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Winning a Deal For a Book of Stories: SaltWater

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By Lane Ashfeldt

The deal I have is for a single book of stories with hardworking Dublin independent, Liberties Press – who could not love a publisher with a name like Liberties Press? But though they publish some fine books (among them Declan Burke’s novels, and The Ballad of Mo & G by Billy Keane), Liberties are not – yet! – in the business of handing out six-figure advances, so if that’s where your sights are set then you may not want to read on…

I started writing as a working mum with a school-age child, and wrote when I could – usually last thing at night. One of my first published stories nodded at the late night writing situation: “I’m not going to titillate with detail here. This keyboard is way too real, and I must email this to a stranger tonight just so you can read it whenever, but isn’t it true? The ones you barely get to know are always the most gorgeous.” Although I didn’t get a penny for it, I was thrilled when this tiny story went live on online fiction site 3AMmagazine.com

For me, getting those first pieces published or shortlisted was a huge buzz, and it helped me believe people would enjoy reading my stories. Somehow I found it hard to believe in my own writing without this external validation. Winning the Fish Short Histories Prize made a huge difference, and also gave me my first taste of the world of agents. I also had a short story shortlisted for the main Fish Prize early on. Looking back, sheer numbers may well have been a factor – the competition probably receives far more entries now, so no doubt it’s harder to get shortlisted.

laneashfeldtgrasssmallBut I’ve also had my share of rejections, and their competition equivalent: stories that fell through the floor at “sift” stage. The most depressing were those returned by editors with sarky comments – once, from a much respected magazine, with a complaint that I’d failed to include a stamped addressed envelope. That story was accepted elsewhere and the magazine has also published a story by me – another little personal milestone.

I know writers who collect rejection letters and rigorously excel-spreadsheet their submissions to track them. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I’ve more a sort of blitz and then rest approach.

If you plan on entering a writing competition, here’s what I’d suggest. Don’t write something just for a competition. You might do better sending ‘one you prepared earlier’ that you dusted off and chopped to fit the length, rather than wrote on the day. But hey, it works for some people. Sometimes a deadline helps you get work done.

Having a few stories that had won prizes help convince my publisher, Liberties Press, to read my submission, which is part of the battle.

But if you need it in a single word? Persistence. Persistence is crucial in so many ways: in your writing process, your edit process AND in submitting to editors… and persistent belief in your own work, even against all evidence to the contrary. A dollop of luck also comes in handy.

In my case part of that luck came about as a result of giving up on finding a publisher, and part perhaps because market resistance to short stories reduced just at that time…

It all came together, appropriately enough, on a beach. I was on a hot sunny family holiday, nowhere near a computer. I don’t remember what sparked it but I was liking the holiday so much, doing absolutely nothing for hours, that I thought, ‘OK, I’ll give up writing, but first I’ll just bung a few stories in an ebook, to get them off my hard drive.’

And it was suggested by one of my companions that I run a crowdfunder to facilitate this. A word that, once explained to me, would normally have been a terrifying prospect. But while on holiday, it didn’t seem scary at all. So I agreed to do it, like accepting a dare.

When I got home I had to find out how this stuff worked. I worked with Fundit.ie If you look at my Fundit page, which has probably the worst pitch video on the entire site, shot on my mobile phone, you will notice the sea is calm in the opening pictures, taken in Spain. Later it swaps to Kinsale, and some shots taken one afternoon with my parents plus a stray dog that wanted to take me for a walk.

Try to check stats for the crowdfunding site you’re thinking of working with – also check it reaches the kind of audience you’re aiming for. Having said that I don’t know if I was all that rigorous myself, I just liked the look of Fundit. And they probably do have a fairly high success rate. Certainly they’ve a good spread of high quality projects. They even have repeat projects: Peadar O’Donoghue regularly crowdfunds issues of The Poetry Bus there.

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Fundit run a tight ship and are clear about what you need to provide to start a project. Co-founder Andrew Hetherington was patient about explaining how it worked. And maybe it helped that my goal was relatively affordable. I’ve looked at Kickstarter projects and not understood why people need the amounts they’re after, so if you need a large amount, it may help to share some budget info. Another tip is to bring your project to offline friends if you can stand the risk of doing so – they may well be just as interested as your online friends.

In practice once I’d fundraised, I was less keen on the quick ebook idea: I wanted it to be as good as I could manage, so I was quite critical about which stories to include, and revised with the help of two very good writers who also work as editors.

The crowdfunding thing really worked to motivate me – with all those people trusting me to buy an advance copy, I felt I really had to deliver, and deliver on time. So I worked like crazy. One night when up to 3am working, I did begin to wonder if I was mad to work on it that hard, given I had not budgeted to pay myself, only my design and edit team… But then, if I had not, and had not had good feedback from those who read the ebook edition, maybe the editorial team at Liberties would not have decided to take the book on and bring it to the shops.

I am really pleased they did and delighted to see the book on the shelf at the new Liberties Upstairs bookshop – which you can find at Terenure Rd, Dublin 6. The print edition of SaltWater launches at the Gutter Cows Lane on 3 April 2014.

(c) Lane Ashfeldt

SaltWater is a collection of more than a dozen short stories, set in a sweep of coastal areas around the world, from Sherkin Island in County Cork to the faraway shores of New Zealand. Taking place against a backdrop of foam and brine, of shipwrecks and storms, the stories are often inspired by real events, both contemporary and historical. Veering between family tragedy, the excitement of teen love and short, sharp observations of daily life, SaltWater brings to life the rich tapestry of the human experience. Included in this collection are several stories that have been shortlisted for or have won fiction prizes:
‘Catching the Tap-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel’ – winner of Global Short Story Prize, UK
‘Dancing on Canvey’ – winner of Fish Short Histories Prize, Ireland
‘SaltWater’ – shortlisted for HG Wells Prize, UK

Lane Ashfeldt was born in London, raised in Dublin and now lives in a small town in Wales. Ashfeldt’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies, and her stories have been performed live at festivals and events such as WordFactory, Bookstock, and the West Cork Literary Festival. Her short story ‘Pole House’ has been produced for broadcast on Radio New Zealand. Other stories by Lane Ashfeldt can also be read online at Guardian.co.uk, Southword, Identity Theory, Eyelands and The View From Here. SaltWater is her debut collection of short fiction.

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