A few weeks ago, Catherine Clyne, a long-time publishing friend of mine who’s worked for several years as an editor of romance fiction, mentioned that she (and other acquisition editors like her) often trawl self-publishing websites (such as Smashwords, Wattpad, and others) to look for promising material. What they mean by “promising” is that not only can the author string a sentence together, but she does so regularly (even prolifically). She should also be building an audience and interacting with them. Cat noted that these sites provide a very useful metric for writers (and thereby potential publishers) to measure whether they have an audience, what that audience does or doesn’t like, and whether they have the appetite to engage with the general public and stomach to adjust their work to fit the audience’s expectations. (An added bonus is that this audience might be both more honest about and more supportive of the author’s work than the author’s friends and family.)
This model works very well for genre fiction. The question is whether it can work for literary fiction, or poetry: the kind of writing that, all too often, ends up lost in a review or journal that few read, or, even more likely, rejected from a review or journal that few read—either because the author lacks an MFA, or the piece is too short, too long, too full of compound adjectives, or (horribile dictu) humorous. As with most creative writing, the goal cannot be to make money; instead, one aims to reach people who might enjoy, appraise, and respond to your work, and thereby (1) give you the satisfaction of being read, (2) make you a better or even more accurate writer, and (3) allow you, eventually, to come to the attention of an editor or publisher who wishes to collect your work between the covers of a three-dimensional book.
For twenty years I’ve been writing short stories—all of which are under 1,500 words. This procrustean arrangement has forced me to expand and contract stories, to discipline my natural verbosity and coerce me into writing characters and not sketched outlines. That said, I like to think that the twenty-one I’ve now composed (most of which haven’t been read by anyone) are not simply exercises in style, but have something to say about the human condition.
Over the next five months, I’m going to post one story a week on Wattpad, and use this blog to analyze (as a publisher, editor, and writer) my experience in this form of communicating, and perhaps to offer an analysis of the story itself. It goes without saying that I need you—yes, you!—to make this work. So, indulge me (and yourself) if you will and enjoy my first story: “The Squeeze.” (Note: this piece, virtually uniquely in my oeuvre, contains language that some might find upsetting, but which I find hilarious.)