Category ArchiveVol2 Updates

Vol2 Updates 30 Oct 2011 10:44 pm by David !

What to expect

We know many of you are very anxious to see which stories will be in the next MOD book. For a variety of reasons, we don’t want to publicly announce a Table of Contents for Volume 2 until we have had a chance to email everybody who submitted. With 2,000 submissions, this is taking a bit longer than initially expected.

Apologies for the delay, but we do expect to have contacted everybody by the end of the week. Please hold off querying us until at least then. In the meantime, read this and this!

Fan art &Vol2 Updates 26 Oct 2011 12:49 am by David !

Quick submissions update & Fan Art license

I know everybody is super excited and champing at the bit for Volume 2 announcements. Well guess what! There are none in this post. (But it won’t be much longer!)


Regarding the title cloud of Volume 2 submissions. Some folks have become worried because they can’t find their title. Regardless, in all likelihood, we did receive your story. Generating the cloud required wrangling data through four different programs, and some slippage through the cracks is regrettable but inevitable. (I have you covered, though! On the poster version I included a little blank for you to write in your title, if you found that it was accidentally omitted.)

So while I tried my very best, the cloud is unfortunately not one hundred percent comprehensive, and the blame for that falls on me. I apologize! But don’t worry — if your title’s missing, you’re in good company. Here’s another dude whose story title is not in the word cloud:

Who is that? Why it’s only ERIK ZIMMERMAN



Erik, a globetrotting firefighter, had also previously sent us a submission from Afghanistan, which was awesome, but this… this quite frankly fulfills our lifelong dream.

Erik’s story (appropriately titled “FULFILLING A LIFELONG DREAM”) was quite a late submission to MOD2, but we have unanimously voted to amend our submission guidelines to accept all late submissions if they come from Antarctica. Thanks so much, Erik!

Also, it turns out that one of the stories that was submitted earlier got double counted by mistake, so we’re still at 1,958 total submissions. IT ALL WORKS OUT.

NEXT ITEM. Reader C.S. Markle, organizer of the Perth, Australia branch of 24-Hour Comics Day this year, used MOD as his group’s theme! As you may know, 24-Hour Comics Day is when folks undertake the challenge of writing and drawing a complete 24-page comic in 24 hours. C.S. prepared MOD predictions for each participant to use as prompts for their comics!

We think this is a fantastic idea. One of the completed comics has posted online by its author already — you can read the entire thing here, and the author discusses the work in a Reddit thread here.

“FATED” by Kat Zhang

A note about fan art

Lots of folks have expressed interest in creating their own Machine of Death-themed projects of various types, and we couldn’t be more excited to hear it! We’ve been incredibly honored to see folks make films, stage plays, and generate art of all sorts.

Because we get the inquiry a lot, though, it’s probably best to clarify our stance on fan art for the record. Since (most of) the individual stories in the book — as well as the introduction — are covered by a Creative Commons license, you should absolutely feel free to create noncommercial MOD adaptations of your own so long as you follow the guidelines of the license, i.e. provide attribution and release the resulting work under the same or a similar license. You can also feel free to quote from the book’s introduction if you like.

Here is an easy way to do it above board! Just include the following disclaimer:

Inspired by the “Machine of Death” concept created by Ryan North. This independent adaptation was created under the MOD Fan Art License and is not officially affiliated with Machine of Death. For more information, visit

If you choose to release your work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, we’ll be happy to feature your work on a Fan Art page here on the MOD site — just contact us! Hooray!

I should also clarify that this covers noncommercial adaptations only. School assignments, stuff for fun, blog posts etc. all qualify. If you’re interested in any commercial use of the MOD concept — basically anything that might make a profit — contact us so we can steer you in the right direction. Thanks!

Vol2 Updates 08 Oct 2011 11:16 am by Matthew

Keep hanging tight, everybody

The stately great egret

The stately great egret watches and waits patiently... But also flies far to find new places to fish. There's a metaphor here somewhere.

October is upon us, and that means that our deadlines for decisions about which stories will be included in Machine of Death are fast approaching.

Just a refresher: We received almost TWO THOUSAND submissions for this book, totalling MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of words. We’re reading as fast as we can, but we’re going to need everybody to be patient a little while longer yet.

We still plan to make our final selections this month, but we’ll probably be doing it right at the October 31 deadline. So set your expectations to hear some news at the end of October. Artists: It may take somewhat longer for us to notify you, as we’ll have to match illustrators with specific stories.

Also, I hate to say this, but it’s already clear that there are going to be lots of strong stories we can’t include in the book. Not only do we have three times as many stories to pick from this time, but the pool we have to pick from is much more diverse and of very high quality. We have some really tough decisions ahead of us to whittle this field down to 30 – 35 finalists.

Thanks to everyone who participated. On the behalf of all of us, however, I want to thank everybody who took the time to write a story for Machine of Death. By the time we finish reading all the submissions for Volume 2, we’ll have read over 2,600 stories about a machine that predicts how people die on the basis of a blood test.

Most folks would think that means we’ll have read 2,600 stories about the same thing. But, with your incredible creativity, you’ve proven that perception dead wrong. These stories aren’t all about the same thing. They’re about all different kinds of things, and it’s a honor to be able to read them. If nothing else, you all have proven that there are at least a few thousand ways to turn an idea into a story. Thanks for letting us be a part of that!

And what else have you been up to? Back in July, I gave you all the mission of keeping your creativity flowing and participating in other creative projects. (See the last paragraph in this blog post.) It’s been two and a half months now… So how are you all doing with that mission?

Personally, I’ve been submitting stories to other magazines and anthologies. These are the first submissions I’ve made in several years, and even though the most likely result is rejection (unfortunately, that’s always the most likely result), it feels good to know that I’m trying. My new goal is to always have at least one story under consideration somewhere.

David and Ryan have been up to some amazing creative stuff recently as well. We don’t like to clutter this blog with other stuff we’re working on, but following any of us on Twitter is a good way to keep up to date or even to ask any of us what’s up. The links are over in the right hand column. (Those Twitter accounts are definitely not all self-promotion. We try to be funny and informative, too!)

But this is the time for some self-promotion from you guys. Let us know in the comments how you’ve been keeping yourself busy while you wait until October 31 too. Whether you have some good news about stories that will be published or self-published elsewhere, or whether you’ve simply set goals for yourself in terms of productivity and creativity. Either way, tell us what’s going on!

And if you haven’t been doing anything since submitting to Machine of Death, I hope you’ll start! There are lots and lots of ways to be creative, but it does take at least a little effort to get the ball rolling!

Vol2 Updates 11 Aug 2011 11:46 pm by David !

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?

(Click for bigger)

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]

Vol2 Updates 17 Jul 2011 04:04 pm by Matthew

A couple deep breaths

A restful Japanese garden at the Huntington in California

If necessary, contemplate this restful Japanese garden to aid in relaxed breathing

A few hours ago, I got back from a camping trip in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I’ve been entirely off the grid for the past four days — the only news I’ve seen from the outside world was whatever was printed in the copy of Two-Lane Livin’ (“Your Home Grown Guide to Simple Living”) that we used to start camp fires. Needless to say, I saw a lot more about making apple butter than I did about the state of Machine of Death submissions.

When I left at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning, there were something like 850 submissions. When I got back a few hours ago, there were well over 1200. And I mean well over. When I got the final estimates from Ryan and David, I was pretty blown away. We’ll share a final, clean number (as well as other interesting info) as soon as it’s available. But for right now, everybody can take a couple deep breaths. You deserve them.

Clearly there were lots and lots of people who didn’t want to miss out on being considered for the second volume, and that’s amazing and flattering and humbling. It’s a huge thrill for us to know that so many people want to be involved with a project we love so much! But although this is the finish for you guys, it’s really the start for us. We want to give all these submissions the attention they deserve, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Fun, engaging, one-of-a-kind work that we wouldn’t trade for anything… But, yes, still work. So how can you help us now?

Let your story speak for itself as it is! It’s natural to want your story to be the best that it can be. But the deadline has passed, so we ask that you don’t send us new versions with corrected typos. Just like everybody else, you worked very hard on your story. And just like everybody else, your story isn’t perfect. We know that, and it’s okay. It creates a lot of extra work for us if there are multiple versions of a story in our inbox. So please trust us to judge your story on its merits, and not on its proofreading.

Only query if you have reason to believe something has gone wrong. If you have reason to believe we haven’t gotten your story (for instance, if your email program told you that your submission wasn’t delivered) then please query us and we’ll sort out what happened. But if you just want to double check, then we’d ask you first to take a couple more deep breaths. Ask yourself if you’re querying about a real problem or just an imaginary fear. As much as we love hearing from our writers and fans, our time is better reading your stories and dealing with real problems.

A note about the auto-responder: We set up an auto-responder to send an automatic answer to every submission. A lot of people didn’t get this response. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get your story — it probably just means the auto-responder was clogged up. We’ve checked up on several people so far who were concerned when they didn’t get an auto-responder email. We had every single one of the stories safe and sound. So again, we ask that you only query if you have positive evidence that there might be a problem!

And please, be patient! The earliest that we’ll be responding to anybody about the status of their story is October. If you don’t hear anything before October 31 — that’s totally normal. But if November 1 rolls around and you haven’t heard anything… First, check your spam folder. Second, make sure you’re checking the same email account that you provided us on your submission. Third, check this website for any updates in case we changed the notification deadline. If we have, then continue to be patient. In other words: please don’t query about the status of your story until you are SURE that you should have heard something.

Check this website for new information. Folks have also been asking if the number of submissions we’ve received means that anything different might happen. We don’t know yet! We haven’t made any decisions — this just happened a couple days ago. But we will always update on this site if any of our plans change. So if you’re curious about the future of Machine of Death, then please keep checking There will be lots more to share with you over the coming months!

Keep the creativity flowing! We think it’s amazing that so many people want to be involved with Machine of Death — and some folks have even been asking us if there will be a third volume. That’s something else we don’t know yet. We have lots and lots to do before we make that decision. But there are hundreds of other anthologies and magazines and websites all looking for submissions right now. Now that you’ve got your creative juices flowing — go find them! It makes waiting all the easier if you’ve got another project to be excited about in the meantime!

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