Ficathons - a How-To Guide
First: I'm not an expert in this area by any means - I've participated in a few ficathons, and I've run one ficathon and one feedbackathon. But when I was running the polyficathon, I felt like I was re-inventing the wheel - I learned as I went, and the whole thing might have gone more smoothly if I'd had a reference guide. I poked around, and there didn't seem to be anything like this out there, so I thought I'd create one. Please feel free to comment with additional suggestions or corrections!
Second: Nothing here is meant to be prescriptive. There's not a "right" way to do a story exchange. These are just helpful hints, based on my own experiences.
Challenge - an invitation to write stories around a particular theme, character, or plot bunny. Participants write stories that fit the parameters of the challenge and post them, rather than being assigned a particular request. A challenge may be open-ended (with no end date) or have a deadline. Usually challenge stories are posted as they are written, rather than all being posted on the due date. May be limited to a single fandom, or include many fandoms.
Ficathon - a story exchange, in which participants request a certain kind of story, and in return write one for someone else (not necessarily the same person who's writing for her/him). Usually the assignments are kept secret and all the stories are posted on the same day. Like challenges, ficathons are usually organized around some kind of theme - a particular character, pairing, or genre. They can be limited to one fandom, or multifandom.
Feedbackathon - works like a ficathon, but instead of writing a story for someone else, participants critique one another's (previously written) fic. Reviews are generally expected to be longer than a few sentences, and to include both positive comments and constructive criticism. Check out the PotC feedbackathon post for a detailed description of how I ran one (based entirely on the one bookishwench ran). If folks think it would be useful to incorporate that information into this post, I can do so, but it seemed like it would muddy the issue to me.
So, you wanna run a ficathon. . .
A challenge or a ficathon can be a great way to promote your favorite pairing, character, kink, what-have-you. A challenge is less work, but ficathons often get a better response, both because participants have the added incentive of getting a story, and because folks feel more committed to a ficathon.
Unless your ficathon is organized around a character or pairing, you'll need to decide whether to limit stories to one fandom, or to allow multiple fandoms. It's easier to match participants up if all the stories are from the same fandom, but you may get more participants if you make it multifandom.
In order to make it easier to match everyone up, you might consider doing what double_helix did for her femslash ficathon; she used a two tier system, in which everyone requested three fandoms from a short list of larger fandoms (Whedonverse, LotR, HP, that sort of thing), and then also had the choice of up to three "wild card" requests, which could be from any fandom (each participant also listed three primary fandoms she could write in, and as many wild card fandoms as she liked). This prevented double_helix from being stuck with requests that no one could fill.
A challenge doesn't usually have a signup process. There's no need for participants to indicate that they'll be writing to the challenge - they simply post their stories.
Ficathon signups can be handled through lj (asking folks to comment on your announcement post with their registration info), email or both. Either way, you'll probably want to request the following information:
Requests: (it's typical to allow up to 3 requests)
Restrictions: (again, up to 3 seems to be standard)
Are you willing to write back up fic?
Depending on the theme of the ficathon, you might ask for pairing requests as a separate category from more general requests (for example, in a Norrington ficathon, I might request Norrington/Will/Elizabeth, and then request that the story include honey, Norrington's desk, and a happy ending). You may also want to ask folks what they would like to write, or what they won't write, but this is less crucial if everyone is coming from the same fandom.
For a multifandom ficathon, you'll want to ask for fandom information for each request, as well as a list of what fandoms each participant is willing to write in. If you don't use the two tier system suggested above, you should encourage folks to list as many fandoms as they think they would be comfortable writing in - you'll need this information to match everyone up. You may also want to ask people to rank the fandoms they've requested or volunteered to write in.
Your lj and/or mailing list posts promoting the ficathon should also include the date signups end (at least a week after signups start, two weeks might be better), the date assignments will go out (give yourself a few days to make assignments - you may need it!), and the date stories will be due (a month from the date assignments went out seems to be typical, but take a look at the calender and make adjustments as necessary), as well as minimum length (typically 1,000 words) and any other parameters (some ficathons also have a maximum length or other requirements).
Assignments for a single fandom ficathon are usually pretty straightforward. Multifandom ficathons with lots of particpants can get fairly tricky. I used an Excel spreadsheet when I did assignments for the polyficathon, so I could compare the fandoms people were willing to write in with the requests, and sort the data by whatever criteria I was considering. I still ended up doing lots of paper and pencil lists. ash_night suggested that using Microsoft Access (a database program) might be the best way to organize the participants and match them up.
When you email the assignments, include all the registration information for the person each participant will be writing for. This helps the writer do some investigating to see what sorts of things his/her recipient would like. Include information about due dates, and remind everyone to let you know ASAP if they won't be able to finish their stories by the due date. You may also want to send out reminders as the deadline approaches, with information about how to post stories.
For challenges, there's usually a master list, and participants comment with links to their stories as they're finished (or, in the case of drabble challenges, post the stories themselves in the comments).
For ficathons, stories are usually kept secret until the due date. There are several ways to handle the big reveal:
1. Post a master list in your lj. Ask participants to post their stories in their journals or on their web sites (but not on a mailing list where other participants would have to register to see the story), and post a link to the story in the comments to your master list. You may then add a link to each story in the original post, so readers don't have to scroll through all the comments to find the stories. If you choose this option, you may want to screen comments until the majority of the stories have been posted - that gives participants an extra motivation to get their stories in on time.
2. Create a lj community especially for the stories, and ask all participants to join the community and post their stories there. The upside to this is that you can use the community as a planning/announcement space before the stories are posted, and all the stories are available in one place. Some organizers request that participants not post their stories anywhere except the ficathon community for a period of time after the deadline.
3. Ask the participants to email the stories to you and post them on the web. This is significantly more work for you, even if you don't create a new website for the ficathon, but it has the advantage of keeping all the stories in one place. It can also be a good way to promote your website. (Again, some organizers who choose to post stories on the web ask partipants to keep the stories exclusive to the website for some time after the due date.)
Late Entries and Dropouts
Some folks won't be able to complete their assignments by the due date. Some won't be able to complete them at all. This is why it's useful to ask folks up front if they'd be willing to write a backup story. My advice is not to let late stories drag on and on. Give folks a few days, and then let them know (politely) that you're going to turn the assignment over to a backup writer. Otherwise, you'll be chasing down stories for months after the due date, and participants who worked hard will be left waiting for their stories. (And inevitably, the writer who went above and beyond the call of duty, turning her story in early, writing an extra story, writing a backup, etc. will be the one whose request is late. Never fails.)
So, that's what I've learned about running a ficathon. Please comment with additional advice or suggestions, and I'll incorporate them into this post (with appropriate credit, of course). Thanks!
Comments (feedback) are the life-blood of the fandom meta loop. Writers love to hear from their readers, be it a simple "I read your essay and liked (or didn't like) it." or detailed agreement or refutation. Hearing what you, the reader, thinks about an essay is a vital part of the conversation that makes fandom meta so fascinating.