Today marks our 50th entry to the premier novel excerpt contest for Novel Slices (NS), and I wanted to add a transparent, brief account of what it has been like to start this new publication in the hopes it will help others who may be considering a similar venture.
For about two years, I thought of starting NS because whenever I came across published novel excerpts, they either felt like they'd been forced to masquerade as short stories or they were from books that had already been published. In contrast, NS would be a platform for excerpts from 'novels under construction' to get out into the world, so that people could see them and fall in love with them early and they could garner early support.
The contest format raised the profile of the publication from the first day, and our application of the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Code of Ethics for Contests put all the focus on the excerpts themselves and not on the writer's past successes or connections. Also, this ensured an early way to ensure some of the startup costs would be covered.
I spent a lot of time on the budget. In broad terms, the initial costs for the website (Weebly Pro Site on special for Black Friday) and an ad in Poet's & Writers were around 300 dollars (email email@example.com if you would like more details). We also put out a free ad in Duotrope -- I can't tell you how important this free publicity turned out to be!
While I use Submittable a lot as a writer, the cost was prohibitive. One Story has a free submissions manager program, but it would have required learning mySQL -- this probably would not have been too difficult but I also wasn't sure how it would integrate with the site (again, though, this service to the community is truly commendable). I ended up using a two-step process (payment through Square + excerpt submission) that came with my website builder pro plan. (Since NS started, Duotrope has come up with a new, low-cost submission program, DuoSumo.)
So here we are with 15 days left to go in the contest and we are about to break even on the pre-publication costs for the website, original advertisement, and payment to the five contest winners ($150 each, or $750 total). Given how well things are going, I have bought two additional ads, one in LitHub Daily and one with Writer's Relief (along with a social media blast that they offer). It is hard to estimate the impact of each of the four advertisements (P&W, Duotrope, LitHub Daily, and Writer's Relief) -- next time, we'll have to ask how people heard about the contest. We were also approached by Winningwriters.com but I got nervous we might have overspent on advertisements and will try this one out next time.
One last note at this point -- secretly, I was terrified we might not have very good entries because we're a brand-new publication. Right from the first submissions, this fear was dispelled. I am so happy I'm not the final judge, as Eric Darton is sure to have a tough time deciding, given the high quality of the excerpts so far.