literature & technology: alfie dog fiction
In this week’s column, I’m looking at a new publishing platform which emerged from the digital book boom. There is no question that the boom has brought about a plethora of new digital publishers and new self-publishing opportunities. However, short story download site Alfie Dog Fiction, launched in May this year, are doing things a little differently. The site is dedicated entirely to short story downloads, for which readers pay a small fee (UK 39p per download). With a thorough submission and rigorous editing process and several different formats available for download, Alfie Dog Fiction is all about quality short stories and providing writers with an opportunity to earn money from their writing.
I was lucky enough to interview the founder and editor of Alfie Dog Fiction, Rosemary J. Kind.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have written for most of my life since being able to hold a pencil. I was starting school newspapers by the time I was 11 and writing for a local newspaper with a circulation of over 100,000 copies per day by the time I was 16. I went on to gain a law degree and qualify as a Chartered Accountant before going back to work in media in finance, IT and consultancy, with odd bits of writing thrown in for good measure. I then spent five years as Finance and IT Director of a national law firm, writing in my spare time, before saying ‘enough is enough’ and giving it all up to write full time.
I write both fiction and non-fiction with books as exciting as ‘Negotiation Skills for Lawyers’ to my name. My passion is fiction and I write books, short stories and poetry – or at least I did until I put all my time into Alfie Dog Fiction!
My hobby is developing the Entlebucher Mountain Dog breed in the UK and Alfie is my beloved first Entlebucher. He led the way by starting his blog six years ago and has written it every day bar one, when I was in hospital and he didn’t have access to the passwords. He is my muse, my soul mate and my inspiration and is a fitting patron for the company.
Sum up Alfie Dog Fiction in 2 sentences.
Alfie Dog Fiction is the best site for downloading short stories. We take your imagination for a walk.
What was the inspiration behind Alfie Dog Fiction?
I had a vision of a site doing for short stories what the Apple iStore and similar outlets have done for music downloads. I wanted it to be focused, simple and clear for the reader while earning money for struggling writers. Too many places ask creative artists to give their work away for free. Artists in all creative disciplines are told it will bring them much needed exposure and be good for their careers. That can be the case, but what it doesn’t do is put food on the table and give them the opportunity to write for a living. I wanted to shout out to writers that their work has a value and for readers be able to say, ‘Look how much you can buy for such a modest sum.’ 39 pence to buy transportation to another world is a small price in anybody’s book.
Why have you decided to focus on publishing short stories, as opposed to poetry or other genres?
Over the years I have been writing I have watched one after another short story market drying up. As with many writers I also have stories that have been published previously but which are still as good as they were then and which deserve another airing. I also thought about what I could bring to the operation and where my main skills lie. I do write poetry and books as well as short stories, but I felt that I could bring unique skills to short story publishing that would add real value to the exercise for both readers and authors.
What has the response been from readers and writers so far?
I have been overwhelmed by the wonderful response from writers. I was particularly humbled by those who put their faith in the venture before we got off the ground. For launch my target was to have at least 100 stories from at least 25 authors. We actually started with about 175 stories from over 50 authors covering every inhabited continent on the globe. In just two months from launch we have accepted over 400 stories from over 100 authors. That gives us a very impressive range to choose from and strength in depth across all the genres we carry.
The relationship with readers is newer, but is proving just as exciting. Initially the readers seemed to be friends and family of the authors, but over time the profile has changed and we have started to get readers who are sampling a range of different authors to find which they like. Where we have had feedback, we have had some very satisfied customers.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in setting up Alfie Dog Fiction?
Only having 24 hours in a day has been a real hurdle. I want to offer a very high level of service to both writers and readers. I know what it feels like to have a submissions worksheet that has items outstanding for months or which never receive a reply. I have set myself a service level that I am determined to adhere to and that means working very hard. I also want a site that is easy to use for the readers. Setting up a new business takes a lot of work and sometimes you find that decisions you made at the outset need to be refined, in some instances that has meant redoing work I had already done. As things have started to come together the biggest challenge is getting the message out to readers that we are here and we have many amazing stories to choose from.
Do you think the written word is still valued as much as it used to be, considering the amount of words and information available for free on the internet?
I think that people are going through a learning curve. There will always be those who believe anything and everything they read and who find difficulty discerning what is of value. Fortunately most people are learning how to sift the information they find, cross check its validity and only give weight to information that can be supported. The written word is as powerful now as it was when the tablets were brought down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments recorded for posterity.
What role has social media played in spreading the word about the site?
Social Media is incredible. It is a very powerful tool and one that we are only at the tip of developing. It brings into focus the saying that you are only ever at most six connections away from another human being on the planet. As we start linking to connections of our connections it is possible to get our message out across all points of the compass in a very effective way.
Have you also used non-electronic marketing strategies, despite the fact the short stories are published as digital downloads?
Yes, we want to spread the word as widely as possible. We undertook a major campaign to get the launch message out across the world through local press and magazines, with pleasing results. As and when we can we will continue to use these methods. It was also a great platform for some of our writers to obtain coverage for their work more generally and there were a number of author interviews by local press.
Do you have any plans to offer paperback collections of the stories published by Alfie Dog Fiction?
Ideally yes. However, we are determined that whatever we do we will bring excellence to. We need to be satisfied that we have the electronic publication running smoothly and sustainably before we take on other projects which would inevitably stretch resources.
Do you believe that the internet and the recent boom in ebooks is a positive thing for writers?
I don’t think there is a simple answer to that. I think it means that every writer can fulfil part of their dream to see their book in print, but it doesn’t guarantee readers. A book still needs to be of a good quality so that the reader can feel rewarded for their time and trouble in reading. If they are faced with poorly laid out work, unedited and with plot holes and mistakes they are going to lose faith in books which, whether electronic or paper, are not backed by the respected publishers. I think writers should tread carefully and be ready to acknowledge which aspects they need help with. There are many ways that they can fill the holes in their own skill set, which don’t have to cost a fortune.
Where do you see the future of books and writing heading?
I think there is a place for paper books and electronic readers. I would never be without either. I will always love the feel and smell of paper, but there is a convenience to an e-reader that makes it indispensable. While there are good stories there will be people who read them, enjoying the escape into another world. This is a world which, unlike television or film, engages their own imagination to create the scenery and flesh out the characters.
(Image courtesy of Red Jester Photography)