How are Editor's Picks selected?

I’m sure at least a few Protagonize members out there are wondering how the Editor’s Picks are selected every week. With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a couple of quick lists to describe how and why our featured authors and stories are decided on.

The Basics

The only things you really need to know are that:

  • The Editor’s Picks always go up on Monday morning. The time of night or morning it happens may vary, but they always go up before noon on Mondays, unless some kind of catastrophe occurs (or I happen to not be in range of a computer.)
  • There’s only one person selecting features every week, and that’s me. This may (and likely will) change down the line as the site grows and I build out my moderation staff and editors, but for the time being, it’s yours truly’s responsibility to read through a whole lot of content every weekend.

The other quick point I’d like to make here is that not only do I not make these decisions arbitrarily, I try not to base my choices exclusively on my tastes. I’ve selected a lot of stories that I (and others) find well-written and if you start to see a trend of a certain style or genre being selected repeatedly, please drop me a note or post a comment here on the blog and knock some sense into me. :)

The Featured Story

Picking the featured story is a little more straightforward than selecting a featured author, so I thought I’d get us started with this one.

I select the featured story every week based on a combination of factors:

  • How hot is the story? (based on the Protagonize internal story popularity ranking)
  • How much activity has the story had in the last week?
  • How highly is the story rated, on average, based on how many ratings? (generally excluding the original story author)
  • How much chatter is the story generating? Is there a heated conversation going on? Are authors discussing the storyline in the comments?
  • Is the story an interesting orphan? I’ll dig through these every now and then, so good content doesn’t get missed by our readers.
  • My own editorial appraisal of the story. Yes, that does figure into it pretty heavily. If I really like something, even if it’s not my personal taste, my assessment will definitely modifythe odds of it being selected.

There are also a few factors that will prevent a story from being selected as the feature for a week, for obvious reasons.

  • Mature stories won’t make it in there, because the Editor’s Picks really need to be PG-13 or better, since they’re displayed at the forefront of the site and I advertise the selections on various services (our Twitter feed, our Facebook page, on the Protagonize blog, etc.) and that gets syndicated out pretty heavily. That means that a lot of people see the features every week and they need to remain relatively family-friendly. The other reason is that mature stories will eventually require an age check to read, which is something we can’t have showing up on the main stories page, as it would annoy everyone equally. Finally, our advertisers may not appreciate having objectionable content being displayed to everyone on the site, and they pay the bills. :)
  • If one of your stories was selected as the feature recently, your odds of being selected drop drastically. I like to spread the love around, so picking the same author for two featured stories within a 3-4 weeks span is unlikely to happen unless you really stand out. Some authors have been featured more than once over the course of the site’s existence, but they’re generally some of our top-rated and popular authors and they’ve posted a lot of content that deserves accolades.
  • Are you the featured author this week? So far, I try and keep the Editor’s Picks separate, to get people reading more diverse content on the site. This means that most often you won’t see the same author in both places.

The Featured Author

Choosing the featured author is a bit more of a challenge, most weeks. If it’s not a clear choice, I use a bunch of statistics that I generate every week to take a look at everyone’s activity:

  • Top rated authors this week
  • Most active posters and/or commenters this week
  • Authors of top-ranked hot stories for the week
  • Authors of top-rated stories for the week
  • Random selections: if I find a profile that interests me or someone who’s doing a really nice job with their contributions but hasn’t received any recognition yet

If it’s still not an easy decision based on those statistics, I may fall back and include the previous week. The other factor that plays into this is whether I had a really tough choice the week before. Sometimes I’ll pick someone who was my runner-up the week before, who really deserved the selection.

There are also a couple of conditions to being selected, even if you fall into the above categories. If you don’t meet these, there’s a mighty high chance I won’t pick you as the featured author. Not to worry, though; most are quite easily resolved.

  • Fill out your profile! I rarely select people who haven’t got a nicely developed author profile page (I think it’s happened once, and he filled out his profile afterwards.) Nothing personal here — as long as you populate your profile, you’ll be in the running.
  • You haven’t written anything. Well, this should be pretty obvious.
  • You don’t have an author rating yet. This one’s a little harder for you to do anything about, but not impossible in the least. I think just posting regularly will solve this pretty quickly, though. If you find no one’s reading (or at least rating) your contributions, your best bet is to write in someone else’s more popular (or highly-rated) story and make a bit of a name for yourself in their space. That will often (and quite reliably) drive people to your author profile, and then in turn to read your other stories and branches or chapters.
  • Obnoxious behaviour. If you’ve done something to give me a hard time that week, or you’ve been reported several times, don’t expect me to be doing you any favours. Of course, there’s always bribery… :)

Future Plans for Editor’s Picks

I do have a few things in store for features down the road. Here’s a little taste to get you excited:

  • A new profile badge (kinda like our existing Protagonize rank icons) for authors who’ve been featured. Oooh, shiny.
  • A new block on profile pages to list when and where you’ve been selected as a feature.
  • One or two of our featured authors (probably one from each side of the equation) every month will receive Protagonize schwag. This should be coming soon, I’m just digging up a good site to get some t-shirts done up nicely without costing an arm and a leg. If you have suggestions, feel free to comment below and let me know.
  • A yearly awards contest where you guys can select our author(s) of the year (as suggested by Crymzon). This might be pretty fun to undertake, and I think we’d use all of our featured authors for the year and use them as the base list of authors to vote on.
  • Writing contests! Wordclay is already sponsoring a short story contest (on their own site) next month and will be advertising it on Protagonize starting May 1st. We’ll see if we can work out some more contests throughout the year! Check out their blog for more information.
  • Featured groups — these are coming as soon as the upcoming groups feature goes live (this will be sometime in May.)

I’m sure you guys have suggestions and things you’d like to see around the featured authors and stories concept, too. I’d love to hear them — feel free to post your ideas here and we’ll see what we can do.

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