E-sun shines on short-form writers

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The rise of ebooks is injecting new life into a couple of story-telling formats that have been languishing on the fringes of literature for decades.

Amazon reported last month that it has sold more than two million Kindle Singles since it launched the service in January 2011.

These mini-ebooks, which typically run between 5,000 and 30,000 words, have breathed life into the kind of works that are virtually unsaleable in contemporary print markets – those that are too short to be real books and too long for a standard magazine article.

The cover prices are low – from $1 to $5 – but several writers have already managed to parlay the platform into substantial returns, a task made much easier by Amazon’s generous royalty rate.

Even established writers are being encouraged to dip their toes in the short-form waters. Right now, for instance, Ontario author Margaret Atwood is sitting at number 2 position on the Kindle Singles list with her 42-page story, I’m Starved for You.

The good news for writers is that publishers are, for the first time in years, offering these shorter works to the general public. They are putting them in their digital shop windows. People are looking. People are buying. Readers are reading.

The even better news is that Amazon is not alone in embracing the shorter form. Other publishers are starting to break into the market with their own short-form offerings.

There is Byliner, for instance, which specializes in “single sitting” stories (and also features Atwood’s I’m Starved for You). It offers curated archives for its members, in addition to a slate of original commissioned work.

And for non-fiction fans, The Atavist publishes nonfiction stories for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook. The Atavist’s specialty is long-form journalism, a kind of reportage that had, only recently, seemed destined for extinction.

It’s still early days, of course, but there is definitely a sense of excitement around the shorter-form digital format. The potential is there for shorter-form works to break into mainstream reading.

The day may come when short-story writers can climb out of their basements, dusty manuscripts in hand, and emerge into a sunlit landscape where they can actually sell their “cracking good yarns” to members of the general public. For real money. At last.

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New sci-fi mag hits e-shelves

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New Scientist has launched a new digital sci-fi publication. Arc, a “magazine about the future,” hit the e-stands in late last month.

The first edition features new fiction from Ontario’s Margaret Atwood. “Bearlift” is described as “an eerie exploration of the near future” drawn from a yet-to-be-published novel. Maddaddam, the third book in a set that began with Oryx and Crake, is scheduled for release next year.

Unfortunately for eager sci-fi writers, the new magazine does not take submissions. It says it decides what it wants to do with its four yearly editions, then selects and hires writers on commission to produce the material.

It has, however, also launched a writing competition in conjunction with Intel’s Tomorrow Project.

Entries should be new, original stories of between 3,000 and 5,000 words set in the near future. Although technology should be prominent, a compelling human element is also important. Arc’s editors strongly suggest writers read Issue 1.1 to get a feel for the current theme, The Future Always Wins.

Deadline for the first competition is one minute to midnight on April 8.

Editors will select one story for publication in the next Arc, which is due out in May. The winner will also receive £500, with each of five short-listed stories scoring a £200 payday. For further details, please read the terms and conditions on Arc’s website.