Guest post: “100 Stories for Haiti” creator Greg McQueen
Today – meaning Feb. 25, because even though it’s before midnight here, it’s already Thursday over in Europe – I’m turning Cornfield Meet over to the inspired and ambitious Greg McQueen, whose brainspark got the “100 Stories for Haiti” fire going in the first place. And because he clearly has no need for sleep, the guy’s in the midst of “blog tour,” writing about the book for various sites and talking about different angles of the project, to which I contributed a story called “The Painting.”
Read on for a glimpse into the process of bringing an 80,000-word book from concept to finalized reality in just a few weeks:
Thanks for letting me graffiti your blog, John.
Today I want to talk a little about how we handled submissions and chose the 100 stories for the book. As you can imagine, it was a huge task, and I have to admit that I didn’t have as much to do with it as I’d wished.
To give you a rough idea how big a task it was … We had 420 submissions within about a week. Each submission, on average, was at least 800 words, so that’s about 336,000 words that needed to be read within a matter of days.
When I started the project, I fully expected to be hands-on with the story selections. However coordinating everything — answering emails, arranging stuff with the publishers, sorting out agreements for the authors, plus a million things that I never expected would be part of producing a book — took up most of my time. I read as many of the stories as I could, but the real credit for making sure that each and every submission was read goes to Amy Burns and the team of volunteer editors.
So, I want you to get up now and give them a standing ovation. They deserve it. They all worked their wobbly bits off to make this book happen.
Okay. Thanks. Be seated and read on.
We started out with about 25 readers and editors. Everyone gave as much time as they could spare. I set up a special web forum for everyone to work in. For the geek-a-trons among you, we used Basecamp from 37 Signals. I chose Basecamp because 37 Signals like to create products that don’t need a manual (and they come pretty darn close!). They also have a system called Writeboards, which are amazing for writers because they save every version of a document. So, it made it easy to encourage readers to correct typos as they found them because we could always rollback to a previous version of the story if needed.
The way we initially vetted submissions was simple. I described it to one of the editors as the literary equivalent to a wrestle-mania smackdown. Each story had to be read three times, and each person had to vote, Yes, No, or Maybe.
2 x Yes = Stays for the next round.
2 x No = Knock out.
2 x Maybe = Stays for the next round.
There were disagreements and discussions over pieces, which was where I stepped in. The original spec for submissions was 1000 words, any genre, no massive death-destruction-violence, feel good stories – the kind that makes you tell grumpy old men that life really ain’t that bad. We had to compromise on the specs a bit, not too much, though.
As the submissions dwindled to about 150, Amy volunteered as Head Editor, and whip-cracked to get those submissions down to 100.
This was where encouraging readers to make corrections as they found them really paid off because we ended up with stories that needed little or no corrections. Amy and a team of about five core editors then re-read and re-edited the remaining 100 stories to get them close to publishing standards.
I’d be lying if I said that I’d planned the whole thing. I started the 100 Stories for Haiti project because I wanted to help. I didn’t sit down and think it through at all … If anything, my plan was that I had no plan. I felt that many of the people involved in the editing process were experienced writers and editors. I told them from the start that I had this crazy notion that they’d be able to just roll up sleeves, knowing the kind of stories that we were looking for, and do what they do best — read and edit, choose stories that resonated with them, and fight to have them included in the book.
Odd thing is … Turned out I was right.
You’re going to read/hear me say this a lot during this blog tour. It’s because I am proud of the book. I want people to read it. More importantly, I want people to buy it. Not because I want a best-seller of some sort, simply because I think it’s a cracking read, made by a talented and dedicated team of writers and editors who want nothing more than to raise money for the Haiti Earthquake and Disaster Recovery appeals. Here goes …
100 Stories for Haiti comes out as an ebook and paperback on March 4th, 2010. The paperback costs £11.99 + P&P. It is available to pre-order here: http://www.100storiesforhaiti.org/buy-the-book
Tomorrow, the blog tour takes me HERE and will feature a few more extracts from the book.
Thanks for stopping by, Greg!
Okay, so, to sum up: Buy a book that The Gone-Away World author Nick Harkaway describes with the phrase “the sheer weight of unrefined awesome contained within these covers,” and all the proceeds go to the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti, because every bit of time and work going into 100 Stories has been donated. (And yes, for those of us living outside the United Kingdom, the shipping costs don’t come cheap: If that’s an issue – which I totally understand – buy the electronic version: It’ll be coming out via Smashwords the same day as Bridge House releases the paperback, March 4.)