This week I am honored to bring you this interview with Emily Wenstrom, writer, blogger, and now publisher of the new eZine, wordhaus. I thought it would be fascinating to have a glimpse into Emily’s thought processes as she created and launched this platform for short stories.
Emily, your Zine, wordhaus, launched on January 2, 2013. I know you had been working on building this project for quite a while. It must have been a powerful moment when you realized you were not only a writer, but a publisher.
Actually, I considered myself an editor long before it occurred to me that I might be able to write. But these two skill sets are continually feeding each other in my career and personal pursuits. I was a copy editor and section editor for my college newspaper, then held an internship writing for a couple of city magazines. From there I went on to become the managing editor of a different city magazine. It wasn’t until three or four years later that I started writing fiction, but once I did, I fell for it completely and immersed myself in it. So really, wordhaus feels like the inevitable meeting ground of my two sides, where my professional and personal passions meet.
As a writer it must be a very different energy and focus when you’re functioning as a publisher. Tell us a bit about how you work when you’re wearing your publisher hat.
Absolutely. Writing is creating, so there’s a buzz about my head, constant movement, development, what-if-ing.
Editing is critical by nature. Instead of “what if,” I’m asking myself more evaluative questions. I’m looking for details that make stories full, dynamic, rich. Do I care about these characters? What is the plotline? Is there a clear conflict and resolution? How is the grammar? I have to read a story several times to assess for different pieces.
What was the most intense emotion or thought you had the on your official launch day, when you finally saw the stories on the pages of the website, and knew readers would be finding their way to your Zine?
I’d been working on wordhaus so long by launch day–over a year and a half–that the launch itself felt a little unreal. The mechanics of the launch, the formatting, scheduling the posts, etc., was all finished more than a week in advance so that I could kick back and enjoy the holidays. So when it finally came, it took some time to sink in. But once it did, it was very exciting to see it come to life!
What kind of feedback have you received from your readers?
The feedback has been very positive, very supportive. I’m shy about sharing my ideas with the world, and so when I started outreach, to collect submissions, it was really intimidating at first. But there have been so many people like you, Suzanne, who have gotten excited about this idea with me. It’s been so encouraging that it’s practically cured me of that shyness. I’m seeing the same kind of enthusiasm from readers so far, though of course it will take a lot of time to build a real audience.
Emily, wordhaus provides a fantastic opportunity for writers to share their work and gain some new fans. The author bio page and link to a personal website is invaluable for writers working to build their platform. What’s been the response from writers who have had their stories published?
Authors have been really responsive with getting me short and long bios, as well as headshots. I’m seeing writers wanting to use this space just as I was hoping — to showcase other places readers can find their writing, and to link to more ways readers can connect to them like websites, blogs, and social media presences. It thrills me that I can help readers and authors connect.
How many submissions did you receive for your first issue?
To date I have about 20 submissions across the three genres. There’s some really great stuff in there too–I can still hardly believe that these talented writers are willing to share their awesome work with a new publication like wordhaus, and I’m so grateful for it.
We are always looking for more submissions! Submit your story here!
Do you accept simultaneous submissions?
Yes, we accept simultaneous submissions.
Do you accept previously published stories? And what do you consider published? Websites? Blogs?
Yes, we accept previously published works, web or print.
Are there any stories you won’t publish? For example: those containing foul language, violence, or sex scenes?
I will not print stories that don’t clearly fit one of our genres. There are no language or other flat out restrictions. However, these stories are for entertainment only, so I’m not as willing to go [out] on a limb for something controversial as I would be in a more art/literary-focused medium. But if in doubt, send it in!
Speaking of genres, why did you choose the three you have made the focus of wordhaus?
These three genres (romance, mystery/thriller, sci-fi/fantasy) seemed like strong pillars to build a readership around. Most traditional journals are heavily literary, which I didn’t want to do. I wanted to keep it fun and accessible. Even most genre-focused journals only highlight one niche. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think most readers really function like that. Sure, we all have our favorites, but we also all enjoy a little diversity, I think.
I want this to be a fun site with enjoyable stories for mainstream readers. I think the Internet is a fantastic opportunity to bring short stories back to mainstream readership, so this is my own little experiment in making that happen.
It matches the times. This is the digital age! Attention spans are shorter, and content is ever more and more accessible. We can and are reading everywhere–in line at the DMV, on the subway, in the park. If given the choice, would people choose short fiction in these contexts? I know I would, and I have a feeling I’m not alone in that.
How did you choose which stories would appear in your inaugural issue?
I spent a lot of time reading all of the stories I’ve received. Then I went back and read the ones that stuck out–and there were several of them! In the end I went with the stories that I found the most engaging. Some of that is personal taste, but it’s also about being polished, meeting the word count, having a definitive beginning, middle and end. Finding that right balance between satisfying what genre readers are looking for, but also being creative and distinct.
What do you look for in the stories selected to appear in wordhaus? Are you looking for originality over finesse? Do you do any editing, or do you expect to see finely tuned pieces from the writers who submit?
I try to avoid editing because I hate to interfere with a writer’s vision. However, if I see a piece worth the work, I’ll make suggestions to the writer prior to publishing. But if I’m picking my next piece and it comes down to two stories, the more polished piece is more likely to get published.
But the most important elements I am looking for is effective storytelling: characters I can care about, a clear plot development and conclusion, worthwhile stakes. I know I’m repeating myself, but all I’m looking for is enjoyable, compelling story, not the next literary genius. Think Twilight not Dracula.
The wordhaus website defines your publishing schedule as weekly. Is there a specific day of the week you use as a submission deadline for that week’s issue?
I publish one story every Wednesday morning, alternating between the three genres. I don’t have a regular system perfected yet, but I’m trying to get to a point where stories are chosen at least two weeks ahead of their publishing date. That gives me time to work with the writer to set up the bio page, etc.
In your personal reading time, what books do you stay up late at night to finish? Who do you read in romance? How about sci-fi/fantasy? Which mystery/thriller authors do you advance order?
Sci-fi/fantasy is my favorite genre. The stuff that keeps me up late to keep reading is usually character-driven and high-action. Things like The Hunger Games or Shatter Me. I’m also compelled by authors that use language in unique ways (The Book Thief) or whose worlds are unbelievably imaginative, authors who clearly see the world completely differently from me (Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere).
But I always throw in a little variety, too. Right now I’m reading Gone Girl, and even though there’s no zombies, it’s absolutely fantastic. And I’m a fan of romance writer Rainbow Rowell (Attachments).
But let’s get real–quality storytelling is found in all genres, and the best stories often have elements of multiple genres. If a writer can give me characters and stakes I can invest in, I’ll read anything.
What, if any, are your plans for expanding wordhaus?
Short term, I am looking to build a readership as well as relationships with like-minded writers who appreciate the wordhaus vision. Really, I’ll be thrilled if I can just bring in enough stories to meet the publishing schedule the full year. I’m doing a lot of guest blogging this year, and experimenting with other advertising and outreach efforts.
And at the end of each year, I am hoping to release “Best Of” collections for each genre. That’s something I’m really excited about, and another great way to call out and recognize the most talented writers who contribute to the site.
As readership builds, I hope to use that to start earning enough money from advertising to be able to pay my writers.
What do you see in the future of wordhaus? Five years from now? Ten years from now?
Down the line, I hope to increase the publishing schedule so that I’m releasing a story in every genre every week instead of rotating. A next step after that would be to add more genres, maybe.
And I could also see hosting some exceptional writers who want to publish ongoing serials on a regular basis–but I’d have to find the right writers for that first, who would be capable of making a longer-term commitment.
What do you see yourself doing five years from now? Ten years from now?
I hope to have my first novel-length work published within the next 3-5 years, and to be building from that to release the entire series I have planned from it. Ten years from now, hopefully I’m into my second series, which I’m also mapping out. And I have plans for my own short stories too, which I’d never post on wordhaus–too much of a conflict of interest. I have a few different visions for that down the line — most likely monthly or weekly subscription model for short stories or maybe an ongoing serial.
And of course I plan to keep developing wordhaus and my blog all along the way, too!
What are you writing, or working on, in 2013?
Right now, my own fiction writing efforts are focused on completing my WIP, a fantasy novel. My goal is to have it finalized and query-ready by the end of the year.
Is there anything you’d like to tell us about wordhaus that I haven’t asked?
It’s an exciting time to be a writer, with technology opening a lot of doors and making it easier than ever to reach out to readers. But at the same time, it’s creating a lot of noise. It’s hard for both writers and readers to cut through it all and connect. I see filters (like publishers, reviewers, web zines and other platforms) becoming more and more important for making those connections as the noise grows. That’s what I hope to do with wordhaus.
Thanks so much, Emily, for taking the time to sit down and talk to us about your new publishing venture. You’ve been a most gracious and interesting interviewee.
My pleasure Suzanne, I really appreciate your help spreading the word!
So there you go, writers and readers. If you haven’t been over to wordhaus to submit a story, or to read some great fiction, what are you waiting for?
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