competitions, crowdfunding, literature, mentoring, publishers, Riptide Journal, short stories, short story appraisals, starlings, submissions, The Bristol Short Story Prize, The Fish Short Story Prize, The Manchester Review, Unbound, workshops, writers, writing, writing workshops
A lot has happened since I last blogged here. I was stuck around the 45% mark for what seemed like an eternity, thinking that I was never going to get this thing funded. Last week I had a conversation with a Twitter friend, the fab short story writer Safia Moore, who not only pledged to the book but suggested that the pledge options I should be pushing were the ones for large sums, the short story appraisals and mentoring packages. She pointed out that I am the director of a short story prize, have been short-listed in a few myself, and am a tutor! She is of course right on all counts. It’s funny how when you are in the middle of something you can’t see it for what it is. I started pushing these options on social media and so far someone has pledged for £400 of mentoring and four people have pledged for short story appraisals. I suddenly find myself 81 % funded, so thank you Safia for reminding me of what I have to offer!
If you keep getting nowhere when sending out short story submissions, or entering competitions, perhaps you could do with a little help from the director of a prize, who has been published in Riptide and The Manchester Review and short-listed for The Bristol and Fish prizes. I am an experienced tutor, mentor and editor with an MA (dist) in Creative Writing and an acclaimed novel.
On offer as part of crowdfunding for In The Future Everyone Will Be Famous For Fifteen Minutes are:
Short Story Appraisal up to 5,000 words with full edit and notes – £100
Mentoring, 4 face to face sessions (skype, email or phone for those too far away) up to 20,000 words with full edit and notes. This can be part one manuscript or several short stories. £400
2 hour Short Story Workshop for 5 people (South East and possibly Yorkshire) £200
These packages are offered at a much lower price than my usual rate and at a much lower price than most literary consultancies. Not only will they greatly benefit your writing but you will facilitate the publication of a book of short stories that would not otherwise be published.
You could of course just prove all the people who think short stories aren’t worth publishing wrong and pledge £10 in support of the book. You will be a patron of the arts and I am so very grateful that so many of you have already done so.
It’s been quite a week. I could see that I was getting towards the deadline for raising funds for my short story collection In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes. It felt like I was stalled at the 40% mark and that I would never get enough support for the project to go ahead. I couldn’t really see what to do but I knew that I didn’t want this opportunity to slip away. In the last few weeks I have done events, sent out emails and press releases, written blog posts and had stories from the book published in journals and still there were only a handful of responses. I was very grateful to each and everyone of those new pledgers but I needed more. I decided it was time to change tactics. Over the last few days I have spent 6 hours a day solidly marketing. I have contacted every journal and short story organisation I could find and asked for their help. To my surprise the answer has almost always been yes. One editor replied within minutes with the opening line, ‘Hi Erinna – you’ve come to the right place!’ I was so grateful I could have cried. In the next few weeks I have articles coming out on Women Writers, The Short Story, Thresholds and Short Stops as well as guest posts on the blogs of friends and colleagues. The first of these is out today on Laura Wilkinson’s blog and she has cleverly called it In The Future Will Everyone Be Crowdfunding?
Last Friday morning I’d just got in from the school run when I took a phone call from Latest TV , in response to a press release I’d sent out a couple of weeks ago, could they come around in an hour to film me? I looked around my extremely messy house in horror but obviously I agreed. Creatives aren’t meant to be tidy, right? The film was posted on their Youtube channel on Tuesday and it has been an absolute godsend. It really represents what the book is about, how celebrity culture is everywhere and that this is not necessarily a good thing, and that one of the aims of the crowdfunding project is to draw attention to the lack of support given to the short story by UK agents and publishers. (When I write this in any article the editors always tell me I have to say ‘most UK agents and publishers’ but you know what, fuck it, this is my blog, and I want to go on the record as saying that this is true of 99.9999% of all UK agents and publishers!) I have set the film up to post on a loop on Twitter and Facebook with the buy-line ‘I’m trying to prove the popularity of the short story,’ and it’s getting quite a lot of attention as well as bringing me new pledgers. I am going to use the film as the basis for the campaign over the next couple of weeks. As of today I am at 58% and it really feels like I’m going to make it. I still need people to pledge so if you love short stories and think that they should get more attention from publishers please pledge to this collection.
Araminta Hall, Bridget Whelan, Brighton, Catherine Quinn, competitions, Cornerstones Literary Agency New Writing South, David Headley, Emlyn Rees, Jo Rees, Kate Harrision, Laura Wilkinson, literature, Lizzie Enfield, Myriad Editions Julia Crouch, publishers, Rattle Tales, Rilke, Sharon Bowers, short stories, Simon Toyne, Simon Trewin, Small Batch, spoken word, starlings, Sue Teddern, The Angel House, The Beach Hut Writing Academy, The Short review, William Shaw, Write by the Beach, writing
And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Isn’t that a glorious quote for the new year? January is a difficult month, everyone is full of lethargy and Christmas excess. This year it seems like all our heroes are dying. The weather is awful. The nights are long and dark. It’s hard to get motivated. For a writer it can be the most depressing time of year. I have often found it hard to get started. If I haven’t written for a couple of weeks, getting back into stride can feel like climbing a mountain. It’s all a matter of perspective of course, as Rilke’s quote illustrates. This year I am determined to see the new year not in terms of the past but in terms of what’s to come.
Rilke was himself was a wanderer, a traveller of no fixed location, he sought lovers and patronage and never truly settled. He moved from one possibilty to another, across Europe into the Middle East and Russia, back to Paris and then, fatefully,Switzerland where he died at 51 of leukemia. A short and packed life of longing and regret that produced breathtaking poetry. Read some.
This year my resolution isn’t to lose weight or drink less! I probably will, but under no pressure to do so, 2016 will instead be a year of action. I have plans. I have words to write and opportunities to exploit. I have a fully finished short story collection and a half finished novel. This year I will find an agent and a publisher and move things on and if I don’t find either I will move things on anyway. There is always a way. There are always things that have never been.
The first Rattle Tales show of 2016 takes place on Feb 16th at The Brunswick in Hove. We had an amazing response to our call for submissions and we are reading through them all now to come up with a programme as varied, entertaining and thought provoking as all our shows. Do come along and see what we are all about.
I am involved in two very exciting projects this year. Firstly, The Brighton Prize (of which I am a co-director) enters its third year and we are in a position to expand. The competition will go international for the first time and we are adding categories for flash fiction and local writers. I will have more information on this very soon but we recently asked for volunteers to help us develop the prize, and Rattle Tales in general, and were literally overwhelmed by the response. I’m really looking forward to the group taking this project forward and to working with new, talented and enthusiastic people.
I am also involved in The Beach Hut Writing Academy, a new writing school established by professional writers in Brighton. I did my first course for them last year, co-teaching on short story practice with Bridget Whelan, and it was a very enjoyable success. The new courses begin on Jan 21st with a Fiction Writing course run by best-selling author Aramanita Hall and then a TV and Radio course taught by Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. Our most ambitious plan for early 2016 is a writers conference in Brighton on March 12th. Write by the Sea will feature, best-selling authors, publishers and agents taking part in panel discussions, workshops and one to one pitches, all at the beautiful sea front venue The Angel House. We have agents Simon Trewin, David Headley and Sharon Bowers, Cornerstones Literary Agency, local publishers Myriad Editions, The Writer’s Guild of Great Britain, authors Simon Toyne, Julia Crouch, Lizzie Enfield, Laura Wilkinson, Araminta Hall, Catherine Quinn, Kate Harrison, Sarah Rayner, Sue Teddern, Bridget Whelan, Jo and Emlyn Rees, William Shaw and me. There will also be one to ones where you can pitch or discuss your current project. The full programme is available on our website and the early bird rate is in place until Jan 24th.
Before I had a publisher for Starlings I attended a similar event at The Jubilee Library run by New Writing South. I met other writers, agents and publishers and came away with a wealth of advice and contacts that really helped me get my book published. Rattle Tales is sponsoring a session on Writing A Prize-winning Short Story and so two worlds collide. You’d be crazy to miss it.
#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.
Feedback. I can hear you groan from here. Feedback is that terrible entity writers both crave and loathe. It makes us better writers but it also makes us uncomfortably aware of our shortcomings. It’s a familiar scenario; you send off your story/poem/extract full of hope and good humour. You wait for weeks, months even, convinced that the recipient will be so blown away by your submission they will drop everything in deference to its brilliance and phone you immediately offering untold fame and fortune. Time passes and you forget, a little, but then one day, comes the ping on your inbox or the thud on your doormat and somehow you instinctively know what it is. It is the beginning of that terrible exchange that tells every writer at some point in their career that they are not as good as they think they are.
I’m always amazed how I know without looking that I’ve received a rejection. I suppose most good news is delivered by telephone but even so more often than not I’ll know a rejection before I open it. I wonder if this is because deep down there’s a bit of doubt there already, maybe I know what I submitted wasn’t as good as it could have been.
So, you open your email/letter and discover the bad news – you didn’t win that publishing deal/writer’s retreat/£15,000, you didn’t even get published in that online journal with a readership of around 50 people! And here’s the rub, your whole being screams that you want to know why and, at the same time, your whole being just wants to crawl under a duvet and wallow in self-pity. Knowing why is the last thing you want. In fact, whoever has judged you doesn’t know what they are talking about. They are in the wrong, not you, short-sighted imbeciles, wouldn’t know good writing if it bit them on the arse. That’s right isn’t it? Thinking like this means you can stay comfortable in your little cocoon of ignorance. You like your little cocoon of ignorance don’t you? I know I used to.
Over the years this has changed for me. When someone rejects my work I am no longer content with just NO. No won’t do. These days I want to know WHY? And if people haven’t told me why I invariably get back to them and ask. Am I mad? Maybe, but let me tell you about my last two rejections (possibly too strong a word) and the feedback I got.
The first came just before Christmas. It was only a flash piece, so it hadn’t taken long to do, but it was a great idea and it had been edited and refined over several drafts. I got a standard rejection about a week later, just ‘no thanks try again later’. That morning I had a workshop with two people I trust implicitly and as luck would have it I had sent them my story in advance of the meeting. They were so positive about it (and believe me, if they didn’t like it they would say so) that it made me wonder what the reason for the rejection was. So, rather than feeling sorry for myself I got back to my rejector and asked for feedback. This is what I was sent:
I’m happy to give some feedback.
In all honesty, it was a close call! The piece is beautifully written and has some startling images. We particularly liked this: “Planes fell from the skies, their impacted carcasses landing softly on downy runways, like so many bulging toothpaste tubes,” and the thought of the earth as a snowball was striking.
However we thought the first paragraph was problematic. In the second, everything gets going – but the first seems too long. Would you consider cutting it?
There were also a few details that niggled – if everyone is dead, who is reporting on sky news (or is the idea that Sky News is the devil’s work)?
Whilst the idea that this is being narrated by one of the devil’s minions is a good one, it took a couple of readings to register the full implications of the last paragraph. I wonder if there is a way to make the information here more immediate – or to plant the idea of the battle between heaven and hell earlier?
If you felt like reworking the story we’d be keen to take another look. As I said, it was a close run thing.
And do you know what? – they’re right! The first paragraph is too long and there should be a hint as to the narrator earlier. I’d actually taken out the bit about toothpaste tubes because in my opinion it doesn’t fit, but I don’t agree with them about Sky News – everyone knows who their boss is! But isn’t this better than no thanks try again later? See how much more productive a little bit of feedback is?Even if the feedback isn’t as positive as this is wouldn’t you rather know the truth than fear the worst, or even labour under the misconception that it’s good when it isn’t?
I had more feedback on another submission last week, I didn’t ask for it and was surprised to get it, but it was very welcome and, again, totally on the button. What I thought was a wonderfully clever allusion was actually ineffective corniness and needed to go, but I would never have known this had it not been pointed out to me. There was also the usual pep talk about not giving up, about it being a very close thing and please re-submit. Far from being negative it was enlightening and confidence boosting.
As a member of Rattle Tales I give a lot of feedback. Our selection process is very stringent, we all read everything and make notes on each piece then we discuss each one in detail before we make our selections. We don’t give feedback as standard but we offer it in our notification emails. If writers want to take us up on the offer the notes on the discussion are there ready to use. We probably get a 50/50 request rate. I hope what we say helps. The thing is to give good feedback you have to have read the submission in detail and you have to know what good writing is if you don’t you shouldn’t be giving feedback in the first place. Also bear in mind that work is often rejected out of personal preference. At Rattle Tales we reject work which we don’t think will work in a live performance, the piece could be beautifully written, ground-breaking even, but if it doesn’t read aloud well we can’t take it. If you don’t ask for feedback you’ll not know why, you’ll assume it’s either rubbish or that we are philistines.
Some writers take it personally. We once had an email from someone, whose work we had rejected because it wasn’t a story, saying that if we ever felt brave enough to try something different we should get in touch with them. You could almost taste the bile on those words but, hopefully, if they really thought about what we’d said they would realise that we were right. If you receive feedback that really riles you put it aside for a couple of days then go back to it, read your writing with it in your mind and see if it’s right. If you still don’t agree fine, forget it and try somewhere else, it’s their loss.
These days I always ask for feedback, at the very least it ensures that the person rejecting my work has read it well enough to tell me why they didn’t want it.
The next Rattle Tales show is on Feb 20th at The Brunswick Hove tickets available here.
I feel I may have been a bit negative in my last post. My rant on the lack of respect given to writers sending off their short stories to magazines and competitions was written in haste. On reflection this is funny because it was inspired by a rejection written in haste. Last week I received an email rejection for two shorts from an e-mag just 25 minutes after submitting. The email was polite and I wasn’t expecting it as the submission guidelines said if my work wasn’t accepted I wouldn’t receive a reply. The stories I submitted weren’t written especially for submission but had successfully been submitted and performed by a theatre group a couple of years ago. The submission came from me looking over old files and trying to get unpublished stories out there, so it’s not like I spent hours crafting stories especially for them, nevertheless something in the nature of the rejection rankled i.e. the speed of it!
I just wanted to add that it’s not all gloom and doom. My last post was the most popular since my anti-jubilee rant. Ranting works in blog posts I’ve noticed. After reading it someone pointed out how positive some writing organisations are when rejecting work and how a good rejection can spur the writer on to better writing. Some rejections offer encouragement and insight above and beyond. So, based on my own notes and conversations with other writers, a name check here to good rejecters of short stories, manuscripts and competition entries:
Canongate, Curtis Brown, Fox Mason, Grit Lit, Liar’s League, Lucy Luck, McSweeney’s, Myriad Editions, Radio Four, Revenge Ink, Rogers Coleridge & Wright, Swamp, Succour, The Book Trust prizes and, of course, Rattle Tales.
There are many more I am sure (I hope!). All of the above offer insight into why you are being rejected and don’t just say ‘No Thanks’ or nothing at all. There is a worrying trend in total silence. I still can’t believe that major writing competitions, who ask for money from authors who submit to them, can’t email the results out to all who entered. So, magazine editors, competition administrators, agents and publishers, if those listed above can take the time to write in detail about why they are rejecting someone, you have no excuse to ignore a submission. A standard reply is acceptable (it takes about three seconds to email one) no one is so busy they can’t manage this simple courtesy.