It’s also my first ‘official’ traditional publishing credit, as my short story The Hub features alongside seven other strange – and sometimes disturbing – tales written by a team of brilliant authors.
I don’t mean to devalue my self-publishing efforts, but it certainly is nice to get the warm and fuzzies that come with a third party selecting and publishing (and uh, ultimately, paying for) your work.
So, if you enjoy exploring the uncanny – and aren’t afraid of the dark – then consider visiting San Cicaro today.
I feel it would be remiss of me not to write a post about this historic time of global pandemic and national lockdown. It seems like everyone on my social feeds is doing their own live blogs, isolation diaries, and generally reaching out amid the Covid-19 crisis. The snapshots of life across the nation are diverse, yet suddenly intimately familiar as we all, in some manner, undergo the same experience.
The UK’s full-blown lockdown measures were announced on Monday night, just two days ago. For the first time in years I tuned in to watch a live broadcast, with my husband next to me, and my sisters on Messenger, as Boris Johnson effectively told the nation to Stay The Fuck At Home.
There’s not yet a curfew as far as I’m aware, but police can now fine gatherings of more than 2 people (unless you are all from the same household) and a very restrictive list of acceptable reasons for leaving the house has been issued. We’re in this for at least three weeks, with scope for tighter measures and a longer lockdown period ahead.
Despite this, on a personal level, not much feels like it has changed. My daughter is now nine months old, and I’ve been enjoying my maternity leave as a stay-at-home mum for as long as I can. I do now miss my weekly lunch outing to catch up with my sisters, and I WAS just starting to think about visiting my local parent/baby group before all this kicked off… but otherwise, my social life was already a little sparse.
Admittedly, the sudden burst of spring sunshine does have me itching to go out somewhere, and I’m sure others are cursing both the beautiful weather and the lockdown as holidays, celebrations, and all social gatherings are cancelled outright. But we need to remember that this is a time when the actions of individuals really does make a huge difference, and we all have a part to play in protecting our country. (This is probably the most nationalist spirit I have ever felt.)
I saw a meme posted by a friend pointing out that in most Plague Outbreak movies society quickly disintegrates under selfishness, looting, and general chaos. But in the outbreak movie we’re currently living in, though some people are being selfish (hoarders and day-trippers, we’re looking at you), for the most part what people are doing is… consuming art. Creating art. Sharing art.
There’s been an outpouring of musicians, writers, and artists all releasing their content for free; there’s a sudden wealth of free education resources for both children and adults; and communities are banding together (but, you know, at a safe distance) to support their most vulnerable. I see strangers offering up their spare food and nappies, offering their time to deliver shopping to neighbours, offering their talents to keep people entertained.
On that same note, here’s a reminder that Season One of The Jack Hansard Series is completely free to read right here on my website (or over on Wattpad, if you prefer reading on their app). If you like humour and contemporary fantasy it might be the next binge-read you’ve been looking for.
If you’re also a creator offering free content or helpful resources in these trying times, PLEASE do post links below. Spread the love (and not the virus).
With all this sharing and innovation, the internet has never been a more positive platform for social interaction. There are options for staying in touch that I had no idea existed. This week I’m trying out Roll20 to ‘meet up’ with a group of friends to play our regular D&D game on a virtual tabletop. Over the weekend a friend hosted a movie night using Netflix Party. In a couple of weeks it’s my birthday, and I’m wondering whether and how to hold a Skype party.
Another strangely beneficial consequence of lockdown measures is Husband working from home. It’s nice having him in the next room for a conversation throughout the day; for him to enjoy more time with our daughter (he’s done more than one conference call with her on his lap); ultimately, for us all to have more time as a family.
I also know that we’re very lucky. By pure chance we’d done a big shop just before the panic-buying really kicked in, so we’ve not had to worry about scrambling for essentials just yet. We’re not in financial difficulty, though I suppose it wouldn’t take much to push us – or anyone – into dire straits if our jobs suddenly fell through. Just before lockdown I was in the process of arranging with my employer how I was going to return to work; I’m no longer entirely certain that there will be a job for me to come back to.
But that’s a concern for another day. Right here and now there’s a minimum of three weeks of lockdown to get through, and we will get through it together, in spite of being metres and miles apart.
Now, more importantly: How are you?
Let us all know how you’re doing in the comments. What’s life like under lockdown for you? And remember, if you have any art, music, writing, advice, etc. to share, feel free to put those links below as well.
Lately I’ve been pursuing publication for some of my short stories, and I feel I’m settling into a good rhythm of submissions and rejections. My current goal, at its barest bones, is to be paid professionally for a piece of my work. A lofty one, I know. Anyone familiar with writing submissions knows just how low the acceptance rate is (I rather like this author’s breakdown of their submission stats, for context) and I know I’ll be waiting a long time for that elusive payout.
However, I came across an intriguing opportunity for short story writers recently. It’s called Storymart.
Storymart is a reader subscription service aimed at lovers of short stories. The creators envision a Netflix-like model, where the reader’s monthly subscription gives them unlimited access to the site’s story content which is provided by writers all over the world. And the writers, rather importantly, get paid.
However, the platform is very new. In fact, it’s not yet open to reader subscriptions as they are still in the process of gathering content from writers. This makes sense – why ask readers to pay for content that doesn’t exist yet?
I’ve been mulling over the concept for a while now, and to help me figure out whether I want to jump onto this infant bandwagon I decided to lay out my thoughts in a simple Pros and Cons list…
Pro 1: Storymart offers curated content to readers.
The platform practices a submissions process which promises to narrow stories down to those which are of a high enough quality – I’ll give you their own definition of what that means:
Welcome words for writers tired of the bellowing halls of Wattpad-esque establishments, where readers and writers alike are drowning in angsty vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter romances, invariably set in a highschool and demonstrating varying grasps of the english language.
The website seems to promise short stories worthy of appearing in established literary publications like The New Yorker, and so they are actively encouraging writers to only send their best.
Con 1: Storymart does not edit any of the content.
This might be a Pro if you hate other people fiddling with your words. In any case, it’s worth noting that submissions are expected to be polished upon entry, and you shouldn’t expect any hand-holding from Storymart in that respect.
How harsh their submissions standards really are is something that remains to be seen – we probably won’t truly know until the site launches for readers. Obviously there’s also chance those submission standards might lower over time. Will they stick to their principles further down the line?
If you’re a writer who has submitted to Storymart, what’s your view on this? Did they accept everything you sent them; did they give feedback on rejections?
Pro 2: They accept previously published stories.
If you’re in the business of trying to submit to professional markets, then hopefully you understand why this excites me. The majority of submissions guidelines invariably prohibit writers from submitting previously published work, whether it was in print, online, another magazine, a competition, or on a personal blog. This is a barrier I find intensely frustrating: it seems as though once I put a story out there, anywhere, then that’s kind of it for the life of that work. This is what’s putting me off submitting to the huge number of magazines which offer no payment to authors – I’d love the chance to be seen by your readership, but if I do then I effectively give up the prospect of being paid professionally for that story.
(Side-note: I know ‘re-prints’ of published work are sometimes presented as a submission option at a vastly reduced pay rate – and I’d be interested to know how many writers have any success submitting under this category.)
Storymart offers a chance to put some of those one-offs back in front of paying readers. Say you have a competition entry that didn’t win, but was good enough to place on the shortlist and got published online. This might be a way to give new life to an already-proven story.
Similarly, once you’ve placed a story on Storymart, there are no restrictions on where/when you can publish again. A lot of publications will, for example, require that you don’t re-publish your story for a specific period (typically 3-6 months) after it has appeared on their own platform. This means you can publish a story on Storymart and then continue to submit it anywhere else you choose. Of course, this does immediately throw up the very obvious…
Con 2: Publishing on Storymart counts as publishing.
If you put a story on Storymart, it’ll run into the exact barrier I was bemoaning above. Other publications may reject it out of hand for already being published.
However, the site is still in Beta stage for the moment. So I suppose during this window where it isn’t open to readers, you still have the option of removing your work from Storymart if it does find a home elsewhere.
Another counter-argument for this is…
Pro 3: Storymart is a paying market.
It runs (or will run) on a pay-per-read model.
Readers will pay a monthly subscription of $4.99 to have unlimited access to as many short stories as they want to read. Every time a story is read, the author is paid $0.10 USD. Payments will apparently be made monthly, via Paypal.
Con 3: The author is only paid $0.10 per read.
That means a hundred people could read your story over a period of months… and you’d only earn $10 for it.
But wait, let’s compare this to other industry prices…
Based on various bits of advice and my current experience hunting suitable markets, my perception of a ‘professional’ short story rate is around $0.06 per word. However, realistically there are also a very large number of publications offering much less (eg. some that offer around $0.02 per word; some that only offer a flat fee in the $20-50 range per story) and of course an abundance of completely unpaid opportunities that nevertheless offer exposure to their already-established audience.
Let’s go on the lower end and consider a 5000 word story which is paid $0.02 per word = a flat fee of $100 for that story. With Storymart’s model, you would need 1000 people to read your story to earn $100 from it.
I suppose the question is… are you confident your story will get at least 1000 reads?
This is where it gets interesting. Instead of receiving a one-off payment, there’s the potential to accumulate money over time… a very LONG time. Remember, if you only get ten reads a month, you’d need to wait 8-9 years to earn that $100.
At the moment we have pretty much no data to look at to determine what a realistic number of reads per month could be at Storymart. Could be in the hundreds – a hundred reads per month would take less than a year to earn the $100. Or it could be in the tens, and the payoff becomes minimal.
At least the principle is simple: the more readers you have, the more you earn. This will then probably be down to the individual author to market the shit out of their work to gain those consistent reads. And in order to get those reads you need…
Pro 4: A captive audience.
This, theoretically, is the big draw for writers at Storymart. Readers subscribe because they want to read short stories. They are, in theory, readers as opposed to other writers – which is a flaw I think is endemic of many fiction platforms (Wattpad, I’m looking at you).
I hold the apparently unpopular belief in wider publishing that short stories are an extremely under-rated and oft-forgotten (despite being popular) genre of fiction. I can’t fault the idea of pushing new ways to make short stories more accessible, and a platform dedicated to them sounds somewhat ideal.
Con 4: Currently, a small audience.
Here’s something that only time will illuminate further. At present, Storymart is still in Beta stage. That means it is actively seeking story submissions from writers, but is not yet taking subscriptions from readers. As I said, I’m a big believer that short stories are a vastly underestimated market, and there definitely is a passionate audience out there for them. But, will that audience choose to pay a monthly subscription, when there’s so much short fiction available for free elsewhere?
One response, I suppose, is that readers do already pay for subscriptions – to all those short story magazines I’ve been submitting to. That’s what the professional paying market for short story writers is.
Pro 5: The chance to grow alongside a growing platform.
Wouldn’t it be great to discover the next big thing while it’s still shiny and new and has opportunities ripe for the taking? Before the big boys muscle in and the playground gets swamped by thousands of other voices all peddling their own fantastical narratives?
At this early stage, while the audience might be small, the pool of writers is as well. Would that, potentially, make it easier to be discovered? To snap up the interest of new readers as the platform grows? Getting in early could make all the difference to growing a presence and a following, and if Storymart grows and grows and grows… well, it’s an exciting thought. But, therein lies the risk.
Con 5: The whole thing could flop.
Storymart isn’t quite on its feet just yet. Readers could flock to it in their thousands… or they could give it a passing glance and shrug, and go back to their tried-and-tested tenders of online fiction instead. There’s no data to look into yet, so your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not Storymart will still be here in a couple of years’ time.
But, even if it isn’t… what have I got to lose?
This is the thought I keep coming back to.
The main ‘Con’ which seems to bother me is that publishing a story with Storymart might restrict any future opportunities for that piece of work. But if that story isn’t being accepted anywhere else anyway… and let’s face it, the odds are massively stacked against us in submissions, simply due to the sheer mumber of other stories we’re competing with… well then, what’s holding me back but myself?
I’m not convinced that Storymart won’t have the same problem as other publication routes further down the line. If they do grow successful they’ll probably find their own inboxes at breaking point eventually, despite their best intentions to give submissions the quickest turnaround possible. More reason to jump in early, perhaps?
I suspect I’m overly cautious when it comes to making these kinds of decisions. I’ve doubtless missed opportunities just for fear that it might not be The Right One.
Wouldn’t it be better to earn a few dollars from a story – and to know that it’s actually being read and enjoyed by people – than just letting it languish in the ‘Submissions’ folder on my laptop?
I think what I’m saying is that I’m going to jump in. Because, really, what have I got to lose?
What are your thoughts on the Storymart concept? Just another online magazine subscription, or the Netflix-inspired service they aspire to? Are there better alternatives already out there?
If you’ve submitted stories to Storymart, I’d love to hear from you! Why did you choose them? What’s your experience been like so far?
If you want to read more about Storymart, their FAQ section for writers is here.
Rain gushed over ancient tiles, overflowed from dilapidated gutters, and dripped off the end of a cold, stone nose. A church congregation filed in under the cross-eyed gaze of the gargoyle.
The people were drab, in both colour and spirit. The door slammed, locking them in with their sins. Guilt should not be tangible, but the gargoyle tasted it in the rain.
It tasted anticipation, too.
An organ gasped geriatrically to life.
One by one, lonely voices joined into a growing chorus. The music swelled, and took a stone heart soaring upwards to heaven.
It strikes me that it must be rather lonely to be a gargoyle.
I wrote this as an entry to the 2018 Southam Flash Fiction Competition, which required stories to be under 100 words and contain the phrase ‘the door slammed’ somewhere in the work. I had a lot of fun with the theme and will share some of my other entries here as well.
A little update here on The Jack Hansard Series. Thanks again for sticking with me – we’re making steady progress! I know it’s proving to be a long wait, but I promise the end result will be worth it. I know it’s a bit dull to just hear ‘I’m editing’ over and over again, so I thought I’d give you all a little insight into what I’ve been working on, and exactly what ‘editing’ the series means in practice.
For a start it involves…
The original version of the series (still available to read for free on An Inspired Mess and on Wattpad) is written over 20 episodes. The final version will be just 15.
Wait! Don’t worry – nothing’s been cut, just condensed. The original episodes were written and published on a fortnightly basis, and realistically I could only churn out up to 5000 words in that time. This meant that several stories got split over separate episodes, and the episode lengths weren’t consistent. So you’d finish reading a satisfying 5000 word episode, to then stop short at the end of a 3000 word ep like: ‘Where’s the rest of it?’
So I’ve been working on evening out those word counts, and putting full stories into one episode wherever possible. For example, remember where Jack first meets Ang in Ironbridge? This was needlessly split into two episodes – there’s not even a proper cliff-hanger to lead from one to the other! So now they are joined together in one seamless story to be enjoyed without any interruption.
What this also means is I’m…
Adding New Content
Some of those stand-alone episodes are still too short, especially near the beginning of the series. You see, when I started out my episodes were only 2000-3000 words each, but as the series developed the characters found their voices and the plots became more rounded, demanding longer stories to see them through. You can see this in the explosive Phoenix finale, which took a whole five episodes to complete!
So I’ve been adding in extra details, and occasionally whole new scenes. Remember Episode 1, where Jack gets cornered by Scallet and makes a lucky and quick escape? The story no longer ends there. You now get to see a fraction of London’s underworld as Jack goes on to encounter an old ‘friend’ at the Black Friar and… I won’t spoil it for you.
A bizarrely shaped building, the Black Friar took up a corner of Queen Victoria Street and had a habit of playing tricks on the eyes. Viewed from the side, it appeared as a long, unrealistically thin building. From the front, a V that seemed to occupy more space than was possible. Rows upon rows of art nouveau windows gave the impression of crowded bedsits built for high society. And, naturally, there was a statue of a jolly black friar with his pudgy hands folded over his stomach, beaming down from his spot right above the front door.
You can also expect more interactions with characters like Ang, Officer Jo Neills, and Mark Demdike. Oh, and the lovely Devin Tracey gets a much-needed spot in the limelight as well. You might recall he’s the devilishly handsome Irish siren from episodes 8-10. It always bothered me that I never wrote him a proper purpose other than to act as a sounding board at the Market. Why have a siren if you don’t get to glimpse their ability in action? So you can expect just that – a glimpse.
But unfortunately, as well as adding I have also been…
Alas, it is necessary. But again, don’t get too concerned. The whole point of editing is to cut details that the reader won’t miss, like clunky, slow dialogue or a lengthy portion of exposition that would be better used later.
Perhaps one of the biggest chunks I’ve cut so far is from Episode 6: Cockermouth where Jack’s internal monologue became horribly clogged up with an explanation of his different types of customers. It was awfully long-winded and not really relevant to the situation at hand – so now it’s transformed into a much more enjoyable argument with Ang over the subject.
‘He falls into the ‘spurned lovers’ category of our demographic, Ang,’ I said knowingly. I ignored her mouthing ‘Demo-what?’ under the table. ‘Desperate people, angry people, these are our favourite customers. They have an axe to grind and I’m here to provide the grindstone.’
I should also say that if you’ve read the series’ most recent iteration on Wattpad (or here on An Inspired Mess after January 2017) then you’ve missed most of the drastic cuts already. The version currently published online is actually the second draft, which had an extensive overhaul of its own. So don’t worry – you won’t recognise what you don’t miss.
On a more cheerful note, editing also involves…
I suspect this is what a lot of people think editing is, while forgetting about the dirty work of necessary cuts and story structure. Technically all of editing is a refinement, but here I’m talking about the more enjoyable, low-level edits that are designed to just make the writing easier to read.
These are usually quite simple changes, a matter of phrasing and word choice to make a sentence read more smoothly. Also checking grammar and consistency – you won’t believe how long I agonised over what form my ellipsis should take. Google did not give me a straight answer.
Would you believe that in publishing it’s usually a matter of house preference? Some publishers will put the ellipsis in the middle of words like this … while others will join it on, like this…
Yet others will use a spaced out ellipsis like this . . . which was always my favourite until I discovered it caused no end of formatting problems online. A comically simple, but frustratingly time-consuming issue to overcome.
This is always the most important part of any editing process, and it feeds into everything I’ve outlined above. A lot of self-published authors apparently pay for professional editors to proof read and critique their work – but I’m afraid I cannot even slightly afford such services. So I did the next best thing: assembled a pool of people I trust to give me real honest feedback and help pick the series to pieces. They played a large part in shaping that initial, harsh edit.
This second round of editing is largely influenced by the voice of genuine readers; that is, people who came to read the series because they wanted to, not because I asked. If you’ve ever left a comment or shot me a private message about an episode – whether it contained praise or criticism – you can guarantee that I’ve considered carefully how it should impact on the writing.
On this note, a general tip for other writers out there: heeding feedback is not the same as always following feedback. As your spidey senses develop, you begin to learn how to differentiate – when to follow the advice of others, and when to follow your own instinct. But don’t throw out criticism just because you disagree with it. First, try to understand where that criticism is coming from, why you disagree, and then why you might be wrong.
So that’s where we’re at, guys. I think I’m about two thirds of the way through this process, and I’ll let you know when we’re close to publication. If you’ve been wondering, the series will be available through Amazon Kindle as an e-book later this year.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post you might also enjoy:
Dydh ha, my lovelies! Just popping my head above the surface to let you all know that I’m still here, and that An Inspired Mess is far from sitting quiet. I’m now halfway through editing TheJack Hansard Series: just ten more episodes to go! Every week I upload the polished edit of another episode that you can read for free – keep an eye on the Home Page to see which one has been most recently updated.
I’m currently collating my editing experience (read: mistakes) into Editing Tips Part 3: The Hard Cut. This article will cover the heart-wrenching aspects of editing, the changes we can’t always bring ourselves to make. Stay tuned, I’ll have it ready soon.
As you may have guessed from my infrequent blog updates, I am far from an avid blogger – I do enjoy reading and writing articles, but my heart definitely lies with fiction. The downside is that by not blogging as often, I’m making it harder for myself to reach out to y’all!
I’d like to find more ways to connect with like-minded readers and writers both in and outside of the blogging sphere . . . so here’s a question for you: If you’re a reader, where do you prefer to connect with authors? How do you like to be kept updated about their work?
And if you’re a writer, what platforms do you use to reach out to your readers? For my tuppence: I’ve recently joined Wattpad, and I’m finding it fantastic for making friends and joining engaging conversations. Conversation, I think, is the key. There’s no point in reaching out to your audience if you’re not willing to invest some time in getting to know them.
So if you want to chat, hit me up! You can reach me on: