Changes to the website and the way the contest is run

Many, many moons ago (2012 I believe), I discovered a group on LinkedIn. This group was made up of a wonderful group of writers and a moderator who somehow wrangled the group on a weekly basis (RM York).

After a few years of submitting stories, Roy stepped down and turned the contest over to Alice and I.

We thought between the two of us we could handle the voting and moderating.

But then LinkedIn decided to limit its comment box to 750 characters. Not conducive to a 1200-word story.

In 2015, I created a website that piggybacked off my main hosting plan. We worked hard to move the entire contest over, create a voting plan, and spent a great deal of time tweaking settings to make it as user-friendly as possible.

We’ve changed the site to suit the writers, and unfortunately in doing so, we created extra work for the admins of the site in an attempt to make stories easier to find, stand out, edit, update, ease of voting and so much more.

For 5 years, Alice and I traded off contests, sharing the duties. But after 5 long years, she stepped away from the administrative side of the project to focus on her writing.

Now, a year later, I have found the workload (which was considerable for two people) has become too much for one person to manage.

Very much like Alice, I’ve found the 2-3 hours a week I spend on the site and contest are 2-3 hours that should be spent actually writing.

I’ve received four emails in the last two months from people expressing their dissatisfaction in the way I am running the contests and trying to keep up. One stated they haven’t participated in the contest because I don’t read through every story and sometimes one slips through that doesn’t have the requirements.

Taking in this criticism, I’ve decided that a change must be made.

Roy (the founder of this crazy party) and I have chatted a bit, and tossed around some ideas. Granting someone access to this site is not an option, there are ways someone could gain access to my other sites. And I don’t have time to create a tutorial on web design and HTML steps that would be needed.

Originally, my thought was eliminating the voting process from my end. You, as a group, would be welcome to come up with a voting system.

But after a few days of contemplation, I’ve realized that I’d still be doing a lot of the work but without any actual payoff for anyone.

To be clear, the site will stay up indefinitely, it’s the extra work voting creates I’m having a hard time keeping up with. So let’s start a discussion around a new voting process.

  • Would a 48 hour period be better? Begin voting on Tuesday, ending on Thursday?
  • Is there a backup voting process we can employ?
  • Would anyone like to volunteer to be a backup?
  • What other pain points am I missing?

I will still be posting writing prompts, but removing the additional story restriction.

I can still add the blue font color to stories and add them to the stories comment so folks can find them.

One of the emails complained that they were dissatisfied with the lag in time between emailing me an update and me getting to make the change. (a little caveat to that particular point – I got pretty spoiled over the years with a more fluid workday and consistent lunch hours, but this new job provides me little to no extra daytime hours to devote to anything other than work. And the voting period lands squarely in the middle of the day. In addition, the care of my 94 year old grandmother who has alzheimers has fallen to me. So there are times when I don’t check my email for 24 hours or more.) This particular person expressed dissatisfaction with my “inability to figure out why a  comment editing plugin wasn’t working”.

As far as comment editing, I’ve reached out to the developer and have had conversations, it has to do with the cookies in your browser. If you post a story from your laptop, and then go to the website from your phone’s browser, you will not be able to edit the comment.

My suggestion is to post the FINAL draft. You’re welcome to email me if you realize a word in paragraph 4 is wrong, or you forgot to include the title. If you request a change in the comments, I will probably miss it, this site has 20,000+ comments, some stories get a lot of traction and sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

Another option would be to create user profiles for the regular authors, the only time you’d need to log in would be if the “edit” option isn’t there for that comment.

And lastly, going forward new prompts will be posted on Wednesdays, you are welcome to submit a prompt suggestion here.

I do enjoy running this site for the most part, and there have been folks who’ve donated to help cover the costs of the site – who I am forever grateful to. And I love our writers, we’ve all come to know each other’s struggles and pains, and happy experiences and so much more.

I’d like to figure out a way to employ a back-up system if nothing else so that when I’m working on a 15-hour day for 6v weeks project, I have someone who can help out!

 

32 thoughts on “Changes to the website and the way the contest is run

  • December 17, 2021 at 4:10 pm
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    I could not comment on the Time for Change post Carrie so I am doing it here. Many times when you are doing a volunteer basis moderator job or editor as I was, people want to jump in and criticise your handling of it, forgetting that of course, usually the moderator or editor is doing this in their supposed “free time” and it is not a paid position but a labour of love.
    I gave up an editor job on a magazine for a goat group because of just such criticism. If it was not what I said, it was photos were included in an edition of a goat or goats from a family who has some beef with the whole group then the woman who had recently become a judge judged the group’s show and I had a dilemma which I fixed by stating “the judge shall remain unmentioned through her choice, but here are the results” and I was careful to exclude pictures (and deleted them from my phone if even a suggestion of her shadow was in them) of her and her family. Then there was the criticism which went on and on and so I threw it in as I do not need that sort of crap in my life working full time, caring for my child and just generally going about my business. I was accused of stalking when I did NO such thing so I just felt like saying F”CK OFF but told them all to go to hell because i do not need that sort of angst in my life. I work bloody hard and have all my life to have had lies told about me by too many people to put up with it and quite surprising some of the people who have lied. i DESPISE lies and when people lie to make themselves look like whitewashed little champions it makes me want to vomit. I tend to steer clear of those people even if it costs me. And it has in life. There are some very corrupt individuals in this world and hypocritical too. I have had people say they are about the kids and education and yet I see what they did to my child and other people’s children and it disgusts me, because people like to cover their asses and make themselves out to be these champions in the goat world and sadly enough even in education. I am lucky that the campus I work at is a good one and there are some great people working there. My previous campus not so. There are some people who teach for the holidays and the money. I mean money is important but I would not teach purely for money. That would be soul destroying. You must care about the kids and their families. If you don’t care about others and what happens to them, then get a job that involves machinery maintainence. It’s far safer and machines do not have feelings or emotions.

    Carrie you do a great job given the time constraints and your work commitments, a bloody brilliant job. I would have liked to tell those four letter writers to take a flying leap. Did they, by the way, offer to help and support you through your perceived weaknesses of management of the site? Did they say “Look mate, it seems you are struggling with this aspect of site management, what can I do to give a hand?” No, I thought not. Well, I would be telling them to get F*cked and start your own site if you are not happy.” Probably not in those words but you can say the same thing and do it politely and with a sweet smile.
    There I have said my piece. Now I am going to crawl back into my hole for the next century until someone kicks my grave again. Cheers and keep on doing what you do. You are great.

    • December 17, 2021 at 4:12 pm
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      Ilana – I moved your comment over to this thread.
      You always make me laugh! And your response was freaking epic….
      They have genuine concerns, I got a little caught up in my feelings after two right in a row. It’s such a labor of love as you know!!!

      • January 12, 2022 at 9:28 pm
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        Hi Carrie, I haven’t been back for a couple of months – pesky old festive season! – and I was really sorry to hear you’ve been having a tough time. I was also absolutely irate about the rude tone of people complaining about the sterling work you do.
        I just wanted to say I know I’ve been a bit fleeting in my dealings, but I’ve always been really impressed with how hard you work (I think you were in bed with Covid during one comp I entered, but still managed to struggle out of it and get stuff done in a superhumanly short timespan). Thanks so much for all you do. I guess there will always be a bunch of rude gits in the world, but please don’t let them colour your view of the rest of us – we may be rum buggers in many ways but most of us recognise how much time and effort you put in, and we really appreciate it.
        I’m afraid I can’t offer anything other than my deepest gratitude as I’m a complete luddite, but I just wanted to let you know how appreciated you are, by anyone who’s had even the briefest of dealings with this site, and also has a shred of awareness of how much it must take to keep it up to the high standards it has. As an afterthought, this might be part of the problem. The site looks so damn good and is run so well it doesn’t look like it’s run by a hardworking volunteer, it looks very professional. Small comfort, I’m sure, but you’ve made something very beautiful that’s loved by a lot of people. Thanks.

  • December 18, 2021 at 1:27 pm
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    Carrie,

    I read your letter, and gave it a lot of thought. Which it deserves. I didn’t read any of the other comments yet, because I wanted to consider your comments and respond to you without the influence of any of the other members of the group. Even though, I’m eager to see the responses you’ve gotten. I feel confident that there’s enough support to convince you to continue what you’re doing, but I’m a terribly optimistic person.

    After reading your letter about the site, I feel like a truly wretched human being for my lack of empathy and understanding. But I’m used to feeling like a wretch, so it’s no big deal. Your letter clearly outlines how much work you’re doing, for how many people—for nothing.

    In my more magnanimous moods, I marvel at the brilliance and creativity you infuse into the site with the pictures you post on the landing page, and the patience you display when dealing with numbskulls like me. I make no excuses for my behavior and attribute all of my offenses to me being offensive. I apologize for complaining. After reading your note I regret posting anything that even sounded like a complaint.

    Only in the last few months, after passing up on numerous prompts, did I realize that you don’t have time to read the thread, and you’ve made it clear over and over, that users (‘cause that’s what we are) need to contact you by email. It doesn’t help that a lot of us are crotchety old bastards and some of us are idiots. (I think there’s some overlap as well.)

    However, I’ve known for quite some time that you deserve compensation for all that you’re doing. That YOU are providing a service, that requires time/labor and expertise, and you’re not being compensated.

    With these facts in mind, perhaps you won’t find it absurd when I confess that at some point during the last year, I thought you were trying to snuff the site out of existence. And I knew that there are several writers who would not want that to happen. Myself included. And yet I failed to contact them and see if we could make some kind of adjustments. In fact, I recall Roy sending me just such a message and I ‘took it’ more as an admonition than an invitation. Whether I was correct or incorrect, I respect Roy and tried to heed what I perceived as his advice. (Neither his advice nor my solution were really that clear, so not really relevant here.)

    But I figured it was your choice to make. It must be a lot of work. Which got me thinking about the voting page, and how much work that would be, and you asked us to ‘title in all-caps’ and I didn’t’ do it most of the time. Clearly, I owe you an apology for that too. That’s acting like a prima donna. You’ve been too patient.

    Having said all of that,

    I think that those who clamor for the vote tally are more anxious to know what the next prompt is, but I’m still astounded that anyone would actually complain about it. There’s no reason in the world why the vote tally can’t be delayed by 24 hours, or 48 or 72, or a week. You’re the Moderator. It’s your call. It’s a writing site that you run. You own, maintain and operate it. And you should have a few minions that you can delegate menial tasks to.

    My one and only complaint has been why does the site alter some users text? And relative to that, what’s an editing plugin? (Okay that’s two complaints.) But that was before I realized that a lot of people are posting—from their phones! (I can’t believe the technology people have. Kim Zoom’s and snapchats. I use my phone as a camera. I’m like a cave-man with a loaded gun.)

    As for the plugin? You make an accurate point there as well. I don’t, I really don’t know html and I doubt I’ll ever learn it. (But then again, if that’s what it takes.) while you were trying to find one (a plugin) for the site, I was trying to find out what they are. Luckily, Kim’s son makes them, and explains them so well, that I even understand what they do. (But I digress.)

    A three-week contest works for me. It’s your site. You decide. (Don’t listen to Phil. Phil can do a story every three days. We can’t keep up with that.) I need a week to come up with a story these days. I seriously think I may be out of stories.

    If you need help with the site, I’m sure someone will give it to you. That was a joke. Ha-ha. Seriously, I’d be willing to help, to be a back-up, an associate bench-warmer, (as long as I don’t have to touch the ball. Eeew.) No really, I’m retired, for now. I think I’m intelligent enough to help. What do you need? What does the site need?

    The other things that are going on in your life are good to know too. It’s amazing that I could know you for over five years and know so little about you. But that’s a good thing, a mutual thing.
    You: “Yeah, I almost bought a boat yesterday. TTYL.”
    Me: ‘What? I thought you lived in Nebraska?’

    But that’s what I like about you. You’re not cloying for attention. You’re busy. You have a life. Interesting people are busy people. And from what little I know, you have an interesting life. So, surely, I’m willing to help you with the site, or help the group with the voting. And that’s assuming that anyone in the group will ‘tolerate my cooperation.’ That’s something to consider as well.

    I guess I’ll read the other comments now, maybe I’ll take a bike ride. Did you post the votes on the last story yet, or what? (That was a joke.)

    Ken

    • December 19, 2021 at 10:20 pm
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      Can’t agree more. I think Carrie is brilliant to have taken this on and there will be always criticism from some.They will be the ones who will not step up to give a hand.
      I would offer but I am working full time at the moment in a position of responsibility at the school and cannot afford the time clash as I am very time poor between work with high needs kids, my son and my goats. So much gardening I could do too that I have not done.
      I can only stand back in admiration of Carrie who has had her moments of personal angst and sadness over the last year and sickness as well. Having lost a brother and a mother in the past five years and an uncle I can only feel overwhelmed a times with real poignancy and nostalgia for the times past with those I loved and small things set you off. Carrie is doing a great job and we should not listen to the nay sayers but just let them carry all they want. They will soon grow tired and move on I guess. Carrie and those of us who care deeply about our writing and others will remain.

  • December 19, 2021 at 10:45 pm
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    Dear Carrie,

    I hope and pray this site never dies. I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I feel after I post a story- albeit late, infrequent, quirky, not fitting in with the rest.
    So please don’t quit on us.

    Besides that, reading interesting comments from Ken C, Rumples, Ken F, Ilana… all make us one big family of writers, with its share of cheering on and the jovial teasing.

    It matters little to me when the results come out,
    Three weeks seem a good length of time to get our act together.

    Only now did I find time to read all the comments of the last contest. Just got a brand new grankid on the block. So life’s been pretty hectic.Cooing to the babe, singing carols softly and writing make me complete.

    Where there is vision, the show goes on. Without it, we perish.

    Wishing you all a wonderful, peace-filled Christmas.
    May Christ light shine in this world of darkness and despair, bringing much needed comfort and joy- is my prayer right now as I write.

    Be blessed.
    Marien

  • December 20, 2021 at 6:19 am
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    Carrie,

    You’ve been doing a tremendous job, especially since Alice resigned as moderator: you’ve effectively been doing 2 people’s work all by yourself, not to mention sacrificing your own writing time and juggling your other commitments.

    It’s somewhat hard to come up with suggestions without knowing the first thing about the technical side of things. However, for tallying the votes I would suggest a roster, where every member gets to do it in turn. Everyone here – including you, let’s not forget – are writers, and would rather spend time writing than doing admin stuff, plus we all have life happening at the same time; so it’s only fair to spread the load. Here come the technical questions: what format do you get our votes in currently; is it possible/ easy or hard to forward the “packet” of votes in a widely accessible format (whether e-mail, Word or Excel) to the tallier on duty without giving them access to the site. We’d also need a set of instructions on the vote tallying system somewhere on the site that would be available to everyone (I’ve realised that I don’t have a clear idea on how it’s done now).

    I really like your idea to post new prompts on Wednesdays, without waiting for the results of the previous round. It will give everyone more time to write the next round’s stories.

    RE moderating the stories and comments: other people are quick to spot when someone’s story doesn’t meet the requirements. I’m yet to see any offensive comments on this site (perhaps due to your efficient moderating), but people will spot those as well. Is there any way for users to flag such stories/ comments to make them easier for the moderator (you/ backup) to identify without having to scroll through all the posts, or should people e-mail the moderator directly if they spot one of those?

    I apologise in advance if any of my suggestions aren’t doable from a technical POV. I’m only a few years older than you so I don’t have an excuse, but the technical side of building or maintaining websites is another planet as far as I’m concerned.

    All the best,

    Vicki

  • December 20, 2021 at 10:17 am
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    This site rocks and it has been really helpful to me – I am happy as long as it stays around!

    It seems to me like you have so many key features in place and you are just missing some way to automate the voting, like making the likes be the equivalent of votes (somehow) and having some code to tally them up, so that you don’t have to work so hard. But then that is just me making it sound so simple!

  • December 20, 2021 at 11:27 am
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    Carrie, as the others have said, you do do a marvelous job AND manage to have “self” time.
    I would suggest that rather than relaxing the rules… tighten them.
    My suggestions:
    Story posting time; 1st thru 14th and 15th thru 28.
    Voting will be open at midnight Zulu time the next day and close 24 hours later.
    “The voting result will be posted shortly.’
    Defining the dates creates absolutes and eliminates the pressure on you to oblige an unfocused writer. I’ve wanted additional time to post or vote more than once—didn’t ask. I value your time; We all should.
    By the way, Zulu time has recognized the world around, in Kabia, East Gaboon, and most Wisconsin. That would eliminate the need for you to guess the location of a new writer and make a special effort to include their time zone in the voting instructions. If the boys and girls are big enough to write an interesting 1200-word story [and they are], they can cipher out Zulu time.
    As to HMTL coding, there are shortcuts that I used when I had writing sites – you can contact me.

  • December 22, 2021 at 4:00 pm
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    Hey, Carrie
    Give me a day or so. I have a complete contest site that I finished last year but didn’t do anything with it. Let me re-install it and then I will reach out to you.

  • December 23, 2021 at 12:32 pm
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    Just to echo the general feeelings: I think you do a great (apparently largely thankless) job Carrie, and I would miss the site if it disappeared.

    I’d be happy to help out if I could. Not sure what I could do (vote counting?). Get in touch if you think there’s something I could in fact do.

    Thanks again!

  • December 23, 2021 at 3:24 pm
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    OK,

    I have the site up and running. There is one issue I’ve found but it will be fixed. If you vote for a story it will give an error message at this time. I figure I will open this to everyone and see what they think. A lot of the process is automatic. Votes get tallied and stories ranked without any moderation.

    Go here and create an account:
    https://www.undertowpress.com

    This contest was set to be run monthly. It was initially going to be speculative fiction, but that is easy to change. Also, as you will see, it was designed to invite a larger audience to read the monthly winners and reviews. I don’t have the email list sign-up prompt yet, but that will only take me two minutes to do (I use MailChimp).

    Comments are NOT for the public. They are private for members only.

    Carrie, there is a whole admin section that I will share with you, if interested. Yes, advertising can be added.

    Let me know what you think!

    • December 23, 2021 at 4:55 pm
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      I have joined and set my profilte to private so that I do not get spam or people following me to offer me all sorts of unwanted services including sexual. Don’t they look at the age of people they accost. Fun for the young ones but a simple annoyance for me to delete.

  • December 23, 2021 at 3:32 pm
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    Jack this is brilliant and if the votes are tallied automatically I love it even more!

    I’d be thrilled to move the contest over there. Just like we all moved from LinkedIn to this site.
    I’d love to give it a trial run with the next prompt!

    All – I’m not ignoring the comments. I have a house full of grade schoolers and want to respond appropriately rather than just a “thanks for the kind words” and nothing else. ❤️

    • December 23, 2021 at 11:29 pm
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      Carrie

      The Rating System is working now. I have the prompt set as: Ruins and an odd couple. OK with that?

      Also, can you re-direct traffic to the site? We can always put it back.

      One other thing, I am using Disqus for comments. You should be able to use WordPress credentials to sign in. Same as here.

      • December 23, 2021 at 11:45 pm
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        Right great!
        Ok I submitted a test story but I don’t see it there.
        Do all the comments need approval?

  • December 24, 2021 at 3:33 am
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    FYI, I can set up comments for members after each story, if we want. Right now there is a comment stream for the monthly contest in general.

    • December 24, 2021 at 7:36 am
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      Ok.
      Let’s finish this contest out on this site and try it out with Roy’s prompt for the next one.

      “Momma Drama” It can be any kind of momma drama, such as an illness, a divorce, a pregnant unmarried momma, a married momma. Just the everyday life of the everyday Momma. Any kind of momma you want to write about, including non-human.

      Meanwhile I’ll send out a newsletter that the contest is moving to your new site and that they have to create a new member profile to see the contest and participate!

  • December 24, 2021 at 10:30 am
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    Hmm, I just logged in and left a comment. I created/used a Disqus account

  • December 27, 2021 at 9:17 pm
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    I am wondering where everyone is of late. No one is around? On holidays? Hopefully everyone is well.

  • December 28, 2021 at 8:01 am
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    I am just recovering from the shock of being at work. I had an excellent vacation – and now I have to actually exert effort again, bummer.

    It is hot for winter in Georgia and the coming year is uncertain. I have a business trip in January that I really don’t want to go on, and I am hoping that it will be cancelled. I also hope the biannual conference/convention in May will be cancelled.

    Omicron is really scaring the crap out of everyone, even a handful of my fellow Georgians.

    But Christmas was very fun and much needed – I hope everyone survived this season and the drama that it holds for us all.!

  • December 28, 2021 at 5:33 pm
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    It has been so quiiet here that I have been thinking OH No please don’t let this writing group collapse after so many years. I have abandonment issues I think. Comes from a lot of bad experiences and sinks me into hopeless depressions at times/

    • December 28, 2021 at 6:09 pm
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      I’m here but keeping quieter than usual 😉

    • December 28, 2021 at 6:27 pm
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      I will never abandon you!!
      I’ve been catching up now that the holidays are over.
      I love Christmas but this year was 6 weeks of non stop parties and hosting.
      So tonight I’m taking a break and going to watch the new Matrix movie.
      We’ll see if it lives up to the hype!!

      • December 29, 2021 at 5:05 pm
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        We saw it last week on Boxing Day. Ok my son loved it, so he is going to watch it again while I watch Dune. It’s been a busy couple of days and I am always tired although negative for covid-19. 11,149 cases in NSW yesterday so it is quite frightening and Victoria is up over 2,500 cases. SIGH, when will all this end. I am going to get a booster at the end of January if they will let me. We finished double vaxxed on the 29th October. Hope you are feeling much better Carrie. Very worried about you for a few weeks there. I have cousins in Sydney who no longer talk to me because of my brother and sister-in-law in the USA flooding poison in their ears. They probably hope I die. I hope they are ok. I do not return malice with malice despite how exhausting it is to keep a positive outlook in the face of negativity.
        I love this site, So many good normal ‘crazy’ people that I feel accepted and ok with myself. Hope everyone has a great new year and lots of laughter and good times.
        I really really want 2022 to be better but it is not looking so good at the moment. ….. 🙁 However there is always vietnamese sweet and sour fish and Mc William’s Apera (used to be Cream Sherry) my son and the goats to cheer us up…plus good friends who accept you for who you are. So much division and hatred in the world is depressing. Memories of my Gran Leeds really keeps me going. I never knew my mother’s mother sadly. She had lots of bad things to say about her and an uncle, but I found the latter to be a lovely person and I am sure my maternal gran probably was too.

  • December 30, 2021 at 2:07 pm
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    Carrie wrote:

    Let’s finish this contest out on this site and try it out with Roy’s prompt for the next one.

    “Momma Drama” It can be any kind of momma drama, such as an illness, a divorce, a pregnant unmarried momma, a married momma. Just the everyday life of the everyday Momma. Any kind of momma you want to write about, including non-human.

    Meanwhile I’ll send out a newsletter that the contest is moving to your new site and that they have to create a new member profile to see the contest and participate!

    What??????

    Look, if this sounds like complaining, well, I just spent two days writing a story for a prompt that’s closed, with no explanation or directions given.

    How do we finish the contest on this site? Does ‘this site’ mean the ‘Time Running Out site? Since the comments are closed on the Christmas tree prompt? I just wrote a story for that and tried to post it. No can do. The comment thread is closed.

    Logged on to Jack’s site. Created an account. Don’t see anything that directs me to vote, post a story or a comment. Went back a few days later and my account has been frozen until I contact the administrator. For what?

    The ‘momma drama’? The Christmas tree? Time running out? This is an improvement? Sorry but I’m not at all sure what in the hell I’m supposed to do with the story I just wrote. If others are participating, I’ll be danged if I know where, or how.

    Oh well. You all win. I give up.
    Cheers,
    Ken. (Man in search of a writing site.) I hear they have writing prompts on Reddit. I think I’ll ‘migrate’ my ass over their for a while. I mean, I just don’t know what you guys are doing. No clue at all.

    • December 30, 2021 at 2:21 pm
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      We are finishing out the Christmas tree prompt/contest on this site here.
      The deadline is still 6 days out.

      Momma Drama will be the new prompt on Jack’s website, but it won’t be posted until next week.

      Times Running Out was just a temporary prompt Jack created to test things out.

      Don’t give up just yet. We’re still getting things figured out and it’s always hard over the holidays.

      • December 30, 2021 at 2:40 pm
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        Although I think we will continue on this site for a little while yet, while we work out the bugs with the other one.

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