Monthly ArchiveAugust 2011

Podcast Episodes 25 Aug 2011 08:55 pm

Podcast 20: TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS, by Jeffrey Wells

Read by Jesse Thorn. (28 min)

“Missus Murphy, I will have you know that I am to be torn apart and devoured by lions.”

Simon Pfennig was fully aware of how strange he must sound.

He had no choice. It was too exciting not to share.

Eventually, the silence on the other end of the line was broken. “…Excuse me?” Mrs. Murphy eventually managed.

“I,” said Simon, “am to be torn apart and devoured by lions.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Murphy. “Weren’t you just talking to me about insurance a moment ago?”

“I was,” said Simon. “Now I’m talking about lions.”

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Jeffrey C. Wells is the co-creator of the award-winning webcomic “Skin Horse”, found online at He himself has also won awards, but they were for things like “Worst Opening Line of a Science Fiction Story”, so if you want to award him with things so he no longer feels inferior to his own webcomic, that would be great. He lives in the wilds of rural Wisconsin with a wonderful spouse, a dial-up modem, and more pets than you can shake a stick at.

Jesse Thorn is the host and producer of the radio show and podcast The Sound of Young America, distributed by Public Radio International. He also hosts the podcasts Judge John Hodgman and Jordan, Jesse, Go!, the webseries Put This On, and the IFC television program The Grid.

In the book, “TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS” is illustrated by Christopher Hastings.

Fan art 17 Aug 2011 04:54 am

SHARD OF GLASS: a Machine of Death short film

This film is really great. I’m in it (at least a character with my name is, and he has an incredibly plausible prediction for me) so I may be a bit biased, but it’s a lot of fun and kinda creepy. Recommend! Why not watch it RIGHT NOW (or at lunch, in case you don’t have time right now, WE UNDERSTAND).

Vol2 Updates 11 Aug 2011 11:46 pm

Volume 2 Submissions Summary

We have finally finished entering data for all the Volume 2 submissions. And there were a lot of them.

The final few days of submissions felt, for us, in a weird way just like October 26 of last year. The flurry of activity we witnessed on Twitter (above), on Facebook, and on blogs as you finished writing your stories was incredibly energizing.

It’s a wonderful feeling watching people become enthused and finding reward in the thing that you asked them to do. It makes us not want to have to turn anybody down for Volume 2! But we received 6,373,643 words of submissions — if we published all of it, it would be longer than all the Harry Potter books and all the Lord of the Rings books and all the Song of Ice and Fire books and all of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books put together. You guessed it — we’re having a very busy couple of months, reading all of this!

Facebook contest results

We’d barely hit 600 stories when we announced the first Facebook contest, for people to guess when we’d beat Volume 1’s record of 675 stories submitted. The pace of submissions was noticeably accelerating at that point, with a week to go, and it only took about a day and a half to add 76 more stories to the roll.

Our 676th submission was received on Saturday, July 9th at 6:57 PM. The winner of the contest is Victoria Juliette Lacorte, who guessed 7:07 PM on the correct day! Congrats, Julia! You win any single item you like from our new TopatoCo store — a book, poster, patch, certificate, or T-shirt.

We also asked people to guess what the title would be of the record-breaking entry. Sadly, nobody did! It was called “GAMBLING.”

Finally, we asked folks to guess the total number of submissions (no permalink, but if you want to see the guesses, scroll down a bit on our Facebook page). The majority of the guesses were in the high hundreds or just over one thousand. But the very last guesser, Matt Brown, was the closest. He guessed 1,416, and wins his choice of item from our store!

It was 1,958.

(Click for bigger)

On the very last day submissions were open, on that day alone, we received more stories than the entire Volume 1 submission period.

Statistical breakdown

Of the 1,958 submissions:

The mean word count is 3,264.
The range of word count is from 1 word to 19,000 words. In quartiles:

Q1: 1 – 1750
Q2: 1751 – 2750 (that makes 2750 the median)
Q3: 2751 – 4300
Q4: 4301 – 19000

So 25% of stories are fewer than 1750 words. Another 25% are between 1751 and 2750, and so on.

The 1,958 submissions were received from 1,705 distinct email addresses. So >1,705 distinct writers participated (a few stories were written by collaborative teams, so it’s slightly more than that). 37 writers took us up on our offer to submit three stories — that’s over 100 stories right there.

Of the 30 authors whose stories we published in our first book, 17 18 of them submitted new material. That’s a nice vote of confidence! (Obligatory note: We’ll be giving all stories, from writers new and old, equal consideration.)

Using names and contextual clues from bios, we attempted to determine the sex of the submitters. Of the 1661 writers we felt confident making a guess about, 574, or 33.5%, were women; 1087, or 64%, were men.

This is a more equal showing than we reported at two weeks into the submission window. It’s a better spread than our submissions for Volume 1 as well — which were 25% female. And it’s roughly in the same range as Strange Horizons, a pro market that reports a rate of >30% submissions from female writers. (Though they classify 13% as “unknown,” so maybe they are less brazen about making assumptions than we are.)

Note: we only counted one data point per writer, not per story. So if a woman submitted three stories and a man one, we would count that as a 50/50 ratio. Meanwhile, I think Strange Horizons counts per submission. Many of their submitters send in multiple stories per year, some as many as 8 or 9 per year. (Their statistics at the link above are very interesting!) We counted the way we did because we’re interested in painting a broad picture of the pool of people we’re reaching. We used the same method to count the location of submitters (using the area code of the phone number they provided):

69% had phone numbers from the United States
8% were from Canada
23% were from somewhere else.

In total we had 44 countries represented. We’ll have a more detailed breakdown of that later on.

What were the stories called?

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Note: As far as I can tell, the term “Machine of Death” in this cloud does indeed refer to those words appearing in a prediction, as was the rule for the titling of stories.

What now?

Well, we’ll be reading! Ryan, Matt and I are diligently working through the material as fast as we can. We’re also talking seriously among ourselves, with our agents, and with industry professionals about the best move for the Machine of Death series going forward. As you know, the publishing industry is moving in strange and unpredictable ways these days, and we, as small publishers with weird ideas, have the luxury of agility — we’re not wedded to any one particular way of doing business. So all options are on the table, and we’ll be sharing more about our plans as we develop them.

In the meantime, there’s more you can do! Here are three new things, while we continue to read stories:

The Bearstache Book Readership Survey

We want to create and administer a formal, academic survey of book readership, to gain insight into the following hypothesis:

Most readers read both books they paid for and books they didn’t. In fact, most readers expect that next year some significant percentage of the books they read will be books they won’t pay for. The inherent scarcity of free books — e.g., limited copies in libraries or with friends — means that readers often expect to wait a while before they read books they’re interested in. By removing the scarcity of free books, publishers can increase the number of people promoting their books at the time they are released when sales matter most. Such promotion (from friends, from folks who rate on the Internet, from book club buddies, etc.) is effective in convincing others to buy books.

Of course, we’re champions of the free ebook model. We think it’s worked out great! But other publishers are concerned about piracy. Ebook owners are concerned about retaining ownership of the files they purchase. Authors want to sell books, but also want exposure. So we think that some hard data either supporting or refuting our hypothesis would be of interest not only to us, but to our colleagues and friends in the book industry worldwide. To that end, we would like to administer a survey with as broad a reach as possible, and make the results public to anybody who’s interested.

The problem? We want this survey to be statistically rigorous, but we are not trained statisticians and don’t know the best practices as well as somebody reading this does. Do you have experience setting up surveys of this nature? Would you be willing to help us out? We are looking for a Survey Administrator. Email us at info [at] if you can help.

Game testers wanted

Do you play tabletop, board, or card games with your friends? Would you like to play-test something interesting and give us your thoughts? We are looking for people who have access to groups of 3-6 players, and who would be willing to lead them through a series of different card games we’re developing and report the results. Email us at info [at] UPDATE: Due to the very strong response, we’ve set up an application form for the game testing. Please submit the form and we’ll get back to you if we need your help! UPDATE 2: We have all the applicants we need for now. Thanks very much!

Fanfic Flash Fic

This one’s just for fun. Write us some Fanfic Flash Fic — an ultrashort Machine of Death story in an existing pop-culture or literary setting. For example:

“O’Neil! Your prediction came in,” barked Charles, tossing the envelope on April’s desk. April tore it open eagerly. Her first week as a reporter — it was all so exciting! Who knew what adventures were still in store?

The paper held a single cryptic word. What could it possibly mean? She eyed the paper shredder warily.

In honor of our friend Rosemary’s website 55 Word Stories, all submissions must be EXACTLY 55 words long.

Enter up to three times. The deadline is August 30. We’ll post our favorites here on the blog next month! Send your entries to submit [at]

Events 06 Aug 2011 11:52 pm

This Tuesday: MOD Book Club at Powell’s Books!

Flickr photo by James

This Tuesday, August 9, Powell’s Books (Cedar Hills Crossing location) will be featuring Machine of Death at their monthly Science Fiction Book Club!

There isn’t really a permalink to the event listing, but it’s mentioned on the monthly Powell’s calendar here, as well as the MOD listing in their catalog here.

I am left to assume it will be an incredible experience for body and soul?

If you attend, write us with a report of how it went!