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Recognizing AI Generated Images, Danmei Edition

Note: this is cross-posted from an account I run, mdzsartreblogs, on Tumblr. You can read the original post here.

Heyo, @unforth here! I run some danmei art blogs (@mdzsartreblogs, @tgcfartreblogs, @svsssartreblogs, @zhenhunartreblogs, @erhaartreblogs, @dmbjartreblogs, @tykartreblogs, and @cnovelartreblogs) which means I see a LOT of danmei art, and I go through the main fandom tags more-or-less every day.

Today, for the first time, I spotted someone posting AI-generated images (I refuse to call them AI “art” – and to be clear, that’s correct of me, because at least in the US it literally LEGALLY isn’t art) without any label indicating they were AI generated. I am not necessarily against the existence of AI-generated images (though really…considering all the legal issues and the risks of misuse, I’m basically against them); I think they potentially have uses in certain contexts (such as for making references) and I also think that regardless of our opinions, we’re stuck with them, but they’re also clearly not art and I don’t reblog them to the art side blogs.

The images I spotted today had multiple “tells,” but they were still accumulating notes, and I thought it might be a good moment to step back and point out some of the more obvious tells because my sense is that a LOT of people are against AI-generated images being treated as art, and that these people wouldn’t want to support an AI-generator user who tried to foist off their work as actual artwork, but that people don’t actually necessarily know how to IDENTIFY those works and therefore can inadvertently reblog works that they’d never support if they were correctly identified. (Similar to how the person who reposts and says “credit to the artist” is an asshole but they’re not the same as someone who reposts without any credit at all and goes out of their way to make it look like they ARE the artist when they’re not).

Toward that end, I’ve downloaded all the images I spotted on this person’s account and I’m going to use them to highlight the things that led me to think they were AI art – they posted a total of 5 images to a few major danmei tags the last couple days, and several other images not to specific fandoms (I examined 8 images total). The first couple I was suspicious, but it wasn’t til this morning that I spotted one so obvious that it couldn’t be anything BUT AI art. I am NOT going to name the person who did this. The purpose of this post is purely educational. I have no interest whatsoever in bullying one rando. Please don’t try to identify them; who they are is genuinely irrelevant, what matters is learning how to recognize AI art in general and not spreading it around, just like the goal of education about reposting is to help make sure that people who repost don’t get notes on their theft, to help people recognize the signs so that the incentive to be dishonest about this stuff is removed.

But first: Why is treating AI-generated images as art bad?

I’m no expert and this won’t be exhaustive, but I do think it’s important to first discuss why this matters.

On the surface, it’s PERHAPS harmless for someone to post AI-generated images provided that the image is clearly labeled as AI-generated. I say “perhaps” because in the end, as far as I’m aware, there isn’t a single AI-generation engine that’s built on legally-sourced artwork. Every AI (again, to the best of my knowledge) has been trained using copyrighted images usually without the permission of the artists. Indeed, this is the source of multiple current lawsuits. (and another)

But putting that aside (as if it can be put aside that AI image generators are literally unethically built), it’s still problematic to support the images being treated as art. Artists spend thousands of hours learning their craft, honing it, sharing their creations, building their audiences. This is what they sell when they offer commissions, prints, etc. This can never be replicated by a computer, and to treat an AI-generated image as in any way equivalent is honestly rude, inappropriate, disgusting imo. This isn’t “harmless”; supporting AI image creation engines is damaging to real people and their actual livelihoods. Like, the images might be beautiful, but they’re not art. I’m honestly dreading someone managing to convince fandom that their AI-generated works are actual art, and then cashing in on commissions, prints, etc., because people can’t be fussed to learn the difference. We really can’t let this happen, guys. Fanartists are one of the most vibrant, important, prominent groups in all our fandoms, and we have to support them and do our part to protect them.

As if those two points aren’t enough, there’s already growing evidence that AI-generated works are being used to further propagandists. There are false images circulating of violence at protests, deep-fakes of various kinds that are helping the worst elements of society to push their horrid agendas. As long as that’s a facet of AI-generated works, they’ll always be dangerous.

I could go on, but really this isn’t the main point of my post and I don’t want to get bogged down. Other people have said more eloquently than I why AI-generated images are bad. Read those. (I tried to find a good one to link but sadly failed; if anyone knows a good post, feel free to send it and I’ll add the link to the post).

Basically: I think a legally trained AI-image generator that had built-in clear watermarks could be a fun toy for people who want reference images or just to play with making pseudo-art. But…that’s not what we have, and what we do have is built on theft and supports dystopia so, uh. Yeah fuck AI-generated images.

How to recognize AI-Generated Images Made in an Eastern Danmei Art Style

NOTE: I LEARNED ALL THE BASICS ON SPOTTING AI-GENERATED IMAGES FROM THIS POST. I’ll own I still kinda had the wool over my eyes until I read that post – I knew AI stuff was out there but I hadn’t really looked closely enough to have my eyes open for specific signs. Reading that entire post taught me a lot, and what I learned is the foundation of this post.

This post shouldn’t be treated as a universal guide. I’m specifically looking at the tells when AI is emulating the kind of art that people in danmei fandoms often see coming from Weibo and other Chinese, Japanese, and Korean platforms, works made by real artists. For example, the work of Foxking (狐狸大王a), kokirapsd, and Changyang (who is an official artist for MDZS, TGCF, and other danmei works). This work shares a smooth use of color, an aim toward a certain flavor of realism, an ethereal quality to the lighting, and many other features. (Disclaimer: I am not an artist. Putting things in arty terms is really not my forte. Sorry.)

So, that’s what these AI-generated images are emulating. And on the surface, they look good! Like…

…that’s uncontestably a pretty picture (the white box is covering the “artist’s” watermark.) And on a glance, it doesn’t necessarily scream “AI generated”! But the devil is in the details, and the details are what this post is about. And that picture? Is definitely AI generated.

This post is based on 8 works I grabbed from a single person’s account, all posted as their own work and watermarked as such. Some of the things that are giveaways only really show when looking at multiple pieces. I’m gonna start with those, and then I’ll highlight some of the specifics I spotted that caused me to go from “suspicious” to “oh yeah no these are definitely not art.”

Sign 1: all the images are the exact same size. I mean, to the pixel: 512 x 682 pixels (or 682 x 512, depending on landscape or portrait orientation). This makes zero sense. Why would an artist trim all their pieces to that size? It’s not the ideal Tumblr display size (that’s 500 x 750 pixels). If you check any actual artist’s page and look at the full-size of several of their images, they’ll all be different sizes as they trimmed, refined, and otherwise targeted around their original canvas size to get the results they wanted.

Sign 2: pixelated. At the shrunken size displayed on, say, a mobile Tumblr feed, the image looks fine, but even just opening the full size upload, the whole thing is pixelated. Now, this is probably the least useful sign; a lot of artists reduce the resolution/dpi/etc. on their uploaded works so that people don’t steal them. But, taken in conjunction with everything else, it’s definitely a sign.

Those are the two most obvious overall things – the things I didn’t notice until I looked at all the uploads. The specifics are really what tells, though. Which leads to…

Sign 3: the overall work appears to have a very high degree of polish, as if it were made by an artist who really really knows what they’re doing, but on inspection – sometimes even on really, REALLY cursory inspect – the details make zero sense and reflect the kinds of mistakes that a real artist would never make.

So, here’s the image that I saw that “gave it away” to me, and caused me to re-examine the images that had first struck me as off but that I hadn’t been able to immediately put my finger on the problem. I’ve circled some of the spots that are flagrant.

Do you see yet? Yes? Awesome, you’re getting it. No? Okay, let’s go point by point, with close ups.

Sign 4: HANDS. Hands are currently AI’s biggest weakness, though they’ve been getting better quickly and honestly that’s terrifying. But whatever AI generated this picture clearly doesn’t get hands yet, because that hand is truly an eldritch horror. Look at this thing:

It has two palms. It has seven fingers. It’s basically two hands overlaid over each other, except one of those hands only has four fingers and the other has three. Seeing this hand was how I went from “umm…maybe they’re fake? Maybe they’re not???” to “oh god why is ANYONE reblogging this when it’s this obvious?” WATCH THE HANDS. (Go back up to that first one posted and look at the hand, you’ll see. Or just look right below at this crop.) Here’s some other hands:

Sign 5: Hair and shadows. Once I started inspecting these images, the shadows of the hair on the face was one of the things that was most consistently fucked up across all the uploaded pictures. Take a look:

There’s shadows of tendrils on the forehead, but there’s no corresponding hair that could possibly have made those shadows. Likewise there’s a whole bunch of shadows on the cheeks. Where are those coming from? There’s no possible source in the rest of the image. Here’s some other hair with unrelated wonky shadows:

Sign 6: Decorative motifs that are really just meaningless squiggles. Like, artists, especially those who make fanart, put actual thought into what the small motifs are on their works. Like, in TGCF, an artist will often use a butterfly motif or a flower petal motif to reflect things about the characters. An AI, though, can only approximate a pattern and it can’t imbue those with meanings. So you end up with this:

What is that? It’s nothing, that’s what. It’s a bunch of squiggles. Here’s some other meaningless squiggle motifs (and a more zoomed-in version of the one just above):

Sign 7: closely related to meaningless squiggle motifs is motifs that DO look like something, but aren’t followed through in any way that makes sense. For example, an outer garment where the motifs on the left and the right shoulder/chest are completely different, or a piece of cloth that’s supposed to be all one piece but that that has different patterns on different sections of it. Both of these happen in the example piece, see?

The first images on the top left is the left and right shoulder side by side. The right side has a scalloped edge; the left doesn’t. Likewise, in the right top picture, you can see the two under-robe lapels; one has a gold decoration and the other doesn’t. And then the third/bottom image shows three sections of the veil. One (on the left) has that kind of blue arcy decoration, which doesn’t follow the folds of the cloth very well and looks weird and appears at one point to be OVER the hair instead of behind it. The second, on top of the bottom images, shows a similar motif, except now it’s gold, and it looks more like a hair decoration than like part of the veil. The third is also part of the same veil but it has no decorations at all. Nothing about this makes any sense whatsoever. Why would any artist intentionally do it that way? Or, more specifically, why would any artist who has this apparent level of technical skill ever make a mistake like this?

They wouldn’t.

Some more nonsensical patterns, bad mirrors, etc. (I often put left/right shoulders side by side so that it’d be clearer, sorry if it’s weird):

Sign 8: bizarre architecture, weird furniture, etc. Most of the images I’m examining for this post have only partial backgrounds, so it’s hard to really focus on this, but it’s something that the post I linked (this one) talks about a lot. So, like, an artist will put actual thought into how their construction works, but an AI won’t because an AI can’t. There’s no background in my main example image, but take a look at this from another of my images:

On a glance it’s beautiful. On a few seconds actually staring it’s just fucking bizarre. The part of the ceiling on the right appears to be domed maybe? But then there’s a hard angle, then another. The windows on the right have lots of panes, but then the one on the middle-left is just a single panel, and the ones on the far left have a complete different pane model. Meanwhile, also on the left side at the middle, there’s that dark gray…something…with an arch that mimics the background arches except it goes no where, connects to nothing, and has no apparent relationship to anything else going on architecturally. And, while the ceiling curves, the back wall is straight AND shows more arches in the background even though the ceiling looks to end. And yes, some of this is possible architecture, but taken as a whole, it’s just gibberish. Why would anyone who paints THAT WELL paint a building to look like THAT? They wouldn’t. It’s nonsense. It’s the art equivalent of word salad. When we look at a sentence and it’s like “dog makes a rhythmical salad to betray on the frame time plot” it almost resembles something that might mean something but it’s clearly nonsense. This background is that sentence, as art.

Sign 9: all kinds of little things that make zero sense. In the example image, I circled where a section of the hair goes BELOW the inner robe. That’s not impossible but it just makes zero sense. As with many of these, it’s the kind of thing that taken alone, I’d probably just think “well, that was A Choice,” but combined with all the other weird things it stands out as another sign that something here is really, really off. Here’s a collection of similar “wtf?” moments I spotted across the images I looked at (I’m worried I’m gonna hit the Tumblr image cap, hence throwing these all in one, lol.)

You have to remember that an actual artist will do things for a reason. And we, as viewers, are so used to viewing art with that in mind that we often fill in reasons even when there aren’t. Like, in the image just about this, I said, “what the heck are these flowers growing on?” And honestly, I COULD come up with explanations. But that doesn’t mean it actually makes sense, and there’s no REASON for it whatsoever. The theoretical same flowers are, in a different shot, growing unsupported! So…what gives??? The answer is nothing gives. Because these pieces are nothing. The AI has no reason, it’s just tossing in random aesthetic pieces together in a mishmash, and the person who generated them is just re-generating and refining until they get something that looks “close enough” to what they wanted. It never was supposed to make sense, so of course it doesn’t.

In conclusion…

After years of effort, artists have gotten across to most of fandom that reposts are bad, and helped us learn strategies for helping us recognize reposts, and given us an idea of what to do when we find one.

Fandom is just at the beginning of this process as it applies to AI-generated images. There’s a LOT of education that has to be done – about why AI-generated images are bad (the unethical training using copyrighted images without permission is, imo, critical to understanding this), and about how to spot them, and then finally about what to do when you DO find them.

With reposts, we know “tell original artist, DCMA takedowns, etc.” That’s not the same with these AI-images. There’s no original owner. There’s no owner at all – in the US, at least, they literally cannot be copyrighted. Which is why I’m not even worrying about “credit” on this post – there’s nothing stolen, cause there’s nothing made. So what should you do?

Nothing. The answer is, just as the creator has essentially done nothing, you should also do nothing. Don’t engage. Don’t reblog. Don’t commission the creator or buy their art prints. If they do it persistently and it bothers you, block them. If you see one you really like, and decide to reblog it, fine, go for it, but mark it clearly – put in the ACTUAL COMMENTS (not just in the tags!) that it’s AI art, and that you thought it was pretty anyway. But honestly, it’d be better to not engage, especially since as this grows it’s inevitable that some actual artists are going to start getting accused of posting AI-generated images by over-zealous people. Everyone who gets a shadow wrong isn’t posting AI-generated images. A lot of these details are insanely difficult to get correct, and lots of even very skilled, accomplished artists, if you go over their work with a magnifying glass you’re going to find at least some of these things, some weirdnesses that make no sense, some shadows that are off, some fingers that are just ugh (really, getting hands wrong is so relatable. hands are the fucking worst). It’s not about “this is bad art/not art because the hand is wrong,” it’s specifically about the ways that it’s wrong, the way a computer randomly throws pieces together versus how actual people make actual mistakes. It’s all of the little signs taken as a whole to say “no one who could produce a piece that, on the surface, looks this nice, could possibly make THIS MANY small ‘mistakes.'”

The absolute best thing you can do if you see AI-generated images being treated as real art is just nothing. Support actual artists you love, and don’t spread the fakes.

Thanks for your time, everyone. Good luck avoiding AI-generated pieces in the future, please signal boost this, and feel free to get in touch if you think I can help you with anything related to this.

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Celebrate National Grammar Day with 6 of Our Favorite Grammar Quirks!

What are your favorite things in grammar?

Here are some of ours!

Interrobang: a punction mark ‽ designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question.

Example: You call that a cat‽

Kenning: a metaphorical compound word or phrase used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry.

Example: a bone-cage = a body.

Oxford Comma: a comma used to separate the second-to-last item in a list from a final item introduced by the conjunction and or or

Example: She thanked her parents, Dolly Parton, and Jay-Z.

Em Dash: a dash that is one em wide; the em dash can function like a comma, a colon, or a parenthesis

Example: I and Justin—no not that one, the other Justin—are going out tonight.

Garden Path Sentences: a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that a reader’s most likely interpretation will be incorrect

Example: The old man the boat.

Zeugma: the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words, usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one

Example: She opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy.


Post contributors: theirprofoundbond, boneturtle, unforth, owlish, and shadaras.

Who we are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Want to make sure you don’t miss the announcement for future giveaways? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

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How to Support Chinese Authors of Queer Fiction by Buying Their Work on JJWXC

I have strep throat, so our regular blogging schedule is having an interruption. Instead, here’s a blog post I wrote for my personal account a couple years ago. The original link is here. I’ve x-ed out things that are no longer relevant/accurate and added a little information.

So, English-Speaking Danmei Fandom, You Want to Support Authors…

…and so do I, so here’s my dumb white English-more-or-less-only (I speak a small amount of Japanese…it vaguely sort of kind of helps) speaking ass, doing a little homework that hopefully will help others? This is not exhaustive, not complete, not better than resources others have made, but I checked things I personally cared about, and since I’ve done the research, I figure I might as well toss the info out into the wild.

First – as Suika linked, HERE IS AN AMAZING GUIDE TO HELP YOU MAKE A JJWXC ACCOUNT and it teaches you how to use it. It was created by Shoko Translates and it’s incredibly clear and easy to use and you should use it and trust anything they say over literally anything in this post, because I only have the vaguest idea what I’m talking about but they know their shit.

Google translate on Chrome works decently to make the site English…but doesn’t work well in any other respect; overall it functions WAY better on Firefox even if it’s umpteen times harder to figure out what anything says.

Use the guide to make your account; I couldn’t get it to successfully send my phone a text, but I had zero problems when I switched to e-mail. Chrome translate is definitely easier for making the actual account, but then it’s better to switch.

Once you’ve got the account and you log in…

image

…so, I have no idea what either of those two I’ve circled say (USE THE LINKED GUIDE, IT’LL TELL YOU) but I know that if you click either of them, you get a huge list of authors and book titles, with genre notes, hits, publication date, etc. More importantly, you get a search bar – you can see it right below my silly black circle.

Congratulations, you can now find the things you want to support using search! The first option in the search drop down is book, and it brings up the actual book but also a lot of superfluous stuff. I had way better luck searching by author, which is the second option on the drop down menu.

Now that you know how to search – when I sat down with this today, my goal wasn’t yet to actually pay for anything, I just wanted a sense of how many points things would cost, and I wanted to be able to look that up. So, that’s this post’s goal, and sorry I’m a little disjointed in presenting that out, I got like no sleep last night. Anyway. The point is, based on that link I provided (DID YOU USE IT YET? YOU SHOULD):

10,000 points on JJWXC cost approximately USD 17. Convert as needed for your own currency. Or, one point costs 0.17 cents. (To be clear: that’s about 2 tenths of a cent, not 17 cents.)

With that basic conversion, once you have an account, you can see how many points things cost, and therefore calculate how much they’d cost you in $$$ to support the author. Anyway, I haven’t actually figured out ANY of the money parts of this yet, because I wanted to figure out how many points the books I would want to support were before I even attempted money stuff. My thinking with this post was – if you, like me, were holding back cause you were wondering about expense…well, here, have some answers about expense, and probably in a day or four I’ll sit down and try to figure out the money part, and I’ll do another post then. Or, you can just use that guide I linked. Cause that’s what I’m going to do.

So, what/who do you want to support?

Priest (search for author: priest)

  • 镇魂 (Zhen Hun/Guardian). Point cost: 1,742. In USD: $2.96 (Censors removed this from JJWXC but it’ll be coming out in English translation later in 2023)
  • 天涯客 (Tian Ya Ke/Faraway Wanderers/Word of Honor). Point cost: 943. In USD: $1.60
  • 有匪 (You Fei/Legend of Fei). Point cost: 3,031. In USD: $5.15
  • 默读 (Mo Du). Point cost: 3,506. In USD: $5.96
  • 杀破狼 (Sha Po Lang). Point cost: 2,673. In USD: $4.54 (This will be coming out in English translation later in 2023)
  • 七爷 (Qi Ye/Lord Seventh). Point cost: 934. In USD: $1.59
  • (This is not an exhaustive list, but you can search for others – the Priest Wikipedia page gives a full list of Chinese names, translations, adaptations, etc.)

墨香铜臭 (Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, search for author: 墨香铜臭)

  • All MXTX works have been removed/censored from JJWXC since I originally wrote this post, but they’re now all available in official English translations and in many other languages as well.

肉包不吃肉 (Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou/Meatbun Doesn’t Eat Meat, search for author: 肉包不吃肉)

  • 二哈和他的白猫师尊 (Er Ha He Ta De Bai Mao Shizun/The Husky and His White Cat Shizun/Hao Yixing/Immortality). Point cost: 7,246. In USD: $12.32 (Censors removed this from JJWXC but it’s being released in English)
  • 余污 (Yu Wu/Remnants of Filth). Point cost: 4,245. In USD: $7.22 (This will be coming out in English translation later in 2023)

梦溪石 (Meng Xi Shi, search for author: 梦溪石)

  • 千秋 (Qianqiu/Thousand Autumns). Point cost: 2,783. In USD: $4.73 (This will be coming out in English translation later in 2023)
  • (There are many others.)

漫漫何其多 (Man Man He Qi Duo, search for author: 漫漫何其多)

  • 当年万里觅封侯 (Dangnian Wanli Mi Feng Hou/Those Years in Quest of Honor Mine). Point cost: 1,551. In USD: $2.64
  • (Again, there are many others.)

I could go add titles for years, but, well, it’s my post, and these are the stories I was most interested in supporting personally. Doing ALL this research, AND writing it up for this post, took me less than an hour, and once you’re in the website and have bought points, you can select all chapters with a single click, it’ll tell you the final point cost, and with another click – bam, you’re done, you’ve bought the raws. You’ve supported the original creator. You’ve done what translators have been begging us to do for ages. And, if it’s a story that’s not all out yet – you’ve got the raws! You can mtl them! You can read them before the translators are done! Or, if you’ve got a fave author? You can read their work in progress! You can learn what’s coming next! Even without speaking Chinese (I don’t speak a word of Chinese!!!) there is NO DOWNSIDE HERE.

(also, can I point out how INCREDIBLY SMALL some of these dollar amounts are? Some of ya’ll are acting like this is bank-breaking, I mean seriously, COME ON.)

Google is your friend. Find the carrd for your fave. Copy and paste the author’s name in Chinese. Use the JJWXC search. Find the thing. Support it.

English danmei fandom, this is our chance to do better.

PLEASE, can we do fricken better??? It’s so easy. And so cheap. And these fandoms have brought so many of us so much joy.

Go forth, and do the thing.

I’m doing it.


I also wrote two follow-ups to this that I may or may not end up cross-posting to here.

How to Actually Buy The Thing Now That You’ve Found It

How to Order Print Chinese Books from Books TW


Who we are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Want to make sure you don’t miss the announcement for future giveaways? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

Want to support the Press, read about us behind-the-scenes, learn about what’s coming down the pipeline, get exclusive teasers, and claim free stories? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi monthly!

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Answered Ask: Catering to Fanfic writers vs. Other Writers

On Book Publishers Day (Monday, January 16th), we asked our followers across all our platforms if they had any questions for us as book publishers, and we got one anonymous ask on Tumblr! This week’s blog feature is our response to that question.

What’s the difference between catering to fanfic writers and to other kinds of writers? Or is there not much of a difference? Happy Book Publishers Day BTW.

Ah, I’m so excited that you decided to send in a question for Book Publishers Day! I delayed answering for a few days so I could really think about the answer, and now here we are. 😀

Tentatively, I’d say that there’s not a huge difference between catering to fanfic writers and catering to other kinds of writers, but there are a few. I’d say the biggest differences aren’t specifically in “how we cater to authors” so much as “how we’ve envisioned and structured the whole Press differently because of our collective roots in fandom.” Here’s some of the biggest differences that strike us, starting with those that are more narrowly about catering to the different types of writers, then getting a bit more general.

Privacy/safety concerns. While of course everyone worries about their privacy and maintaining data security is critical when dealing with contractors, employees, etc., it’s something we especially emphasize when working with fanfic writers for two primary reasons. First, a lot of fanfic writers don’t want people who know them in meatspace to become aware that they write fanfic, given the stigma against it in some communities. Second, a lot of fanfic writers are queer and they aren’t necessarily out in all their circles. Thus, we put a lot of extra effort into ensuring that people who work with us can keep their “fandom self” separate from their “meatspace self,” if they want to. I’d estimate roughly half of our authors opt to keep their various “selves” completely separate, and we work to be very public about the steps we take to protect our authors and the guarantees we have in place that we won’t “out” anyone in anyway – that we’ll do everything in our power to protect them.

Publishing education. While plenty of the authors we’ve worked with have been interested in publishing for a while, and a noticeable minority have published their original work with other Presses, a lot of our authors have always seen publishing their original stories as more of a “someday” and aren’t familiar with the processes of what happens after the stories are written. So, we put a lot of effort into process-related transparency and answering questions to ensure that writers know what to expect. For example, we make blank versions of all our contracts public so that people who are considering working with us have plenty of time to read them, research standard contracts, and decide for themselves if they think our terms are favorable. We want people to know what they’re getting into and to feel comfortable before they commit, and to feel comfortable walking away if that’s better for them.

Unconventional publishing models. That said, we’re also rather outside the mold for publishers, because only a few of the folks in our upper echelons have a background in more traditional publishing and/or medium/small Press publishing. I, the owner, have flirted at the edges of the more mainstream publishing industry but while I know a lot of people in trad pub and indy pub, I haven’t worked in it myself nor have I been traditionally published. Thus, we definitely have had a learning curve ourselves, and it also a lot of our internal structure and approaches are specifically, explicitly designed around fandom models instead of around more standard Press models. For example, we wholesale adopted a zine approach to anthology production and publishing – we select creators and give them freedom to create within the parameters of the anthology theme, then help them with editing, instead of asking for completed stories that we sift through and pick our favorites. For another example, our approaches to tagging and cataloging stories and our interest in breaking out of industry-standard rigidly defined genres are also deeply rooted in our experiences as fans and fancreators in fandom spaces. Basically, in the same way that we approach writers who are fanwriters first, original writers second, we ourselves were all fandom people first, publishers second. and our methodologies grew out of our experiences as forum moderators, fandom event creators and runners, zine editors, etc.

Community spaces. Again, because we’re looking at more of a fandom-based model transplanted onto a publishing milieu, we’re very oriented on building a community and relationships. Our Discord is quite active, and we talk about our lives, about our projects, help each other out with research and betaing, etc. To be honest, I don’t know if that’s different from other Presses, but I at least strongly suspect it’s well outside what trad pub does.

Transparency. In the end, we view Duck Prints Press as a collaboration, as something we’re growing together with writers, editors, artists, graphic designers, etc., where all of us have been active in fandoms first. Toward that end, general transparency about our decision making, processes, and plans is important to us, and we work hard to make sure that people involved in the Press know what’s going on. We hold monthly meetings to which everyone involved in the Press is invited (our next one is this Tuesday!) where we talk candidly, openly, and honestly about our progress on current projects, any set backs we’ve encountered, and how we’re doing fiscally. In the same way that, if I’m involved in a zine, I’d expect the people running it to talk about the money earned, where profits are going, if there’s been an issue with production, if someone’s life going haywire has introduced delays, etc. That’s the level of openness we aim for.

Education. This is an area where we’re still expanding, but we’ve so far offered two classes to people involved in the Press on grammar and editing stuff. The idea is, a lot of people who write fanfic aren’t “trained” authors, and we often don’t know the rules, just “what sounds right.” And, that’s fine, that’s why we have editors! But if people want to learn more, we’re striving to provide more opportunities for that. Related, we’re extremely, and atypically, transparent about our selection processes for people who apply to anthologies. We are not and will never be a black box where submission stories come in and acceptance and rejection letters go out. Not only do we use a rating rubric that’s available publicly, we also share completed rubrics with authors upon request. We want people who are interested in learning and improving to see our notes and to have the chance to ask questions. We want to support people who are aiming to improve. And, flipside, we don’t automatically send those rubrics out to applicants because we wholeheartedly subscribe to the fandom-standard attitude that concrit is only helpful when it’s asked for. If someone doesn’t want more information, doesn’t want to improve (because improvement NEVER has to be one’s goal as a writer, especially for fanwriters doing fic for fun!), we don’t force that feedback on anyone! So, so many of our structures are based on fandom models, are grounded in fandom ethos.

Relaxed restrictions. All of the people who run the business are queer (I’m aroace genderfluid, myself), and most us are neurodivergent (my diagnoses are ADHD and clinical depression), and some of us are disabled (my wife, for example, is an ambulatory wheelchair user, though she’s not heavily involved in the management team…right now she’s anonymizing the submissions to Aether Beyond the Binary), and many of us are parents (I have two kids, aged almost 5 and almost 7). I’ve been active in online fandoms for more than 20 years, and the people in my fandom circles have overwhelming shared the above characteristics. Most are queer. Most are neurodivergent. Many struggle with health issues and disability. Many are parents, have multiple jobs, are caring for parents, are supporting their partners, are facing a multitude of meatspace challenges that make working in a traditional publication model difficult or impossible. In a lot of publishing, things like really struggling with deadlines, or having to navigate the potential for unexpected health flareups, or juggling multiple jobs, or working around a child’s schedule, would be dealbreakers – the deadline is the deadline, meet it or get out. That’s…so not us. We strive to create an environment with the flexibility to meet people where they are, where having life go sideways (cause let’s be real, life always goes sideways sooner or later) doesn’t disqualify someone from breaking into the industry. As long creators communicate with us about their hurdles, we are very free about giving extensions, making exceptions, tweaking schedules, etc. We don’t want anyone hurting themselves just for a story. Yes, it can make management more challenging at times, but we always look to grant the same grace that we hope to be given when our own lives get complicated. (2022 has been a huge example of this, as my health issues resulted in my needing surgery last February and it completely disrupted all our project timelines for the year – we’ve really only just caught up in the last month or so).

Setting expectations. We aim to set realistic expectations with authors who write with us. My own sense of other models is that most publishers promise success without necessarily delving into things like “but you’ll have to handle all your own marketing” or “this is how many copies you can honestly expect to sell.” Authors can often be in for a rude awakening once they’re in the door and contracted and would be hard-pressed to back out. We’re very small, and we operate on a shoe-string budget (I have been operating Duck Prints Press for just over two years and we’ve never yet earned enough for me to take a paycheck, and we’re in the red for both of our first two years, though our 2022 numbers are a significant improvement over 2021 and we have every reason to hope we’ll keep growing). We can’t afford a lot of advertising, can’t be the only source of marketing, can’t promise that people will sell lots of copies (full disclosure re: what that means, our average short story sells under 10 copies during the first week it’s released). We can’t promise anyone a livable paycheck. What we offer instead is community, support, creative freedom, understanding, and the chance to be part of a fan-run business that is slowly but surely growing, and growing amazingly. No editor will ever say “you have to change xyz so your story will sell.” No editor will ever say, “we just don’t want that story.” We want to publish what our writers want to publish, and we want to work all together to help grow all our audiences. And that means, for people involved right now while we’re this young, we can’t promise much, but we can promise one wonderful thing: that the future looks bright.

This went a bit beyond “working with fanfiction writers versus trad pub writers” and more into “ways we approach things differently than a more mainstream Press,” but I think that does tie into how the approach is different. We’re not viewing the Press as The Owner And Managers Who Are Always Above and the writers as The Content Creators And Cash Cows. All of us in the management team are also fandom people, fanwriters, fanartists, etc. It’s not two distinct groups, it’s one big group of more-or-less equals (yes, there’s still a hierarchy, there has to be some, but it’s not super top-down and there’s lots of opportunities for people to share their skills up the not-really-a-ladder) with the doors thrown wide open to welcome in more folks.

And that, I think, is the crux of the difference of how we cater to fanfic authors compared to what we might do differently if we were working with a more mainstream set of authors. While we do maintain certain editorial standards and we obviously don’t accept everyone who applies, we still try to cast a wide net, to opt for inclusion over exclusion, to try to make allowances, to make space for people at different levels, with different experiences, with different life challenges, etc. In the end, I’d love everyone who ever applies to work with us to end up as part of the Press, because if people want to work with us, we want to work with them! There’s no way to just bring in everyone at once, and some people need to hone their skills more before they’ll be ready to meet the writing standards we aim for, but it’s nothing that can’t be learned. And, if people want to learn it, we want to help them learn it.

We’re a publisher, yes, but we’re also a community of fanwriters who all dream of being published, helping each other to make that dream a reality.

This was probably a ton more answer than was really necessary, but here we are. 😀 Thanks for asking, anon, and I hope you found the answer informative!

(I’m @unforth, by the way, it occurs to me a lot of people may not realize that.)

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How to Diversify Your To-Be-Read Pile

A guest post by Adrian Harley.

A new year brings with it new resolutions—and for many of us, that includes reading resolutions. It’s a truism that resolutions tend to fail. A local radio announcer here said that 67% of Americans have never completed a resolution in their life, and if you can’t trust a random local radio announcer in the mountains of North Carolina, who can you trust? 

I think part of the reason resolutions fail is they feel like work. And that’s especially a shame when it comes to reading resolutions. Reading is wonderful! Sitting down with a good book makes my heart sing, even when (especially when) the book makes me cry or rage at the injustice of the world or stare out the window wondering how I’ll ever be the same after reading it.

Thus, I’m afraid that resolutions to read more diversely don’t do justice to the wonder of diverse books. There are whole worlds out there that racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry keep from us. It’s amazing that we live in a time where we can peel back that dusty film between us and the wonders of reality.

That’s all well and good to say, of course, but how do you put that principle into practice? How do you resolve to read diversely without turning all that wonder into just another box to be ticked?

I think we can start by acknowledging that, as Danika Ellis puts it, “books” and “reading” are two different hobbies. 

Thinking about books, listening to reviews of books, browsing bookstores, talking about books…these are all, in some ways, the hobby of books. These funnel into the hobby of reading, but it’s not a one-to-one connection, as my piles of unread books can testify. (Both hobbies run into a third hobby of buying books, which is a topic for a different post.)

In the hobby of reading, you’ll run into limits, whether they be money, time, or the physical number of books you can carry from the library in one visit. The beauty of the hobby of books is its lack of limitations. You can dream big. This is the two-story library I would have in my home, were I rich as sin. This is the cozy window seat in which I would read this million-word fantasy series.

So, how do you diversifying your reading hobby in 2023? First, seek out diverse books in the infinite playground of books as a hobby. Search phrases like “Best fantasy by black authors,” “Best BIPOC-authored books of 2022,” “Most-anticipated queer fiction of 2023”… you get the idea. Browse them to find what sounds good to you. I keep a TBR list—have for almost 10 years—but you don’t need to keep a literal list (though you might find one helpful if you don’t already have it!). Make a wishlist on your preferred book-purchasing website. Remember the books that sing to you. You don’t need to have a responsible goal in mind, like a resolution or a book bingo, unless you want to give yourself that extra challenge. Pick books based on their covers, or because they have a cat in them, or whatever gets you interested.

When you incorporate diverse books into your book hobby, it transforms the reading hobby too. When you’re back in the real world with all its limits and you can only grab two books, you won’t think, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked into published existence this month, but I have to tick a checkbox.”  That way lies stacks of unread books chosen nearly at random solely because of the representation they contain or appear to contain. Instead, you will face the much better and much worse problem of thinking, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked up, but also Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland, but also Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, but also Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi…” 

(You think you know what it means to have too many books? You have not yet begun to comprehend too many books!)

Aside from the emotional turmoil of choosing between even more books when transitioning from your book hobby to your reading hobby, though, diversifying your book hobby has no downsides. It becomes part of your life. It lets you explore the world in full color.

And yes, it makes it easy and fun to read more diverse books. 


Want some additional support in figuring out ways to diversify your reading? Here’s some other blog posts we’ve done that relate, at least tangentially, to this topic!


Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.

Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon and ko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?

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How to Pitch to Duck Prints Press

A post by Duck Prints Press staff editor Owl Outerbridge.

In the publishing world, the word “pitch” conjures up a certain image. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write an “elevator speech” so you can quickly pitch your story to an interested party at a conference or meeting. Maybe you’ve participated in Twitter pitch-parties where you only have 255 characters to hook an agent. Every publisher and agent has their own expectations, and we are no different at Duck Prints Press. Since submissions are open again, we thought we’d take out some of the guesswork and tell you what we, as a press, are looking for.

For authors who have never worked with us before, the application asks for two  submissions: a writing sample and a pitch. The requirements for the writing sample are listed as part of the rubric for each anthology. We’re often looking for something a little different with each project, so we highly encourage you to look over the rubric and follow it closely when selecting a piece of your writing to share. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. We want to see the best of you—a polished selection of writing that sings to your abilities as an author.

What we’re looking for in a pitch is more subjective and a bit different from other presses. Many presses only accept fully written stories, so a pitch is used as a teaser to drum up interest. We choose authors for their storytelling ability, assessed by their writing samples, and then ask them to write us a new, never-before-seen story. While we don’t expect authors to submit completed stories, we do want to know you have a fully realized story you want to write that interests us and fits within the anthology’s themes and requirements. In essence, what we would like is a cross between a teaser and a summary—something interesting that tells us how the story will unfold and lets us see how it might fit in with the other stories in the anthology.

Here are our suggestions on how you can create dynamic and interesting pitches specifically for Duck Prints Press:

  • Spoil us! No, seriously. We want to know the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Or, if not the end, at least give us a clear view of story progression with an intriguing hook. We need to know there is a story in your heart and that you know where it’s going.
  • Fit the brief. Every anthology is unique. Each one has a list of requirements, and your pitch should make it clear how your proposed story fits those requirements. If the anthology asks for a certain genre, a certain type of character, or a certain type of relationship, call those things out. Don’t make us guess.
  • Give your pitch some character. Who are the main players and what are their relationships? How do you want these relationships to resolve? Found family? Tell us! Enemies to lovers? Same! The characters don’t need names yet, but they nonetheless need to live and breath on the page.
  • Plot is everything. What does the main character (MC) want, what is in their way, and how does their life change? What motivates your MC? Who, or what, is the antagonist, and why? How do you want to resolve the plot (even if you leave off on a question?) You won’t convince us you’re ready to tell this story without conveying these aspects of the story.
  • Make us feel. Is there longing in your story? Passion? Anger? Romance? We want to get a feel for the tone as we read your pitch. Please make sure it matches the tone we’ve asked for in the anthology, though. A grimdark horror story for a “happily ever after” anthology won’t make the cut.
  • Take all the space you need. Each pitch has a maximum number of words. We give plenty of room to make sure you can fit everything you need because we’re looking for so much more than an elevator speech. Be aware of the flow, though. You want to be concise and exciting.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Your pitch is as important as your writing sample and should be edited to the best of your ability. It should be formatted well, have good sentence variety, use excellent grammar, and have been spell checked. We don’t expect perfection, but editing is a major part of our process. We like to see that our authors turn in their best work every time. It can often help to have someone else look over your work before you turn it in. We strongly encourage the use of alpha and beta readers for all press work.
  • Tag it. We ask that, in addition to submitting your pitch, you also submit a list of preliminary tags. Think about how you would tag this story if you were to post it on Archive of Our Own. Will your story contain potentially upsetting content like sexual abuse (on screen or off screen?) Character death? Harm to children? Our staff has a variety of life experiences and while we strongly believe in your freedom to write what you want, we believe equally in harm reduction and giving people the tools they need to curate their own experiences. We request more general tags as well. Are you planning a story that you’d call fluffy? Is it angst with a happy ending, or hurt/comfort, or whump? We’d love to see tags similar to those that would go in each section of an AO3 post: major warnings/potential triggers, type of relationship (if any), and “additional tags.” You don’t have to have everything single thing in there, and they can potentially change, but tags help us assess what tone and specific content you’re planning to include in your story, once it’s fletched out from short pitch to full length. Tagging is not optional.
  • Most of all, have fun! If you are in love with your story, we will see that love. You are applying to write with us because you have a passion for writing that you want to share with the world. Don’t get lost in the details and forget. We have authors from around the world who have written for a huge variety of fandoms, people who are native speakers and grammarians, people who speak English as a second (or third) language, people who dabble in every genre. What do we all have in common? A passion for the craft. We love to write, and we want to work with people who also love to write. You—yes you!—can do this, and we can’t wait to see what you have to show.

Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered; this is not the first time we’ve written about pitches!

Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.

Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon and ko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?

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Aetherpunk

By a member of the Duck Prints Press staff who has chosen to be anonymous.

Note: Punk genres are diverse and always changing. Duck Prints Press is not trying to give a complete explanation of aetherpunk here but rather a bit of inspiration. Take what you want from it to create your own aetherpunk worlds!

On January 5th, Duck Prints Press will be launching recruitment for our next anthology: Aether Beyond the Binary, a collection of stories featuring main characters outside the gender binary living in modern or near-future aetherpunk Earth! This begs the question: what IS Aetherpunk? Well, read on and learn all about it…

Prologue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #1: Bloomington, Indiana, 2013:

Lin steps into the café down the street from their apartment. The lights of the shop glow a pleasant green, reminiscent of the owner’s own magical aura. Soon, when Del opens the shop for customers, they’ll turn a more standard blue, but for now Del’s shop is cozy and quiet. Lin smiles, looking forward to seeing their friend. 

A shower of blue sparks flies from the kitchen’s open door, and Del scrambles out, cursing. When he sees Lin, he breaks into a wry smile. 

“Breakfast on the house?” he offers, his shorthand for pleading. 

“That’s the third time this week,” Lin chides, barely holding back their smile. They roll up their sleeves to go tinker with Del’s new, “improved” baking oven. “Why not use your old one?”

“The aether this model uses is supposed to be more efficient!” Del exclaims. Then, with a sad smile: “Plus no one trusts my powers. They still think the color’s associated with… you know.”

“Yeah.” Lin knows. They think of Del’s infamous brother, the deadly alchemist. “I’ll help you, but this is the last time.”

“Mhm,” Del says, nudging Lin’s shoulder, and adds telepathically, You say that every time.

You could try not being so smug about it, Lin half scolds, half laughs. 

“Why wouldn’t I be smug? My handsome, brilliant friend, the undisputed genius of the IU School of Aetheric Engineering, is fixing my pipes for free.”

Lin blushes but maintains their chiding tone as they say, their warm face hidden behind the stove where the power supply has once again leaked from its pipes, “Not for free. For breakfast.” 

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Part One: What’s in a Punk (genre)? 

There’s been an explosion of punk genres since Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story Cyberpunk launched the genre. Though Bethke’s story may have given a name to this phenomenon, in his Etymology of “Cyberpunk” Bethke credits William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) for really defining the core tenets of the genre (Bethke, 2000). He also marvels at how the cyberpunk character trope (“a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-adept vandal or criminal”) has stayed remarkably stable over the years since his story was published. In 2022, when I’m writing this, it’s still very similar. The cyberpunks in the cyberpunk genre are the sorts of lone heroes who often arise in the isolating environments fostered by advanced computer technologies.

Why am I rambling on about cyberpunk? Because, dear readers, cyberpunk is the progenitor of all genrepunks. As the most widely explored and utilized punk setting, it has provided the blueprint on which other punk genres are built. In essence, every punk after cyberpunk is a reaction to cyberpunk, either embracing or pushing back against its ethos. After cyberpunk came steampunk: a retro, adventurous answer to cyberpunk’s gritty and dystopian futurism. Then came others: dieselpunk, sandalpunk, biopunk—even the very meta “mythpunk” to which Neil Gaiman’s work is often attributed. These days, even non-punk fantasy is often punk-adjacent. 

So what makes punk stories… punk? For a story to be classified in a punk genre, it typically requires two key elements: a distinctive type of technology (whether social technology like myths and lore or physical technology like steam engines, diesel-powered airships, or nanobots) and a point of view about that technology. 

The technological distinctions can seem fairly obvious: atompunk features tech powered by nuclear energy; nanopunk, tiny robot technology; biopunk, genetic engineering and biotech; dieselpunk, diesel-powered machines. But focusing on only the tech aspects can make people miss the point of having multiple different punk subgenres. 

Take this paraphrased version of a forum conversation, circa 2015: 

[User 1]: Hey, I’ve been hearing more and more about this genre called ‘aetherpunk,’ but I can’t figure out what it is. How is it different from just steampunk but with magic? 

[User 2]: Sorry to tell you, friend, but it’s basically just “steampunk with magic.”

[User 1]: Ah. So, completely useless, then.

This view is common but misses the point. The tech alone does not make punk punk. The second necessary element is the cultural context of the technology: how does it affect the people who use it every day? How dissociated do those people feel from their environment? From their government? From the inevitable march of society, driven at least partially by technological advances using the genre-specific tech? Punk genres live and breathe for their exploration of the intersection between technology and culture. 

Genreunk is a response to the world we live in. Cultural evolution happens when technologies—lore, steam engines, printing presses, atomic bombs—intersect with cultural habits and traditions and shake them loose. We don’t live in the only, or the best, possible world. When we write punk, in some ways, we’re rewriting cultural evolution. We’re asking for a new way of thinking about the past and how that carries forward into the future. How we would be different. How we would be the same.

Punk isn’t just a genre. It’s a tool for understanding humanity. 

Part Two: Clear Air, a History of Aether

In the beginning, gods breathed their essence into the emptiness of space, and aether entered the universe as the material through which the stars and planets moved. Humans in ancient Greece, attuned to this invisible presence, named it “clear air” and declared it the fifth element, along with earth, water, air, and fire. Other cultures gave this energy different names or didn’t name it at all but nonetheless knew it was there. Over a thousand years later, medieval Europeans called it “quintessence” and hypothesized that this element, rare on Earth, could be distilled in order to cure mortal ailments. Aether was a substance that could make rocks burn and lights glow. It became a key ingredient in classic alchemical experiments in the West.

Aether has always been the bringer of light, the unchanging medium through which energy travels in waves from its source to the lenses of our eyes, to the leaves of hungry plants, to everywhere on the planet and throughout the universe. Indeed, it was so recently believed in and well-known that late 19th-century spiritualists took photos of ectoplasm and declared that ghosts could send messages through the aether. 

Then, a mere hundred-odd years ago, we lost faith. 

The idea of aether seems preposterous now, when we know about electron fields and the theory of relativity which states that nothing in the universe is stable or unchanging (and we certainly don’t need a special medium that exists to move light around)—but is it really so much harder to believe in aether than in electron fields? Or in dark matter?

Why shouldn’t we be swimming through aether like a fish swims through water?

Part Three: What is Aether/Punk?

Aetherpunk, the genre, explores what the world would be like if, rather than finding out aether was simply a confused explanation for how energy moves through space, we discovered that it was a real element, something we could both detect and harness. The nature of the aether isn’t what makes aetherpunk what it is. Rather, it’s the exploration of the development of society from the turning point when we discover that the aether is real—how that changes the world, the people, the past, and the future. 

Aether, the invisible force, can be everything and nothing. It can be magic, or it can be material. In some disciplines, like alchemy, it’s both. Aether is made of faith. It’s ephemeral, often immaterial, and only visible once the viewer knows what they’re looking for. It can cause disaster or provide beautiful, clean energy for wondrous technologies. It can be a source of progress or of fear. But in the end, it’s still a thing that must be discovered and cultivated. It can’t be forced into existence.

Aetherpunk as a genre is more naturistic than earlier punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Natural materials find their way into clothing and buildings and weapons and tools, and the shapes of these man-made elements are designed in ways that enhance their ability to harness aetheric power. There might be constructs of stone or finely-honed metal held together by aetheric energy, beautiful steel weapons that cut through stone using atom-thick edges of pure aether, skyships and buildings of gold, or of clear stone, or of glass and crystal. And the technology bathes its surroundings in a luminous glow of aetheric light. 

Like solarpunk and lunarpunk, aetherpunk is a hopeful punk genre. When aether is discovered and harnessed, it brings about flourishing communities and can help to heal the world. Of course there are dark sides—the dangers of a volatile power source that not everyone can control, the frustrations of the people who are unable to use that power for themselves—and anyone is welcome to write a dark aetherpunk story. But aetherpunk doesn’t come with the same inherent baggage as steampunk or cyberpunk. Likewise, people can write utopian steampunk and cyberpunk, but that’s the opposite of the “standard” core of the genre. Aetherpunk wants to explore humanity in a universe where we don’t struggle simply to light our homes. Where the power that runs everything suffuses the universe, and therefore everyone can reap the benefits. A world where our source of power doesn’t send millions of people to an early grave. What sorts of stories would emerge in this sort of world?

Part Four: Steampunk but with Aether?

Now that we’ve described what aetherpunk is, let’s return to that dreadful forum post, and ask for ourselves: what makes aetherpunk more than just “steampunk but with aether”? 

In short, everything.

First is the nature of the energy that powers the technology. Steampunk is a retrofuturistic genre that centers on the era when steam, fueled by wood and coal, was the main power source, around the turn of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. It harkens back to the aesthetics of the era, with wood and steel and glass materials, wooden ships that ply the air, clockworks and rivets and tangible, heavy things that work through sheer force. Steam is a thing with weight. It will melt your flesh from your bones, and it’s born not of faith, nor internal strength, nor the careful distillation of spirits down to their quintessence, but instead through fire. Another resource needs to burn to make it. Entire lives are spent feeding coal into the voracious maws of steam engines. 

Aetherpunk, as we’ve described, is born of magic, and thus the technology to use it focuses on cultivation and focusing energy rather than on producing something by force. Even the most cursory look at the nature of the energy source shows us how every aspect of society linked with producing that energy is different between steampunk stories and aetherpunk stories.

There’s also a very important cultural distinction between aetheric stories and steam-powered stories. In steampunk, the adventures of sky pirates and nobility are built on the efforts of a vast lower class who are systematically shut out from steam’s benefits. It may not matter to the story at hand, but the underlying class tension is always there. Like cyberpunk, steampunk takes inequality as a given, and places singular heroes into that world.

Aetherpunk is more utopian and egalitarian. There’s no assumption built in that in order for a person to use their magical flying ship, someone else must suffer to create the energy needed to fuel it. This distinction makes all the difference in how aetherpunk and steampunk stories are told. 

In either case, the power source can be wonderful or terrible, can fuel dystopian nightmares or hopeful solutions to the troubles that ail the world. But the fundamental nature of these technologies affects the way characters think and speak about the world they inhabit. Is it a place of smog or of shimmering lights? Is it a place where magic competes with technology, or is it a place where magic is the technology? The answers to these questions are different in every punk genre, and those differences should have a profound impact on the story’s narrative.

Where will your aetherpunk story take you?

Epilogue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #2: San Francisco, 2043

Shining, multicolored bridges bend but do not break in the powerful earthquake that, in previous eras, would have shaken buildings from their foundations and dropped bridges into the bay. Drivers and pedestrians cling to whatever safety they can as the structures sag and sway and finally, after all is done, snap back to form as though the past minute was only a bad dream. 

Trill breathes a ragged sigh before stepping back onto zir motorcycle and kicking the starter. A blue glow and a warm hum are the only signs that the bike is powering up before Trill finishes crossing the bridge, a little jumpy from the unexpected shaking but no worse for wear. Ze has a long way still to go before ze arrive at Heloise’s house. Ze can’t wait to see zir friend, who is finally home after her long trip to Lima where she was training magicians to harness their power. 

Trill rides north into the mountains while the sun sets to zir west, out above the ocean, and the world glows orange and pink. By the time ze powers down zir bike, the sky is silky black and filled with stars. Trill climbs toward Heloise’s small house, which is built into the slope; the soft blue glow of natural aether in the rocks lights the way. Ze knocks on Heloise’s wooden door;  Heloise answers with a hug around Trill’s waist, her face pressed into Trill’s chest. Trill laughs, something in zir heart finally relaxing.

It’s been a long eight months. 

She pulls Trill inside, into this warm place she’s made in the lonely hills above the bay, and even though ze doesn’t deserve it, Trill revels in her welcome. It feels like coming home.

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Examples of Aetherpunk

As aetherpunk is a young genre, examples are sparse, and there are many opinions on what “counts” and what doesn’t. For example, some people consider Lord of the Rings to be aetherpunk, due to the way it brings magic and technology together (especially in Mordor and in Sarumon’s plot line) and the way the magic interacts with society. The below list should not be considered exhaustive, just as this post shouldn’t be treated as The Last Word on the nature of aetherpunk.

Books:

Games:

About Duck Prints Press

Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

Want to support the Press, read about us behind-the-scenes, learn about what’s coming down the pipeline, get exclusive teasers, and claim free stories? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi monthly and read your fill!

Sources

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How to Write a Great Query Letter

Part 2 of a 2-part series of guest posts by Alec J. Marsh. Part 1, “Why Query Letters are Good, Actually,” came out last week; you can read it here!

Alec is also the author of Duck Prints Press’s forthcoming novella To Drive the Hundred Miles, about a young man coming home for the holidays and finding more than he expected. It’s coming out December 21st, 2022. They know what they’re talking about, as an author and about a writer-writing-about-writing, so read on and learn!

Now that you’ve read the first post in this series, and had a week to reflect on it… are you convinced yet? Are you ready to acquire the most important marketing skill of your career? Great! 

If you’re primarily interested in how to pitch to Duck Prints Press specifically, there will be a full post about that coming out in the near future. But I promise, these skills will help you whatever your writing aspirations are. 

1. The Really Boring Part

Most queries open with a paragraph called “metadata.” This is all the marketing stuff that you need to get out of the way so your agent/editor knows what kind of book it is. This includes 

  • Title: Self-explanatory 
  • Length: This is vitally important for traditional publishing. If you are a debut author and your story isn’t within the accepted range, you’ll get automatically rejected by most agents. There are very good industry reasons for that, but discussing that’s a different article. If you want to look at the averages, check out this link.
  • Genre and age range: This is practical for marketing and readership purposes, and it also puts the summary in context. 
  • Comparative (or Comp) Titles: This is a tricky one, and a full discussion on selecting appropriate comparative titles could easily be its own separate blog post, but the short version is that you should pick titles that your book can be compared to. That can be descriptive—”Supernatural but set in Eastern Europe”—or genre—”For fans of Tamora Pierce”—or even trope based—”Sunshine/Grumpy romance set in a world of danger and magic.” There are a ton of options, but the main point is to position your story in the market and make it easy to pick up quickly. 
  • Logline: This serves a similar purpose as the comp titles do and is meant to sum up one cool part of your story. It doesn’t have to sum up the entire story. For example, Gideon the Ninth sounds wild if you try to summarize the plot, but I’ve been able to convince all my friends to read it by saying simply, “it’s about lesbian necromancers in space.” That’s all you need! In casual conversation, this is often called your “elevator pitch.” Imagine you’re at a convention and you get into the elevator with your dream agent, and you have only the length of the elevator ride to sell them your novel. What do you say? That’s your logline.

***Both comp titles and logline are technically optional, and you don’t need both of them. It’s better to write something unique than to waste the space putting something in just because you think you need it. 

2. The Biography

This usually goes at the end of the query. Don’t overthink it. If you have any credentials, put those in; relevant credentials can include past publications, editing jobs, or a creative writing degree. Then write one to two sentences that make you sound interesting. For example, I say that I like long walks in the fog (because I write moody fantasy) and have a history degree (because it inspires my fantasy world building). 

3. The Body

I left this until the last because it’s the hardest and most important part. A killer summary will make up for dull metadata and a lackluster bio. But if the body of your query letter is weak, no MFA in the world will save you. This section should be 300 words maximum.  

Your simplest formula for including what needs to be in this paragraph is four sentences: LEAD, OBJECTIVE, CONFLICT, TWIST. It’s simpler than you think to write the first draft. I promise. Let it be terrible, get it down, then edit it to a fine shine (much like you’ve already done with that novel!). 

  • Lead: This is your main character. Name them and describe them by including their profession, skills, or other plot-relevant details. 
  • Objective: What does your main character want? Try to make this as specific as possible. “Longs for  acceptance” is vague and generic. “Wants to be accepted into the Book Guild” is specific and gives a reader clues about their personality and the setting. You can put in some information about motivation here too. Maybe her father was also a bookbinder and she needs to redeem the family name. 
  • Conflict: Now we’re getting to the meat of it! Why can’t your main character get what they want? Again, try to be specific and don’t leave it to platitudes. If the bookbinders just don’t like her, that’s generic. If they don’t like her because they think she’s as corrupt as her father was and will bring ruin to them, that’s something a reader can really dig into. We have themes implied now! We understand this is a story about family ties, redemption, and preconceived notions, and you didn’t even need to spell that out. 
  • Twist: This is the most nebulous part of the query. The twist can be a real plot twist, like her discovering that the bookbinding guild also sells occult books. It can be a cool thing about the setting, like the bookstore being on an airship. It can be the romantic subplot, if she falls in love with her rival apprentice. It can be the historical inspiration, if the book is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. In short, what makes your book special? What’s going to prompt people to shove it in their friend’s faces? It’s similar to the logline in that way. 

You can also put the twist at the beginning of the body paragraph, if it’s really cool. You can weave it throughout. You can put it at the end in a mic drop moment. Just make your book sound cool. That’s literally all this is! 

And those three sections…are basically it! Doesn’t sound so scary now, right? Oh wait, it still does? Okay, then, here’s some more tips to help you!

  • Write down everything you need in a query in whatever order works for you. I do it like a sad, clunky mad libs just so it’s all on the page. It’s a lot of pressure to include all this important information AND make it pretty in one go. 
  • Ask your beta readers to help! It’s hard to summarize your own stories when you’ve been living inside them for months. I’ve helped so many friends with their queries because they wrote something perfectly serviceable and technically correct that somehow still made their story sound frightfully boring. (This is not a condemnation of their skill as writers. The skills needed to write queries are completely different.) 
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions. This is mostly personal taste, but I think they’re a waste of space. “Will she follow her heart?” is sort of useless when 99% of stories are about people following their heart. “She must choose between her ambition and the chance at true love” is so much more clear and includes more conflict. 
  • The body of your query letter actually only needs to include the first 30-50% of the story in most cases—enough to leave the reader/agent/editor eager to know what happens next, and no more. This isn’t true if the twist is necessary to understanding why the story is exciting. Can you imagine trying to sell Gone Girl without including the twist that it was all a set up? That twist took the story from generic true crime to something truly original. So to some extent, you’ll need to use your judgment, but there’s rarely any need to try to fit the whole plot into that 300-word paragraph.
  • Above all, be specific. 
  • Do not shy away from giving spoilers (again: BE SPECIFIC). “She finds information that may change everything,” are seven words that tell you nothing. If you say what the information is (“she finds a note from her father that makes it clear he was framed”), you’ll leave the reader desperate to know what the outcome will be, begging for the rest of the story. 
  • Get the query competent and coherent, and then leave it for at least a week. This is good editing advice for any story, but it’s absolutely vital for a query. Because they’re so short and so much rides on them, every single word you write in the query has to be useful, and every sentence has to be clear, concise, and intriguing. Don’t rush this; it’s better to go slow and get it right then hurry along and face a pile of rejections. 
  • Have a query beta reader who hasn’t read your story. Make sure it makes sense with no context. Revise it again. Leave it for another week. (I’m sorry. But I’m not really.)

I know this sounds like a lot. Query letters are hard, and the pressure makes it harder. Writing culture loves to hate on them, for good reason. But you learned to write a novel, something that takes years to master! You can learn to write a query letter too. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but it is a skill you can learn, and it’s worth it! With a single page, you can convince people to buy your book, and that’s magical! 


You can learn more about Alec here; you can learn more about To Drive the Hundred Miles here, and read a teaser here. And, you can check out Alec’s two already-published erotica works Heart’s Scaffolding and Study Hall.

Who we are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

Want to support the Press and get lots of our stories? Consider backing our Patreon or ko-fi monthly at a level that includes free stories, and read your fill!

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Why Query Letters are Good Actually 

Part One of a Two-part series of guest posts by Alec J. Marsh.

Hello, it’s me, Alec. I’m a new editor to Duck Prints Press and the resident corporate shill sellout. I love Duck Prints Press and their ethics (and will write an opinion piece soon on why they rock and you should submit to them). I also…. love traditional publishing. 

I’m sorry! I know this makes me a trend-following sheep. I know it’s a hot take in the indie pub crowd. Traditional publishing absolutely has its flaws, and I could go on at length about them. I’m still aiming to get my novels traditionally published. I want to be able to find my book at a Barnes & Noble and be nominated for a Hugo. Sorry not sorry. 

One of the worst parts of traditional publishing is the arcane hoops you have to jump through to participate. As anyone who has poked querying with a long, tentative stick knows, there are many requirements, and every agent’s website uses slightly different phrasing, and it’s a nightmare to navigate. It’s an extra nightmare if you’re neurodivergent and desperately seeking a clear, simple list of expectations. Unfortunately, the basic requirements are there for a reason. A GOOD reason. Learning the skills required to put together a good query package will serve you well, whether you want a ten-book deal with Tor, to sell hand-stapled zines at the local convention, or anything in between. 

So let’s get into it! 

The first thing you need in any submission process is a query letter. What is a query letter? In short, it’s a 3-5 paragraph essay about your book, yourself, and why a publisher should buy your work (and therefore why an agent should agree to represent you). You need to tell the agent the genre, the plot, and why this book is special. They are excruciating to write, because yes, you need to condense your book down to 300 words, maximum, and sell it at the same time. 

But imagine, for a moment, that you’ve walked into Ye Olde Barnes & Noble. There, on the end cap, is a cool new fantasy book you’ve never heard of. The cover has a sword and a snake on it, and you like swords and snakes. But how is it different from the 20 other books with names like A Court of Swords and Snakes that have come out in the last five years? The first thing you do is pick the book up, turn to the back cover, and read. 

You know what’s on the back cover? 

Paragraph one: In a stunning tour de force, ACOSAS takes you through the glittering world of naga politics… (A teaser sentence)  

Paragraph two: Princess Arya has always wanted to be a dancer. But when the evil northerners attack her kingdom… (A paragraph about the main character and the central conflict of the book) 

Paragraph three: Alec J Marsh lives in the Pacific Northwest and has never seen a snake in the wild. (A biography of the author) 

Guess what you just read? A query letter. In many cases, what’s in the blurb is actually pretty close to the exact query letter the author originally sent to their agent. Yes, really. Sometimes a query letter makes it from agent to editor to publicist to final copy.

They’re that important. 

But Alec, I hear you say, I’m not planning to get trad published! Why do I need to do this? Well, indie and self-published people—you will need to write cover copy for your book. And you’ll almost certainly need to write it yourself. The good and the bad part of self-publishing is that you do everything yourself. Less meddling (good!), but less help (bad!). And here’s the hard truth: absolutely no one will spend a single one of their hard-earned dollars on “sex babes get pounded by space aliens” if the back cover says “lol I suck at summaries, I promise it’s good :)” It’s useless, and it’s disrespectful to the buyer’s time and money. 

And that is why query letters are good, actually, for all writers, and are worth practicing how to create!

So go out there and sell your books, and you’ll accidentally write your query along the way. 

In Installment Two…now that I’ve convinced you that you should write a query letter, I’ll go over how to actually, you know, do that. You can read part 2 here!

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How to Navigate the Duck Prints Press Trello

Did you know we use a Trello for task management and it is completely transparent and publicly accessible?

Well, now you know!

The Duck Prints Press Trello is here.

When we first released it, we got an ask about how to use it; below is a Trello tutorial for those unfamiliar with how to use it, focused specifically on our boards and how they’re organized!

While we’re still hammering out the details on how best to organize the Trello for utility both for us as we organize things and to the public – in particular, I’ll need to tweak how it’s set up if we’re going to effectively use the built-in calendar functionality – here’s how it’s set up now.

Note: all screen caps were taken on September 17th, 2022, and do not reflect the exact current organization or the current project status of the items shown in the captures.

LISTS:

The highest level of organization on a Trello Board is the lists. We’ve currently got a whole bunch of different lists.

At a Glance: this is the “overview” lists. It includes all of our current projects, and all of our regular/general management. Those are organized on Cards – more on that next.

Task Implementation Check Lists: we were having trouble sometimes remembering everything that needed to be done for certain “big” tasks we do regularly (such as publishing a story on our website) so we’ve begun to create guide lists to help us remember every process step that needs to be done. This also helps as we grow and more tasks are delegated.

Merchandise: lists all the merchandise we’ve currently got in production/in process, and what their current status is. (it does NOT include merch produced for past campaigns/activities)

After those two, we have a whole bunch of lists that all serve the same function: they indicate what stage of editing we’ve completed for each of a number of stories we’re currently working on.

  • Developmental – Writing in Progress: first draft isn’t done
  • Developmental – Draft Completed: first draft is done, waiting for an editor
  • Concept Editing – First Pass Completed: a concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review
  • Concept Editing – Second Pass Completed: a second concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – First Edits Completed: a SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Second Pass Completed: a second SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Final Edits Completed: a final/clean-up SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Final Edits Approved, Contract Sent and Pending Signature: the author has approved the final edit run and has been sent their contract.
  • Story Completed, Contract Signed, Author Paid, Preliminary Formatting Done: what it says on the tin
  • Typesetting – First Pass: the typesetter has done the first run on formatting the story for print.
  • Typesetting Completed: what it says on the tin.

Not every story needs every one of these steps, and sometimes stories need more concept or SPAG runs than this, but we thought this division reflected the process stories go through most often. All task cards feature the author’s chosen pen name and the current working title of the story, if it has one.

Completed Project Lists: the next lists feature information on our completed projects, and can function as a (difficult to navigate and poorly organized but existent!) list of what’s available in our shop. It’s divided into four categories, reflecting the four places where our projects usually “end up” when they’re completed. (A fifth end point is “in an anthology,” and then that anthology, rather than the individual title, will be on this list when it’s completed).

  • Main Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duck Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
  • Erotica Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duxxx Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
  • Merchandise for Sale on Our Website – what it says on the tin. 😀
  • Monthly Backer Reward Stories – completed stories that have been posted for our Patreon and ko-fi backers.

Long-Term Ideas, Lists, Information We May Need Someday: the last of our lists is what it says on the tin. We keep track of ideas for future anthologies, potential merch, things we’ve thought of and gone “we can’t do that now but maybe someday…” etc., and we just toss it all there so that the ideas don’t get lost.

CARDS:

Every List is composed of Cards. Each Card reflects one category of “thing that needs to be done.” There are a lot of ways to actually set up lists and cards (and we may change ours in the future) but currently, we’ve chosen the following approach:

Cards for all our main projects/overarching “areas” in which we’re working. These are on the At a Glance List.

Cards for all currently in-progress Merchandise, on the Merchandise list.

Cards for all stories we have in-progress at the moment, on the appropriate Lists for their current status.

Cards for some over-arching categories of “things for not now,” on the Long-Term Ideas list.

All the Cards on At a Glance have the same basic structure. If you click on the Card, you’ll be able to see sub-tasks/checklists related to the items on that list. For example, here’s the Recurring Tasks Card:

This is one of the most complex of the Cards, as it includes all the activities we engage in daily, weekly, monthly, and annually to keep the business running smoothly. Other “management” related Cards on this list include two related to our weekly management meetings and monthly all-server meetings, and the General Task Card, which lists a whole slew of background activities that we’ve been working on and/or intend to do (divided into separate checklists for each category, cause there are just so many).

Then, below the the general Cards the cards for specific projects. Here’s the one for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown.

This, and the other specific project Cards, list all the tasks we currently know of/have thought of that need to be done for the given project. The checklists give a quick idea of what the task is, and indicates the current status of that task. A few also have dates attached to them, though not most cause we don’t tend to treat deadlines as that “hard” internally – we prefer to maintain flexibility considering how many people are involved in these projects and how complex all our lives are and how the world just, ya know, is right now.

As we complete tasks, we move them into the Comments section at the bottom of the Card. Because we only recently implemented this public system (previously, we worked from a private Trello that looked a lot like this but was just a bit messier and not designed to be viewed by outsiders, like, we used a lot of shorthand, that kind of thing) it doesn’t include tasks completed before we implemented this system, but we’ve been doing our best to keep on top of it since we opened the public Trello. For example, here’s the completed tasks for our upcoming anthology that we expect to open recruitment for on October 1st:

So, I think that’s the basic?

If there’s something more specific that anyone trying to use the Trello is finding confusing, I’m happy to expand this tutorial – I tend to figure that if one person has a question and actually tells me they have a question, there are at least a half-dozen other people who had the same question and decided for whatever reason not to ask. We’re committed to transparency, and the Trello is one of the biggest facets of that, so ensuring it’s navigable for newcomers is really important to us. It’s hard to create a public-facing system that maintains a certain degree of confidentiality and still serves our needs for managing the business, and also just – we’ve got a lot going on basically all the time (and more and more as we grow), so there’s a lot that has to go on there, which means by necessity it’s complicated. I do worry that if it’s really complex, it’ll serve to create obscurity instead of transparency, but…well, we’re doing our best, and we’ll keep doing our best, and we hope that when questions/issues/concerns/delays/etc. do arise, people will continue to be as patient with us as they have been! <3


Want to know more?

  • You can see our up-to-date (and used daily!) Trello here.
  • You can learn more about the Press in general, where we started, and where we’re going, here.
  • All our completed projects are available in our webstore.
  • Anyone who wants more information about “behind the scenes,” your best bet is to back us on Patreon or ko-fi – that’s where we post all the juicy details as we work every day to bring more amazing stories to y’all!