Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

28 Oct 2020, 17:29 p.m.

Short Story Recommendations, And Hobby Project Lessons

Recommending short fiction is important for discovery, and to help us talk about things we like (and not just criticize things we don't).

Recently I've been posting to MetaFilter each day to recommend short stories, mostly scifi/fantasy but not always. For example, I pointed to Brishti Guha's translation of a (wacky, in my opinion) 11th-century Sanskrit piece by Kshemendra about language misunderstandings and an angry scholar. "...the reason the meat was so poor was because hunters couldn’t get hold of any well-fed animals. All the animals wanted to listen to Gunadhya’s story even more than they wanted to eat!" I enjoyed this fragment so much that I called my mom and read it aloud to her, and she told me cool stuff about the Sanskrit in-jokes in the story.

Other MetaFilter participants said nice things about how much they like the series which is nice to hear. Lots of people have said, in comments in that thread or on individual posts or in private mail to me, that they value getting these recommendations, that they are eager for links to good short fiction to help them read great stuff instead of getting sucked into the whirlpool of reading distressing news. Similarly, I have found it nice to have a wee research project, and to have a little template for bite-size things to write and publish that people enjoy. And I've discovered some cool magazines I hadn't known about before, such as Compelling Science Fiction and Cossmass Infinities.

I started posting these in late August. I decided that I'll stop at the end of this month, and suggested sources for folks who want to keep going.

And I've learned some things about what I found motivating about this project, and am working on adapting those lessons to my book project so I can get more traction.

  • Leverage a pre-existing audience
  • People comment and say thank you, especially with specific praise/compliments
  • Daily action with a bit of a deadline, but externally enforced limit that I can only post once per day (because of MetaFilter's rules)
  • Separation between writing and posting (prewriting is asynchronous; I have a little private queue of posts to publish)
  • Each chunk of work is short (often 50-100 words, with extended lengths primarily being quotes from others; often takes under 10 minutes for me to read and do research; I'm mostly reading and synthesizing what past folks have already made)
  • A clear specification/template/writing prompt for what that little chunk of work is supposed to be
  • Leverage and lifting up other people with hyperlinks

Overall, I seem to benefit from having consistent frequent but delayed publication/gratification (which suggests a drip marketing approach as Julia Evans has just blogged about), having a clear vision for what each little chunk of work is supposed to be like (which suggests I need to bear down on outlining work), and external validation from eager readers (which suggests I should set up a few oral conversations sometime soon with people who need a book about brownfield maintainership).