Most of us, by now, have a shiny device in our pockets that we use to make calls, send texts and check our Facebook and Twitter every five minutes. Did you know that this small device could also be a portable library of short stories that you can tailor to your tastes (and you never have to worry about overdue fines)? As with most questions and problems facing the modern consumer, the answer is, invariably, ‘there is an app for that’. Well, several apps to be precise.
Short story apps present an opportunity for both writers and readers. For writers, they are a cost effective way to distribute to and connect with an audience. For readers, it is the opportunity to discover favourites, old and new, while on the move and completely integrate reading into your day. Penguin Shorts clearly show that larger publishers are recognising the revival of the short story genre, with Apps such as Opuss and Ether Books offering an opportunity for new writers to benefit too.
Penguin Shorts are designed to fill a gap in both the market and in our reading time. Since 1935 when Allen Lane, the director of The Bodley Head, saw the ‘potential of good quality contemporary fiction made available at an attractive price’, not just in traditional bookshops, but also in stations, tobacconists and chain stores, and developed Penguin paperbacks, Penguin has aimed to produce affordable, quality books for the mass market. The Shorts range is no exception.
Each short story is available exclusively in digital form; be that as an eBook for your digital reader or downloadable to your mobile device. The main selling point of Penguin Shorts is not the exclusivity of the format but of their content. Penguin Shorts are written by some of today’s best and most exciting authors; such as Colm Tóibín, Toby Young and Anita Brookner and are only available through Penguin Shorts.
Penguin Shorts are easily available through the Kindle Store, iTunes and Kobo and cost £1.99. They are written to be consumed on the move and integrated into your day. If you have an idle fifteen minutes on your commute, a Penguin Short will fill that gap. If you are at the school gates waiting for the bell to ring, Penguin Shorts will provide the calm before the storm. While the short story has continually flourished in the U.S., in the UK and Ireland they have become more difficult to market. Penguin Shorts and initiatives like it are the way in which the short story can be re-integrated to our reading routine.
Opuss offers another opportunity to access short stories but where Penguin Shorts are aimed entirely at the reader, Opuss is aimed at the emerging and tentative writer. It is a community for both the writer and the reader, offering short stories, blogs, poems, jokes, recipes and general chat with other Opuss users. It seeks to offer an integrated writing and social media system. Not only can you interact with other writers but your work is open to constructive critique from fellow users, Opuss puts heavy emphasis on the community aspect of ‘writing community’. The app allows you to follow the progress on any writing you have commented on.
Like all social media sites and apps, Opuss allows you to create a detailed profile when you sign up. You will not be an anonymous username to readers and commentators (unless you want to be). With Opuss you can search for content by topic, which means that readers can get instant access to the writers and genres that appeal to them, meaning that you can develop a following or publish into a market in which you are already established.
By focusing on the community aspects of writing, Opuss is tool for developing your writing craft rather than as a means to get your work published. It is free to download and there is no limit on the number of articles you can upload. It is also networking tool; by allowing users to comment on each other’s work it also allows them to establish connections. In many ways it incorporates the advantages of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook without trying to be an application that would supersede the social media stalwarts.
Ether Books is another app aimed at the mobile reader market. The app is aimed at providing content rather than generating it, as is the case with Opuss. While Opuss is aimed at an interchangeable reader/writer community, Ether Books accept short stories, poetry, essays and periodicals; anything that can be described as ‘Byte-sized reading’ by writers for their readers. Unlike Opuss, in which members are free to publish any content they write, Ether has a strict vetting & editorial process that all submitted work must pass.
For writers, there are two membership options; Bronze and Silver. Bronze membership is free and entitles you to five submissions and feedback within 90 days. Silver membership allows you ten submissions with feedback on your work within two weeks at a cost of £25. Downloads cost between £0.69 and £1.49 and each writer gets a 20% royalty fee from every download of their work. While Opuss has focused on ensuring that community and social media integration are central to their app, Ether’s focus has been on quality so that there is a level of prestige to having your work published by Ether Books.
Both Opuss and Ether offer a chance of publication to new writers, giving it momentum and attention. Last month, we interviewed Leigh Fallon who uploaded her manuscript for The Carrier of the Mark to ‘Inkpop’ and watched it surge into the sites top five. From there, she was signed to HarperCollins Teen and The Carrier of the Mark has since gone on to be an international best-seller, with parts two and three of the trilogy to follow.
The short story is slowly making its way back to the reading market’s consideration. Both Opuss and Ether Books have shown that there are now alternatives means for the writer to enter the market. I am currently reading George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. Each book is engrossing but you need to set aside at least an hour at a time when reading it. For the reader, short stories offer byte-sized escapism, when time is not on your side. For the writer, these new ways to distribute and consume short stories make the reading audience more accessible than ever.