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Love Our Blog Posts? Give Us a Tip!

Just a note y’all – we’ve turned on Tipping for the Duck Prints Press Tumblr Blog (here) and for our original posts (EXCEPT those written by guest bloggers, because US getting tips for a post written by a guest blogger just feels super awkward and not-quite-right).

So, if you want to support us, and you don’t want to become a ko-fi member, back us on Patreon, or shop at our store…now you have yet another option!

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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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Kickstarter, Blockchains, and Crypto

We received an e-mail regarding Duck Prints Press’s official view on Kickstarter’s recent announcement of their intentions to go transfer to a block-chain based system, and if Kickstarter’s actions would influence Duck Prints Press working with them in the future.

For those who many not have heard, Kickstarter has indicated their intention to transition to using block chain in…some fashion…to “decentralize” and make their organization more “open and collaborative.” Their own announcement is posted here, and despite a lot of glitzy-sounding copy, it basically reads as nonsense. Maybe a crypto-bro would understand it but it all sounded pretty meaningless to me (you know, a well-educated professional author and editor). There are lots of websites who have posted more readable explanations, and which thoroughly roasted them, and I imagine the way I’m writing this already makes clear our position, but since we were explicitly asked, and answered, I see no reason to keep our answer a secret.

When I submitted And Seek (Not) to Alter Me to Kickstarter for approval and review, they asked me to take a survey. The survey primary cared about demographics, but there was a free answer item at the end, and I used that opportunity to tell them in no uncertain terms that if they do more with blockchains and/or cryptocurrency, we will no longer work with them. We have zero interest in being a part of anything like that.

Based on my understanding of their announcement, so far they’ve only declared a “commitment” to this change, and started an organization to “develop the protocol.” Which means, for now, we’re still willing to work with them, mostly in the hopes that in light of the blowback they’ll change their minds. However, if they don’t change their minds, we’ll discontinue working with them and switch to a different crowd-funding platform, most likely Indiegogo based on the currently available options and the information we currently have.

I am still slightly reticent even to continue with Kickstarter as things stand now, because if they DON’T back down, the fees they collect from us will go to fund something we truly utterly do not support, but we feel committed at least for our next campaign. Depending on how the situation progresses, though, that may change by the time we’re discussing our third.

Hope this makes it clear that our attitude amounts to “fuck that noise,” and reassures anyone who shares our concerns that we will absolutely not continue to be involved with them if they go in this direction.

And if you actually support them doing this…uh…well, um, good luck with that, I guess?

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Third Art Piece Artist Announcement!

We’ve got a signed contract and formal permission from the artist to share who will be doing the third piece! We commissioned a third work when we reached the $15,500 stretch goal – the third piece will be included in the e-book, produced as a glossy 5″ x 8″ image and included with every print book, and backers at levels 3, 4, and 5 will get an 8″ x 10″ art print of the piece as well!

Joshua Beeking will be producing this piece! He sent us this biography to use:

I’m Joshua Beeking, an illustrator from Québec City that works in both  traditional and digital medias. I have been working on sharpening my  skills for over 10 years. I received formal education at Quebec’s  O’Sullivan College, where I earned a diploma in 2D/3D Animation and Rendering in 2012. I won first place at the UQAM digital creation contest in 2011 for best character designs. I’m currently a full time freelance artist with more than 200  commissions completed over the years, and aim to share my little touch  of creativity with the world!

Links: Instagram | Patreon | Twitter

Joshua will be producing an undersea scene for this, since we’ve got a few stories that involve the ocean, beach, and/or merpeople! We’ve given him a high degree of creative license, and we don’t have a sketch yet, so I can’t share a progress piece, but we can share underwater works he’s done before, such as this one (there are some others, but some are not safe for work, so we’ll hold off. <3 )

With Joshua’s mastery of line work and beautiful use of light, we’re thrilled to have him to create this piece for Add Magic to Taste!

(and, teaser – he’s also a contributor to our second anthology, already in the works – it’s called And Seek (Not) to Alter Me – Queer Fanworks Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and we anticipate launching a KS for it basically as soon as we’re finished with fulfillment for this one, so stay tuned – there’s lots more queer to come from Duck Prints Press! 😀 )

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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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Stretch Goals and Add Ons Updates!

We’ve reached our second stretch goal, which means all our authors will get a raise, from 1 cent a word to 2 cents a word, which doubles how much they earn! This is wonderful, and good progress toward our goal of paying our authors “market rate” of 8 cents per word (if we hit $25,000, we’ll be able to do that)!

Our next stretch goal is at $10,500 (as of RIGHT NOW? only $50 away!). At that level, all backers at Level 2 will have a mage Dux sticker added to their purchase, at no cost to the backers, and backers at Level 2, 3, 4, and 5 will also receive two additional die-cut stickers! The management team is still considering our options but this one is almost guaranteed:

Considering the rate at which we’ve been accruing backers, and that we’re less than $300 from the “two more die-cut stickers” goal, we are prepared to guarantee that we’ll hit this level before the end of the campaign – and we may even hit it today! (especially if those of you who have already done so much to help us succeed continue to help us spread the word about this project!)

And as a reminder: all of our stretch goals that involve merch or extra items being produced lead to our backers getting more “stuff” for ZERO ADDITIONAL DOLLARS of backing! Our two major art stretch goals – the back cover (already funded!) and the inset art piece (at $15,500) – will be included in the e-book AND print book, so backers at all five levels will receive them (though only level 3+ will get a print of the art!). Our stretch goals that include small, flat physical items (such as the stickers, and the mini-book at $18,000) will go to backers at levels 2 through 5; and our other merch items,  such as the a second enamel pin (teasers to come when we’re closer to hitting that goal at $14,500) will be added to the packages for backers at levels 3 through 5!

You can see the full list of stretch goals on our main Campaign page! But the gist is: if you back the project, and you help us spread the word and bring in more backers, and we’re able to raise more money…everyone gets more stuff, at zero additional cost to any individual! It’s pretty cool, right?

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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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What is a Story?

When Duck Prints Press put out our call for applicants, we asked everyone to submit “a sample of their work (between 1,000 and 2,000 words)… [that] must function as a short story.” When we reviewed the 100+ samples we received, we noticed many areas where writers commonly struggled. Based on what we learned, we’ve planned a number of blog posts to discuss these challenging areas, and we’ve decided to tackle one of the most frequent issues first. Many otherwise strong submissions lost points on our rubric line regarding “plot and events,” and specifically, they scored a 1 or a 2 because “the story has no plot (for example, is a vignette).”

So, this begs the question, what is a story, and, of course, what isn’t a story?

(note that throughout this post, I use the word “narrative” to refer to any amount of text that may or may not be a story, and I use story only in a more narrow, specific sense.)

What is a story?

The answer is deceptively simple: a story is any narrative that has a plot. But…what is a plot? There are many ways to define a plot, but at its most basic, a plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and by the ending, something has changed. If, at the end of the story, nothing has changed, then it’s not a story. However, even if something has changed, it’s still not necessarily a story, because characters and time-frame also influence the definition. A narrative without at least one character is not a story. Likewise, a narrative time-frame, if it’s discussing events at a meta-level (“this happened, then this happened, then this happened”) may show that changes occur, but it’s still not a story – it’s an overview or an outline. The lines, of course, can be blurry – and where any given author, reader, or DPP reviewer draws the line between “this is a story” and “this isn’t a story” will vary.

How is a story communicated to the reader?

To function as a story, the narrative must include characters. Now, character doesn’t necessarily have to mean person, or even require sentience, but there must be some point of view being explored, and if the character is an animal or an inanimate object, writing it as a character will require a degree of anthropomorphizing. The key aspect is that the character has some form of agency – some ability to interact with and influence their surroundings. This character will have a point of view and a perspective that affects how they perceive the story’s setting, and by the end of the story this character should have either changed themselves, or changed their surroundings, or changed their relationships. The circumstances around this character must be different by the end of the story than they were at the beginning – or else it’s not a story.

What is change?

As part of the narrative, one or more characters in the story must engage in some form of activity that results in the world around them changing. Writing advice most oftenly calls this “conflict,” but honestly? I hate that word. The classic couching of “person vs. self, person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. society, person vs. fate” as the available types of conflict is tired. Defining the only kind of change as conflict and specifically describing it as “x versus y” is to automatically get a potential writer thinking in terms of antagonism. While antagonism is one available type of change, it’s not the only, and while many pieces of writing advice point out that these “versus” constructions don’t mean enmity by nature…why not simply choose a less confusing construction, one that doesn’t require addenda to explain the existence of narratives that clearly are stories but are less “versus” and more “and” – “person and self,” “person and person,” “person and nature,” “person and society,” “person and fate.” I’ve opted to use the word change, because one of the clearest ways to tell if a narrative is a story or not is to look at the nature of the character(s) are at the beginning, and look at the nature of them at the end, and say – what’s different? Maybe they’ve built something. Maybe they’ve reached a new understanding. Maybe they’ve conquered a challenge. Maybe they’ve altered their perspective. Maybe they’ve learned something. Maybe, they’ve changed the world, or maybe, they’ve just changed a light bulb – but something has changed.

Before some writing snob comes at me and says, “okay, fine, we dare you to come up with a plot that doesn’t fit into the classic five conflict types” …of course we can’t. That model functions because all stories can be shoehorned into it, as long as very loose definition of “conflict” and “versus” are used. But because it’s described in oppositional terms, a lot of writers get distracted by that terminology and think there has to be, well, a conflict, in the narrow definition of the word. And that’s clearly absurd – many of our favorite fanfiction tropes, for example, are fluffy and comforting and soft precisely because they’re not about conflict, they’re about harmony. Yes, “enemies to lovers” is wonderful, but so is “friends to lovers.” Two people going on a date that ends with a marriage proposal is a story: they started out as a couple and ended engaged. Something has changed – their relationship status. But to call that “person versus person,” while perhaps technically correct, is ludicrous. Now, to keep it interesting, there might be some “person versus self” – “I’m not worthy of this love, omg do they really care for me, oh will society give us problems if we say yes?” which is how it can be shoehorned into the “conflict” model. But be it ever so soft, and their love ever so accepted, and their faith in each other ever so steady – if there really is no conflict, just those two people meeting up and having a nice night and ending in a proposal…it’s still a story. To say it’s not a story because there was no conflict, only an advancement of their relationship…yes, a story like that is borderline to being a vignette or “slice of life” narrative. Certainly, if there’s zero sources of tension, it may not be a very interesting story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a story.

What else does a story need?

Honestly – not much. Don’t get us wrong – a story is stronger if it has a setting so that it doesn’t just take place in endless blankness. A story with multiple characters but no form of dialog (verbal or non-verbal) may be a little flat. A story where something changes but some of the introduced plot elements aren’t resolved will feel incomplete to a reader. A story without any negativity could be boring. Stories lacking these elements may not be good stories…or they could be amazing, and innovative, showing how a tale can be told without elements we usually consider essential! As long as something or someone has changed, and the story is told in a narrative, descriptive format that includes a character – it’s a story.

What isn’t a story?

Things that aren’t stories fall into two broad categories:

  1. Narratives that have description, characters, dialogue, setting, and other story elements, but nothing changes. Examples of this are “slice of life” narratives and what, in fandom-parlance, would be called an episode coda or canon insert – a chunk of narrative deliberately meant to make a bridge between two established events but in which nothing can change because the surrounding events remain established. (A coda or insert might be a story, it varies.)
  2. Narratives that are either entirely “show” (for example, a vignette) or entirely “tell” (for example, a synopsis),  These can also be seen as relating to time – either there’s little or no passage of time (usually the case in vignettes) or far too much passage of time (usually the case in synopses). Narratives like this may or may not include a character, but even if they do, they’re still not stories. Why not? Because any story that is entirely “show” and involves minimal passage of time is unlikely to result in change, and instead will be an extended description of a moment. And any story that is entirely “tell” and depicts a large swath are overviews – there’s no element to actually grab a reader and no reason the reader should care about this dry relationship of events. That’s not a story – it’s a history textbook.

Drawing the lines between these categories can be difficult, and to some extent will come down to taste. Anyone who says there’s a hard-and-fast rule in writing is a liar. Just because a synopsis or a “slice of life” narrative isn’t usually a story doesn’t mean they will never be one. But, in general, if you’re looking at a piece of work and you’re trying to determine if it’s a story or not, there are some signs that will strongly suggest it’s not a story:

  1. There are no characters.
  2. There is no setting.
  3. Nothing has changed between the beginning and ending of the narrative.
  4. The entire narrative is an extended description of a single person/object/setting.
  5. The entire narrative could easily be reworded into a sequence of, “thing one happened, then thing two happened, then thing three happened, then thing four happened.”
  6. The narrative feels like a “pause,” or a “bridge” that takes place between two events that aren’t depicted in the narrative.
  7. A central conflict or issue is introduced or described in details, but nothing is done to try to solve the issue.

Now, for the most important part of this discussion of what isn’t a story: writing something that isn’t a story isn’t a bad thing! Especially in fanfiction communities, we live for self-indulgent narratives that make us happy. We love to see those “moments between.” We live for a thought-out thousand-year history for some setting that didn’t originally have that much background. These kinds of narratives are fun to write, and especially when they’re part of an existing franchise, can be a delight to read. We are not saying that there is literally anything wrong with writing a narrative that isn’t a story.

That said, Duck Prints Press’s applicant call specifically asked authors to submit a writing sample that was a story, with the eventual goal of selecting authors to write short stories for an anthology. Which is to say: there’s nothing wrong at all with writing “slice of life” stories, codas, canon inserts, vignettes, or synopses – it’s simply not what we asked people to submit in this specific case, and we’ve come to see that a lot of people submitted non-stories without an apparent understanding of the difference, and we wanted to explain that difference.

But, to everyone reading this: write whatever brings you joy, in as much detail or vagueness as makes you happy, and share it with whoever you want. Just also understand, that for many types of narratives, if you’re asked “is that a story?” it’s not. That’s not to create a hierarchy – they’re all equal as art forms, they’re just not the same.

Okay I kinda understand this in theory but what do these differences actually look like in practice?

In long-form works, it’s usually relatively easy to recognize what is a story and what isn’t. Almost every novel ever published has a plot, and has things change, and is therefore a story. (though there are exceptions – Wikipedia lists a few longer vignettes and, when done thoughtfully, it can be astonishingly effective.) However, in shorter works, it can be difficult to tell the difference – and, as previously mentioned, the lines can blur.

In the interest of giving an idea of what the differences are, here are a few examples I quickly cooked up to try to show you all, since I’ve done a lot of “telling” so far (this blog post: also not a story, ha!) and very little demonstration. These are each around 150 words, to show that even in a tiny word count, any of these narrative structures is a viable choice. (Sorry these aren’t high literature – I just threw them together for this post, so I’d have something that suited.)

A story – a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, where something changes:

The door slammed open. Looking up from her embroidery, Victoria blinked as Margaret strode into the room.There was an air of expectancy that was inexplicable to Victoria; she grew more confused when Margaret approached and dropped to one knee.

“What are you doing?” Heart pounding, Victoria attempted self-restraint, but she couldn’t rein in her hope, because it almost looked like…it seemed like…but–

“Proposing,” announced Margaret, pulling a velvet-covered box from her pocket and opening to reveal an emerald set in a gold band.

“But you can’t!”

Margaret tilted her head to the side and frowned. “Why not?”

Objections occurred to Victoria, but examining them…she couldn’t think of a one that Margaret wouldn’t demolish with her usual brilliance. “You know what? You’re right. Who’s to stop us? And…I accept.”

And as Margaret slipped the ring onto Victoria’s finger, she knew: there could be no objection. Nothing had ever felt so right in her life.

“Slice of life” – a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, where nothing changes:

“What a day!” said James, dropping onto the couch with an exhausted sigh.

“I know what you mean,” Tom agreed. He fumbled a hand across the cushion separating them, and James delighted in the simple comfort of threading their fingers together.

A beep, beep, beep sounded in the kitchen, announcing that the microwave had finished nuking their leftovers.

“You getting that?” asked Tom.

“It’s your turn!” James countered.

“But I don’t want to let go of your hand.” Tom gave his hand a squeeze, and a pleased glow suffused James’s chest.

It was Tom’s turn to retrieve their dinner.

But Tom was right – holding hands was wonderful.

“Let’s get it together,” James suggested.

Hesitating, Tom remained still as James sit up and gave a tug on their joined arms, then he broke into a smile and rose at James’s side.

“I love the way you think.”

“I love you, too, darling”

And together – always together – they got their dinner.

“Bridge” scene, episode coda, or canon insert-style fic – a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, where nothing changes:

Arriving home after the battle, Sandy opened the rough-hewn door and shed her damaged armor. Her dented cuirass had left an aching bruise across her chest; she carried it to the smithy out back for repair in the morning. A gash on her thigh throbbed where an arrow had pierced the straps holding her greaves in places; she brought them to her leather-working station. Nicks and fissures marred her once-gleaming sword blade. All Sandy wanted was to collapse in bed, but resisted the pull of relaxation, because blood limned the damaged places red, and repair to the damaged weapon couldn’t wait. Taking a seat, placed her feet on the treadles that set her whet stone to spinning and set about polishing out every imperfection.

Yes, she was exhausted.

But her sword must be cleaned, and smoothed, and honed, and prepared.

Sandy must be prepared.

There would always be another battle to be fought.

Vignette, a narrative without a beginning, a middle, or an end, which may or may not have a character, and nothing changes and in which the emphasis is on showing, rather than telling (but, as in this example, a combination may be used):

The wind blew chill down the narrow mountain pass. All was silent, save for the rush of the breeze. All was still, save where gusts stirred the tall grasses and the branches of trees that reached, claw-like, toward the sky.

Once upon a time, a stream had carved this cut through the cliffs, forcing its way through soft chalk and hard shale, leaving jagged stones that emerged from the steep pass walls like teeth. The stream was long dry, now, only water-smoothed stones strewn across the ground to show where it had ever been.

Once upon a time, travellers had traversed the dried-up rill bed, pounding down the dirt, knocking the rocks aside, leaving scars where their fires burned. They’d lived, and laughed, and explored, and sought…and left, never to return.

Now, there was nothing: nothing but the storm.

And all was silent.

And all was still.

And the wind blew, chill, down the narrow mountain pass.

Synopsis, a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end, which may or may not have characters, and where something changes, and in which  the emphasis is on telling rather showing:

Emperor Xiang Zhen was born in 9884 to Dowager Empress Luo Zexi and the warlord Xiang Yijun. After his birth, there was a long period of strife. Those who supported Xiang Yijun’s claim to the throne battled those who still supported the Dowager Empress’s deceased husband Peng Zhenya. Eventually, the factions found common ground when Xiang Zhen came of age, and he was enthroned in 9902.

With his reign came peace and prosperity. The arts flourished. Scholarship advanced, and many great Dao masters arose, using cultivation to rid the land of evil’s left by the long war. Xiang Zhen longed to join a Night Hunt himself, but he was trapped by his political position. He didn’t dare risk the fragile stability in the Empire. If something happened to him, the results could be catastrophic. So he studied, and ruled, and adjudicated, and endowed, and endured.

Xiang Zhen did as he must.

But, oh…he wished he weren’t alone.

I know this is long, so we’ll leave this discussion at this point. Hopefully you found it helpful, and please do let me know if you have any questions! Duck Prints Press is always here to offer support to writers, and we love getting writing asks!