Do we hate short stories in the UK?
You would be forgiven for thinking that’s true because very, very few collections are published by British publishers. But hold, I hear you say: I like reading short stories…(you did say that, didn’t you? )
I love short stories. One of the most influential books I ever read was a collection of short stories given to me at the age of 12. I met Katherine Mansfield and Angus Wilson for the first time, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and O. Henry. At the library (remember those?) I devoured more. They introduced to the power of the written world and the magic. Now I read Annie Proulx, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders, Susan Hill, Stella Duffy….
I know I’m not alone. Each time I walk into a classroom I meet writers who share my enthusiasm for reading short stories and writing them. And yet there are so few opportunities to be published if your story doesn’t fall into the women’s magazine category.
Erinna Mettler, a gifted prize-winning short story writer, explains:
In mainstream publishing, to get a single author collection published you have to either be Hilary Mantel or have won the BBC National Short Story Award, even then, you probably have to have a novel waiting to go in order to reach a publisher’s reading list, and that may well need to be published before the collection.
Ok, so traditional publishing is a locked door…what are the alternatives?
Small Indy publishers – they would be prepared to take the ‘risk’ surely?
No, they have the same resistance from the marketing department/person as the big companies. They don’t just see short stories as a ‘seller’. When approached by a brilliant short story writer they are more likely to say, come back when you’ve written a novel than sign this contract…
Self-publishing – once readers see how good the stories are they will want more.
Yes, but…ask yourself when was the last time you bought a self-published book when you didn’t have a personal connection with the author. It takes a helluva lot of hard marketing to make readers aware that you exist at all, never mind that you might be worth reading. Some authors have a real talent for the promotion side of the business, most don’t. Nearly all would rather be writing.
This is bizarre because short stories are perfect for reading on your smart phone and ereader, listening to on audio or reading last thing at night. A novel is a commitment: a short story is a burst of drama, a flash of insight, a glimpse of another world. Both art forms have their place, but short stories do fit into 21st century living.
There is another way…UNBOUND BOOKS
They have the expertise of a trad company. They know the publishing business and they are VERY selective about the authors they take on. Some are famous names. Some have been long-listed for the Booker and other major prizes. Most are great writers you’ve never heard of…But their publishing process is very different from most other companies
First, an author pitches on the Unbound website.
Then if you like the sound of the book you get a chance to pledge. There are several levels of support, each with different rewards. The higher your pledge, the greater the rewards you’ll receive, from your name in the back of the book to a workshop with the author.
At the lowest pledge level you are basically ordering the book in advance of publication. That’s all. And if it doesn’t get published you don’t pay a penny.
Back to Erinna. This is a very biased appeal. She is an UNBOUND author looking for funding. I’ve pledged because I know how good her writing is and I want to read her new collection: In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes. £10 will get you a copy and make you a patron of the arts because without you and me and all the other people who pledge this book won’t happen. And that would be a shame.
Erinna explains what her collection is about.
In most of the stories the famous have only a bit part in the tale of an ordinary individual, existing just outside the action but still influencing the outcome. We get the story of a tramp in New York on the day John Lennon was shot, a doctor remembering a childhood visit to a Muhammad Ali fight, a woman’s obsession with Harry Potter following the death of a child. Some of the stories are more concerned with the personal need for widespread attention. Some feature invented celebrities.
Don’t take my word for the quality of her writing. You can read an extract HERE and it’s also the place you can pledge, handy that.
UNBOUND could be, if not the future of publishing, one important path it will travel. And if you have something quirky and unusual you want to publish – or a short story collection – it could be the answer for you.