photo © Don Harder, 2015
Cut a Long Story (CUT) is a new e-publishing social network initiative,
developed by writers for writers.
by Neil Hargreaves
The story of CUT began nearly four years ago. In fact, the idea originated from a discussion that took place in London one Friday in November 2011, while waiting for the Leonardo Exhibition to open at the National Gallery. It was based on two observations.
The first observation was how disheartening it was to watch a close friend – a UEA graduate writer who was ‘honing his skills’ in short story writing – experiencing frustration and shunning what he saw (and still sees) as the rat-race of traditional publishing.
The second observation was of the growth forecasts for e-books, predicted on the back of the increase in the numbers of digital reading devices, following the recent arrival of the ubiquitous iPhone and Kindle. This led to the realisation that digital reading combined with the tendency of modern society to read in short bursts (the sound-bite culture) creates a reading environment particularly well-suited to the short story format.
We fundamentally believed that, in a digital world, it should be possible to create the technology that could present the short story in a professional, aesthetically pleasing fashion – recognising its status as a crafted piece of creative writing, whether or not it is part of a larger anthology. And at the heart of that philosophy was a belief that writers should be given more ‘voice’; they should have a mechanism, a platform, in the new digital age, to get their work free-to-market. This would allow readers to see all quality creative work, not just that deemed by publishers to ‘carry lower risk’.
From the inception of CUT, we had a clear objective to set a global quality standard for how a writer’s creative work should be digitally formatted and how the e-book should be presented.
We also held several beliefs: the writer should be able to make money from every sale of an e-book, with the ability to set, and change, the selling price themselves; submission for publication should be a simple, trouble-free process for the writer; the digital e-book files should work on all digital reading devices; the technology should enable a ‘free-to-publish’ service for quality contemporary writing. And, most importantly, we believed that CUT should be writer-centric, partnering with the writer on a shared 50/50 ‘fair deal’ basis, with CUT carrying the burden of e-book publication and online marketing.
Following the initial idea of CUT came the daunting tasks of actually creating the platform. At the time, we didn’t realise that it would take over three years to develop the (patent applied) technology essential to making CUT work.
The team of experts we gathered together came with diverse skills: writers, software programmers, strategists, online marketing experts, and experienced project managers. From a chance introduction, Dr Paul Munden of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), became a core team member and, through his relationships, close to one hundred writers kindly agreed to provide examples of their short-form writing for beta testing the CUT technology.
Paul was also key to developing the CUT584 StyleMaker – a unique standard for digitally formatting a short story e-book, while keeping the writer’s creative requirements in the ultimate delivery. Much of our time was spent on developing processes like this. We have technology that allows writers to update the work and their credentials at any time; each e-book is sold with the buyer’s contact details, dissuading illegal file sharing and protecting the writer’s intellectual copyright. The combination of these innovative and highly efficient processes effectively means that we can publish a beautiful e-book without making any charge.
We launched in November 2014, almost exactly three years (and over ten thousand work hours) after the queue for the National Gallery! We have been truly overwhelmed by the positive feedback from many of the two hundred and fifty-plus writers who have become members. And, in just over six months, we have published over three hundred and fifty e-books.
The next task is to begin promoting the stories globally, with the help of online marketing agency Sleeping Giant Media. We’re also currently planning a series of seminars to help writers improve their use of social media tools when connecting with readers. The first of these is scheduled to be held at the annual NAWE conference, in November this year.
In the meantime, if you wish to become a writer member of CUT, or just learn more about the project, visit www.cutalongstory.com
Neil Hargreaves is a co-founding director of Cut a Long Story. You can find CUT on Facebook and Twitter @cutalongstory.