article and interview by Kathy Halliday (Founder & Prose Editor)
With a name like Little Fiction, you might expect something cute and adorable – perhaps a small press tucked away in a cupboard under the stairs, printing stories about unfortunate looking ducklings. Yet in reality, it is something altogether more innovative that embraces the advances in media, defining the future of digital publishing in a big way. At Little Fiction, the short story format is relished and made available to download in a variety of formats, so fiction can be easily accessed and read anywhere at any time by anyone – and it’s all for free.
Troy Palmer is the Editor and Creative Director of Little Fiction. When he’s not reading submissions, designing covers or getting stories ready for publication, he can be found writing, walking too fast or thinking there’s more he needs to be doing. He currently lives and rarely sleeps in Toronto.
We got in touch with Troy recently to find out more about the world of online publication, and what he has in store for Little Fiction readers in the coming months:
How did you arrive at the concept for LF, and how long was it before you launched the site?
I had always wanted to start my own indie press, but it was one of those things where the timing never matched up with the ideas. Then as I began doing more reading on my iPhone, I started thinking maybe this was something I could do. The more I researched it, the more I found articles making a case for short stories in the digital age. Then it was a lot of looking into who was already doing it, how they were doing and what I could bring to the table that was maybe a little different. It probably took me about a year to a year and a half to bring it from idea to launch.
With 43 individually published short stories and 3 collections in the space of just over a year, LF is evidently very popular and a prime example of successful digital publishing. Did you expect such a positive response when you started out?
Not at all. I think I caught a bit of attention once I revealed the covers for the first stories, but it took a little while to get going. Getting a great story from Shawn Syms (The Exchange) and then awesome one from Andrew F. Sullivan (Bright Outside) after I launched the site… that was huge. To have two really talented writers who were able to see something in Little Fiction so early on feels invaluable now, looking back.
The short stories create an eclectic mix, though are somewhat dark in tone. Would you say you’re more drawn to unnerving, conceptual pieces? Or does a cute story about a box of kittens have just as much appeal?
I think you need tension in a story for it to hold any kind of interest. Conflict and character are the two things that really draw me to any piece of writing. And I like work that challenges the reader a bit — takes them out of their comfort zone. Those are the stories that — to me — are most likely to stick with you. In regards to the dark tone of some of the work, I try to balance it out as much as I can with stories that aren’t as dark or that have a bit of levity. I think in the end though, the best stories are like the best songs — they should all break your heart just a little.
How do you feel the realm of digital publishing effects readership, and what do you think the future holds for online publication?
It’s tricky. More people are moving towards reading on their tablets and eReaders — and it makes sense when you think you can have an entire library in your hand. But lovers of books will always want books. I think what we’ll eventually see is a sort of dissolution of the paperback — not completely, but we’ll one day see the end of the hardcover to paperback chain of events. But there are still too many issues for digital publishing right now, with pricing, DRM, and the lack of a standardized format. I think until the industry can get it together on those major issues, they simply won’t get the readership. As for how that relates to journals and lit mags — I think online / digital publishing makes complete sense for them. It’s easier for people to read shorter formats in a digital manner, overhead is low, and you’re not living and dying by antiquated subscription model. I know there are journals and publishers that keep trying to bring subscriptions to the digital realm, but I’m not convinced that it’s a viable revenue stream. Most readers of lit mags and indie presses (including Little Fiction’s readers) are writers themselves and while they’re happy to pay for the works they love, they can’t subscribe to every journal that wants them to part with their money.
One of the most attractive features of LF is no doubt the custom, minimalist covers published with each story. Tell us a little (no pun intended) about the site’s design?
Thanks. The design and look and feel of Little Fiction is where it all began. The only reason I’d stop short of saying that the design is everything, is that we’ve been fortunate to publish stories of what I think are exceptional quality. But the design is really how I intended to set Little Fiction apart from other digital singles publishers and online journals. And since I’m not a true designer, I needed to find a format that I could work within — finding the Noun Project and seeing some of the work they were inspiring in other designers was a bit of a light bulb moment for me and ultimately led to the Little Fiction design. There was also a lot of exploration in finding the right typefaces and with formatting the stories (all of which are PDFs, simply because I’m not a fan how the type looks in the ePub / eBook format).
What’s the next big step for LF? Do you anticipate moving to print in the future?
We have something big coming up later in the year — expect an announcement around September or October. But I won’t say what it is just yet. As for print, I would love to do some printed pieces — either as Little Fiction or as a true indie press. I feel like I’m constantly thinking about and researching such a move, but I’m not there yet. The one thing I do know is that I don’t want it to be just a one-off Kickstarter type thing. If / when I make the move to print, I’m making the move to print. All in. But I will always maintain some type of free digital content — I think that’s essential when it comes to getting out the work of emerging writers.
Claire and A Catalogue of Future Wars aside, are you currently working on any personal writing projects?
I have a few short stories on the go — some first drafts done — but finding the time to finish them is a little harder to come by these days. I’d like to put a collection together eventually, and I’m also working on a novel. Slowly but surely. I feel like I spend most of my time these days on the editing and designing side of things.
How do you divide your time effectively between work, home life, LF and of course your own writing?
It’s not always easy. There are certainly sacrifices but the first stuff to go was the easiest — I just started watching less TV and playing less video games. I still make time for family because without them, the rest doesn’t matter as much. As for full-time work, I went freelance shortly before starting Little Fiction and it’s really allowed me to own my time.
As LF approaches its second year anniversary, what is the most important thing you have learnt during your time running the site?
I’ve learned a number of things. Hard to say which is most important. I try not to put Little Fiction ahead of the writers or their work. That’s more difficult than it probably sounds, because as the audience grows and as I want it to continue to grow, I find myself having to make decisions about how aggressively I want to build things versus how organically. So far I haven’t forced much of Little Fiction’s growth and that tells me the strength of the site is in the work we publish. The more successful Little Fiction becomes, the more I feel I need to remind myself of that.
Related to that, there’s something I came across recently from Gary Vaynerchuk that struck a chord with me, and it’s about monetizing. I’ve always had an open mind to how I’ll eventually approach that, and it’s one of those things people are always asking me about. How am I going to make money from Little Fiction? What I read from Gary V. was along the lines of being patient, because once you begin to focus on monetizing what you offer, you’ll inherently focus less on your content and building your community. I fully believe that and I don’t feel I’m there yet with Little Fiction. I want my focus at this point to still be on our content and our community. So maybe what I’ve learned is to give patience its due. I hope that answers that question.
Finally, what is the best piece of advice you can offer to amateur creative writers/editors/publishers (like our team here at The City Fox) who are thinking about launching their own site?
I don’t think I have a single best piece, but here’s a bunch of stuff that I think is pretty important:
- Be yourself. Carry out things in a way that you would want a lit mag or an editor to deal with you. Every interaction you have with a fan of your work, whether you’re a publisher, editor or writer, is an opportunity. So always be genuine. It goes way further than you think it does.
- Get on Twitter. There are several communities of writers all over Twitter and they’re all supportive of each other’s work. I know the tweeting thing isn’t for everyone, but I can’t imagine growing Little Fiction without it.
- Have a decent looking, well-organized site. There is zero excuse not to have a visually appealing site in 2013, not with free services like Tumblr and WordPress. Yet I see so many lit mags and journals putting little effort into how their stuff looks online. And it doesn’t matter how great your content is; if people don’t enjoy the experience, they’ll leave. Think of it this way: you’re not just vying for attention against other literary sites — you’re competing with every single site that your readers are drawn to. A nice visual aesthetic will give them a reason to stay. Your content will give them a reason to come back.
- Say yes to things as often as you can. You never know where ideas and opportunities will come from. And be adaptable.
- And a piece of advice I picked up at AWP earlier this year — it was either from someone at Electric Lit or 826 National who said something along the lines of “if you think you’re the first to do something, you should probably do it.” I couldn’t agree more.
The future of digital publishing is imminent, and there are now a multitude of ways in which content can be published. There are small presses and literary e-zines emerging each day, providing new platforms for the next generation of tech savvy writers. And as Little Fiction shows, now is a time of great change in the way we access our fiction which, for the short and flash fiction format at least, is monumental. Writers will write as long as there are stories to be told and a place for them to call home.
Many thanks to Troy Palmer for taking the time to provide such detailed and insightful answers.
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