Many UK writers often bemoan the lack of paying markets for short stories.
Here’s one: The Fiction Desk. Doesn’t pay much, but if accepted you’ll be in the running for a £200 prize for the best story as voted for by the contributors. (An excellently produced series. I’m a subscriber - and if you write short stories then you should be a subscriber too.)
There have been several initiatives over the past decade which have attempted to address the issue.
Some of those initiatives focussed on consumption - through trying to popularise the habit of reading short stories; other initiatives focussed on stimulating production - through encouraging ‘serious’ writers to embrace the form.
Consumption and production have never really been the issues that needed to be addressed; the problem, as with cinema, has always been about distribution.
UK writers do write short stories - UK readers will read short stories.
A few brave, though underfunded, ventures, such as the excellent (though defunct) coffee shop distributed Broadsheet Stories recognised this, and worked hard to put readers in touching distance of writers. A brilliant initiative, which could have been taken up by Costa Coffee, sponsors of the Costa Book Award, or Caffé Nero, or any other coffee/pub/sandwich/pasty chain with regional or national pretensions, such as Wetherspoon’s.
The Big Script says, “ The UK doesn’t do short. The USA does short.”
UK writers - England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales - have produced, and continue to produce, some of the very best short stories ever written and read.
The Big Script, if honest, would read, “The UK doesn’t value short stories, the USA does.”
So, what to do? How to supply eager readers with quality short short stories and reward writers?
Internet? Thousands of writers, and independent publishers, are plugging away. A few are doing fine.
Email subscription services? Ditto.
Think of the places where you have unplanned time in your hands - doctors’ surgeries, dental surgeries, health centres, hospitals, hotels, the hairdressers/barbers, aeroplanes, ferries, cafés, bars, railway stations, airports, busses, the tube etc etc etc.
Then think of the potential links - the potential synergy - think in terms of pub/café chains which are situated in airports, hotels, hospitals etc etc etc. Think of bakery/patisserie/pie shops [I’m looking at you, Greggs] chains located in or near same.
Imagine every time you went to a Pret a Porter/Greggs/your local kebab shop they slipped you a story with your sandwich or pasty? First few times you may be intrigued. “What’s this scribble?” A visit or two later you may be intrigued enough to read it on the last bus or tube home.
It does not cost any more to print a wrapper with quality words which entertain, intrigue and delight than it does to print a wrapper with a list of ingredients, nutritional information and logo.
Would it be impossible for a collective of writers, or an independent publisher, (or, Gawd help us, the Arts Council or the Book Trust) to negotiate a deal with, say, two chains?
A scenario: A new imprint of an indie publisher curates, edits and designs content. Waterstone’s pay for the content and production of a weekly broadsheet (table place setting size) splashed with their logo, and Wetherspoon’s distribute it nationally.
Win - win - win.
- Writers get paid and promoted and extend their readership reach.
- Waterstone’s get the publicity and the kudos.
- Wetherspoon’s provide a unique additional service to their clientele.
And, most importantly, Wetherspoon's customers are entertained while they wait for a meal - and discover a writer they have not encountered before.
And the whole endeavour would likely be eligible for an award from Arts & Business.
Be inventive. Get your stuff into the places where people read (not buy) stories.
New potential readers looking for something new to read are unlikely to visit bookshops and libraries - not until your writing has convinced them to.
Get the stuff out there. And make sure the stuff you put out there has all the information about your other publications, where to buy them and how to contact you.
Distribution … not marketing and promotion alone … is the key.
What do you think? is the notion flawed? Am I barking mad?
More on distribution soon.