Several weeks ago, I submitted a story to Sixfold, which operates on a unique concept. The contents are decided entirely by the writers who submit to the journal. The final voting isn’t over yet and I don’t know how far my own story has made it, but the experience has been worthwhile regardless of the voting results.
The process is pretty straightforward. For a meager submission fee of $6, you upload your story (they also have a similar process for poetry). Then you engage in three rounds of voting. In each round, you get six stories to read and rank. After the first round, ⅓ of the lowest rated stories are removed from the pool. After the second round, another third are removed. The third round decides on the final twenty stories that will comprise the issue. If you don’t participate in the voting, your own story is withdrawn. All the stories are shared anonymously, so the readings are blind. After the voting, the system become transparent and you can see all the votes for all the stories.
Why I say the experience is worth it regardless as to how well my own story fares is that being able to read a random selection of 18 stories is a great learning experience. For people outside the editing world, the ability to read so many stories without knowing anything about the writer is rare. It’s a great way to assess how your own works stands up and a way to learn from the mistakes or excellence of other writers.
Because the submissions are anonymous and the voting is still going on, I can’t say anything specific about the stories I’ve read, but I have noticed some interesting general trends about what works for me and what doesn’t.
I have four general observations:
- The better stories establish a sense of urgency. There’s no questions as to why this story now. There’s something at stake for the main character and some significant change takes place by the end of the story. The story presents a critical moment in that person’s life. It wasn’t necessarily something dramatic but something important for that person. The weaker stories often read just like a series of events.
- The better stories provided vivid details. They didn’t have overlong descriptions of people or places but just some well-selected details judiciously shared throughout that gave a sense of what people looked like, how old they were, what season it was, what era they’re from. Some of the lesser stories left too much to the imagination and these stories didn’t feel well-grounded.
- The better stories were internally consistent and didn’t rely on any surprise endings or unnecessary turns of events. Those authors trusted the story they were telling and didn’t feel the need to up the ante. Some stories were going along fine and then there was some sudden violence or plot reveal that undermined everything that went before.
- This last observations isn’t as much about what worked or didn’t work but more just a matter of curiosity. Of the 18 stories I read, 12 of them were in the first person. I was a bit surprised by this, probably because of my own bias. I almost never write in the first person, so found this a bit perplexing. Of course, given that the stories are randomly assigned, it could just be happenstance that so many first person stories came my way and it’s not representative of the whole. It is curious that there were only two third person stories in the first two rounds and four that made it to the final round. I don’t know what to make of this other than the fact that the disproportionate amount of first person stories was noticeable, especially in the first two rounds.
Even if my story doesn’t make the final cut, I’m hoping that it at least made it deep into the process so that more people got to read it and provide feedback. The process has been fascinating and I highly recommend Sixfold to other writers.