Submitting to the contest

We are using Easy Chair to handle the submissions to the contest. It’s a web application for handling submissions to academic conferences. Clearly, there are features that are not relevant to a short story contest, but it’s a pretty good software, especially when there are multiple judges who are not geographically located.

Easy Chair provides a platform for authors to submit papers (in this case short stories), for referees to download the papers, write their reviews, and discuss reviews, and for conference chairs to send out notifications. It even handles anonymous submissions and conflicts of interest, and hides information from referees and others who shouldn’t see.

If you are submitting to the contest, please do register. This is how we will contacting the winners. It’s free and we won’t be selling your information. There are fields that won’t make sense, such as your organization or university. Go ahead and skip any that don’t apply.

I’m looking forward to seeing your submissions!

Our first indiegogo donor!

We have our first donor to the Indiegogo campaign.

Abram Hindle, a soon-to-be professor at University of Alberta, has given us an extremely generous gift of $50. He wrote, “I am donating because I love Sci-Fi and I want to further enrich the commons by supporting submissions licensed under CC-BY-SA.” For his contribution, we’ll be acknowledging him in the book, sending him a post card, and a button.

Now, how about you? Can you spare us a buck?


Two new donations for prizes: Cash and books, oh my

Great news! I have received two gifts that I will be putting towards prizes.

1. I have received a cash gift of $600 from an anonymous donor. I will be putting $500 of this towards first prize. The remaining $100 will be used for photocopying and postage.

2. Tor Books will be giving one copy of either “Fire Upon the Deep” or “Children of the Sky” to all the contest winners.

It’s exciting to see this contest start coming together like this.

In search of an esteemed panel of judges…

In addition to publicity and raising money for prizes (please donate!), I’m looking for judges.

My goal is to have three judges. I’m assuming that I’m going to have a sufficiently large number of entries that three judges are warranted. For the three judges, I wanted to one with an academic background (a professor of something tech-related or literary or…), one published author, and one aspiring author. I wanted the professor, because the story will be published as part of an academic book. The published author will bring a professional eye/ear. Including the aspiring author will help build community, both to educate the aspiring author about what it’s like to be a judge and to bring attention to a new voice.

I will likely end up being the academic judge. This seems appropriate, because I’m editing the book. If this is the case, I will not take an honorarium. Any money that I raise for honorariums will be divided among the other judges.

I’ve asked lots of published and aspiring authors and almost all have declined. (I do have one affirmative nibble that I’ll announce in the coming days.) Among the people I’ve asked are Vernor Vinge, Greg Wilson, Kavita Philip, Daniel José Older, Karl Schroeder, Antoinette LaFarge, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Wil Wheaton. I’ve really enjoyed communicating with science fiction authors. They’ve all been really nice and actually took the time to answer the query. Although, they have all said “no,” it’s been a pleasure to come close to greatness.

Do you have any suggestions for who I should ask?

Work paid for by the commons belongs to the commons

Since this contest is being funded by donations from the general public, then the products of this contest should also be accessible to the general public. So, the prize winning entries will be released under a CC-BY-SA license, sometimes called a “copyleft” license. Let me break down this acronym.

  • The CC part indicates Creative Commons. The letters that follow indicate which of the licenses is being used.
  • The BY requires that the work be attributed to the original author.
  • The SA which means that others can share or remix or use the work commercially, provided they make their own work available under the same terms.

Of course, any of these conditions can be waived with permission from the copyright holder, which is how we’re going to publish the story in the edited academic book.

If you’re confused by all of this and you’re an author, look at it this way. It’s similar to selling your story to a magazine, but better because you retain more rights at the end. Like a magazine, we are purchasing the story from you, and you are being paid in prize money. Normally, you would sign over exclusive rights to the magazine and that would be the end of it. Unlike a magazine, we, as the new owners of the work, are releasing it back to the world, including you, to do with as you wish in the future.

Creative Commons is important because so many of the ideas in the world are locked down by copyright laws. But the only way that we can progress is to build new ideas upon old ones. So let’s keep these new ideas from being locked down. If you want to know more, take a look at the presentation on Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. A bit long, but very entertaining.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Why you should donate to Singular Source

There are certain things in life that start out as a good idea and then they snowball. :)

When I started thinking about running a contest, I knew I could offer publication to the winner. I wasn’t sure if I needed to offer cash as well. I asked around a bit, but I didn’t get a good answer, as I don’t have many writers in my social circles.

After talking to Chris  Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books, she made it clear that a cash prize would dramatically affect the quality of submissions. Writing fiction is a labour of love. I think it was Frederick Forsythe who said that you can’t make a living writing, but you can make a killing. There are a few fiction writers who do extremely well (think Danielle Steel and John Grisham), but there are many more who are toiling away anonymously. We would need some cash prizes to make it worthwhile for people to enter.

Chris also said that the absolute minimum rate that professional authors receive is $0.03 per word. I did a quick calculation: 1 000-word short story would be paid $30. This seemed a pittance to me. Over the last year, I have looked into writing non-fiction magazine articles and doing freelance writing online. While these gigs pay enough to make a modest living, three cents a word is well below even these standards.

I realized that it was within my reach to make a real difference, not just to the winners, but to the science fiction writing community by offering significant prizes. I could have scraped up enough money to pay for some small prizes on my own, but running a fundraiser would get more people involved. This too would benefit the community by growing the pool of receptive readers.

So, I am running a campaign in IndieGoGo (we were rejected by kickstarter). I’m offering some fun gifts for contributing, such as acknowledgement in the book, glossy postcards, buttons, chapbooks, and the final hardcover book. Do me a favour and throw me a buck. It’s a gift not just to me, but also to the literary arts.


This contest is being organized by Susan Elliott Sim, a professor of Informatics at University of California, Irvine. I am co-editing an academic book on recent research on helping programmers find and reuse source code on the web.

It’s common to end academic books with a speculative chapter, and what would be more speculative than a science fiction short story? I invited Vernor Vinge to submit a story, because I think the future might be the programmer archeologists that appeared in his “Fire Upon the Deep” and “Deepness in the Sky.” Rather than writing software from scratch, people are taking pieces from existing systems and combining them. In this style of programming, knowing the archives is as important as the ability to put the pieces together.

Unfortunately, Vinge declined. However, he did give his blessing for a short story contest. So, here we are.

While this isn’t my first literary competition, it has been a long time. I once was the Secretary of the Library Committee at Hart House, University of Toronto, which runs an annual short story contest. Bear with me as I try to avoid making novice mistakes. Feedback is of course welcome.