Interrogation: Ian Rose of QuarterReads.com

ian roseWho: Ian Rose — Author and founder of QuarterReads.com, “a new way to buy and sell short writing.”

Where: Portland

What: QuarterReads is a lightly curated market for short writing. When a writer submits their work to QuarterReads, it is reviewed by a human reader for technical quality. Each story on QuarterReads costs one quarter, 25 U.S. cents. Readers who sign up with QuarterReads pay $5.00 for 20 reads. Every time they decide to read a story, the reader spends one of their reads. Of that 25 cents, 22 are paid into the writer’s account.

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I think it’s important that people know QuarterReads was founded by a writer. Let’s start there. How long have you been writing and publishing?

I’ve been writing all my life, and publishing in the broadest sense since about 2007. That’s when I first had someone else publish something I had written, an embarrassingly clunky poem on a great little poetry site called Chantarelle’s Notebook. It was another few years before I got paid for a story, and it took me until this year to publish my first pro-paid story, a short in Daily Science Fiction. I write very part-time, and probably always will.

What is the last thing you published?

The last thing I published was a story called “You Wouldn’t Download a Mom” in the June/July issue of Plasma Frequency – they’re a great market that has been working hard to pay their writers more. It’s the story of a girl trying to replace her mother and realizing that as she ages, her concept of motherhood and family has changed.

What is the next thing you are going to publish?

My next story (unless I get my act together on submitting something else very quickly) will be “There Once Was a Lady” in the March edition of New Myths.

Okay, now let’s talk about QuarterReads. It seems like a perfectly simple concept — $.25 cent short stories in a variety of genres. What am I missing?
I don’t think you’re missing anything. QuarterReads is an absolutely simple concept. It pretty much is what it says on the tin: 25 cents for a story. We wanted to create an archive of stories that were inexpensive for readers and still somewhat lucrative for writers, taking advantage of the fact that the 500-lb gorilla in the online reading space (who shall remain nameless) only allows short stories to be A) free, or B) $0.99 or more. We thought the ideal price for short stories was somewhere in between.

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What’s was your initial inspiration for QuarterReads? Why is now a good time?

The concept for QuarterReads came, as most great and terrible ideas do, over drinks. A few friends were discussing the state of the market for short stories and poetry, and the binary choice between heavily edited markets and completely free-for-all self-publishing. To be clear, I think both of these are excellent choices. Pro markets like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed are amazing, and I wouldn’t change them a bit. Self-publishing has the potential to empower writers and lets us see some great stories we might not otherwise. But there’s a large gulf between them, and like the gap between free and $0.99, we thought there was room for something else in between.

How will readers benefit from QuarterReads? Writers?

Readers benefit, we hope, from QuarterReads as a source of new stories that have been somewhat vetted, but that aren’t chosen based on editorial bias. We accept/reject stories, essays and poems on technical quality (spelling/grammar) and the basic requirement that they be a complete story. Then we let the readers do the picking and choosing after that. I like to think of it as a gate with a loose chain on it, that most stories can fit through if they squeeze and shimmy a bit, but not all. For writers, we offer the best percentage royalties anywhere I’ve seen, far better than self-publishing. We can’t yet offer the kind of exposure or marketing machine that the big self-pub sites can, but whenever they sell a story, they know that the vast majority of the money is going to them, not us.

How many writers are currently on QuarterReads? How many short stories are currently posted? How many do you hope to have by the end of your first year?

There are, at this exact moment, 140 writers with work on QuarterReads. The complete list is here. That list ranges from award-winning professional authors to first time writers and poets, and between them, they have published 558 pieces on the site. By the time this interview goes live, I hope that’s approaching 600. We don’t have a goal for our first year. We’ve been in existence less than two months, so that 1-year number is going to be pretty massive.

How is QuarterReads different from short fiction magazines/e-zines?

QuarterReads is different because we’re trying to carve out a space between the magazines and the self-pub community. The former has great quality but a limited scope and focus, determined largely by the wonderful editors that run those markets. The latter has more in terms of quantity than you could ever want, but lacks even the most basic quality control, allowing for the complete range from dreck to perfection. We want to live in between those extremes, by vetting our stories to a minimal level and then letting the reader take over from there, and to offer writers the best possible compensation in the meantime.

How and what are writers compensated?

QuarterReads works on a pure royalty system. Every time a reader chooses to spend one of their quarters on a story, 22 of those 25 cents go straight into the writer’s account. That’s 88% royalty off the top. There is no fee for placing your work on QuarterReads, no up-front payment, so the first story sale should put the writer 22 cents ahead. Readers also have the option to “tip” stories that they truly love, in the amount of 1, 2 or 4 quarters. The writer receives 100% of these tips. When the writer has accumulated $10 or more in their accounts, they can get paid.

The percentages are pretty generous. Will you have top rely on advertising to keep the site up-and-running?

Advertising, at least in the banner sense, is really a dying way of making money online. We only show ads to non-logged in users, and frankly, we’ll probably do away with those ads on our next redesign. They don’t really pay enough to annoy our visitors. We’ll certainly never show ads to logged-in users, but even for casual visitors, they just aren’t a reliable or effective revenue source.

The user interface is pretty stripped down at this point? Is that by design, or will QuarterReads be evolving?

Stripped-down is a very polite way of saying it. It’s a very simple design, but that was on purpose. We wanted to have the content be front and center and not spend too much time or effort on complicating the look and feel. It also came about partly because my day job is back-end programming, not front-end design. I get paid to make things work, and generally use other people to make them pretty. That said, we have learned a huge amount these past few months about our audience and their expectations, and we’ll be looking at a series of design tweaks in the near future.

Any plans to expand into quarterly/annual anthologies, or other publishing ventures?

We’ve considered anthologies, and I’m not taking those off the table at all. However, the first rule of QuarterReads, for us, is “The concept comes first.” 25 cents per story, 22 of which go to the author, plus tips. That’s the concept, and we will only consider other means of publishing if we can offer at least those terms to the writers. Besides, anthologies could put us in the position of traditional editors, which is not what we set out to be. It’s not in our plans at the moment.

Find QuarterReads on Twitter. Find Ian Rose on Twitter.

Previous Interrogation: Joe Clifford

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books and Crimespree Magazine. He is currently working on the novella, CROSSWISE, and his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.

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