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Today’s the Day!

January 31st has come! We’ve gone through all the new submissions and returner pitches for She Wears the Midnight Crown and He Bears the Cape of Stars.

The authors who have previously worked with Duck Prints Press and who applied to be part of these anthologies have already been informed of our decisions. Because the pitches were relatively short, and there weren’t that many returner applications (28 applications for 16 slots – 8 slots per anthology), we tackled rating them first. All the returner pitches were phenomenal; choosing was really, really hard, but still far more quickly done than going through the new applications.

Going through the 76 applications we received from people who haven’t written with us previously was a much more involved, since all told the submissions amounted to approximately 150,000 words of fiction and story pitches to read. We’ve finished, and we can’t wait to contact everyone. However, before that, we wanted to put up a post explaining a little more about the process, to preemptively answer some of the questions we received last time after acceptances and rejection letters were sent out.

How were people rated?

Every story was read by three reviewers, who scored it using the rubric previously shared on our website (here). Each reviewer scored the authors on a scale from 0 (…no one was close to getting a 0) to 29 (…no one was close to a 29, either).

To ensure fairness, all scores were standardized with a simple statistical model. Basically: each reviewer used the rubric differently, and if we just compared “raw” scores, it would be unfair to people who got “harsher” reviewers (those who, on average, scored all their reviewed submissions lower) and over-weight people who got “more lenient” reviewers (those who, on average, scored all their reviewed submissions higher). To account for this, for each individual reviewer, we did the following:

1. Averaged all their rubric scores.

2. Calculated the standard deviation for all their rubric scores.

3. Ran the “standardize” function on each individual score.

What this does is take a raw score (say, 10, or 20) and re-calibrate it to a new standardized number where for any given reviewer, their “average” would have a score of 0. Their highest rated would have an adjusted positive rating based on their standard deviation (most of ours cap out around 2 – so the highest-rated fics have a standardized score around 2), and their lowest rated would have an adjusted negative rating also still based on their standard deviation (most of ours bottom out around -2).

Doing this enables us to compare apples to apples, because now ALL the rubric ratings are scored as if the reviewer’s average was a 0, instead of us dealing with the problem where Reviewer A’s average rating was a 15, Reviewer B’s a 19, Reviewer C’s a 10, etc.

Okay awesome but why are you inundating us with math?

We share the math on the back end because, whether we accepted or rejected you, you are invited and encouraged to request your rubrics from us (though note that not all of us used it the same way, and a lot of us were, uh, fairly casual? in how we wrote our comments). When you get the rubrics, if you compare them with friends who applied, it’s inevitable that someone is gonna notice that it looks like people with higher or lower scores didn’t end up distributed quite where they’d expect (e.g., someone with a lower raw score notices they were accepted while someone else with a higher raw score was not).

The statistical model above is why this happens. We have two readers who tend to rate fairly high on average (one is me, I’m unforth and if you request your rubrics, I’m Reader 1 for everyone, and I don’t mind sharing that information). We have two readers who tend to rate fairly low on average. We have one who rates fairly middle of the road. So imagine Applicant A got both the generous-with-points reviewers and the middle-of-the-road reviewers . Their rubrics are going to have pretty high point scores. Then, imagine Applicant B got the middle-of-the-road reviewer and the two stingy-with-points reviewers. Theirs is going to look like they did very poorly. But neither of those raw scores reflect reality – the person who got the highest point total on a “stingy reviewer” rubric might look like they did worse just based on the raw scores, but when statistically adjusted, the highest score from a “stingy” reviewer is worth the same amount as the highest score from a “generous” reviewer! So the highest score from a stingy reader might be a 15, and the highest score from a generous reader might be a 25; the standardization looks at the average these reviewers gave across all their rubrics, and enables us to “recognize” that that 15 and that 25 should be worth the same, and once the scores are standardized, both will be about the same.

Does that make sense?

I know it can be weird and confusing but trust me, it’s statistically sound. Or, don’t trust me – trust various statistical experts who say it’s the right way to handle this – for example, this one, or this one, or Wikipedia.

I’ll do my best to add standardized scores to the rubrics if you request them, so that any author can see both their raw score and the adjusted score we used for making our decisions. We are committed to transparency in our processes, so it’s important to us that people understand what we did, why we did it, why it was most fair, and how it impacted our selection.

How DID it impact your selection?

It’s pretty straight forward, really. Once scores were standardized, we averaged the three final scores, and then sorted the list from highest to lowest average. We accepted the people with the top ten average standardized scores for each anthology. Our final decision is entirely based on the numbers. We think this is most fair. Note, though, that “most fair” doesn’t equal “most objective.” There’s absolutely still subjective opinion involved – if you’ve looked at the linked rubric, subjective opinion is in fact hard-wired into our rubric, one of the ratings is “reader’s subjective reaction to the submission.” But, we use this method to help keep things fair and balanced and transparent, and we hope that it helps y’all to understand that you didn’t submit into a black box that takes in applications and spits out acceptance and rejection letters; we are always prepared to share the nuts-and-bolts of what’s inside the application “box.” It’s a transparent box, not a black one. 😀

Cool, got it. How will people be contacted?

As soon as this post is done and cross-posted, I’ll be sending out acceptance and rejection letters by e-mail from the duckprintspress at gmail dot com account.

1. Acceptance letters! We’ve selected 20 authors (ten per anthology) whose work really wowed us, and who received the highest average statistically standardized score on their rubrics.

2. Rejection letters! It’s a sad reality that we simply cannot accept everyone. We got almost 80 applications for 20 spots, so only 1 in 4 people can actually “make the cut.” Competition was fierce, and every single reviewer can point at a personal “fave” that didn’t end up making it. For both anthologies, the difference between 10th and 11th was only a few hundreths of a point. We saw a lot that really, really impressed us, and (as you’ll see in your letters) we strongly encourage everyone to continuing honing their skills and consider reapplying in the future.

Note that we’ve also decided to invite about a quarter of the people we rejected to our Discord server. These invites are issued based on a number of factors, and are entirely subjective – basically, once we’d gone through and knew who’d been accepted, we looked at who didn’t make it and used our editorial judgement to determine who we felt should be brought in. We’re sorry we can’t invite everyone, but…we can’t. We share that we’re inviting some, but not all, because, again – transparency.

I have a question that wasn’t addressed in this post, or I don’t understand something you said, or I want more information about point x, or…

Drop us an ask, DM us, leave a comment or e-mail us at duckprintspress at gmail dot com! We’ll do our best to explain.

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Thank you all for applying. Reading your submissions was a delight. There was so much here that just blew our socks off, and we can’t wait to get to know folks better, whether they were accepted or not, invited to Discord or not.

Always remember that, at our core, Duck Prints Press is committed to the principal that we want to work with people who want to work with us. So, even if you didn’t make it this time – keep at it, apply again, and we would love to be able to invite you next time!!

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Business Update

It occurs to me that I haven’t spoken much on our business Tumblr about certain things going on in the background of running this Press. Usually, on Sundays, we try to post an informational post about writing, a prompt list, or some other significant content, but that’s been noticeably absent the last few weeks, and here’s why.

Hi, I’m unforth/Claire/Nina Waters, any pronouns (I don’t care if people default to she/her, which most do), and I own this Press. I’m 39, enby, aroace, mother of two, and queer platonic married to ramblingandpie. And I’ve had problems with my back on and off for almost 15 years. In the last 4 years that’s very much been more “on” than “off,” and in the last year it’s been continually “on.” Over the summer, it lingered at a constant 2-or-so on a ten scale where 9 is “giving birth without painkillers,” which I have done. Twice. Over the early fall, it was bad enough that I started getting help lifting and moving things. In November, it went into precipitous decline, and I started to get alarmed.

Early December, my doctor said “give it six weeks, see if it goes away on it’s own.” Spoilers, it didn’t. I saw a specialist, finally, on December 30th, and they immediately sent me for an MRI (I’d been trying to get my PCP to send me for an MRI for 4 goddamn years). A week and a half ago I saw the specialist again, and we reviewed the MRI results, and basically, one of my discs is bulging and pinching my spinal cord (less basically, the disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae is herniated and causing spinal stenosis and radiating sciatic pain down my right leg). At this point, even on massive amounts of painkillers and anti-inflammatory meds, I can’t drive and can hardly walk right now – I get about 5 minutes on my feet before the pain is too excruciating and I have to sit and rest for 5 to 10 minutes before I can do more – and I also can’t sit at my desktop computer at all. And, the meds make me tired and dizzy. The specialist said I should see a surgeon, and while she hedged her bets and suggested there was a chance I wouldn’t surgery, she also considered the case urgent enough that she tried to flag the surgeon down in the hallway and have him see me immediately, and spent the rest of the appointment discussing surgery like it was a foregone conclusion. But I couldn’t make an appointment with the surgeon, because his secretary was out with Covid…and by the time she got back on Monday, the surgeon had also caught Covid, and is out for two weeks, as is another of the 4 total surgeons that the Spine Clinic at the local hospital employs.

I’m seeing one of the ones who DOESN’T have Covid on Wednesday, and again, while there’s a chance I don’t need major back surgery, it’s a very small chance. Based on our research and knowledge and what the pain specialist said (my wife has medical expertise too), we think the only real question on Wednesday will be how soon they’re able to schedule it, considering how bad Omicron is spreading here. The MRI indicates that right now I’m literally continually, potentially, a moment a way from catastrophic nerve damage. Like, if something twinges wrong, I could end up incontinent for the rest of my life, or with permanent leg weakness, or even theoretically paralysis, and I have a list of circumstances under which I’m supposed to go to the ER immediately and have the surgery with the on-call surgeon (who will be one of those same two who don’t have Covid, I feel bad for them they must be SO overworked right now, what a mess). It’d be a huge surprise if I don’t have surgery within the next week or two – we’ve been planning as if it’s a foregone conclusion, and I have a go-bag ready for the ER, because it really is that serious – and once I do, recovery is about 6 weeks of bed rest, followed by months of PT and the slower healing that just takes time.

All that said, post-op success rates on this surgery (I believe it’s a laminectomy?) are very high – if I follow all the medical instructions, I should heal back to 100%, unless I’ve already got nerve damage (which is unfortunately possible but. What can ya do?). Even then, surgery should heal the pain, and I’ll just have leg weakness.

All of which is to say…since early November I’ve been dealing with some pretty damn major health problems. Especially challenging has been my inability to sit at my computer, because that’s where I do most of my writing and all of my graphic work and editing.

I know I’m over-sharing personal things here, and I’m sorry about that – I’ve tried to hold off on sharing it at all, this has been going on for almost 10 weeks, but I think we’ve reached the point where the health issues are major enough, and the impact it has on the business is visible enough, that it’s better for me to simply disclose. I’m not looking for pity; I’m trying to make clear why the business is behind on certain things we’d said are imminent.

Our goal is to have this impact the business as little as possible, but since I’m our only full time employee, and our primary coordinator for major projects, there’s simply a lot we can’t do when my work time is greatly reduced by health issues. The good news is, once it became clear how serious this was, I used basically the business’s entire rainy day fund to buy a nice laptop, so I’m now able to work from the couch (which is about the only place I can sit comfortably). That’s how I’m typing this update – the laptop arrived on Wednesday and I’ve spent the days since getting it set up to do all the things I usually do from desktop, which means I can move forward on some of the things we had to delay.

Specific implications of all the above, as applied to our current projects:

1. The And Seek (Not) to Alter Me Kickstarter is temporarily delayed. We’ll make an announcement (and finally do the cover reveal!!) once we can plan a specific timeline for launch – hopefully, we’ll know that in about a week, after I’ve spoken to the surgeon. In terms of our actual preparedness for launch…I’m behind on my share of the editing, but all the stories have had at least one editing run, and about half are ready for immediate publication. The art is also all ready. We have all the merchandise art ready, and some are in the printing templates. The Kickstarter copy is complete written and edited and has been approved by KS (like, from that standpoint, we could literally launch right now), but only 4 out of the 6 graphics we need are completed; I’m hoping to finish the rest imminently, so that as soon as my health allows and I know I’ll be recovered enough to manage the KS fulfillment (which involves a LOT of box lifting, which is impossible for me right now) we can hit the “launch” button.

2. There are no delays in review of applications for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown. We’ve already finished reviewing the applications from “returner” applicants (people who have written with us before on one of our two anthologies or have done a Patreon story with us) and have a preliminary list of accepted authors (no one will be notified until we’re done reviewing all applications). Our team doing the review (myself, A. L. Heard/jhoom, Alessa, P. J. Claremore/Foop, K. B. Vimes, and Lacey Hays/Owlish) are about halfway done with the mlm applications and a quarter through the wlw – I personally am a reader for every applications and I’m finished with the mlm and will be starting the wlw ones today. All of which is to say, we’re making good progress and do not anticipate a delay – we still expect to notify all applicants of their acceptances or rejections by January 31st.

3. The two novels I’m supposed to edit – one by A. L. Heard, the other by Tris Lawrence – I’ve been unable to make progress on, so these are currently delayed, and the authors are in the loop and know.

4. We’re a little behind on Patreon backer rewards, specifically the Patron-exclusive stories. However, we’re working on catching up, and we anticipate that (hopefully) by the end of February, we’ll have published all the backlog and caught up. Other Patreon rewards have not been impacted.

5. There’s a few other things that were in the works when this all started but that we hadn’t publicly announced yet…those are, as would expect, on hold. (As a teaser for anyone dedicated enough to have read this far…this includes our first erotica title and an erotica imprint to go with it, with it’s own logo and sub-website on our main page, and our plans for our fifth anthology, and a call for manuscript submissions, and more!)

As we see it…these are uncertain times for everyone even without “extra” things happen, and something like this health issue couldn’t have been predicted. However, nothing has changed in terms of our commitment to Duck Prints Press and all we set out to do. We truly appreciate your patience and understanding as we, and I especially, get through this. We’re striving to catch up and get back to “normal,” and we can’t wait to share with you all the amazing things that we’ve been working on. And Seek (Not) to Alter Me is a.may.zing, y’all, and the submissions pitches for the two new anthologies are blowing our socks off. Seriously, we’re so excited.

Stay tuned – there’s so, so, SO much more to come!

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What Do We Look For in a Story Pitch?

We received a question on our Discord, seeking guidance on writing a pitch for our newest anthologies, She Wears the Midnight Crown and He Bears the Cape of Midnight. Answering it led us to look through the pitches we received when we put out our first call for applicants earlier this year. At that time, we didn’t include story pitches in the ratings, and we were also more open to authors changing their pitches, since we weren’t rating them. However, we still read them because we were really curious and excited to see what people had in mind, and I (hi, it’s your friendly neighborhood @unforth, owner and usually-the-blogger) highlighted my favorites and shared many of them with our backers on Patreon to whet their appetites.In response to the question on Discord, I shared a few of my favorites, and multiple people expressed that it was helpful to them, so I thought – why not turn it into a blog post, and let everyone see?

A few notes on this:

1. We do not claim this list will be generalizable to other Presses or calls for story pitches. You may find these strategies effective elsewhere, but you may not!

2. The pitches for Add Magic to Taste were restricted to only 200 words; our new call allows up to 400, so if you’re writing a pitch for us you’ll be able to get a bit more in than the examples were provide.

3. If you’re coming to this in the future when we’ve pitched a new anthology that you’d like to apply to, it will still be applicable – just swap in the specifics that make sense to our new project, because the essentials won’t have changed even when the specifics do.

4. If you’ve read our Submission Review Rubric you’ll already know that the only rubric item we have specifically for the Story Pitch is inherently subjective. While yes, we will consider the content, grammar, and technical aspects of your story pitch, that won’t have a huge impact on the ratings for our less subjective categories, and the main place we’ll rate it will be on a 0 to 4 scale from “I’m just not feeling it” through “I NEED 10K OF THIS YESTERDAY.” As such, because it’s subjective, what each reviewer will look for will vary. However, I wouldn’t be writing this post unless I thought the advice in it didn’t have some general applicability – our personal preferences will alter how precisely we rate pitches but in a general sense, a pitch that considers the criteria to follow has a good chance of appealing to all of us, even if it doesn’t end up a personal favorite.

With all that in mind…what should you consider when you write us a pitch? 

Basically: we’re going to want to know who the most important characters are, where those characters are, and what those characters are going to do/how they’re going to interact with each other and/or the world around them

Less basically…how do you do that?

1. Have characters. Don’t pull a “I want to tell a story kinda like a romance, but it takes place in a spaceship, and the ball is for…” without telling us about the people. Be the worldbuilding ever so cool (and don’t get us wrong, we LOVE cool worldbuilding!) we’re looking for people to tell stories about queer romance. So, we need to know who the characters are, not just where they are. All the most successful story pitches we’ve read are character driven. For example, here are some lovely character introductions from our Add Magic to Taste calls:

Ex. 1: Layla was born a witch—specifically, a witch who can make anything she touches taste sweet and delicious, which is a pretty lame magic to be born with. 

Ex. 2: Xee is Asexual, graduated from school a decade back, and works the Tea Shop his parents have owned since they moved there from the Fae realm four or five decades back. 

Ex: 3: Teravilis, a dragon shifter escaped from the government lab where she’s lived her whole life, is already feeling overwhelmed before a towering, beautiful woman sits down on the next couch. 

2. Have a setting. However lovingly your OCs are assembled, if we learn nothing about the type of masquerade you’re portraying or the surroundings, then we won’t be interested. Look again at those three examples of characters: all three not only tell us about the character – they also integrate information about the world that character inhabits. A pitch like “Character A is an engineer who is tall and blonde and very good at what they do; Character B is a sec op who has perfect aim and a give-um-hell attitude” is interesting but…what does Character A actually engineers? Why Character B would need to be a sec op wherever they are? It doesn’t have to be in the exact same sentence, but it needs to be in the pitch somewhere

2a: The setting and the characters must inter-relate. We want these characters to inhabit living, breathing worlds, and we do mean inhabit. If they just seem plastered over the setting – like if we took the characters out and plonked them down somewhere else they’d be completely the same – then that’s a problem. 

Some examples of settings that enhanced people’s pitches for Add Magic to Taste:

Ex. 1: Airmid, an undercover health inspector with a love for busting the dirtiest cooks in the business, stops by her gleaming city’s newest restaurant: The Drakery Bakery. She can’t believe what she sees. The miniature dragons who work as everything from oven flames to waiters can’t be up to code, and no matter how delicious the pastries are she’s certain that a dragon shouldn’t be breathing on crème brûlées to crisp their tops. 

Ex. 2: 35+ hedge witch who runs a bookstore (or similar) keeps magically bambozzling postal workers to deliver to the wrong address so she can talk to the cute owner of the bakery three doors down.

Ex. 3: Kyle hates that he has to put on his human skin every day and work at the coffee shop, but ocean jobs are reserved for those that can’t work on land. 

(and again, note how all three of these could have been easily swapped in as examples for item 1. The setting exists to serve the narrative about the characters, not the other way around, so a strong pitch is likely to integrate the worldbuilding aspects by describing where and how the character(s) fit into the world.)

3. Be specific. It’s okay if you don’t know the character names or haven’t decided on the name of the spaceship where your ball takes place – that level of specificity isn’t necessary – but a pitch that says, “Character A is a spaceship pilot who has snuck into the ball after making a mask out of discarded reactor core parts” is much more appealing than a pitch that says, “Character A works on the spaceship and sneaks into the ball.” We want to see that you’ve thought about who these characters are, and where they are, and what they’re going to do. 

Ex. 1: Then one morning, right in the middle of the dullest lull there ever was, the girl that works at the yarn shop across the street – the girl Merrily has been quietly pining over from afar since the first time she saw her three months ago – makes a dramatic entrance, slaps her hands down on the counter and says, very sternly, “It’s you, isn’t it?”

Ex. 2: Then he meets Nigh, a customer who hates the ocean but smells of kelp and salt and rides a skateboard like he’s underwater. He’s everything Kyle might want if he had time to do something foolish like fall in love.

Ex. 3: This story begins when Shiloh heads to La Vie Café to meet with the Reincarnation Support Group (for women who believe they have been reincarnated) in Philadelphia. She claims that she is the reincarnated version of a man who died 25 years ago. 

4. Introduce the plot…but don’t feel you have to tell us everything. If you really want to summarize your entire story in 400 words, go for it, but it’s not necessary. It’s absolutely okay to leave us wanting more – you can treat this like a back-of-the-book blurb rather than like your cover letter summary. “The problems they face seem insurmountable…what will they do?” is a perfectly okay way to end your pitch, especially if you’ve adhered to our first three points and made it clear through your characters, setting description, and specificity that you do have a plan. Most of the pitches we’ve liked in the past treated the pitch as a teaser rather than as a synopsis or a book report. (Read the full pitches below for an idea what we mean).

5. How you write your pitch is almost as important as the actual story you propose. We want a compelling story, yes, but we also want to see – how do you approach character building? How do you work within a word limit? How do you approach building tension? Your story pitch is about the story you want to tell, but it’s also literally about how you pitch it. The classic AO3 “sorry I suck at summaries” isn’t going to cut it here: you have to take the dive and act like you know your story pitch is the coolest concept ever, and you are out to convince us it’s the coolest also. You love your characters? Tell us enough that we also love your characters and get invested in their fates. You built a lush world for them? Paint that world concisely and accurately with your words. You know that a reader who reads the first 1,000 words of your 6,000 word story will be so intrigued they won’t be able to put it down? Show us that by making the 400-word introduction to the concept so fascinating that we don’t want to put it down either. (Again, instead of excerpts, see the full pitches below.)

6. Don’t neglect your spelling and grammar. Good technical aspects won’t necessarily save a pitch that is flat in other regards, and poor technical aspects won’t necessarily sink a pitch that’s otherwise intriguing, but your attention to detail speaks to your genuine interest in working with us, and if the editing is poor, even if we loved your story submission and your pitch, we’ll worry ‘how much editing will this person really need to bring their story up to professional editing standards?” It’s definitely worth sweating the small stuff and getting your SPAG clean for your pitch as well as for your writing sample submission!

To boil these six points down to a tl:dr – we are looking for story pitches that are character-driven, keep in mind our main theme components (happy ending queer romance at masquerades or in masquerade-esque societies/settings), show that thought has been put into the details, and leave us wanting more!

Here are all the full pitches that we used for the above examples, and some we didn’t pull examples from. All are used with author permission and credited according to author request. If the story ended up in Add Magic to Taste, we make a note of that, but remember that we did not rate these pitches as part of our applicant review for that anthology. Not all of these authors were accepted to our first project, even though we love their pitches, but all of these authors are currently involved in the Press. (Many are in our upcoming anthology And Seek (Not) to Alter Me.)

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Pitch by anonymous:

Sugar and Spice: Layla was born a witch—specifically, a witch who can make anything she touches taste sweet and delicious, which is a pretty lame magic to be born with. Her quest to trade it in for something cooler, or at least to learn some flashier spells, brings her to Sweetheart’s Cakery, a sweet and sugary establishment run by the most powerful necromancer alive. Stephanie Drybones, professionally known as ‘Sweetheart,’ has spent centuries honing her baking skills the hard way and isn’t impressed by Layla’s woes… but she is intrigued by Layla’s determination and acerbic wit. 

The two women make a deal: if Layla can produce a better sweet than Stephanie within a week, Stephanie will teach her some awesome spells to revive the dead in a sanitary manner, leech the warmth from her surroundings, and generally annoy the neighbors. If Layla can’t, however, she must come work at the bakery until she understands the importance of cake as a concept—which, considering how pretty and disarmingly nice Stephanie is, shouldn’t be a chore. Let the bake-off commence.

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Pitch by Lucy K. R. (@/lucywritesbooks on twitter):

Airmid, an undercover health inspector with a love for busting the dirtiest cooks in the business, stops by her gleaming city’s newest restaurant: The Drakery Bakery. She can’t believe what she sees. The miniature dragons who work as everything from oven flames to waiters can’t be up to code, and no matter how delicious the pastries are she’s certain that a dragon shouldn’t be breathing on crème brûlées to crisp their tops. 

But Calida, the dragon mage who owns the place, gives her pause. She doesn’t know what brings her over to Airmid’s table, but she has to confess that she finds her charming. And pretty. And confident, and talented, and… One more visit couldn’t hurt before she calls in the health department, right? 

Airmid finds reason after reason to give one more inspection rather than shutting down The Drakey Bakery, always hoping for one more chance to chat with its enigmatic owner. And as she does so, she finds a new appreciation for dragons, the deliciousness of imperfection, and most importantly for Calida— a woman as irresistible as she is lawless.

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Pitch by Willa Blythe (@/willaablythe on twitter):

Merrily Berkshire finds her quaint, old fashioned town boring and dull, and her shifts at the local coffee shop are the most boring of all. She knows she probably shouldn’t do it, but to keep her busy she has begun practicing her spellwork on unsuspecting patrons: a bit of a brightening charm here, a wakefulness spell there, an enchantment to be more open, an enchantment to be more closed, an intention to draw in funds, a quick-but-unfortunate curse to cause unrelenting hiccups that she feels immediately guilty for… It passes the time, and she’s getting better at it every day. 

Then one morning, right in the middle of the dullest lull there ever was, the girl that works at the yarn shop across the street – the girl Merrily has been quietly pining over from afar since the first time she saw her three months ago – makes a dramatic entrance, slaps her hands down on the counter and says, very sternly, “It’s you, isn’t it?” 

Can Merrily right her wrongs and woo the yarn girl? Get your most beloved mug ready: it’s time for a tale of magic, mistakes, and making your own meaning when nothing feels like it means anything.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

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Pitch by @/theleakypen:

A Chinese fox spirit, a Russian river spirit, and a love story measured in coffee dates. 

Lara Yan spent one hundred years cultivating to human form and she’s not going to waste this opportunity just to tear out men’s hearts to steal more qi. She frequents the Chashka Kofe on Morskoy Prospekt, working on her papers for her Master’s in Philology — language, she thinks, is the best thing about having a human mouth. 

Alisa Rusakova just wants a cup of coffee before another long day diving for a sunken barge in the River Ob. She spends her days in the water, hiding her rusalka nature in plain sight. Gone are the days when she and her sisters drowned or tickled men to death and haunted mortal women for their combs. 

When they run into each other — literally — on the way to the coffee counter, they have no idea that they’ve finally met someone who understands what it is to straddle the world of the human and the monstrous, someone they don’t have to hide from.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

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Pitch by @/arialerendeair:

In a world where the Fae, the Magical, and the slightly-more than normal live side-by-side with humans as a part of their daily lives, I would love to tell the story of Xilmys (he goes by ‘Xee’) and Areon. Xee is Asexual, graduated from school a decade back, and works the Tea Shop his parents have owned since they moved there from the Fae realm four or five decades back. Areon, he, well, they, but that’s rather new, has lived in the city since they were a kid, and they have been getting tea (both literal and metaphorical) from the Tea Shop for years, always from Xee. 

The only thing larger than their tea addiction is their crush on Xee. Now, if only Areon’s hair didn’t turn bright pink every time they talked to Xee, giving away how embarrassed they were, that would be great! 

One day, though, Aeron walks into the Tea Shop, determined. Their hair is purple, and they manage to do what had been impossible. Ask Xee on a date. Or coffee. But not tea. Definitely not tea. 

Xee agrees, of course, and says that while he loves all of Areon’s colors – purple is his new favorite.

*

Pitch by Shea Sullivan:

Kyle hates that he has to put on his human skin every day and work at the coffee shop, but ocean jobs are reserved for those that can’t work on land. The bipeds assume he’s one of them. His friends at home don’t have the recessive gene that would give them skins. 

He really is a fish—octopus—out of water. 

Then he meets Nigh, a customer who hates the ocean but smells of kelp and salt and rides a skateboard like he’s underwater. He’s everything Kyle might want if he had time to do something foolish like fall in love.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

*

Pitch by A. A. Weston:

35+ hedge witch who runs a bookstore (or similar) keeps magically bambozzling postal workers to deliver to the wrong address so she can talk to the cute owner of the bakery three doors down. Tooth rottingly sweet (pun intended) disaster gay/bi shenanigans.

(note on this one and the next that detailed, appealing, and plotty doesn’t have to mean long – it’s possible to get the entire idea across very succinctly and still have it be appealing!)

*

Pitch by G. Hendrickson:

A wlw bakery run by a witch and her familiar. A new customer has become a regular and the witch is besotted. Her familiar tries to get them together, even though she also loves her witch. Love triangle shenanigans are ended when the witch reveals she didn’t want to pursue her familiar because of the power imbalance. The new regular reveals they don’t want to choose between the two because they thought the familiar was just the messenger for both. The solution is a happy, bubbling bakery run by that cute poly-triad.

*

Pitch by Adrian Harley:

Maria Birch, former child star, ducks into Genre Blends Tea Shop on a summer afternoon to escape the prying eyes of paparazzi and be left alone for a few precious moments. She strategically picks one of the couches closest to the back exit and hopes her new seatmate won’t recognize her behind her sunglasses and floppy hat. But when her new seatmate burns her mouth on her tea and tears up staring at a crossword, Maria breaks her own isolation to see if she can help. 

Teravilis, a dragon shifter escaped from the government lab where she’s lived her whole life, is already feeling overwhelmed before a towering, beautiful woman sits down on the next couch. The wider world has too many people, too many pastry options, and too many crossword clues that make no sense. When Maria reaches out, though, Teravilis learns that some things outside a lab-controlled environment can still be simple. 

Will disgruntled paparazzi and furtive government agents interrupt this blissful afternoon? Not if a mild-mannered, glasses-wearing barista has anything to say about it.

*

Pitch by T. S. Knight:

This story begins when Shiloh heads to La Vie Café to meet with the Reincarnation Support Group (for women who believe they have been reincarnated) in Philadelphia. She claims that she is the reincarnated version of a man who died 25 years ago. Convinced that she is (or was) this person, Shiloh has discovered that her widowed wife is still alive and working nearby. Shiloh hopes that the support group will help her decide if and how she might talk to beautiful Aline. While the group of fabulous and predominately queer women are glad to chat, Shiloh quickly realizes that none of them actually believe in reincarnation and instead see the group as an opportunity to spend time together. Though these are kind and lovely women, socializing isn’t going to solve her frighteningly real reincarnation problem, but at least there are pastries and coffee and new friends.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste; note that T. S. Knight requested and was granted permission to slightly edit this pitch from the original submitted one, as there were things in it that didn’t end up in the published version that they hope to use in a future story)

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“Add Magic to Taste” Kickstarter Update

Things have been a little quiet around our social media as, over the past few weeks, we’ve kicked into high gear to finish fulfillment of the “Add Magic to Taste” Kickstarter. We’re pleased to report that we’re nearly done – all backers who’ve done their backer surveys have had their merchandise shipped, and most have received their things. There have of course been some issues – when aren’t there? – with damaged packaging and address errors, but the rate for such as been very low, and so far we’ve been able to replace everything that people have contacted us about.

With the campaign mostly done, we’re hoping to launch the e-book on our website within the next week or two, so that it’ll be available for sale to people who missed the campaign, and we’ll also have an extras sale featuring much of our merchandise. Make sure to keep an eye on our social media platforms if you’re interested in the extras sale – we’ll have extras of the following items to sell!

The book (seconds/lightly damaged ones only):

Keychains (all are seconds with various degrees of damage/problems, but we have a LOT of them):

Enamel Pins (mostly undamaged, with maybe a handful of seconds at a lower price point):

Bookmarks (all undamaged):

Stickers (small numbers of each, undamaged):

Magnets (both undamaged items and seconds):

Mugs (mostly undamaged, though there’s at least one second):

We may have a few sets of the art prints to sell, but we’re not sure yet.

We do not have any extra of the mini-books or the postcards.

As soon as we’ve set prices and the date the sale will begin, we’ll make another announcement. We expect it’ll be at least two more weeks; we want as many of our international purchasers to have received their backer rewards as possible, both because we feel that campaign backers should have their rewards before new people get a chance, and also because we need to be sure we have enough extras on hand to replace any damaged or missing orders placed by our backers. Sales will be handled through our website store portal. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions or thoughts on this!

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“Add Magic to Taste” Kickstarter: 48 hours Left!

We’re in the home-stretch of the campaign for Add Magic to Taste! There are just over 48 hours until we’re done. If you’ve been on the fence about getting it – this is essentially your only chance to get this wonderful anthology in print! The e-book will be on our website, but we won’t be ordering many print copies above demand – we may have a few extra for an extras sale or that we can offer as add-ons for future campaigns, but once those are sold? There’ll never be more copies in print. So, if you want a copy? Back it now!

For those who have backed and want to know what our latest news is – and for those who haven’t yet backed and want to know what they can get – here’s some updates on our progress toward our stretch goals!

First – our Backers unlocked an option for a third piece of art, and we’ve commissioned @joshua-beeking to do it! He sent a preliminary sketch yesterday and, well – it’s pretty darn amazing.

This image will be included as an inset in all e-books and print books, and backers at levels 3, 4, and 5 will get it as an art print!

Second – our most recent addition to the campaign? A magnet of our mage Dux! We asked our Patreon supporters on Discord which of our Dux they’d like, and this was their choice…

All backers at Levels 2, 3, 4, and 5, will get this adorable dux as a sticker AND as a magnet!

Third – thanks to the level of support the campaign has had, we’ll be able to pay all our authors 6 cents US per word they wrote – up to $300 per author. If we can raise another $1,250 over where we’re at as I write this, authors will get another raise, to 7 cents US per word, and if we can reach $25,000 by the time the campaign ends on Saturday (11 AM Eastern!), all our authors will get paid 8 cents US per word. This has always been our ultimate goal, and we can’t reach it without your help – so, please, please, signal boost this post and help us spread the word about this project – and help us get this amazing book into the hands of as many readers as possible, cause we’re sure ya’ll are gonna love it!

Learn more on Kickstarter right now!

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On Tags and Tagging: Behind the Scenes in the new (very queer!) anthology “Add Magic to Taste”

We’ve shared a lot of teasers, and a lot of information, and now we thought – time for a bit of an overview!

All our contributors write both fanfiction and original stories, and as members of fanfic communities and regular users of websites like Archive of Our Own, we all have strong feelings about the importance of accurately tagging stories. As such, from inception, tagging has been an important feature of the collection, and all the stories include content tags and warnings, to help readers find content they want to read – and avoid that which they’re uncomfortable with.

We recently finished standardizing and updating the tags across all the stories, and thought it might be fun to share some of final counts with you! They give an idea of the range of stories in the collection, what they have in common…and what they don’t!

Note that no stories are tagged “modern with magic,” “fluff,” or “coffee shop,” since that’s everyone! 😀

Point of View:

  • 18 of our stories are third person narrow/limited
  • 1 has an alternating third person narrow
  • 1 has third person semi-omniscient
  • And 6 of narrators that are unreliable

Tense:

15 of our stories are written in past tense, 5 in present tense.

Relationship Types:

  • wlw: 6
  • mlm: 6
  • mlen: 3
  • interspecies romance: 8
  • polyamory: 2

(this doesn’t add up to 20, since some of the stories have relationship types that don’t neatly fit into a type, or the relationship is primarily platonic, etc.)

Settings:

Not every story has a specified/identified setting – some are left to the imagination! – but we have stories set in the United States, western Europe, Norway, Russia, and Iceland!

Tropes:

Considering we have a LOT of common and popular tropes in our stories, but some that come up most often include…

  • angst (mild): 6
  • first kiss: 6
  • flirting: 6
  • getting together: 5
  • meet cute: 5
  • miscommunication: 4
  • mutual pining: 9
  • reunion: 5

Character Features, Sexuality, Gender, and Romanticism:

Note that this is far from a complete list – it reflects instead instances where authors specified, and doesn’t include all the tags we’ve used, just the most common. And in lots of cases, the author didn’t specific – it’s left to the reader’s imagination, to interpret them as they wish!

  • aromantic character: 2
  • BIPOC characters: 10
  • bisexual character: 5
  • homosexual character: 2
  • nonbinary character: 4

We’ve also got characters with disabilities, chubby characters, asexual characters, lesbian characters, agender and genderfluid characters, and more!

Magic!

And of course, there’s lots of creatures and magic!

  • Animal shifters: 3
  • Dragon: 3
  • Fae and Fairy Folk: 3
  • Magic users: 12
  • Vampires: 2
  • Witches: 4

As well as gods, spirits, reapers, and many types of magic use from multiple cultures!

Warnings:

Lastly, of course it’s not all fun and games – we do have some warnings. Our stories are mostly fluffy, so these are generally mild, but we want to be sure readers have an idea what they’re in for, so some of our stories have warnings for aphobia, biphobia, transphobia, classism, speciesism, off-screen death of a relative, strained family relationships, dysphoria, and more.

In the print book and e-book, every story includes a list of tags – warnings included! – at the beginning, and there’s also an index to help find (or avoid!) stories based on the tags.

Story headers look like this:

And the index like this:

So, if stories with these tags sound like stories you’d like to read?

Then make sure you check out our Kickstarter! We’ll only be printing enough physical books and merch to fill existing orders (there might be enough extras for a post-KS extras sale but there is zero guarantee!) so if you want these items, it’s now or never!

Only ten days left to buy Add Magic to Taste!

(and, if you want to support us in general…did you know we had a Patreon?)

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Exciting Kickstarter Updates!

Well, we’ve had a VERY exciting last 36-hours-or-so, that I wasn’t able to post about as it happened because I was traveling.

Exciting thing the first:

On Friday afternoon, we were notified that Kickstarter had selected us as a #projectwelove!

Exciting thing the second:

On Friday evening, we reached our primary funding goal of $7,500! Add Magic to Taste will definitely be a reality after our campaign ends!

Exciting thing the third:

Yesterday, we reached our first stretch goal, which means that the book will have a full-color second piece of artwork by @lizleeillustration (Instagram | Twitter | Personal Website) on the back cover as well as the first! We’d already prepared for meeting this goal; LizLee had sent us three sketches, from among which we picked the cover – a second of the sketches will be modified to be the back cover, and here’s a sneak peek!

Overall, it’s been a REALLY thrilled few days, and there are so many good things to come! We are at $9,000 so far for funding, and we have stretch goals planned through $25,000 – which we doubt we’ll reach but oh would it be so so so exciting if we did! Backers will get extra merch (at no additional cost to themselves!) and our authors will get pay increases and the Press will be better able to pay our staff and monthly expenses – so if you’ve been considering backing the project, let me tell you: this is a sure thing, and you should at least give it a look!

You can support Duck Prints Press by backing our Kickstarter for Add Magic to Taste, a collection of heartwarming queer stories set in magical coffee shops, bakeries, and the like – read more about it here!

Already a backer and want to help us more? Consider backing our Patreon (and get even more awesome extras!) or buying us a ko-fi. <3

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Update: Tweaks to the “Add Magic to Taste” Budget

With the Kickstarter for “Add Magic to Taste” fast approaching, we’ve begun finalizing aspects of our budget and drafting the copy for the campaign! When we settled down to do this, we made a surprising discovery: Kickstarter counts shipping costs toward the campaign “goal” amount. As we hadn’t planned our budget and goals that way, this required a fairly extensive re-tooling of our budget – though, fortunately, we’d already done all the research on shipping prices, we just hadn’t included that amount when we projected that the funding goal for our Kickstarter would be $4,500 (all prices USD). 

We’ve already updated our public projected budget, which you can view here. Note that our projects on sales and costs to produce haven’t changed – the only difference is, we’ve had to up our goal to accommodate the high price of shipping, especially internationally.

Changes we made:

  • Adding our projected shipping costs to the Kickstarter goal amount increased our goal by $2,200.
  • Funds were added to enable us to pay merchandise artists; we’re currently estimating the cost at $30 per piece, and we expect to have a more clear idea in the next two weeks.
  • Originally, packing material was priced from ULine, however we’ve since discovered that ULine donates to some causes we cannot support, and we will be using Valuemailer.com instead; this increased the price of purchasing packing materials by approximately $200. However, on the plus side, we confirmed we can save shipping on some domestic US shipping options by using Flat Rate boxes, and the boxes themselves are also provided by free by USPS, so we’ll be able to modestly reduce costs in that regard.
  • Including the cost of shipping in our goals means that Kickstarter will withdraw their fees from shipping costs (presumably why it’s set up this way, when it didn’t used to be), so also increased the fees we’ll owe them by around $100.

All in all, these changes increased our minimum goal on Kickstarter from $4,500 to $7,000, and increased all our projected stretch goals a commensurate amount.We’ve also updated our FAQ as we transition from the “writing” stage of anthology production to the “sales” stage of anthology production, and it includes the latest information on our projected backer levels and more! You can read all about it here.

Let us know if you have any suggestions, comments, or questions!

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Add Magic to Taste Author Recruitment: Update!

Hey everyone! We’ve been working very hard to get all the applications reviewed, and we’re getting close – we’re definitely on track to have e-mails go out on April 7th as planned, and may (no promises!) be able to get them out a couple days early (but April 5th is absolutely the earliest possible date). We’ve fully rated 89 out of 102 stories, and here’s what we can say so far:

1. Ya’ll did amazing

2. No like seriously holy crap we are blown away.

3. In fact, we are so blown away that, in addition to inviting the top 20 rated authors to contribute to Add Magic to Taste, we’ve decided we’ll invite the next 20 highest rated authors to our Discord and also ask if they’d like contribute to a different anthology (entirely optional!) that we’re currently frantically planning…we don’t know the details of length, payment, etc., yet, but it’ll be “Legal Fanfiction” – transformative works based on an existing work in the Public Domain (current leading candidates are something by Jane Austen, something by Shakespeare, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – we’ll be inviting all our Patrons to vote, so if you’d like a say, maybe back us!). Participation will be optional to those who receive the invites, and people who accept will no longer be eligible to pinch hit for Add Magic to Taste. More details pending!

4. We also noticed that some of us were kinder graders and some of us were stricter, so we added a step to our review process – instead of just taking each person’s three scores, averaging them, and et voila, we’re done, we decided to statistically standardize each reviewer’s scores. This adjusts everyone to the same scale (which is from roughly -3 to roughly +3, with 0 as average) to ensure that people who got stricter reviewers weren’t unfairly penalized and people who got kinder reviewers weren’t unfairly advantaged. We’re sharing about this in the interest of continued transparency, and for people who request their rubrics after acceptances and rejections are sent out, we’ll indicate both your raw scores and your statistically standardized scores.

We’re really excited to be winding down this process, and we expect to have more information to share about the Legal Fanfiction Anthology and our preliminary list of authors accepted to Add Magic to Taste in about a week!

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A Brief(ish) History of Duck Prints Press

For this week’s blog feature, I thought I’d talk a little about how Duck Prints Press came about. (hi, it’s @unforth​!)

In 2012, an old friend of mine – @fireun​, now Burdock, they/them – got in touch to suggest that I submit a story to an anthology for which they would be the anthologist. That project became Fight Like a Girl, a successfully Kickstarted anthology with over 20 contributors. Having gotten a taste for anthologizing (is that a word? it is now…) fireun proposed a second anthology – What Follows – to which I also contributed, and they made an attempt at a third which never got off the ground. fireun’s dream was to work with new, young authors – many of whom we had met while attending World Fantasy Convention over the years – to help them get their first writing credentials, pay them a market rate, and springboard them into further writing careers. However, by the third anthology it became clear there was a challenge to: new authors didn’t have the clout to successfully launch Kickstarters. fireun couldn’t raise the funds to pay authors what they deserved.

Around when the second anthology came out in 2014, I also finished the first draft of a novel that eventually became A Glimmer of Hope, and I began to post fanfiction (having been a lurking reader for several years). As I joined fanfiction author communities, I realized there was a vast untapped pool of writing talent – individuals who, for a multitude of reasons, weren’t interested in pursuing traditional publishing but might still want to get their original work out into the world. Furthermore, unlike the new authors that fireun invited to their anthologies, the fic authors had a following which could potentially help raise the funds necessary to pay for a project.

(read more…)

These two ideas combined over the summer of 2015. We got to talking – could we work with both these audiences? Could we make this into a company? What would that company to look like and how would it be structured? What kinds of works would we want to publish? I especially sank my teeth into the project, doing a lot of research – on competitors (ask me about Big Bang Press sometime…), on similar models, on pay scales and legalities and many other aspects of starting a business. We planned to meet in June, then it got pushed back to July…and then I found out I was pregnant, and fireun was trying to leave a bad relationship, and the whole project derailed – shelved, but not forgotten.

Several times, I tried to revive fireun’s interest, but they increasingly were moving in a different direction with their life (nothing wrong with that, they’re much happier now, and we’re still friends). Thus, I forged forward alone.

Based on the research I’d done in 2015 (and which I re-did periodically to make sure it was current), I had a basic idea of what I wanted to create: a Limited Liability Corporation, owned by me but with a team to help since it’s way more than one person can do alone. I’d looked into Book View Cafe, a cooperative publisher that works with established authors to put out works they want to do but for whatever reason don’t want to go a traditional root with, and I loved the idea of a co-op (that remains our ultimate goal). By reducing initial outlay costs on editing, graphic design, and other “basics,” and doing a lot of the production work on a barter basis, we could minimize expenses and maximize the amount we pay authors. I started quietly sending out feelers, to see what other fanfiction authors might be interested in joining something like this, and found a lot of support that helped me think the core idea would be viable.

But could we make money? I need to prove that, to myself and in a way demonstrable to others, before I could proceed.

Despite having a rough pregnancy, and then an infant, I edited and preparing A Glimmer of Hope for self-publishing (I also have my own reasons I’m not interested in pursuing traditional publishing). In fall, 2016, drawing on the support of people who enjoyed my fanfiction, I successfully funded a Kickstarter for A Glimmer of Hope, which convinced me that my core idea from the previous summer was sound: working with fanfiction authors who wanted to publish original work could produce enough support to pay for putting out books, especially if those books catered to fanfiction reader’s taste.

If I could do one book by myself and turn a profit, surely many authors working together to produce works of different lengths and anthologies could do even better! Validated, and having found the Kickstarter surprisingly easy to put together, I continued to form my plans.

As I putting together the final draft of A Glimmer of Hope, I wanted a publisher imprint to put on the spine and title page, and after a lot of pondering, I settled on Duck Prints Press. This was an homage to fireun and our time in college as roommates, when we pranked each other in increasingly absurd ways that always involved ducks (my favorite was when I propped a bucket of stuffed ducks over their door such that it fell out on their head when they opened the door…another excellent one was when fireun used all the ceiling light drawstrings in our house to hang rubber ducks threateningly around…it all stemmed for a ridiculous AIM conversation, circa 2001, where we swore vengeance on each other over some absurdity but we could only use ducks, Gackt music, and library books to exact our revenge). Ducks were near and dear to my heart because of all this, and strongly associated with my relationship with fireun, so of course I wanted to immortalize that in our name. I also developed the initial version of our duck print logo, with the intention that someday, I’d make the press a fully-realized reality, and not merely an imprint on a single self-published book.

Since I sent those books out in 2016, it’s taken more than 4 years to convert those nascent plans into the reality of Duck Prints Press LLC. I made a push in 2019, and that’s when jhoom, formidablepassion, alessariel and adaille signed on to help. We did a lot of planning then, but fall of 2019 was busy for us and we had to put things on hold, and then 2020 happened (need I say more?).

As the last difficult year came to a close, I reached out to the others and we agreed: 2021 would be our year.

So, here we are, and we’re excited to finally be sharing the dream that started as mine and fireuns, and then was mine alone, and now belongs to many people – and more all the time. We’ll be announcing author recruitment for our first anthology imminently (…probably tomorrow!) and we’re hoping that, just as once fireun hoped to help launch new authors with anthologies, the five of us who run Duck Prints Press will be able to recruit a core team of authors interested in publishing original work with us in the future. We’re very excited – to publish new works, to bring in new readers, to support authors, and to publish original fiction that brings all the joy that our favorite fanfiction elicits.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to be writing books about your new OTPs.

Thanks, everyone, for joining us at the start of this journey. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of us!