To cut a long story short – life as a short story publisher
A mighty impressive tale of starting out as an online publisher – Clare Hey, founder of Shortfire Press shares her experience… what do you think?
When I set up Shortfire Press I was slightly casting out into the unknown, trying out publishing short stories in a different way, testing the waters of the ebook world. My experience is in print publishing, having been a commissioning editor at HarperCollins and through my work as a freelance editor, and so the world of ebooks was pretty new to me. But the principle is the same – spotting great writing and getting it out to the reader – and so I thought I was at least halfway there.
The first few months have been exciting. The moment I pressed the ‘Go’ button on the website, making it live, was terrifying – that sudden realisation that the site would be visible to everyone and the worry that no one would like it or, worse, no one would even visit it. But that worry was unfounded, thankfully. And when the first sales started coming in, all those months of hard work felt worth it – readers were buying the stories, and were telling me they like them too.
Connecting with Readers
Out of everything, I think it’s the moments of connection with people that has made the site feel special to me – from people writing nice things in the papers and in their blogs, to tweets from people saying how much they enjoyed the stories – connecting with readers in such a direct way has been one of the unexpected joys for me. And the support from the industry has been amazing – from the Bristol Short Story Prize to the Faber Academy to London Writers Club and agent and writers and other editors, people have been amazing.
But it’s not all been plain sailing. There have been scary moments (like when I received a legal letter threatening to sue if we didn’t change our name – which we did, of course) and frustrating moments (like when my computer crashed right in the middle of updating the site and I lost loads of work). I’ve learnt that you have to give stuff away for free so there are now free samples of all our stories, as well as a completely free story from Marcel Theroux. I’ve also learnt that everything has to be super simple in terms of the digital world – and that’s something I’m always working on. And I’ve learnt that there are not enough hours in the day (my list of as-yet-unread submissions testifies to that and I started with such good intentions on always getting back to people within a fortnight).
But as we enter our fourth month of existence, the future looks exciting. I’m working on some exciting (top secret!) collaborations, and as the name spreads we reach more readers and I feel as though I get to spread a little more short story joy. Do come and check the site out – I’d love to hear what you think.