One of the many things that two years’ writing on Medium and Substack has gifted me as a writer is a delight in illustrating my stories.
My main interest is adult fiction (interspersed with quasi-factual meanderings like this one). In this field, the word is deemed sufficient. Illustrated stories are for kids — or for magazines. That’s the received wisdom, whether or not we choose to thumb our noses at it.
A lot of it was once simple economics, not any superiority of the printed word over the printed image. Until quite recently, illustrations used to be prohibitively costly to integrate with text. ‘Plates’ were literally etched plates. Full colour required four separate plates, four passes through the printing press, four times the expense of black-and-white. Even black-and-white photos needed to be printed on expensive coated paper and bound in discrete sections (signatures) of the book.
Digital printing technology has freed a lot of that up, but illustrations still add to cost, and fiction readers expect cheap books. Hardly any of the hundreds of novels on my shelves have illustrations integrated with the text.
So — publishing illustrated stories on Medium and Substack is a unique opportunity that I make the most of … in the certain knowledge that none of my illustrations will make it into the print editions I have planned for the last quarter of this year.
I enjoy the promotional aspect of writing, mostly. Whether it’s scheduling newsletters for my Substack, updating my website and blog or making little videos for Tiktok, I experiment boldly and gladly. I accept defeat philosophically, dust myself off and try something else.
Sometimes, though, the sheer unrelenting effort of getting folk to clap eyes on my stories gets me down.
Today is one of those days.
Many people who read this will be in that same crowded little boat. In online writers’ groups, whether on Medium, in Twitter’s writing community, on Substack or on Booktok, we’re mostly promoting our writing to a supportive but time-poor crew of fellow writers. Each with a long To Be Read list already.
Out there, somewhere, amorphous and shifting like fog on the horizon, is the Greater Reading Public. It seems a wide gulf between us.
Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me. I am, after all, British by birth, and my natural inclination is to mumble disparagingly about my accomplishments.
‘I … err … write the odd short story from time to time … Nothing much, and you probably wouldn’t be interested … but if one day you don’t have anything better to do, then maybe … ?’
This is a recipe for not getting read until I am dead. In my obituary I will be hailed as a literary genius and riches will be showered on my bemused heirs. Heirs, I might add, who never showed the faintest interest in a darned thing I wrote …
Meanwhile, in the real world: I’m not a literary genius, but I am a half-decent teller of short stories (laying British modesty aside), and it is something that I enjoy doing.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy it more, though, if someone actually reads my stuff. If they’re not my wife or my mum and I haven’t had to employ emotional blackmail – bonus points!
My output of stories has been prolific over the past months. Clearly, a world-record series of lockdowns here in Victoria has been good for something!
However, ‘Write it and they will come’ isn’t proving to be a sensible way of getting my writing to readers.
I ruefully recognise that I only started reading some of my favourite contemporary authors after an obituary in the media. That’s a little long-term for this writer. I’d rather be read alive than dead.
Writing fiction is my favourite creative outlet right now. Although I’ve been a professional writer for many years, I’ve only recently started writing stories for my own and others’ entertainment. I wish I’d started sooner, because it’s a lot of fun!
I’m even kicking around the idea of getting together a collection of short stories for formal publication as an anthology. It will have to wait until I’m less busy with the ‘day job’, so probably next year, but it’s something I’d love to do.
I’m slightly daunted by the inevitable but complex question: to self-publish or to seek an agent and a conventional publisher?
In the meantime, while I’m figuring this out, you can find a selection of my stories for free, here on this site. Please have a read and leave a comment.
How well does the platform perform for fiction writers?
I started publishing stories on Medium back in February of this year. So far, I’m pleased with my time as a Medium writer. I thought it was time to reflect on some of my experiences. If you’re considering publishing your work on Medium, you may find these observations useful.
I see myself primarily as a writer of prose fiction, with occasional memoirs and essays thrown into the mix. I’m a minority writer on Medium, therefore, and inevitably limiting my readership.
Readership is heavily genre-dependent
Factual pieces seem to get the most traffic. If you write how-to articles about starting a business or making money, opinion pieces about feminism or sexuality, commentary on current affairs, you’ll be tapping into Medium’s core readership and, with persistently good writing, could build a steady following.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, ‘An Odd Sort of a Job’, I write fiction as part of my work as an educational writer. It’s mostly basic stuff: little stories and dialogues, as a vehicle for teaching English or German.
It follows that I’m not inhibited about sharing my creative writing or getting short imaginative pieces published. Still, writing a novel, a novella or even a substantial short story is, as they say, a different kettle of fish.
Over the years, I’ve had a few goes at writing a novel, and I don’t think any of them have got past a single chapter. Probably just as well: they would have been desperately dull.
You see, I was following the standard advice about planning a novel. You’ve read the kind of thing:
First, decide what story you want to tell. Next, envisage your reader … Write a short synopsis / cover blurb … List your major and minor characters … Do background research … Structure your story … Write a chapter plan … etc etc etc
That might work for some writers, but it sure as hell wasn’t working for me.
Here’s my alternative recipe. It seems to be working out (early days!) – maybe you’ll find it helpful too?
It has been another busy couple of months for me on Medium. I’m continuing to learn a lot, engaging with other writers, exploring links with publications and pushing my creative writing in different directions. Here’s a little glimpse of what I’ve been up to.
Music has been a big part of my life for the last six years. It has been a wild and bumpy ride – and not just for me.
Writing for fun may seem a ‘busman’s holiday’ for a professional writer. In fact, I’m finding it refreshing – and educational. Which may be ironic, as I’m an educational writer.
In my ‘day job’, I write English coursebooks for 14–19-year-old Austrians and Germans. These are bright kids, interested in the world, and creating content for them gives me occasional scope for literary self-expression. More often it allows me to explore ideas in an essayistic (if that’s even a word) or journalistic manner.