agents, Bookoutre, books, Brexit, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Sarah Rayner, short story collections, The Man Booker Prize, The Manchester Fiction Prize, The Manchester Writing School, Trump, Unbound, Urbane Publishing, Write by the Beach
2016 sucked didn’t it? The EU vote, Jo Cox,Trump, Syria, celebrity deaths, the whole world took a beating. The future, as they say, is uncertain. As we approach the end of the year I’m feeling reflective. At the beginning of 2016, I had completed a collection of short stories about fame (Fifteen Minutes) but had no agent or publisher in sight. I half-heartedly tried a couple of small presses and agents and barely got a reply. Short stories don’t sell, they’re just not popular, blah blah blah. This year’s Man Booker Prize had a book of short stories on it, All That Man Is by David Szalay. It’s a great collection. They pretended it was a novel but it wasn’t, it was even less of a novel than the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, having only the merest connection in the first and last stories and nowhere else. The stories are about men at various stages of life but that’s a pretty broad theme in my view. In addition to the obvious collection of short stories, six of the thirteen short-listed authors had previously published short story collections. I’m telling you this because in 2016 I was continually frustrated by the lack of credit given to short fiction writers and their books. I’ve ranted about this before so I won’t again, but personally it felt like I was having to jump through a lot more hoops to get an agent to look at my work than most other writers do, simply because of the form I am compelled to work in.
February offered a solution, a friend told me about the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. I submitted my collection and by March it had been selected for publication. You can find out about my crowd-funding journey in previous blog posts, suffice to say it was hard work but it wasn’t as hard as getting an agent to read my manuscript. By the end of June I was fully funded, some of the people pledging support were complete strangers, so short stories can’t that unpopular after all.
I find myself thinking about other achievements. This year I co-directed a writers’ conference with The Beach Hut Writing Academy called Write By The Beach and it was so successful we’re doing it again next year. In fact you can buy early bird tickets now. I’m going to be hosting a panel discussion about alternative publishing methods with Sarah Rayner Unbound, Bookoutre and Urbane Publishing.
The Brighton Prize, of which I am a co-director, doubled its number of entries and opened to flash fiction and international writers.
I vastly cut down on the number of submissions I made, selecting only a handful of writing competitions and was shortlisted in three out of four, achieving my long-held ambition of being included on The Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist.
I had articles published on writing method and crowd-funding tips and even found a home for my story Sourdough which, after being short-listed for The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award, failed to get a publisher for nearly five years.
I applied for two jobs, was interviewed for both, and failed to get the posts. It was very, very close they said. I’m still mentoring writers though, through Creative Future and privately, and this is very, very rewarding.
Fifteen Minutes has been through a professional editing process with Unbound and has now been submitted for a copy edit. Soon I’ll have a cover and then it will be published. I never dreamed I’d be able to say that at the beginning of the year.
I went to America on a family road trip, pre-election, when we thought there might still be a chance that Trump would fail, and managed to visit the places I had planned to put in my next collection (I’m calling it a novel by the way so let’s see what happens).
I’ve done so much personally and yet I feel a bit flat, a bit disappointed. I wonder if it’s because there’s very little financial reward for what I’m doing, and if this makes me feel like it isn’t important? I wonder if it’s because the contempt with which short fiction writers are regarded by the UK publishing industry is getting me down? Or if it’s a more general disconnect from a world that can vote for Brexit and Trump? It feels like I’m tantalisingly close to something that then moves away again. I’ll snap out of it.
My wish for next year is that the form I have chosen to work in gets the credit it deserves and that publishers stop repeating the mantra that short story collections don’t sell and try selling them instead. That and world peace, trains that run on time, an end to this selfish right wing nonsense that seems to have engulfed the world, some gin and a box of chocolates – it’s not much to ask, is it? Happy Christmas everyone!
agents, Araminta Hall, Beach Hut Writers, Bridget Whelan, Brighton, Brighton Gin, crowdfunding, Kate Harrison, Laura Wilkinson, literary agents, publishing, Sarah Rayner, short stories, Sue Teddern, The Beach Hut Writing Academy, Unbound, Write by the Beach, writing
Week three already! This week I reached 11% funded thanks to some lovely friends and one or two people I’ve never met who are taken with the idea of In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes. I got some promotional postcards made and started carefully compiling the blanket email I’m going to send out to everyone in my adress book. I gave some of the postcards out on the school run, swallowing the embarassment of approaching people, and got three more pledges.
On Saturday, I was one of the organisers of Write by the Beach, a writers conference in Brighton at the truly gorgeous Angel House. We had 56 delegates and lots of speakers from the industry. It was a great success and I’ve been on a high ever since. In my duties as a co-organiser over the last few months, I have come to realise that if you ask people nicely for something they are almost always happy to oblige, and if they can’t, or don’t want to, the worst that can happen is that they say no. We had authors and agents, literary consultants and publishers all delighted to be a part of our little conference. We even finished off with a tasting event organised by Brighton Gin (it was a brilliant and delicious way to end the day!) I put one of my promotional postcards in each of the goodie bags in the hope that some of the delegates might be cajoled into pledging. I spoke to anyone who would listen about crowdfunding my book. There was a lot of interest. Perhaps with an eye on their own projects, a lot of people wanted to know how to go about crowdfunding and why it was different from vanity publishing. (The difference is that you have to submit to Unbound for consideration and then when you are fully funded your book is given the editorial attention of a traditional publisher.) Not that there is anything wrong with self-publishing. In one of the panel sessions sucessful authors Kate Harrison and Sarah Rayner talked about wanting to publish self help books but having to go it alone when they couldn’t find anyone to publish them. Kate’s book was about the 5:2 Diet (when no-one else had written anything about it) and Sarah’s was about Making Friends With Anxiety. Over-eating and anxiety are common author ailments, all that sitting alone typing all day long, fear, rejection, thoughts of inadequacy. Both books were incredibly sucessful and not just with writers! I was greatly inspired by the go for it attitude of both writers and the incredible success they achieved.
At the end of the day I also felt that I may have been a little harsh about agents and publishers in this diary. Those that attended Write by the Beach as speakers were helpful and approachable, all committed to their love of books and the search for great writing. The trouble is they have to make money or go bust and to do that in this climate you have to publish books that have more chance of selling ie. crime and celebrity endorsements. I do still think that there is some room for other forms, that the future of the publishing industry actually depends on there being some room for other forms, otherwise it is in danger of becoming very homogenized and boring. I didn’t speak to one person at the conference who didn’t like short stories. In fact, since I have been writing them, I’ve only met a couple of people who have turned their nose up, yet short stories are still considered unpopular. Please help me prove that this isn’t the case, pledge to my new collection on Unbound. I will be very grateful – did I mention there will be a launch party?
A Spool of Blue Thread, A Visit From The Goon Squad, agents, crowdfunding, In The Future Everyone Will Be Famous For Fifteen Minutes, literary agents, Olive Kitteridge, publishing, Rattle Tales, rejections, short stories, The Tenth of December, Trigger Warning, Unbound
It seems like a lot longer ago than a week since I wrote my first post on crowdfunding my short story collection. In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes is now open for pledges on the Unbound Publishing site. I decided to publish with unbound because agents and publishers generally don’t go for short story collections – they don’t think that short stories are popular with readers. I think they are wrong. I think if you market it right they are very popular. Lots of best sellers are actually short story collections masquerading as traditional novels, Olive Kitteridge, A Spool Of Blue Thread, Welcome To The Goon Squad, I could go on. Then there are the ultra-popular collections like The Tenth of December or Trigger Warning. Suffice to say that in my experience people love short stories (I have blogged about this many times) and are just as willing to buy them as they are any other type of fiction. Anyway, until the traditional publishing industry wakes up to this potential, I am crowdfunding my book with Unbound.
On Sunday I made a video about the book to encourage people to pledge. Unbound recommend doing this as a way of drawing attention to the project. It was a hilarious way to spend Mothers Day, I sat at the kitchen table (which, incidentally, inspired one of the stories) and my husband filmed on his phone while I read from a script written in big letters and held up beside him by my son, this is why my eyes keep drifting off to the right. I’m not great at reading from an autocue but I didn’t have time to memorise what I wanted to say. At one point we had to take a break because we were all laughing too much. It’s done now and it serves its purpose and I hope to have another more professional one made later.
I started to publicise the book on social media by sharing last week’s blog on Facebook and Twitter several times a day. Making sure to #crowdfunding and #shortstory and whatever else I could hang it on. I managed to gain 120 new Twitter followers and lots of lovely supportive comments on Facebook. I also made a postcard using a free stock image from Gratis Photography, a tip from my friend and co-tutor Bridget Whelan.
Unbound wanted me to come up with some pledge options, the standard ones are Patron (copy of the e-book), Super Patron (copy of the e-book and name in the front) and Limited Edition Cover Art (my sister pledge for one of those!) but the author can add a few more. As I co-run Rattle Tales I am able to offer tickets for two to one of our shows with wine and as a tutor, editor and mentor I can offer services in these areas. Also on offer is a book group deal which includes up to ten copies of the book and an appearance by me at your bookgroup to discuss the book, tickets to the launch and many other rewards.
On Tuesday I got my first progress report from Unbound. Thanks to some very lovely friends, relatives and the editor of a journal who published on of the stories last year, I was already 4% funded. Yesterday I set up a Facebook page for the book and invited all my friends to like it. Today I am 6% funded! A big THANKS to all of you. I’m beyond excited to be off on my crowdfunding journey but there’s a long way to go. I still need 121 pledges in the next 90 days or In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes won’t get published at all. So please please pledge and if you can’t please please share the video.
I’ll be posting this time next week to let you know more about the project.
#Authorday, agents, Are You Sitting Comfortably?, Cloud Atlas, cookbooks, crime, Elizabeth Strout, George Saunders, Gone Girl, Granta, Jennifer Egan, Liar's League, Neil Gaiman, Peters Fraser & Dunlop, publishers, Rattle Tales, Raymond Carver, short stories, short story collections, Small WOnder, spoken word, The BBC National Short Story Award, The Beatles, The Bridport Prize, The Manchester Fiction Prize, The Word Factory
On Friday, checking in with Twitter, I came across #Authorday, which invited tweeters to ask agents from Peters Fraser & Dunlop questions about their work. I am presently sending out a themed collection of short stories so I thought I’d ask the obvious.
#Authorday how come agents hate short story collections when the best do actually sell better than bad genre?
Because finding a publisher to buy them is like putting a magnet to a haystack for that elusive needle.
I replied that as it was once again the year of the short story it should be getting easier for agents to get publishers interested and asked if it wasn’t a matter of pre-conception all round? Another short story writer commented that he too was disappointed by the lack of mainstream push for the genre. Neither of us got any further response.
This makes me so mad. What is it with British agents and publishers? They seem to be the only ones who hate short stories. It is not the case in the US or India. I have been writing them for a decade now. My ‘novel’ was actually a series of inter-linked short stories, people other than my family bought it and read it (not many granted, but I didn’t even know some of them). In all that time I have only spoken to one person about books who told me they didn’t like short stories. I have co-directed a short story night (Rattle Tales) for the last five years. We have produced 12 shows and most of them were completely sold out, sometimes we had to turn people away at the door. How can this be the case if people don’t like short stories? There are hundreds of organisations putting on similar events up and down the country; Liar’s League, The Word Factory, Are You Sitting Comfortably? to name but a few, plus countless festivals with short fiction strands. There is even a whole festival dedicated to the genre, Small Wonder, at Charleston farmhouse no less, always packed out even though it is in the wilds. How do they continue to run if no-one buys any tickets? How come lit mags like Granta survive if no-one buys short stories? Type the words short fiction journals into Google and look at the huge list that comes up! Are they all running on air and goodwill?
How come The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Spectator and many other non-literary titles commission short stories? If no-body likes them, why would they bother? Why is there a BBC Short Story Prize (aired on Radio Four), a Costa one, a Sunday Times one, the Bridport? How can The Manchester Fiction Prize offer thousands in prize-money if no-one is interested in anything other than crime and ghost-written celebrity cookbooks?
If no-body likes short stories how come Jennifer Egan and Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer with them? Those two books were not novels in the traditional sense, they were short story collections disguised to suit the pre-conceptions of agents and publishers. If no-one buys them why were collections by George Saunders and Neil Gaiman number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list? Remember Cloud Atlas? Booker nominated, glossy Hollywood movie, Richard & Judy Book of the year. It’s a collection of short stories! Or ‘six nested stories’ if you want to quote the publisher blurb.
Without short stories, there would be no Hemmingway, Chekov, Fitzgerald, Steven King, Laurie Moore, William Trevor, no Flannery O’Conor, no Raymond Carver. Thank god for indie publishers. However, the indies are overrun with submissions (strange that, as no-one is interested in short fiction) many close their windows after just a few weeks, some are only accepting recommendations from authors on their lists and agents. Back to agents. Remember the story about Decca telling The Beatles that they wouldn’t be signing them because ‘guitar bands are on the way out’? Remind you of something?
How many short story collections did you buy in the last year? they ask smugly. About fifteen actually. I know I’m not average in this but I know I’m not the only one. It’s a nonsense question anyway, did Malcolm Gladwell’s agent say how many books of essays on society and genius did you buy last year?
Brighton Waterstones has a stand dedicated to short fiction publications (established by short story writer Sara Crowley when she worked there). The shelves on it are not always full, sometimes there are spaces where books have been bought! They stocked the Rattle Tales Anthology this year and do you know what? They sold some!
Crime and cook books done well are wonderful but no-body needs another version of Gone Girl because it’s easy to sell. Shake it up a bit, dust off the guitars, you might be surprised.