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Summer Writing Project: The Next Great Storytellers

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For some, libraries are houses of sense memory, evoking that musty, nostalgic old book smell, the hushed click-clacking of computer keys, the whispers of friends sharing stories and the great variety and selection of books, young and old, all in one place. While libraries typically encourage information consumption, a new program seeks to rebrand them as sites of creation. The California Public Library System teamed up with Orange County-based Black Hill Press and JukePop to engage the larger public and inspire writers from all walks of life to participate in the new Summer Writing Project.

Both Black Hill Press and JukePop are cheerleaders of often neglected mediums in writing. Black Hill Press fights for the novella -- a distinctive literary form that offers the focus of a short story and the scope of a novel -- while JukePop is reinventing the lost art of serial writing. It's an age-old artform in which writers published one chapter at a time. Authors would receive feedback from their audience, whose opinions would help shape the finished piece. Before the internet age, serials offered an interactive conversation between a writer and readers, and the Summer Writing Project channels this spirit too. The libraries hold an engaged audience for up-and-coming writers, but to compel library members to engage and participate in casting a vote or finding a great new author is a difficult task to manage.

The project presents authors with the opportunity to craft their stories one chapter at a time, with immediate and quality feedback from readers, while also broadcasting their words to an audience eager for the next great writer -- all in one place.

Black Hill Press Family Portrait

Some of Black Hill Press' novella covers

Black Hill Press co-founder Kevin Staniec hopes that this kind of project will not only give undiscovered authors the opportunity to get great exposure, but also to create new connections with libraries and our younger generations of readers. "Ever since I was a kid, my parents would take me to various summer reading programs at our local library," Staniec says. "I remember being dropped off early every morning at that castle of books, I remember stories of adventure and mystery, and I remember returning home at the end of the day only to recreate those characters in my backyard. It was magical. We are trying to create new memories with public libraries by inviting people to write and share their stories with an opportunity to have their books distributed to California Public Libraries and possibly published as a Black Hill Press special Summer Writing Project collection with custom cover artwork by Jeannie Phan."

Jerry Fan on a panel at the Los Altos Library on the topic of trends in self-publishing and the role of libraries in this new age of publishing.

JukePop Founder Jerry Fan has been utilizing contemporary platforms to help authors test out their story ideas serially, and hopes that by involving the libraries in the evolving process of self-publishing, the libraries will create a stronger bond with readers and community members throughout California. "As you know, libraries may not understand the relevance of this self-publishing, independent publishing era, and we want to try and help them do that by putting them front and center, in the process of publishing."

JukePop operates with this contemporary sharing idea at their core. "The name is from a jukebox, the idea that the individual put a vote in, and the entire community benefits," Fan explains. "And pop just stands for the fact that we want to find what's popular, based on quality. That's the whole idea of JukePop--to help authors and publishers to beta-test their stories or submissions."

JukePop user-friendly website

How JukePop Works:

"Library members are the perfect audience that authors and publishers want to test their books with," Fan says. "But the problem with libraries is that they're always restricted--they can't always deal with all the authors and all the publishers out there that have books they want to throw at them, so they actually need someone to filter the lesser quality works. So they can say here is a list of stories that has passed the first test, and that's what JukePop provides, we kind of test these stories to see if they are of quality, and then offer them up to libraries, for them to offer to the communities--it saves a lot of work."

The Summer Writing Project helps libraries in multiple ways--not just helping them manage the submissions from writers and publishers, but also with fresh, successful electronic content for the libraries as well. Libraries have been operating so well with physical books for such a long time, that even though they have notice the major shift in interest to electronic content, the still haven't been able to keep up with trends. The libraries are constantly looking for ways to get fresh content without having to go through the major publishers or the various layers of middlemen to get their content out to their members, so the Summer Writing Project with JukePop and Black Hill Press is a creative seasonal solution.

Black Hill Press - Ambition and Aspiration from Black Hill Press on Vimeo.

Black Hill Press - Hope, Faith, Morality from Black Hill Press on Vimeo.

"When Kevin and I met originally," Fan explains, "the initial conversation wasn't even about libraries, it was about how a platform can help publishers handle the hundreds of thousands of submission they get, because we have a very simple way for authors to submit their work. We don't' care about who pitched it, we don't care about who you are, we don't care about what your book cover looks like, just give us the first chapter of your story. That's enough to allow us to take a rough pass at whether you're a good writer from a technical perspective, but the plot, the characters, the world, we really let the community figure that out for us, so, in a sense we're crowd-sourcing, and we just filter for the quality of writing, which is a very important tool for publishers. That's when the light bulb clicked."

The Summer Writing Project evolved into a participatory experiment aimed at all writers, but is piggy-backing on local schools' summer reading programs. All students in junior high school, high school and some college students are assigned summer reading lists, and to combat the steady decline in junior high schoolers' and high schoolers' reading levels, the California libraries want to encourage students to maintain their reading and writing level through summer programs like this. But, this project utilizes crowd-sourcing in a way that's never been used in traditional book or novella publishing before, and is a great opportunity for any author.

Black Hill Press Novella Covers

"When we started sharing the concept behind the Summer Writing Project with friends, authors and publishing colleagues, we started receiving email introductions, phone calls and recommendations for libraries and librarians who would want to get involved," Staniec says. "We never had to pitch the idea, it instantaneously evolved into a conversation and brainstorming of ideas--everyone was already on the same page."

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The libraries are excited to engage the community of readers and writers more with this new program too. Fan says, "the response I keep getting from libraries is--'that's it? There's nothing else I need to do?' "Because our integration platform is actually very simple, and I feel like libraries have been nickel and dimed to death by its proprietors, they say, 'are you charging?' We're like, 'no, it's free.' And it's really that simple. So, you can imagine, something that benefits the community, something that's free to them, something that is reinventing their role in the new publishing era, it's like this trifecta. The interest level has been through the roof."

Want to be the next great storyteller? Write a novella and submit chapters via jukepop anytime between now and August 31, 2014. Black Hill Press will select three novellas to be published as a special collection with custom cover artwork by Jeannie Phan, and selected novellas will also be distributed to partner libraries based on reader analytics (retention, reading time) and presented in conjunction with summer reading programs across the state.

Summer Writing Project

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About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly and is one of the two Rogue Art Historians who started Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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