Friday, September 1, 2017

Jewish alternate history anthology from ChiZine Publications, open to submissions now!

A new speculative fiction project that some of our readers may be interested in:

Open now until February 4th (2018) to submissions of Jewish alternate history stories, up to 15,000 words! They pay professional rates of 8 cents/word Canadian.

There's definitely some overlap with the kinds of stories we like to publish, especially where it could get into alternate Biblical narratives and interactions between Judaism and Christianity, so we're really looking forward to reading this anthology once it's available.

It will be coming out from our friends at ChiZine Publications in the fall of 2019.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Lessons Learned from a Failed Kickstarter

Our Kickstarter has ended. While we raised $4193, this was still short of our $5000 goal, so we failed to fund, and won't be receiving any money, and a second volume of Mysterion will not be happening anytime soon. That's disappointing, especially considering the incredible amount of work we put into the Kickstarter, but if nothing else, we did learn some important lessons.
  1. The most difficult thing is getting noticed. We tried hard to get noticed by relevant opinion leaders. A mere mention on one of the high traffic blogs or Twitter feeds, some of which have talked about us before, would have made enough of a difference to put us over the top. But hundreds, or maybe thousands, of people are constantly hitting up those sites in an effort to get mentioned. It's not easy to stand out in all the noise.
  2. We need a bigger audience. As a corollary to 1, we need a bigger audience of our own. If we had thousands of Twitter followers, or thousands of unique visitors to our website every day, it would have been much easier to find people who wanted to contribute to our Kickstarter.
  3. Most people aren't as excited about our project as we are. Even with 2, the number of people who are willing to come by and consume our free content is much larger than the number who are willing to pay cash for books. If everyone who liked our page on Facebook, or who came to read our blog posts, had contributed to the Kickstarter, we would have been funded. We've heard that maybe 1% of your readers are willing to give you money, but even that may be high.
  4. Friends and family can be your biggest backers. That's where most of our pledges came from. They don't even have to care about your project. Many of our contributors weren't Christians, and may not have been especially interested in an anthology of Christian-themed fiction, but they liked us and wanted us to succeed. And when we neared the end and were falling short, they raised their contribution levels again and again in an heroic effort to fund us.
  5. Don't self-sabotage. Two days before the Kickstarter ended, when we were still short of the 60% threshold after which 98% of projects reach their funding target, we were pretty sure we wouldn't reach our goal. And we started saying so. That was probably a mistake. We're not naturally optimistic people, but our doom-and-gloom certainly didn't help convince others to back a Kickstarter that its own creators didn't think would make it. 
So, what next? We don't think it makes sense to publish another anthology until we have a larger audience. But we don't want to stop publishing, either. There aren't enough venues that can afford to pay authors professional rates for their work, and there are too few places interested in publishing fiction that engages with Christian ideas and themes in ways that may challenge the preconceptions of both Christian and mainstream audiences.

We do have a plan, though. One that will allow us to keep publishing for a lower up-front cost (while still paying pro rates), and help us build our audience at the same time. We aren't quite ready to announce it, but when we are, we'll post about it here. Newsletter subscribers will also be among the first to find out, so if you want to hear about our next project (especially if you're an author who might want to send us a story), be sure to sign up!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Only 16 hours left!

We're down to 16 remaining hours in our Kickstarter campaign for Mysterion 2. At this point, we're 71% funded, with 89 backers.

That means we need to raise another $1412 before 8:11 am tomorrow morning (EDT, or GMT-0:50) in order to succeed.

This is a lot, and it might seem impossible. But is that true?

For example, if each of our 89 backers increased the amount of their pledge by only $16, we would be funded. (Or, since obviously some backers are able to contribute more than others, if everyone increased their pledge amount by 29%.)

Or, if we were able to find just 15 new backers who were able to give $100 each. Or 29 who could each pledge $50.

When you break it down like that, it doesn't seem quite so insurmountable, does it?

So if you're as passionate as we are about the need for more thoughtful, high-quality fiction that openly and honestly explores both the successes and ambiguities of Christian faith and the Christian experience; if you want to see more markets that pay authors a professional rate for their hard work; if you're excited about independent publishing and how it gives creative people the freedom and ability to pursue projects that aren't easily categorized, for niche audiences who aren't finding all of what they want to read in the output from traditional publishing ... then please help us reach our funding goal of $5000, so we can pay authors for enough fiction to publish a second volume of Mysterion in 2018.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stories We'd Like to See More Of

As our Kickstarter nears its end, we've put up some posts about the kinds of stories we don't want (or see too often). We thought maybe we should also talk a little about what we'd like to see more of.

So, if you're looking for ideas, here are some themes, sub-genres, and perspectives that don't show up in our submissions inbox quite as often, and where it might be easier to write a great story that stands out from all the others:

1.  Horror. We published maybe 4 stories (out of 20) that could be categorized as horror, and would have been open to including more, but we didn't get a lot that we both really liked. However, neither of us is especially fond of common horror tropes like vampires, zombies, Cthulhu Mythos, etc. Also, horror seems to be a genre where it's especially tempting to portray characters who disagree with your politics as monsters. Don't do that.

2.  Secondary world fantasy. This is actually the favorite sub-genre of both editors, but the Christian focus is often a difficult fit for fantasy set in alternate worlds. We only published 2 stories that could fall into this category. The problem is that, in this area, we tend to see either Pseudo-Medieval Europe with an actual Christian church, or Narnia pastiche (with an omnipotent Emperor / Ancient One / Creator, and some kind of animal Jesus). We don't really mind European-inspired secondary world fantasy, but it's going to be easier to stand out from the crowd with a less overused setting. (And if you really love medieval Europe, we'd probably be more interested in a well-researched historical fantasy set in an actual time and place.) Don't be afraid to be a bit heretical when creating your imaginary religion (Narnia is, after all--where's the 3rd person of the Trinity?). However, there does need to be some Christian connection, even if it's just through exploration of popular Christian themes such as forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, the nature of the soul, the character of God. Also, we see a lot of secondary world fantasy about patriarchal monotheists oppressing the noble, egalitarian, environmentally-conscious polytheists, and we're honestly kind of bored by it. (Though we're not especially interested in the reverse, either, with noble monotheists persecuted by evil polytheists--in general, try to avoid "this culture is the good guys and this other one the villains".)

3.  Stories about encounters with the unfathomable mysteries of the divine. Especially stories that don't try to explain everything. Donald has written that "There's a tendency in Christian fiction to write theophanies as if they're altar calls. I would have liked to see more of the strangeness, fear, and bewilderment found in the theophanies you read about in the Bible. They are warnings, commands, prophecies. Even Paul's road-to-Damascus calling was more challenge than instruction. He needed other people to explain to him what he was supposed to do about it."

4.  Stories about Christians who aren't (only) American, Canadian, or western European. Christianity is a global faith, and we'd like to do a better job of representing that. We would love to see more stories about Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean; and about Christians who live in the West but also have strong connections to another culture (including African-Americans and pre-European indigenous cultures of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand). We do want authentic, well-researched fiction. Just as we're not interested in stories about Christians where it seems that the author doesn't really understand or know much about the aspect of Christianity that they're describing (very common in stories about missionaries, BTW), we don't want shallow portrayals of cultures from around the world. If you're writing about a culture that isn't part of your own heritage, make sure you really do know what you're talking about.

Our Kickstarter is now 52% funded, but we only have 4 days left, so we still need to get a lot more people on board for this anthology to happen. If you're interested in the kinds of stories we've been talking about, please consider backing us, and help us get the word out to others!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kickstarter update: One week left

We're nearing the end of our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2, the second volume of our anthology of Christian-themed speculative fiction. With only a week left, and 44% funded, we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal. Since Kickstarter is all or nothing, if we do not make our goal, we do not receive any money, and Mysterion 2 will not happen.

While that would be unfortunate -- we believe that Mysterion is a unique market, paying professional rates for speculative fiction with Christian characters, themes, or cosmology -- we decided to use Kickstarter for exactly this reason.

For the first volume, we used Patreon. Patreon's normal campaign is as a monthly subscription, but it can also be set so that the patron pays for every post you mark as a paid post. You can put up multiple paid posts per month, or you can put up none. This allowed us not to charge our patrons anything until we delivered an anthology. We felt this was necessary since we were first time anthologists. My wife and I had no idea whether we would receive enough good stories to make a worthwhile anthology. Even if we did, did we have what it took to select the best stories, edit them, format them, put the book together in an attractive package, and deliver an actual book that we would be proud of? We thought we could, but given that we didn't actually know, we decided not to take anyone's money until we had the book ready. But whether we did the anthology or not was completely independent from the amount pledged on Patreon, although the pledges did let us add a couple of stories.

This time was different. We knew we could get enough good stories: we received over 450 last time, and only had room for 20. We also knew that we could put together a quality book. That was mostly a matter of figuring out who to pay to do stuff for us. Our main task was selecting and editing the stories, which admittedly was a lot of work, but now we had experience.

What we didn't know was whether it was worth it for us. Sure, we've sold some copies of the first volume, but we're still short of breaking even. If we were going to do a second one, we wanted to raise some money first, at least enough to pay our authors -- or, well, mostly enough to pay our authors. This time we didn't want to commit unless there was enough interest--in the form of people willing to exchange cash for books--to get us started. So the Kickstarter is a go/no-go for us, and a no-go is just as useful of a signal as a go, and certainly a lot less work. Once the Kickstarter runs its course, at least.

But I would be remiss if I didn't give you the opportunity to give us a go signal instead. So let me give you the spiel:
Mysterion is the only short fiction market that specializes in Christian-themed speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror) and pays professional rates. 
Unlike many pro-paying anthologies, we don't reserve most of our space for established authors. The first Mysterion was assembled entirely from open submissions. This gives newer writers a better chance of acceptance, and gives us the freedom to select stories entirely on the basis of how much we like them and how well they fit with others we've chosen. 
Unlike many Christian publishers, we don't expect all our authors to be Christians. Nor do we maintain strict content guidelines around sex, violence, and language; or around theology. We've published stories written from deeply Christian perspectives, and stories critical of the Christian faith. We're more interested in the questions than the answers, in promoting dialogue than in telling people what to believe.
If Mysterion 2 sounds like something you want to see happen, please consider backing us, and--at least as importantly--help us spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other platforms.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stories We See Too Often

As we gear up to hopefully re-open to submissions (depending on how our Kickstarter does), we've been putting up some posts that might help authors who are interested in contributing to our next anthology decide what to write for us (or what to send us from the stories they've already written).

We had a post on some of the most common reasons we reject submissions, and another on why we're usually not too keen on retold Bible stories. Today we thought we'd mention some of the story concepts we see too often.

These aren't necessarily concepts we dislike; but given our limited space, we aren't going to publish more than a couple of stories on any given theme. So rather than say that you can't send us any of these, we'll just caution you that the landscape is much more competitive, and you might have a better chance if you send something more unique.    

  • Stories about dead people who don't know they're dead
  • Time travel stories about someone trying to change the crucifixion
  • Stories about angels and demons that are all too human
  • Angels in general (we did publish four stories with angels in Mysterion 1, but we received a lot more)
  • Missionaries to aliens/natives/mythic creatures
  • Vampires and zombies
  • Gabriel annunciates to a modern woman
  • St. Francis meets a mythological creature
  • Someone famous meets a Lovecraftian monster
  • Retelling a Bible story (see our earlier post on this)
Having an original concept isn't everything, but it isn't nothing, either. 

Keep following the Mysterion blog for a future post on what we don't see enough of. And, if you want to see a Mysterion 2, don't forget about our Kickstarter! It's running for another 9 days, until 8:11 am on Saturday, August 19th (Eastern Time; GMT - 5:00).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why We (mostly) Don't Like Retold Bible Stories

Last time we were open to submissions, we received quite a few retold (or re-interpreted) Bible stories, and didn't accept any of them. Why not?

While we're not necessarily averse to publishing these kinds of stories, we find that they mostly fall into three main types, each of which is irritating in its own special way.

Type 1 stories posit that whatever really happened is completely different from what most devout Christians have believed through the ages. God wanted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and be thrown out of Eden. Jesus wasn't God incarnate, but a human sorcerer (or alien, or time traveler, or...). There's no such thing as miracles; here's a totally rationalist explanation for the plagues in Exodus, or the feeding of the five thousand, or the Resurrection (these probably don't even qualify as speculative fiction).

Type 2 stories go too far in the opposite direction, when careful Christian authors are so afraid that it would be heretical or even blasphemous to change anything in Scripture that they end up with basically a scene-by-scene retelling, sometimes with Jesus's dialogue lifted straight out of a popular Bible translation (usually either the King James or NIV). At that point, why should we even read your story? Why not just read the Bible? Even if you're expanding on the original material--filling in dialogue and adding characters--if you don't provide something that either deepens our understanding of the story, or pushes us to look at it in a new way, what's the point?

Our problem with both types is that the story itself is too often subservient to whatever point the author is trying to make about Christianity, and that doesn't usually lead to fiction that either of us wants to read (whether or not we agree with the point being made).

Type 3 stories are those set in the modern day, or in another historical period different from the original setting, or in a different culture. The main problem with these stories is that--like modern settings of Shakespearean plays--they're so overdone. It's usually pretty easy, for Bible geeks like us, to figure out which story it is, and from that point on there are rarely any surprises.

Type 3 stories often fall into Type 2 errors at the same time, which can be as jarring as watching characters in 1980s Manhattan speak Elizabethan English. We once watched a short film retelling of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The filmmakers were obviously going for an "edgy" modern version, set in the present day and starting with the woman's backstory before she meets Jesus. She has a fight with her abusive boyfriend, runs off to be alone at her special place in the woods ... and meets a guy in a white shirt whose face is never shown but who is surrounded by a nimbus of light. From that point on, the two characters just recite, word-for-word, the dialogue recorded in John 4. Never mind that the dialogue doesn't make any sense transposed to 21st century Massachusetts, or that it didn't address what the first scene had set up. We understand and respect that some Christians don't feel comfortable changing any of the details recorded in Scripture, even in fiction ... but if that's you, you should probably avoid Bible retellings if you hope to sell us a story.

Are there any Bible retellings we'd be interested in? Yes, definitely. There were a few that we seriously considered for the first Mysterion anthology, even though they didn't quite make it. You are probably better off telling Bible-adjacent stories, not least because you're less likely to be rehashing material that's been done and done to death. Your protagonist might be a minor character from a Biblical narrative, or an event that appears in the Bible might be part of your story but not the main plot. You might tell the story of a different stage of a character's life, before or after events described in Scripture. We don't actually have a problem with re-imagining, rephrasing, or rearranging Biblical content, or with stories in which certain events or perspectives recorded in the Bible aren't true. We're publishing fiction, not Bible commentaries. But we do have a problem with unoriginal stories.

In terms of content, there are lines we won't cross, but we're hesitant to say what they are, since some of the most interesting stories come close to the edge and we don't want authors to self-reject. Don't be afraid to try us with a story you're not sure about! The worst that can happen is that we'll say no.

So send us your Bible retellings (once we re-open to submissions)--but keep in mind that we do get a lot of them, so competition is fierce. And show us something we haven't seen before.

Our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2 has only 11 days left to go. We're now 36% funded with 56 backers. If you like what you've read here about the kinds of stories we're interested in, please consider making a pledge!