Thu
Mar 5 2009 10:03am
Brain Harvest: Fiction for the iPhone crowd

We’ve previously covered new short fiction markets here, like Thaumatrope and Outshine. Now a new market joins these in taking online fiction in a new direction: Brain Harvest. Rather than 140 character fictions, Brain Harvest focuses on stories 100-750 words in length. While flash fiction is nothing new in the genre, Brain Harvest is specifically targeting people with mobile devices like iPhones, BlackBerries, and other smartphones. You can even sign up to receive a text that lets you know when a new story is available.

I asked the team behind the online magazine—Caren Gussoff, Eden Robins and Shane Hoversten1—some questions about the new venture.

What motivated you to start Brain Harvest?

Caren: Pride, ego, too much free time, the fact that I like to be in charge of things. Plus, a bunch of great magazines have recently folded, so what better time to start a new one than in the wake of giants?

Many places do publish shorts, but it’s not a specialty—we are definitely specializing.

Eden: It’s a sad truth that too few writers actually read the publications they submit to. Part of this is laziness, part is that there are so many publications out there, part is that a lot of publications can’t or won’t take a chance on something crazy and different. We wanted to foist the kinds of stories we wanted to read on the general public, writers and non-writers, and make them so accessible that they couldn’t help but read them.

What do you think you can offer the field that isn’t already out there?

Caren: Short, excellent fiction that is short and excellent. Excellent short fiction that can be read between meetings, waiting in traffic, during commercial breaks, over a quick coffee.

Eden: Fiction that punches you in the face and then nurses you back to health. The great thing about flash fiction is that it forces writers to get to the point and to do it in such a way that their audience has to pay attention. If you can’t get someone to read 750 words of your shit, then you are in trouble.

How will you distribute the fiction?

Caren: On our website, this has both a web-optimized and mobile device-optimized version. We’re really hoping that people will make us part of their regular iPhone/BlackBerry rotation. We’ll even SMS you when new pieces are up.

What is your revenue model? You’re paying pro rates—how will you make money?

Caren: Shoe-making elves. We won’t take stories about them, but are perfectly willing to exploit their labor. Also: Fresh eyes, our amazing, sliding scale, professional crit service which is available here.

Eden: Tell everyone you know. We are awesome critiquers. Just ask our Clarion West colleagues.

What kind of stories are you looking for?

Caren: Bad-ass stories, 100-750 words, that amaze, irritate, or endure. With, of course, some speculative elements.

Shane: I’m looking for stuff that I want to read, is the simplest way of putting it. The audience of me is, right now, extremely underserved. Partly, I think, this is because the spec fic field has been too narrow in its ambitions. SF is a subset of plain fiction, and needs to work as plain fiction first—needs to have something compelling at its core, something to grab onto. I don’t give a shit where you’ve been published or what you’ve done or who you know, if you’ve got something to say, and you say it well in the short form, I want to help other people find you. And then maybe you’ll get a chance to say something in the longer form.

Are there any plans to collect the stories for eventual release in a print format?

Caren: We’ve briefly discussed this, but there are no plans in the works. Yet.

How have submissions been so far? Any big names in the slush?

Caren: Subs have been hopping. Big names are forthcoming.

Where do you hope to see Brain Harvest a year from now?

Caren: Continuing to publish quality short short speculative fiction and pay its authors well—also, expanding a bit, into podcasting, birthing sister/brother sites, showcasing graphic short stories, and generally being bad-ass.

Eden: We have big plans. Creating a community that gives feedback and ideas, non-fiction content that expounds on the ideas in our fiction, podcasts, interviews, world domination, you know. Your typical one year plan.

Recent months have also seen the start of several Twitter-based markets for short-short pieces of 140 characters or less. Was this something of an inspiration? Do you think that new technologies and social networks are making the field of short short fiction more attractive?

Caren: I did take the Twitter zines as an inspiration and an omen, along with the collaborative SMS stories that are a big fad among Japanese schoolgirls these days, the fact that I get 50% of my info by scanning RSS headlines, and that I’m personally obsessed with how short a piece can be and still tell a story (as evidenced by the fact that I wrote a 1300 word space opera while at CW—now going to be in Birkensnake 2).

As editors, I think we all were interested in seeing how we could fill the interstitial moments in people’s lives with easy-to-access, quick reading bits of culture.

As a writer, I think it’s a great way to find your readers, we well—we can introduce readers to new writers with just a small amount of commitment, and if they like what they see, then they can seek out the writer’s longer works.

Eden: This was originally the idea that Caren came to us with—the micro fiction idea. But then we decided that we wanted to do something a little more meaty, and then came up with the idea of publishing on mobile devices, which gives a little more leeway than a purely Twitter-based model. So we opted for a limit of 750 words, which seemed like a reasonable length to read on a phone without wanting to poke your eyes out.

Basically, rather than fight against the fact that people aren’t reading as much short fiction in print, we thought we’d take a leap and publish on the devices that people are already using. If everyone and their mom is glued to an iPhone, why not take advantage of the situation and throw some fiction up in there?

Brain Harvest went live on March 1. How has the response been?

Eden: We had 50,000 hits on our first day, thanks to Cory Doctorow and BoingBoing. I don’t know that we’ll be able to sustain that kind of interest, but hopefully lots of them will keep coming back. We’ve had some very positive responses on people’s blogs, Twitter, and in our comments section, but because this is the internet and people feel entitled to be nasty, we’ve had some negative responses as well. Personally, I’m just glad they’re responding, and if we’re already pissing some people off I’d call this venture a success. Of course, I’d rather people like Brain Harvest, but interest is interest.

We’re going to be adding other non-fiction content this week to keep our readers interested in between this week’s story and next week’s, so hopefully that will bump our readership as well.

Brain Harvest is live now with their first offering of fiction from Nick Mamatas.


1In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2008 with all three of the founders, though I have no affiliation with the magazine.

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