Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gathering Information on

Amy Cohen, a marketing assistant at, emailed me last week to let me know about the newest edition to the First Chapters Writing Competition:

We are now in Round 3 of our First Chapters Writing Competition, and our members are voting on the 10 selected submissions who they’d like to see advance to the final round, of which there will be a total of 5. The Grand Prize Winner will get a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster! Gather members who write the most insightful comment on each of the 5 advancing submissions will win a $100 Borders gift card. And members are not limited to winning just once, so there is a chance of winning a total of $500 in Borders gift cards. For more information, please click here.

This was at the beginning of the Kentucky Derby death spiral though, so I admit that my first response was, “First Chapters wha-huh? Gather?” before my brain kicked in and I remembered the news about the Simon & Schuster/Touchstone partnership with Gather to create the “American Idol” of writing competitions back in January. (This would be after the whole Sobol Awards brouhaha, but during the height of my store closing, so I hope my forgetfulness is understandable if not forgiven.)

The research I was able to do between phone calls suggested that was set up (at least originally) to allow writers to earn money for their work as accrue some name recognition by publishing on the web. Furthermore, the NY Times article I found said that reading is cited as a primary interest of most of the members, and readers plus writers must be a good thing, right? And hey, look! Now they were offering book money for people who took the time to really think and comment on the submissions that had made it to the third round of their contest.

Still I had a lot of questions about Gather, this money system and the First Chapters competition itself, so I zipped off a bunch of questions. Below you’ll find her response—reprinted with her permission:

Each member earns Gather Points™, which are Gather's currency for rewarding members for valuable site participation. Each Gather Point is equivalent to a frequent flyer mile. For top contributors, Gather offers a cash program instead of points. Anyone earning over $50 in points in a calendar month will have the opportunity to receive cash. Cash earners can request payments anytime they like via check or PayPal®. For more information on our Gather Earning program, please click here.

Gather is a unique place to connect with people and share your thoughts. Unlike the wide world of random blogging, Gather categorizes your thoughts by topic. Other members can easily find, enjoy, comment on, and rate your contributions. By the same token, you'll find people you deem interesting with just a keyword or two as you search. Because all content is rated on quality and popularity, it's easy to find what the community considers to be the most compelling content on any given topic.

We are a community of 225,000+ members and growing. Being part of such a community is reward enough, but you'll also get Gather Points™ just for participating on the site. Top earners may even be eligible to earn cash. Inviting new users and submitting outstanding content will earn you points. The more people you invite to join and the more valuable content you submit, the more points you acquire. Gather Points are your currency to purchase goods and services from your favorite Gather Points partners, and cash earners can request a payment at any time.

In January, we launched our first First Chapters Writing Competition where aspiring novelists had the opportunity to submit their full-length commercial fiction manuscripts for consideration. Over the course of the competition, the first three chapters of entrants’ novels were posted to the First Chapters Group for evaluation by the Gather community and Editorial team. The community and Gather Editorial team are selecting from our current semi-finalist pool of 10, five finalists through three rounds of voting. One Grand Prize Winner will be chosen for publication by a special panel of judges. For contest details, please click here. This contest has garnered a lot of great press and we will be offering similar writing competitions in the near future, so please make sure to check back at soon for details.

We truly value and appreciate our members, and to thank them for their continued participation in the First Chapters competition, we are rewarding them up to $500 in Borders Gift Cards. Simple as that!

Our most recent list of contests include:

Mother’s Day photo contest (now closed)

Mitch Albom writing competition (now closed)

Starbucks Earthwatch contest (now closed)

For more Frequently Asked Questions about Gather, please click here.

So, have any of you participated in or the First Chapters Contest? If so, what do you think?

Do you have any questions that I can pass along to Amy?

Personally, I would like to know if members can syndicate their feeds to other set-ups, or the feeds from other set-ups to their site. If they can be set up, how is the interest in these feeds measured to accredit the writers account?

From what I viewed of Gather (and I did spend some time surfing around between phone calls), I’ve found stuff that I’ve both liked and disliked. The use of Tags to hook your information to that of a greater community is a great idea, but by appearing at the beginning of each post they distract from the content that follows. Of course, I’m weird about layout, and anyone else might not have a problem with this.

So what do you think?


Marta said...

Amy at also wrote to me about this contest. We exchanged a few emails, and she assured me that the voters would not put a Sanjaya of fiction through to the final rounds. I was touched by her naive optimism. I was that way once. Okay, not really, but I saw a movie where Goldie Hawn was like that and she liked butterflies and bunnies.

I expect to see the literary equivalent of fauxhawks moving forward in the contest.

Anonymous said...

I rather agree, Marta. I'd say the last thing we really need is an American Idol "reality show" sort of business model for publishing. Hey, so you wrote War and Peace? Too boring, you're voted off the island! Let's hope S & S keep this as a marketing experiment to cash in on the reality craze and that it then goes away. Otherwise, they may wake up one morning and say, "Hey, why are we paying for editors? Let's just let everybody vote for what we publish!" (By the way, Blogger seems to have lost my identity, but this is Kevin Radthorne...)




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Anonymous said...

I had an entry in the First Chapters contest. It didn't make it out of the first round. No disgrace there. There were supposedly over 2500 entries and only 20 made it into the second round.

The biggest problem with the contest was that it was too successful in terms of number of entries. Gather got 10 times the number of entries they expected and it totally swamped them. The huge number of entries also reshaped the nature of the contest.

People saw the number of entries and went Darwinian. Anybody with a high rating got hammered with a barrage of low ratings with no comments or explanations--sometimes up to 40 in a very short time.

With 2500 entries, there were often 500 to 700 entries up at a time toward the end of the contest. The overwhelming determinant of who won was getting noticed. No synopses were posted (at least not officially).

Links to entries, along with first sentence of each entry, were posted 20 to a screen page. There was no official way to get to say screen 7 without paging through screens 1 through 6. In practice that meant that entries on screens from about 7 on were effectively invisible. Your entry started out on the first few pages, but was pushed down as new entries were added. If your entry happened to go up the day before a huge batch of entries, (as mine did) you were effectively invisible after the first or second day because almost nobody paged through all of those entries to get to you. If you went up on a Friday, you got an entire weekend on the first few pages.

With 2500+ entries, readers were totally overwhelmed, and a lot of entries were rated almost entirely by their friends and family.

Does this all make the contest sound dismal? I actually enjoyed it and got more good feedback during it than I had in years of writer's conferences, critique groups and the like. I figured out ways around the invisibility problem and met several dozen very talented people.

I wrote a more complete account of my experience here:

My actual entry is here, if anyone wants to look at one of the 'losers':

Overall, the contest had some problems but I enjoyed it and would probably do it again if they run another one.