Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sailing paper boats down the Amazon

Today is the start of an experiment.

I like writing short stories, and have had reasonable success at getting them into print. I'm egotistical enough to think that a few of those stories are really quite good, and it's always seemed a little sad that short stories in print have such a short shelf-life. They hit the news-stands, circulate for a month or two, and then unless you get reprinted in an anthology, they vanish down the memory hole, never to be read again.

You can't avoid discussions and press about ebooks at the moment. If you believe some of the more enthusiastic proponents, the rise of the ebook will bring about world peace, and allow writers to occupy their rightful place as philosopher-king Rulers of All. Even taking a more balanced view, its hard to deny that a sea-change is happening that may make the success of the Kindle as significant a moment for publishing as the rise of Napster was for how we listen to an acquire music.

But all that is something to talk about another time. What this also means is that the short story can have a new home, with a longer lifespan, and sit on a virtual shelf forever, being discovered by new readers. Or not.

This kind of publishing is open, exciting, full of opportunity and you can see the excitement around it like you could around indie music when that meant bands doing their own thing outside the stranglehold of major labels, rather than major label dullards in terrible shirts churning out landfill tedium. But the openness and access that mean that there are no bars to entry also mean that, well, there are no bars to entry.

A gradual emptying of the publishing world's slushpiles onto Amazon's servers has obvious implications. Yes, there will be hidden gems to be discovered. But there will also be a lot of books that were lingering on slushpiles for good reason. How's the reader to know the difference? How does the reader find fiction that is new and interesting and good amidst an ever-increasing torrent? I think these questions will need to be answered, and I think that some smart people will probably find a way to make good money out of doing so.

Looked at from the other side, there's another question which matters a great deal to me: how can a writer catch the attention of those readers when there's a thousand, ten thousand other stories flowing past their field of view? Well, that's the experiment. From today a collection of my crime short stories is available on Amazon and elsewhere. NOWHERE TO GO brings together eleven stories previously published in places like Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's, and throws them out into the river.

I'll let you know how I get on, and what I learn.

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