Electric Literature’s Model May Save Short Fiction

August 23, 2010

The following is a guest post by Steve Mettee, IBPA Board of Directors Treasurer and founder of Quill Driver Books and The Write Thought. He is the author of The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal which has been adopted for use in university courses. He regularly consults on and teaches writing and publishing. Read more of Steve’s blog.

As a choice of material, short stories vie with poetry as the quickest way to drain a publisher’s bank account.
Yet, a year-old publisher of short stories, Electric Literature, may have found the magic formula.
The company’s mission “is to use new media and innovative distribution to return the short story to a place of prominence in popular culture.”
Stitched together by two writers, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum, Electric Literature is essentially a quarterly literary magazine. Each issue has five short stories by known and unknown authors.
Authors benefit too.
According to Electric Literature’s website each Electric Literature author is decently paid. This is unlike most literary magazines—some pay in copies only. Better pay should guarantee a healthier slush pile, and, theoretically, a better magazine with a larger readership.
Not unnoticed.
The pair has garnered attention from heavy hitters in the print world including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post which called Electric Literature, “A refreshingly bold act of optimism.”
Timing is everything.
The quickening of our daily lives and the proliferation of mobile devices have seemingly combined to produce a ready crop of readers for Electric Literature.
Hunter and Lindenbaum point out the short story is especially well suited to our increasingly hectic lifestyles. “A quick, satisfying read can be welcome anywhere, and while you might forget a book, you’ll always have your phone.”

Here’s their blueprint:

To publish the paperback version of Electric Literature, we use print-on-demand; the eBook, Kindle, iPhone, and audio versions are digital. This eliminates our up-front printing bill. Rather than paying $5,000 to one printer, we pay $1,000 to five writers, ensuring that our writers are paid fairly. Our anthology is available anywhere in the world, overruns aren’t pulped, and our back issues are perpetually in print.

Electric Literature may be leading the pack among literary magazines, but it isn’t the only, or even the first, publisher to use the POD/digital formula exclusively—today publishers of every ilk do, and it’s a model I’m sure we’ll see more of.

Just a write thought.

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