What is a book these days? In a bookshop they’re objects, ‘of a certain girth…[with] a spine of a certain depth,’ says Meredith Curnow, Publisher at Random House. E-books have no such limitations and this has opened opportunity for writers to publish small pieces with big houses. Curnow is the publisher of Storycuts, Random House’s short-form e-book collection (‘short’ as it is relative to a book). It’s a collection that began with stand-alone extracts from the publisher’s backlist but soon evolved to include short stories and more recently, essays. Some Storycuts have bonus material (such the opening chapter from a writer’s new novel). Others stand alone. The non-fiction collection of Storycuts in Australia has only just started. It has published work by luminaries such as Don Watson. But while big names are included in the collection, having one isn’t a necessary requirement.
‘We are always looking for new writers,’ says Curnow, who would love more time ‘to be out there’ finding new talent. ‘I think the short form is a great way of breaking in,’ she says. Curnow uses pieces like those in Quarterly Essay (about 10,000 words) as a possible example of what she might publish. But modelling on a format or word-count is less important to her than the quality of the writing. ‘I’m really open to anything that is well written and [has] something to say,’ she says.
Storycuts is one example where new media has extended (rather than reduced) publishing opportunities for long form non-fiction writers. But while Curnow is genuine in her appeal for new writers to submit to Storycuts, she is equally straight about the business reality.
‘I’ll be honest and tell you that Storycuts has not … set the world on fire. Sales vary greatly,’ she says. This probably means that new writers are statistically less likely to garner an income from publishing in Storycuts. If money is your driver, this collection may not be for you. But if you’re a writer who wants the validation of a well-connected editor, and can see benefits from the statement, I have been published by Random House, then you ought to make contact with Curnow (or submit your piece directly to her).
Although Storycuts is still finding its gravitational core sales-wise, there is a long-term vision. It is to be a collection for discerning readers with time-limited windows. Someone at a bus stop, for example, can go to Storycuts to find a quality read that will to take them to their destination.
Such is the opportunity for long form non-fiction that new media brings to readers. ‘I think it’s got a huge future… There are always good, strong non-fiction titles out there,’ Curnow says. She thinks people will always want to read non-fiction, ‘but how we can make it pay is a whole other story.’ Long form non-fiction takes time and, ‘to be able to really immerse yourself in an issue – it’s a luxury,’ says Curnow.
As we all well know, writers and editors are yet to nail the perfect business model in the new media galaxy, but I believe that opportunities like Storycuts at Random House are going in the right direction.
You can submit your best long form non-fiction work directly to Meredith Curnow at Random House (Sydney). Meanwhile I’ll stay on the hunt for more publishing opportunities for you.
Note: Publishing with a company like Random House will involve contracts (which Curnow warns, can be longer than the piece being published). Writers: always take care with contracts and seek legal advice before signing them.