Today begins a three part series featuring “Spark: A Creative Anthology”. Editor Brian Lewis will be my guest today and on Friday December 7. On Wednesday, December 5, some authors from “Spark” will be stopping by.
I have been counting down the days until this interview came. I’ve been very excited for you to be able to tell other writers and readers about “Spark”, but first why don’t you tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
Brian Lewis: I have been an amateur writer for about 25 years. In 1992, I won a scholarship to the California State Summer School for the Arts with a focus in Creative Writing, and I was accepted a second time in 1993. However, by day I am a senior software engineer and IT manager, and my writing and editing skills often take a backseat to technology. Spark: A Creative Anthology represents the first major project where I’ve been able to reverse the focus and highlight my editing and publishing skills.
What can you tell us about Spark: A Creative Anthology?
Brian Lewis: I founded Spark as a high-quality market for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry where emerging writers are published alongside established authors and poets. Because we set our bar higher than the average entry-level journal, we’re also committed to the idea that every contributor should be paid for their work—regardless of previous publication experience. Originally, I intended Spark as a target market for new alumni of CSSSA, but the overwhelming positive response I received encouraged me to open the project to all writers.
I know that you’ve been extremely busy getting this anthology, up and running. Can you share some insight as to what is happening at “Spark”?
Brian Lewis: Since opening our doors to unsolicited submissions just two and a half months ago, we’ve received almost 350 works through our online submission manager (powered by Submittable): poetry, short stories, flash fiction, novelettes, memoirs, and cover art proposals. We’ve received submissions across all genres, and some which have defied categorization—and that’s a good thing! We’ve also received works from authors and poets at every level: professionals, established amateurs, and even writers making their first-ever submission for publication.
Of those submissions, we have read and responded to a little less than half, in part because we try to take time to respond personally even when rejecting work. That’s rewarding, and something we want to be defined by, but it’s very time-consuming. Even so, we’ve already selected about 15 pieces for Volume I, two for Volume II, and one piece we solicited for Volume III. We’re targeting approximately 20 excellent pieces per volume.
We have also selected cover art for Volumes I through III. Volume I will be drawn by Aaron John Gregory, who we found through his “Cotton Crustacean” Kickstarter project—brand new, original artwork, just for Spark! Volume II will feature the photograph Sonata by Charles King, and Volume III uses the ink print Impresión del perfil de una mujer by Rodney Artiles.
Finally, we’ve launched our own Kickstarter fundraiser to provide a great opportunity for readers, writers, and patrons of the arts to get some great “backer rewards” while enabling us to cover our costs and pay contributors more.
You have been busy. You’ve mentioned twice that you pay for accepted work. How much do you pay?
Brian Lewis: Well, first, let me point out that the project is entirely self-funded—by me—with a staff of two associate editors and two staff readers, and me, the editor-in-chief. I only bring that up because I’m embarrassed to say that we’re only paying semi-pro rates of 1¢ per word or $10 per work, whichever is more. I’m embarrassed by that because the quality I’m demanding deserves commensurate compensation.
However, rather than just feeling bad about it, I’ve done something specific: I have launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to cover printing, marketing, and other costs so that Spark can pay at least minimum professional rates of 5¢ per word or $50 per work, whichever is more. As an example, a 5,000 word story should pay at least $250, and that’s what I’ll be able to pay if the fundraiser is successful.
I’d like to invite your readers to contribute—even $1 shows your support, and $4 or more also gets you an eBook copy of Volume I. Higher pledges get even better rewards, from full-year subscriptions to signed prints of the artwork we’ll be using for our covers.
I guess this is where I insert my disclosure. I’m a contributor to Spark: A Creative Anthology. To me this is a win-win for both writers and readers. Writers have a paid publication they can submit to, and readers get quality writing.
You mentioned earlier that you’re an amateur writer. Are there any publications or publishers that you admire?
Brian Lewis: Without hesitation, I’d say Stupefying Stories from Rampant Loon Press, edited by Bruce Bethke. There are handful of living writers who can say they’ve influenced writing or culture; I can’t think of any, besides Bruce, who have had such an influence on writing and culture that not only did the term they coined become part of our lexicon, but the whole concept became completely detached from and disassociated with the original writer. The term? Cyberpunk.
Now, with Stupefying Stories, Bruce Bethke is mapping the future of publishing through this direct-to-eBook monthly anthology, foregoing the expensive and inefficient traditional publishing model in favor of what is, in his view, the best way to distribute new fiction.
I’m also somewhat enamored with Unstuck and Shadow Road Quarterly. Unstuck is a “kindred spirit” publication in that they actively seek to publish emerging authors alongside established professionals; the cross-genre focus of their annual print & eBook release is “literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal.” Similarly, Shadow Road Quarterly seeks literature without genre boundaries, is an online anthology accepting “writing that has, at its heart, characters that speak to us or experiences that echo through our minds even after the piece is finished.”
Shadow Road Quarterly is where I found To The River by George Wells, which I quickly solicited for reprint in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume III.
These three publications in particular, though there are several more, are important to me because they prove that there is still an interest in and demand for great short literature—and that there are still writers producing it.
So, which is Spark? Print or electronic, and why?
Brian Lewis: Spark is published four times a year in both eBook and print formats. We may also occasionally provide excerpts online. While eBook and online are certainly cheapest, we also want to provide a print option to underscore the lasting quality and value of the works accepted into our anthology. To mitigate the expense and environmental impact of maintaining a print edition of each volume, we store a digital master of the print layout with Lightning Source, then print and ship on demand only what we need. We selected Lightning Source in part because of their documented Responsible Forestry Statement.
In describing publications you admire, you noted ways in which Spark is similar. What makes Spark different?
Brian Lewis: For readers, I think one of the biggest differences they’ll find is the broader scope of well-written works: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The open-genre format, while not entirely unique to Spark, is actually not very common, either—we have literary fiction to steampunk to suspense, and everything in between.
For writers, the fact that we work so closely with them—either in providing personal responses to rejections, or in collaborating on line edits to prepare the accepted piece for publication—has been extremely alluring. More than half of the rejections we’ve sent have received a delighted response from the author. In one of my favorite acceptance experiences, I spent an entire evening discussing the piece with the poet, who lives in the UK.
Add to that our commitment to paying contributors, and I think we’ve shown that Spark is all about showcasing great writers and their works, rather than taking advantage of new authors for our own profit.
Speaking of profit, between the cost of printing and the cost of paying your writers, how do you expect to make a profit?
Brian Lewis: Actually, I don’t expect to make a profit. If I get to the end of the first year and can “break even,” I’ll consider the entire project a success. If I do better than break even and can pay myself and my staff, I’ll consider it a phenomenal success.
To facilitate the funding of Spark to cover expenses, I created the Empire & Great Jones Creative Arts Foundation, a registered non-profit corporation with pending 501(c)(3) status.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Brian Lewis: I am extremely excited—and passionate—about this project. Spark is the culmination of years of experience, combined with a desire to do some good and make a difference. I called my early pleas to support our Kickstarter fundraiser “shameless,” which implies that I should be ashamed but am not. As time has gone on, I realize that I’m actually quite proud to invite participation! I’d like to close by inviting you and each of your readers to participate in this exciting project using my “call to action” mantra: Share! Support! Contribute!
Share! Please, tell people about Spark: A Creative Anthology. Authors, poets, readers, patrons of the arts, anyone who might benefit from this opportunity. I believe Spark can make a difference, but people have to know that it’s here for it to do any good.
Support! Enable us to stick around and succeed in the success of others by pledging at http://SparkAnthology.org/support. In return, you’ll get great reading, great art, and a great feeling of knowing you’re part of something amazing.
Contribute! Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just dipping your toes into the world of professional publication, we need you. Not only do we need you, but we want you. Your talented writing is what drives Spark and makes us successful.
I love your “call to action” mantra. In the spirit of your mantra: Share! Support! Contribute! I’d like to ask all readers to contribute to “Spark” kick starter project. Brian has a lot of great rewards he’s offering, including editing for a story, but I also heard you have a new reward. Can you tell us about it?
Brian Lewis: You may have heard that Duotrope—that most amazing and useful site for writers and publishers alike—has announced that it will be moving to a subscriber-only model for most of its useful features.
Never fear! Spark: A Creative Anthology has you covered!
All Writer & Poet rewards for backing our Kickstarter project now include a Duotrope gift subscription—from two months up to two years, depending on your pledge level.
You have really done a great job, offering ‘rewards’ to get people involved in your kickstarter project. You have offered something for everyone. Thank you for taking the time to be my guest.
My sincere thanks to you, Tina, for putting this series together and giving me the opportunity to share this exciting project!
Remember to come back on Wednesday, when some of Spark’s authors will be joining me and on Friday when Brian Lewis, answered questions that were submitted by readers.