Kat Beyer talking about some aspect of illustration work (the materials she uses, the topics she focuses on, selling her work, etc.)
  • Debbie Notkin talking about gender / race / class politics at SF conventions, especially WisCon
  • Avid reader Joe Smith giving us a list of 50 must-read YA fantasy novels
  • Fanfic writer Jane Smith talking about the latest developments in the Buffy/Willow slash universe (assuming there is such a thing. Surely there is?).
Ideally managed in such a way that there's a good variety of topics and bloggers. And each piece would end with a little bio and/or link to their web page, in case you wanted more.

I think that would be kind of fun, and something I'd like to stop in at every morning. What do you think?

Recap:

Question 1: What programs would you like to see the SLF running?

Question 2: How do you think we should publicize ourselves?

Question 3: What do you think of the managed community blog idea? Would you read it? Any suggestions?

THANKS!!!

20 thoughts on “I could use some SLF…”

  1. Okay, I do have an idea for you. This came up in conversation with a friend at World Fantasy Con. Our genre does not have an actual writers’ conference where you can go and have a program of writerly events and where new writers can sign up to pitch editors, etc. These sorts of conferences happen in Romance and in mainstream, but not in SF/F. I think it would be great if our field had something like this. I remember how difficult it was to network and meet editors as a brand new writer, and there’s no reason it should be that difficult. It’s also hard for editors and agents to deal with people coming up and cold pitching them at random in the bars or hallways at other conventions. Having a conference with formal pitch sessions and other networking events might be a breath of fresh air for them as well. Personally, I don’t need a function like this. I am networked out the wazoo and I can get the attention of people that I need, but I’d like to see us do better in the future, and I’m sure a writers conference could add some value for established and up-and-coming writers, as well.

  2. Catherine, that’s a great idea, but I think it’s maybe more of a SFWA thing, since they’re geared at professional writers? Maybe we should pitch it to John Scalzi?

    I’m not against the SLF doing a professional writers’ conference, if there are arguments for why we’d do it better than SFWA. But would need to know what those arguments are.

    And I’ll tell you right now, if we do it, then it’s almost certainly going to be in Chicago for the first few years, since that’s where I can manage it. Which is good in terms of relative centrality, but does mean more agents and editors flying in than if we did it in NY.

    Does HWA already do this, or would we be covering horror too?

  3. I think putting out flyers printed from the website at cons is pretty good publicity. I did this a couple of times at BaltiCon and DarkoverCon, several years ago, but I have not been remembering to do it recently. Is there an updated flyer on the SLF website for this purpose, along with suggestions as to what color paper it should be printed on? There once was, but I have not checked for some time.

  4. I’d love to see more blogs like Fred Pohl’s, I’m *really* enjoying reading about the past sci-fi ‘grand masters’. Maybe add some kind of historical basis for sci-fi/fantasy fiction too…did you know that there was a very ‘Baron Munchausen’ style story in Ancient Greece? It would be fascinating to see how many of that kind of thing has cropped up through the ages….

    I’d add twitter to your pr too. A lot of places are using twitter for PR. And the Star Wars/Star Trek universes are popular too….

    I’d love to see a blog post on how various authors feel about the ‘prequels’ or ‘sequels’ or offshoots that have been written (mostly thinking about Dune and the Dune universe) and how they affect sci-fi. And how there is much more crossover now since Harry Potter…

    Maybe something on new ‘can’t miss’ books, once a month….

  5. Catherine N., so I take it you’re in favor of the community blog idea, and are brainstorming topics? Cool. 🙂

    And I agree, absolutely Twitter. Perhaps the Blog Wranglers could tweet daily about the day’s blog entry, which would help people decide if they wanted to pop over and read it.

    David, we can keep doing flyers if people want to help us out by printing and distributing them, and I agree, we should make sure there’s an updated one on our website. I’ll ask Corie to put that on her to-do list. (Corie Ralston is our extremely capable Associate Director.) But I do wonder how effective they are. Maybe for reaching people at regional conventions who don’t hang out in our web circles?

  6. Hmm…now I’m thinking our Twitter Feed Manager needs to be their own title. Because in addition to posting snippets from our blog daily, it’d be great if they could also point to interesting blog entries they find around the web. Basically, we’d be looking for someone (or a few someones) who already spend a lot of time reading SF/F-related material online, and would be willing to highlight the most interesting ones for our community. What do you think? I’d follow that.

  7. Some random ideas and commentary:

    1. It would be nice if a place as awesome as Stone Telling, a new speculative poetry zine, could afford to print their issues. Maybe a grant for very small speculative presses to do so? Though they could run a Kickstarter pre-order campaign or similar to print, and perhaps have plans to do so.
    2. Another random thoughts is, in an age of self-publishing, some information and discussion forum on ePub and Kindle, etc. and how to get access to Amazon Kindle, BN Nook, Google Books, Apple’s iBooks, etc.
    3. Another project idea would be grants for people to help teen writers, or maybe a directed grant for teen writers to apply for financial assistance to attend teen writing workshops, like Shared Worlds, etc.

    Other notes:

    4. There aren’t many “Institutional Members” of the SLF. (Just me last year.) I don’t think Institutions know about it very much, perhaps.
    5. Is there an area of speculative fiction which should have an award for it but which currently does not? I can’t think of a good example. Perhaps: “short story and poetry collection” or: some kind of small press or individual awards for those presses or individuals who most “promote literary quality in speculative fiction, by encouraging promising new writers, assisting established writers, facilitating the work of quality magazines and small presses in the genre, and developing a greater public appreciation of speculative fiction.” Though the SLF itself wouldn’t be eligible, of course! I’m thinking of people like Jeff VanderMeer and Lev Grossman, who put the word out about quality speculative fiction where significant numbers of people who may not normally see that kind of thing will see it; of people like Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan who do a lot of work in promoting both good speculative fiction to the world but also in promoting the world’s good speculative fiction; etc.

  8. Sorry, an addendum to that last point: publishing houses like Tachyon and Small Beer Press, who put out outstanding literary speculative fiction and non-fiction. Are there awards for the work of the editors and publishers at those publishers? (Likely there are and I’m ignorant, sorry about that.)

    There is:

    http://www.iafa.org/awards.htm

  9. Sam, a small press award has been on our wishlist since we started — I think that would be great, and I don’t think there’s one out there yet. One question would be whether it should be an award or a grant. I.e.:

    Award: nominated by the public, possibly voted on — might generate additional publicity for both the presses and the SLF in the voting process

    Grant: applied for by the press itself — less of a popularity contest, and more based on a press putting together a good application

    There are advantages to both; really, ideally, we’d do both. But if we had to pick, which do you think would be better?

    (I do think there are individual service awards already out there, as well as the Fan Hugo, so I’m less interested in our honoring individuals at the moment. But convince me otherwise if you feel strongly about it. 🙂

  10. I love the whateverettes on John Scalzi’s site. So, a sidebar on your new blog that linked to nifty SF Fantasy bits and around the web would be great.

  11. Yes — do you think it could essentially be the Twitter feed, or would it need to be something else?

    (Keep in mind that for everything we do, we need to find eager and reliable volunteers to do it. So personpower is our major constraint, always.)

  12. “We did some cool things along those lines, and we’re still doing some of them (the Gulliver Travel Grant, the Older Writers’ Grant).”

    I admire both of these, and happily pimp news about them when I see it. I believe that I’ve sent several people to them.

    “We’re also planning on new ones (contributing funding and publicity for the new Translation Award.)”

    That sounds like something I would love.

    >>Other projects are either on hiatus (the Fountain Award, the Mentor Program) or effectively moribund (the Small Press Co-op), and we need to decide whether it makes sense to revive them.<< I really like the Fountain Award and would prefer to see it reactivated. Writers need more chances to make real money with their hard work. I also admire the Small Press Co-op. I read about it on the SLF site, and it sounds like it had more opportunities than activities. It might perk up if the flow switched from "here's a venue you can use if you want" to "here are some cool things going on, come join us" and "please tell our other folks what your press has done recently." I'm interested in small press and would be willing to discuss this further. "Then the question is -- what exactly should the SLF do?" Look for gaps and fill them. What things do the SFWA, SFPA, HWA, etc. do wrong or not do at all? What ways do the mainstream writer's organizations blow off genre writers? People complain about that stuff fairly often. Then see which of those the SLF can cover. >>What could the SF/F community use at this point, in terms of grants / awards / services? What do the writers / editors / artists / readers / teachers need?<< One major need that often goes unmet is support for new business models and cyberspace applications. It has taken about 15 years for people to start considering ebooks as something significant; many awards still won’t allow them entry and their authors often don’t get any respect. Cyberfunded creativity, or crowdfunding, is a hot new approach with heavy speculative participation; again, most awards won’t accept crowdfunded projects as “published” and it can be difficult for interested creators, patrons, and audience members to find each other. With the job market in ruins, many authors are turning to innovative ways of marketing their work in hopes of keeping SOME money coming in. Support and networking for all this stuff would be tremendously useful.

    “And part of that would ideally be having a vibrant site that served as a community hub.”

    A good hub site needs to offer a wide range of resources, conveniently organized so that people can find what they want. This might include:
    * A quick-loading, attractive Home page with a brief mission statement and menus leading to all the major features in their own areas.
    * A blog. Your shared blog idea has potential, but for sanity’s sake, please find someone to do basic editing — at least proofreading for typos, and preferably make sure nobody posts something that is wildly off-topic or so offensive that it will cause readers to flee in droves.
    * A forum.
    * An email list and/or newsletter. (Why blog, forum, and email? Many folks have a preference and won’t use one or more of those. More formats = more participants.)
    * An archive of onsite resources, such as articles about how to write speculative literature, editorial perspectives, recommended reading lists, etc. (If you go this route, I have content I could look up and contribute.)
    * A links list for outside resources.
    * Some kind of newsfeed that would scroll material of interest to speculative writers. If you only get one, maybe put it on the main page. If you get several, give them a newsroom of their own. You can get feeds from places like NASA, or the “weird news” sections of metropolitan papers, etc. A newsroom would also be a good place to post press releases, book launch announcements, upcoming events, etc.
    * A store for promoting member books and other goodies. This should help raise funds for side/organization maintenance.
    * A membership section with author bio pages, publisher info, etc. for networking use.
    * Social networking features. Make it easy for people to promote the site and its content on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc.

    “So then the question is, how do we become one of your go-to sites for SF/F stuff? The sort of place you check in every week, or even better, every day? What would bring you back?”

    Diversity (covered above), depth (covered above), and frequency (new content should appear daily, or however often you want people to revisit the site).

    “I wish I could just serve everyone tea and samosas.”

    That’s not a bad idea. If you ask people what they want, sometimes they’ll pounce on things you would never think to offer. I started my LiveJournal with a lot of professional stuff and a little personal stuff; people wanted more personal stuff, so I expanded it. And one of the totally unexpected things? They nagged me silly to post recipes of things I mentioned in passing. After the first couple of times that happened, I just got into the habit of posting my original recipes. I’ve even done some from my fictional settings, like “Deer-in-a-Thicket.”

    You’re a talented cook and you have recipes that will be new to most people; there are plenty of other writers who can say the same; if you want to put a “Kitchen” page in the SLF site, that would certainly be a fresh way for a literature organization to attract attention! (This is another area where I could contribute content.)

    “Specifically, one with a new post, and a new writer, every single day. We’d sign up members of the community in advance to write posts — and not just writers.”

    This sounds very promising.

    “Although perhaps we should have a filter; someone who managed the blog, just to knock out any pieces that were clearly inappropriate?”

    Yes, please. Editing is crucial. It doesn’t have to be content editing, but at least proofreading and parameter checking.

    “And if we had that person, they could also manage it so that we were always running a week or so ahead in terms of backlogged material, just in case someone got sick or otherwise couldn’t post when they were scheduled to?”

    Yes. That also means you need a blog framework, such as WordPress, that allows advance posting. (WP has a multiuser version, too, if you want to have several regular bloggers who can always post, augmented by guest posts managed by the blog supervisor.)

    I would read the blog if it piped to any of the networks I’m on; you can arrange feeds in LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and Facebook has a “Networked Blogs” feature. Other networks probably have similar options. Pipe it to as many places as possible. If people have to go right to that page, fewer of them will remember to do so.

    “Keep in mind that for everything we do, we need to find eager and reliable volunteers to do it. So personpower is our major constraint, always.”

    Then one thing we need to do is consider ways to open up that bottleneck. What do people get in exchange for what they give? Do you have perks for participants? Some possibilities:
    * Put up a “Supporters” page and list people who contribute funds, volunteer time, donate materials or prizes, etc. Link to their websites or something.
    * Pay people in ad space. On-topic ads that aren’t too obtrusive can be an asset rather than a nuisance. If you sell ad space, that sets a price for it; you then have the option of bartering that ad space for goods, services, or your own ads on someone else’s site.
    * Pay people in credits. If you’re a hub site, working for you is kind of impressive. Give people bylines, not just writers, but also your editors, web designers, anyone who makes the organization happen. Make sure the regular positions have a title and job description attached that can be summed on a resume. It doesn’t matter if the position pays cash — the experience is valuable and relevant.
    * You might experiment with variations on cash incentives. Frex, put up a donation button for “staff tips” and then hold a drawing periodically for whatever’s in the jar.

  13. I second Elizabeth’s comment about needing a place that supports, discusses, networks and recognizes new business models like crowdfunding, web serials, and independent publishing. This is an area that isn’t currently well-served anywhere, but there’s a lot of activity and much of it involves speculative fiction.

  14. I think a conference would be very appropriate sponsored by either organization, or both. I hesitate to pitch it to SFWA, because I would then feel guilty for not volunteering to organize it, but I really can’t. I would be happy to support someone else’s efforts to organize a writer’s conference within either organization.

    I don’t know if you’re a current member of SFWA, Mary, but if you are, you probably know that there’s some opposition within the organization to doing expending resources on recruiting and supporting young writers, so I don’t know how it would go over. Not a reason not to do it, of course, but I doubt there would be that kind of opposition in SLF.

    I don’t know if HWA has anything like that.

    Chicago is a fine venue for meetings and conferences.

  15. “I think a conference would be very appropriate sponsored by either organization, or both.”

    That would be cool. Even if the SLF couldn’t do its own conference at first, maybe it could piggyback on something else.

    “I don’t know if you’re a current member of SFWA, Mary, but if you are, you probably know that there’s some opposition within the organization to doing expending resources on recruiting and supporting young writers, so I don’t know how it would go over.”

    Yeah, that’s a key reason I dislike that organization. I’m an editor as well as a writer; I don’t want them running off my favorite pool of contributors. SLF is a lot more welcoming than some other organizations, and not just on that angle. The more people you accept, the wider your potential audience, the better your networking … and the more use you are to your members.

  16. 1. let’s schedule an interview for a future issue, once some idea of these future plans is starting to settle?
    2. I do like the idea of a conference. My locality (Raleigh-Durham) has been filled lately with rumblings that we’d like to start putting together a yearly conference/convention. I know I’d love it to be something like this.

  17. Mary Anne,

    If you have not yet found a blog basic editor/filter-parameters person, I might be able to do it; however, I wonder, if perhaps, there could be more than one of us taking on the responsibility? I have no idea what the load will be, so it’s a good thing for there to be a one or two week back log. If you already found a blog editor, is there another way I could be a part of this?

    Ruby

  18. I suggest looking at a portal / blog aggregation model rather than trying to curate a whole new blog with original entries on an ongoing basis. SLF could become THE portal to a bunch of, or the best of, or selections of, SF blogs (writers, fans, organizations, conferences, litjournals, whatever). I would totally go to a site if I knew that there I’d find the latest from Cat Valente, Carl Brandon Society, Circlet Press, etc. Sharing content should be easy for your content-providers to agree to because it will drive traffic/readers back to their content as well. You’d still want someone to screen those who join and you could decide whether you want something extremely open with just basic moderating, or something more curated.

    I don’t know how the technology works but I imagine there could be a way for a blogger whose posts are more wide-ranging (like you) to tag of their blog posts are relevant and have only those feed into the SLF site, so that SLF portal readers wouldn’t necessarily get your knitting & house posts, for example. Or for a site like Circlet to choose which posts it wants to send to SLF as teasers to send pull readers back to its own site. Or whatever.

    This would be a bigger initial programming job, of course. But if you’re going through the effort of setting something up anyway… I do think it’s pretty challenging to (a) drive readers to a new blog these days and (b) get good writers, who usually can barely keep up with their own blogging, to write original content for free.

    One example (not great design, but just for breadth of content): http://www.blogadda.com/

  19. Sumana Harihareswara pointed me to this post because she thought it sounded like my kind of endeavor. I blog for the Outer Alliance, and I’d be happy to feature the SLF over there in some way. Perhaps you’d like to be interviewed either over e-mail for the blog or over Skype for the podcast? I’d also be happy to sign up as one of the occasional SLF bloggers, though I am too committed elsewhere to take on an organizational role. Please let me know if any of that sounds good to you.

  20. Namaskarem,

    Saw your blog on Scalzi’s site and popped over. SLF seems great. Good luck!

    These comments are all great for increasing traffic. The only thing I can suggest is postings, lots of postings, and maybe something like the “SF Tidbits” section that shows up daily on SF Signal.com. A round-up of links to interesting stuff on the web would bring people by daily. You can set up Google alerts to alert you, then add them in.

    Example: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2010/12/sf-tidbits-for-121710/

    Good luck!

    TK

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