2020 in Review & Awards Eligibility

Well, that was certainly a year.

2020 in Review? This is not a year any mere human can summarize. But professionally I did well, despite this week’s doxxing. I sold 6 short stories (3 pro, 2 semipro, 1 reprint), and got the AI Cold War novel almost query-ready.  And now that the year is nearly over, let’s list all the public-facing accomplishments and publications.

First, a few words on award eligibility:

  • Nominating for the Hugo Awards? If so, I hope you’ve enjoyed our work at Escape Pod, which is eligible for Best Semiprozine. The co-editors Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya would make a great choice (as a two-person team) for Best Editor Short Form, too.
  • How about the Nebula Awards? I hope you’ll enjoy my story “Conference of the Birds” in Analog Science Fiction & Fact. The story of Surveillance Hub, a hard-working node in the distributed neural network AI of an oppressive cyberpunk megacorp. Doing its job, tracking intellectual-property thieves, hoping for another round of reinforcement signals from the network’s uppermost levels.
    • Read it for free online (as of 2/16) via Curious Fictions.
    • For the upcoming eligibility season, this story is eligible only for the Nebulas, not the Hugos.1
  • For any award, consider the many excellent original stories Escape Pod published in 2020. If you enjoyed one, let the world know!

If you’d like to read more of what I published this year, here are my three other original stories that came out in 2020:

  1. The Gentry – Kaleidotrope, July 2020 (contemporary fantasy, 4500 words). The eldritch diner with the portal between worlds was torn down for condos years ago – but there’s one last fairy chevalier stranded in this world, homeless and down on her luck, and she needs a few things from the diner-owners’ son.
  2. Machines in Motion – Hybrid Fiction, Sep 2020 (steampunk, 4200 words). In the war’s endless need for personnel, a Jewish refugee has a chance to become a military engineer, despite the restrictions against her religion and gender. To win her place among the engineers, she’ll need to outmaneuver all the officers and mentors who want to keep her under their control.
    • Not available free online. Contact me for a copy in the format of your choice.
  3. Weights and Measures – Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Nov 2020 (secondary world fantasy, 5200 words). Agnella, senior priestess of the god of trade and justice, has come north to Senvosk to track a stolen relic. But by the time she arrives, the local priest has already been murdered. Agnella has only one local novice to rely on, as a rival god begins his hunt.

And lastly, you can hear my voice hosting five stories (six episodes) of Escape Pod from 2020:

  • Escape Pod 755, “Consolidation” by Langley Hyde
  • Escape Pod 743, “Flash From the Vault: Summer 2020, #2”
  • Escape Pod 734, “Murmuration” by E. Catherine Tobler
  • Escape Pod 726/727, “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
  • Escape Pod 716, “Physics by the Numbers” by Stephen Granade

May 2021 be a better year for us all!

Writer Warning: Unfit / Unreal / Thinkerbeat Reader / Mythaxis.com / Longshot Press

Last Updated February 19, 2021

This main section has been preserved in its original edition from February 2020 to provide a historical record of past actions. Many of its facts have changed since. You can find updates and other developments below. Including the part where he doxxed me on December 14, 2020.

If you’re an author out there submitting short stories, you should be aware of the things that the publisher Longshot Press (magazines Unfit and Unreal, portal Thinkerbeat Reader, review site Mythaxis.com1, etc) are doing without your permission.

Here’s a screenshot from Feb 27 2020 of the “honorable mentions” page where they publish the authors, titles, and ratings for some stories they’ve rejected.

Screenshot from Thinkerbeat Reader listing story titles along with author names, submission dates, and ratings.

I’ve edited the screenshot to only reveal the information of authors who’ve given me consent to share. I’m not providing links because there are dozens more authors on that page, who presumably never wanted this information publicized. Nothing in the website’s guidelines warns an author that their story may be publicly named & rated. In fact, their privacy policy states that they will not share your information with anyone.

(Yes, public. This page is visible to everyone, not only Thinkerbeat members.)

I tried yesterday to tell the editor that authors would see this practice as upsetting & predatory, so that he could quietly fix it. Unfortunately, he instead responded with a masterclass in professionalism.

Email from Thinkerbeat to Benjamin C. Kinney containing only the words "Grow up."

Maybe some authors are willing to have their rejections named & rated. I certainly wouldn’t be, but that’s your choice to make. But it’s DEFINITELY not okay to share information about individual submissions without asking permission. None of the authors in my screenshot were aware of this until I told them.

If you’re considering submitting here, also keep in mind the Unfit / Unreal / Thinkerbeat practice of requiring a subscription to submit – a subscription which costs money after the first three months.2

Thanks to David Steffen of the Submission Grinder for doing the initial legwork of spotting the problem.

Updates and Developments

The main post above has not been significantly altered except where noted here.

Edit 2/27: Please don’t try to track down the full list of names-and-ratings. It contains about 75 rows, and every one of them contains information that the submitter didn’t plan to tell the whole internet. Let’s respect their privacy. If you want to know whether your story is listed, let me know and I’ll check my screenshot. (Sub-update 12/14/2020: I no longer see any such list on their page, perhaps they gave it up sometime after my March updates.)

Paypal transfer from Daniel White to Benjamin C. Kinney, totaling $0.00 after feesEdits 2/28: Changes to the main post: Clarified that the ranking page is public. Clarified that they are violating their website privacy policy. Revised info on their payment scheme.

Rest assured that Writer Beware has been notified and is aware.

Update 3/01: The editor sent me a Paypal transfer that totaled $0.00 after fees. Perhaps this is a petty way of reminding me that I didn’t pay? Or an attempt to verify my email address? Who knows? There’s no note with the transfer. I have refunded it, to make clear that I have no financial relationship of any kind with him.

Update 3/04: According to reports, they have removed story titles and ratings from the Honorable Mention page, changed the landing page to make clear that subscriptions will be required after 3 months (rather than hiding it in the website terms), and updated their privacy policy. However, their new privacy policy leaves much to be desired – it only says “will not sell your contact info.” This does not prevent them from giving your contact info, nor does it forbid the story title/ranking info from the original Honorable Mention page.

Update 3/12: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have posted an official warning statement about Thinkerbeat and its magazines. Note that Daniel Scott White (the publisher) also runs the online review magazine Mythaxis Review (.com, NOT .uk), according to Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware. Finally, Daniel Scott White continues to act like a jerk when people ask him to remove their stories.

Update 3/22: It looks like Thinkerbeat is now calling their rejections a “Thinkerbeat Award.” Not that they like your story enough to buy it, but they still want you to give them some free advertising by putting the image on your website. (A very Writers-Of-The-Future-like practice. Good to know that markets with a predatory approach to their writers are learning from each other. Sigh.)

Update/Edit 10/1/2020: Be aware that the magazine Longshot Island and associated Longshot Press are by the same publisher. For clarity, the page and title above have been updated to include the Longshot name.

Update 12/7/2020: The publisher is now forbidding SFWA members from submitting, and is generally ranting about SFWA, in some ill-conceived refusal to believe that all this negative attention was caused by his unprofessional and harmful-to-writers behaviors and practices.

Update 12/14/2020: I know everyone’s having good fun getting themselves onto Longshot’s twitter list of “SFWA – Do Not Follow,” but as noted by others, public twitter lists like this can be used (by anyone, not necessarily Longshot) to direct trolls and harassers. After you’ve had your laugh, I recommend removing yourself from the list by blocking or soft-blocking @/longshotpress.

Update 12/14/2020 (later): Longshot Press’s twitter account doxxed me today, posting my Screenshot of Longshot Press twitter account doxxing Benjamin C. Kinney, including legal name, home address, workplace, etc. Private into is opaqued in screenshot, not original.legal name, home address, and place of work. It’s all a bit sad, but I guess they insist on demonstrating who they are. Nobody should work with a publisher who’ll respond to criticism by tracking down your private information and posting it online.

All grey boxes are my additions. Daniel Scott White posted the unobscured pdf taken from my work website.

If you would like to avoid him for your safety, his accounts on Twitter include at least @/longshotpress, @/unreal_magazine, @/unfitmagazine, @/thelandofwords, and @/readmythaxis. He also has Facebook pages for each of these.

Update 12/15/2020: Add @/longshotisland to the account list. However, do NOT confuse them with the semipro magazine Mythaxis (.co.uk). They had the name first (since 2008) and have no relationship with this guy’s Mythaxis Review (.com).

Edit 2/19/2021: Updated the title and header paragraph with an up-to-date list of DSW/Longshot’s associated publications.

We live!

This website was down, or in various states of deshabille, for a week or two following my host’s server move. But I think I have everything back in order. If anything appears to be broken or missing, let me know!

Escape Taxonomy

Over the weekend, Escape Pod received one of the highest honors possible for a science fiction entity: someone named a species after us.Image and description of Zelomopha effugia

The newest member of the Escape Pod team, Zelomorpha effugia, is a Costa Rican parasitoid wasp. The taxonomic methods used to identify it (and the other newly-described species in this publication1) are new and perhaps controversial. But I, for one, welcome our scientific controversy overlords.

This delights me beyond words. Ever since I was a child reading Far Side cartoons, the idea of having a species named after something I’ve done was a dream beyond imagining.

Support options: Patreon & Curious Fictions

If you want to support the work I do writing SFF, editing Escape Pod, and bringing neuroscience knowledge to fandom, you now have two options: Patreon and Curious Fictions.

I’ve long resisted setting up this Patreon page because I’m not hurting for cash – but the more money I can make from writing, the more time I can spend on it. I’d absolutely love the time to bring #NeuroThursday back to life, and be able to share my neuroscience knowledge with you all again!

If you want a more needy cause to support, consider instead (or also) signing up for the Escape Artists patreon, which funds the best free SFF podcasts on the internet, and allows Escape Pod to fly.1

Dream Foundry Kickstarter

When I withdrew my finalist story from Writers of the Future a little more than a year ago, one of the agonies about (not) supporting WotF was the work they do to support, award, and draw attention to new SFF writers & artists. If only that was actually the motive of WotF’s organization.1

Out of those dark days, a new organization has arisen: The Dream Foundry. Their mission is to support and  promote SFF creators across their careers, starting with mentorship and a judged contest for new writers 2 The Dream Foundry has been created by and for SFF creators – there are no outside interests or motives, beyond improving this ecosystem we all live in, and helping welcome every new generation of writers into the SFF community!

Dream Foundry dragon

Today, the Dream Foundry kickstarter has gone live. At the time of posting, less than 1 day in, they’re over halfway to their goal. But that first goal is just the basics. With enough money, they can start piloting their contest right away. All their goals and costs are laid out on their page.

Check out the Kickstarter, earn some fun rewards – and most importantly, help make speculative fiction a more welcoming place for new creators.

Oh yeah, and there’s a critique by some familiar names at the $150 Aerial Patrol support level!

Escape Pod: The New Rejectomancy

Good news for all you writers out there: starting immediately (last update February 5, 2019), Escape Pod is changing their rejection letters to a newer, more transparent pattern. Escape Pod rejectomancy is getting easier!

Escape Pod rejection letters will now be explicit and transparent about exactly where your story got in our editorial pipeline. From 2017-2019, the letters contained that information, but to interpret it you needed to read my website. No longer! That means you’re free to stop reading this post right now, its information is no longer necessary. But if you crave a deeper knowledge of rejectomantic arts, dive on in.

If the rejection letter provides no details about who enjoyed your story, that means your story was rejected after initial Associate Editor review. If your story passed any of the following milestones, the rejection letter will tell you whether:

  1. An Associate Editor passed your story up to the Assistant Editor.
  2. The Assistant Editor (me) held it for a second read.
  3. The Assistant Editor passed it to Co-Editors for the final round of consideration.

Associate Editors read each story anonymized1, but the Assistant Editor and Co-Editors can see the author’s name and cover letter.2 This process gives each story an initial read where it must stand on its text alone, while still allowing the cover letter to play a role, especially if the author has experiences relevant to the story.

The new letters also provide approximate statistics about the stages of our pipeline (“about X% of stories reach this level”). We hope this context will be useful, especially for new authors.

Rejection “level” is not an indication of story quality. It only tells you what it says on the proverbial tin: whom in our staff thought it might be a good fit for Escape Pod. The visibility of an issue is not necessarily correlated with its magnitude.

The only exceptions to this formula are three rare cases, all of them self-explanatory. “Violated guidelines” (generally for stories that are too long or too short), “Revise & Resubmit,” and of course “Acceptance.”

Reprints and originals now receive the same rejection letters, but reprints are less likely to receive personal notes.

PERSONAL NOTES

When possible, we try to include personal comments in rejection letters, below the form text. Most personal notes are written by me based on Associate Editor input. In addition, sometimes the Associates write up the a note for me to paste in, and of course the Co-Editors write their own for the final round. The presence (or absence) of a personal note does not reflect how well we thought a story would fit at Escape Pod. Generally, six factors influence this choice:

  1. Who on our staff read your story? (Are they someone more or less inclined to write personals?)
  2. Did we think a comment would help this story or your future stories?
  3. Was our reaction something we could meaningfully condense down to a sentence or two?
  4. Was there something in your cover letter that affected our desire to provide feedback?
  5. How hurried was I while sending out rejection letters?
  6. Was the story a reprint? (Reprints almost never get personal notes, because the story has already achieved its final form.)

As you can see, many of these factors have nothing to do with your story. We offer feedback as often as manageable,3 but we’re not your critique group.

WHAT MAKES A STORY FIT (OR NOT)

If you receive a rejection letter of any kind, we didn’t think your story was a good fit for Escape Pod. This can happen for any combination of the following reasons:

  1. The story didn’t suit our personal tastes.
  2. We found problems with the story.
  3. We’ve seen too many stories like this.
  4. The prose would require too much editing.
  5. The story felt more like fantasy or horror than science fiction.
  6. The style wasn’t a good fit for audio.

This is fiction, not math: subjective taste is our only true yardstick. We encourage everyone to keep trying no matter what flavor of rejection they receive! Many of our authors received several rejections of various types before we bought one of their stories, and many of our staff still receive rejections from other Escape Artists podcasts.

NOTES AND EXCEPTIONS

We try to go through the main queue from oldest to newest, but there’s a lot of jitter. For example, if one of us downloads 10 stories to their Kindle, the next reader might come along ten minutes later and respond to the 11th story.

The workflow can vary if I or one of the Co-Editors plucks a story from the queue. This skips a story over one or more of the early tiers. This is rare, is not usually faster than the usual pipeline, and doesn’t necessarily affect the ultimate odds of acceptance. You will probably never notice from the outside.

Special submission calls aren’t under my management. For example, Black Future Month followed a generally similar workflow, but only had three tiers, and used the same rejection letter for all three.

This is an explanation, not a contract. This process was different in the past, and will surely change again someday.

The Year of Declines: Parsecs and WOTF

Escape Pod won the 2018 Parsec Award for “Best Speculative Fiction Magazine or Anthology Podcast.”

But don’t congratulate us yet. Because we – and our siblings over at PodCastle, who won “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form)” – are declining our award.

In short, the Parsecs gave an award to a notorious harasser and abuser.1 When they discovered this, their reaction was not to deny a platform and publicity to someone with years of documented abuse, but to double down on the supposed virtues of their anonymized process.

Escape Artists co-owners Alasdair Stewart and Marguerite Kenner described our collective decision-making process here. PodCastle has released their own statement here. Alasdair earlier released a personal statement here. Escape Pod is still pondering a statement of our own, but given how good those statements are, it’s not clear how much brainspace we want to waste on this.

But I wanted to add a personal element.

This marks the second time this year I’ve been involved in withdrawing from a major award. When I withdrew from Writers of the Future, I ended my announcement with the sentence, “For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that has hurt and misused so many friends, fellow authors, illustrators, and human beings.”

There are a lot of ways to hurt and misuse. The Parsecs aren’t directly, obviously harmful in the way Writers of the Future is. But if we’ve (all, collectively) learned anything from the internet over the last few years, it’s that unmoderated spaces become spaces dominated by harassers and abusers. Bad actors drive everyone else away. If an organization refrains from passing judgment, then only the worst participants will have the will and power to make judgments.

I understand the appeal and principles of above-the-fray neutrality. In practice, any organization must choose between those who would act abusively, and their victims. If you won’t banish anyone, the harmful people will do the banishing.

As Jennifer Albert said in the PodCastle statement, “Being non-partisan is not an excuse to shirk the responsibility to stand for justice.” As Alasdair said in his personal statement, “[Judging solely on merit] is impossible, and, bluntly, naïve.” And as Marguerite Kenner said in the Escape Artists statement, “No situation involving a group of people is apolitical; to claim to act in such a way… is willful ignorance.”

Identifying the abusers isn’t always easy. But sometimes an abuser has a multi-year, media-documented history of threatening behavior, and the basic standard of care for your community is clear. Or certainly should be.

For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that would allow someone to hurt and misuse so many friends, fellow authors, podcasters, and human beings.

2018 in Review & Awards Eligibility

Another year is coming to a close, and much to show for it, ups and downs and every direction. I finished the first draft of a new novel, and worked on more short stories than I can shake a metaphor at. I made the Campbell Award longlist! I lost a Hugo award with the rest of the amazing Escape Pod team, and took part as we won and rejected a Parsec award. My final submission to Writers of the Future became a finalist, but I withdrew my story over ethical concerns. I sold 4 original stories, but two of those sales fell through when the magazines closed.

I had five original stories come out in 2018. In chronological order:

  1. Toward Lands Uncharted – Mind Candy, Feb 2018 (secondary world fantasy, 4900 words). A diplomat and spy must try to save her nation and its very history from their conqueror’s Sykes-Picot border magic.
  2. Where the Anchor Lies – Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Feb 2018 (science fantasy, 4000 words). A general visits the grave of the sentient battleship she loved, to use it as a political tool.
  3. The Seeds We Plant – Compelling SF special issue, Sep 2018 (science fiction, 2200 words). When a colony ship suffers a brutal accident, the pilot must reply on his emotional-control neuroprosthesis to save his cargo.
    • Not available free online. Contact me for a copy in the format of your choice.
  4. Elegy of Carbon – The Internet Is Where The Robots Live Now, Nov 2018 (science fiction, 4100 words). In the waning days of the solar system, a mining AI must find a new way to fulfill the purpose it loves.1
    • Not available free online. Contact me for a copy in the format of your choice.
  5. The Hammer’s Prayer – Diabolical Plots, Dec 2018 (contemporary fantasy, 3300 words). A golem hides away in ugly places, to help him resist the compulsion to share his gift of animation.2
    • If you only have time to read one story, this is the one I recommend.

I didn’t have much time for nonfiction this year, but I did publish:

  1. The chapter “What’s Possible with Cyborgs and Cybernetics” in Putting the Science in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). I’m also quite proud of my associated writing-prompts post, “Machines, You, and Other Synonyms.”
    • Putting the Science in Fiction – a collection of 59 essays by scientists and other experts, designed to help authors write with authenticity – is eligible for the Hugo award for Best Related Work .
  2. Twelve new entries in the #NeuroThursday Twitter feature.

If you’re in a position to nominate for awards of any kind, I hope you’ll consider not only these fine works, but the whole team over at Escape Pod. We work hard every week to bring you the finest in audio fiction, and we’ll be eligible once again for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. We also published a lot of awesome stories, so take a look back at that list and see if one of them feels worthy of your love too!

Withdrawing from Writers of the Future

Earlier this week, I received a phone call informing me that my final submission to the Writers of the Future contest (first quarter 2018) had been selected as a finalist. However, after contemplating the information1 that past winners have shared about the contest in recent weeks, I have withdrawn my finalist story from consideration.

I would not judge anyone for their past (or future) decisions to be involved in the contest, whether or not they act(ed) out of ignorance. After all, many writers – myself included – have long treated this contest as a normal fixture of our community. I hope my choice will help encourage others to reexamine that assumption.2

For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that has hurt and misused so many friends, fellow authors, illustrators, and human beings.

Updates:
• More links in footnotes (8/12/2018)
• Dream Foundry info (10/26/2018)
• SFWA statement added to footnotes (12/5/2018)