Bouchercon (pronounced Bough-chur-con) is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, which holds an annual convention in honor of Anthony Boucher, a distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor and author.
In 2017, Bouchercon will be held in Toronto. The first Bouchercon took place in 1970 in Santa Monica, California. Recent Bouchercons have been held in many cities across the United States, including Albany, NY, Saint Louis, MO, Raleigh, NC, New Orleans, LA, and Long Beach, CA. Future conferences are scheduled for St. Petersburg (2018), Dallas, (2019) and Sacramento (2020).
Because Toronto is my home patch, I signed up as soon as registration opened in 2015, and checked off the “Volunteer” box. It wasn’t long before I agreed to take on the task of working on the Bouchercon anthology. These collections of short crime fiction are a means of fundraising for a local charity; the judges, the editor, and the authors do not receive any payment or royalties. The charity for A PASSPORT TO MURDER is Frontier College, a Canadian national literacy organization.
I learned a lot as a volunteer on this project. Here’s a bit of a rundown:
Step 1: Interview four publishers to determine the “Best Fit.” Important considerations included being an Mystery Writers of America approved publisher, past experience producing anthologies, and a commitment to contributing to the charity after publishing costs had been recouped.
Step 2: Selecting the publisher (with input from the Bouchercon Chairs and other volunteers). The publisher selected was Down & Out Books, who had published prior Bouchercon anthologies, and agreed to contribute all profits to Frontier College.
Step 3: Selecting three judges to read the submissions, and an editor. This responsibility fell primarily on the part of the Bouchercon Chairs, with input from the volunteer committee.
Step 4: Defining the guidelines and timeline. We were open to submissions from November 2016 through January 30, 2017. Here’s the fine print:
- The story must include travel and at least a strong suggestion of murder or a plot to commit murder
- Story length: a maximum of 5,000 words
- Electronic submissions only
- Formatting requirements:
- .DOC format, preferably double-spaced
- Times New Roman or similar font (12 point)
- Paragraph indent 0.5 inch (or 1.25 cm). Do not use tabs or space bar to create the indents
- Include story title and page number in document header
- Maximum of one entry per author
- Open to writers who have been previously published, in any format, and those who have never been published
- The story itself must not have been previously published in ANY format, electronic or print.
- Please remove your name or any identifying marks from your story. Any story that can be associated with the author will either be returned for correction (if there is time) or disqualified.
Step 5: Set up an Excel spreadsheet to log all submissions. Author name, email, story title, story/batch number, date received, date to judges.
Step 6: Each story received was stripped of any identifying marks (yes, about 50% of authors left them in under “Properties.”) Log the story, author information (from entry form), and rename the stories, i.e. Batch 1, Story 1 would be B1-S1, and so on. Batches of eight stories were sent to the judges. Each story submission was acknowledged within a day of receipt.
Step 7: In all, there were 116 submissions, of which approximately half came in on the last two days. About a dozen came in during the last hour. Three came in after 11:55 but before 11:59 p.m. This surprised me (and the judges). It also served as a reminder to me: Don’t be so last minute! It’s just plain annoying and you run the risk of something going wrong (i.e. internet problems) and missing the cutoff. The latter “almost” happened to one author, who managed to squeeze in at 11:59 p.m. with a panicky email saying their internet had been down all evening. If it had been the next day, it would have been too late. (The dog ate my homework comes to mind as an excuse).
Step 8: The judges did their thing, reading and rating each story as the batches arrived. I did not read any of the stories. Two stories were disqualified for having known characters. One story, judged “the best” by all three judges, was rejected because it did not meet the travel criteria. It was my unhappy task to inform those authors of the decision. One story came in at 4,015 words. Since it was not a last minute submission, I returned it to the author, who managed to get it to 3,999 words. But had it been last minute, it would have been DQ’d.
Step 9: After the judges culled the list down to 24 stories, I submitted them, and their comments, to the editor, John McFetridge. John pared the list down to 18.
Step 1o: Draft a rejection and acceptance letter, and send them out. It was more than a bit humbling to send myself a rejection letter, but the competition was fierce, and I know a lot of great stories from some very well-known authors didn’t make it in. I’m going to revisit that story, hopefully make it stronger, and find a new home for it.
What’s Step 11? Not sure…yet…but one thing is certain. My work on the anthology is not yet done. To see the list of authors who did make the cut, visit the website. Kudos to all who made it. It’s quite an accomplishment.
To register for Bouchercon, or find out more about it, visit the Bouchercon website.