What’s happened to my “Short Fiction on Medium” newsletter?
Google+ goes the way of fax machines … and email newsletters
I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t sent out an issue of my newsletter “Recommended Short Fiction on Medium” since the end of August. I hadn’t meant to let is slide like that but my attention has been all over the place recently.
I was never fully committed to the idea of an email newsletter/mailing list. As I was setting up “Short fiction on Medium” on Tinyletter, I tweeted that I couldn’t believe I was starting a mailing list: it seemed a bit like buying a fax machine in 2017. That’s why, from the start, I posted each issue on Google+ as well as sending it out by email. And, in fact, the posts found many more readers (or at least skimmers) on Google+ than they did on the mailing list.
A mind-boggling 24 people subscribed to the mailing list at its high point whereas the Google+ collection has 122 followers. One of the Google+ posts was seen by over 3,000 people and a few others had more than 1,500 “views” each. While nobody’s going to catch a virus from those numbers, it’s clear that the newsletter was reaching substantially more people on Google+ than it was on the mailing list.
Yet I was never really satisfied with the way the newsletter appeared on Google+. I’d recommend three stories in each issue, so there were always at least 3 hypertext links. Now, while it’s certainly possible to include several links in a Google+ post, one of those links (the one in the link preview at the bottom of the post) will be much more prominent than the others and will attract most of the clicks. This seemed unfair to the authors of the other two recommended stories. Also, the links to those two stories would appear as raw URLs rather than as true hyperlinks, which irritated me.
Google’s announcement about the end of Google+ brought it home to me how ambivalent I’d been about the platform, and led me to reexamine what I’d been hoping to achieve with the newsletter. Broadly speaking, I wanted to help to promote the perception of Medium as somewhere readers could go to read quality short fiction. That was a self-interested aim, of course, as I wanted to publish my own short fiction there too. Over the newsletter’s life, many other writers and publications have been doing an superb job of making fiction more visible on Medium. Some of these publications that I’ve relied on heavily in finding stories to recommend are Lit Up, The Junction, P.S. I Love You and The Weekly Knob. I’ll be putting together a list of resources for people who want to find excellent fiction on Medium, and it will include all of these publications and more.
But for myself, I think I want to switch my attention away from writing fiction for at least a year. After I finally submitted my doctoral thesis in 2012, I spent more than a year working on an article/essay which would say the most important things I’d been meaning to say about the thesis’s subject, Andrew Marvell. I finished that essay early in 2014 and submitted it to Essays in Criticism, who eventually published it in the spring of 2016 (sorry, paywall). In the meantime, I’d spent most of 2014 and 2015 completing a first draft of, and then revising, a novel-length piece of crime fiction that I’d put aside in 2010, when I came under pressure from the university to finish my thesis. That crime novel is now here on Medium: it’s called A Falling Body. Having finished it, I continued to post short fiction on Medium, including most recently the first four parts of a novella, Dear Old Stockholm.
And I have to admit that my recent fiction, including the novella, is a bit lacklustre. I need to give it more time to simmer on a low heat. The ideas are (in my own subjective judgment) perfectly OK but the execution seems tired and forced. I’ll post the remaining parts of the novella on Medium for now, but I don’t consider it a finished work. I’ll come back to it, probably, but not soon. In short, over the past nine years or so, I’ve been alternating at longish intervals between Marvell and my attempts at fiction. The time has come to go back to Marvell for an extended period.
Back in June, Paul Lynch, author of the acclaimed historical novel Grace, was indirectly quoted as having said “it is often the books you don’t want to write, or are afraid of writing, that are the books you have to write.” That insight didn’t immediately make an impression on me but when it was picked up and repeated by blogger Tara Sparling I paid a bit more attention. Maybe the reason the fiction I’d been writing lacked urgency or any compelling reason to exist was that I’d been using it as a distraction from the writing I should be doing. That was where the real urgency was to be found.
When I finished my thesis, my intention had been eventually to rewrite it as a book suitable for publication by an academic press. That would be the path to follow if I had been pursuing a university career but I was already too old to be seriously looking for academic work. It took a while for me to see that it made little sense to pursue academic publication but eventually I conceded that it would be more useful and satisfying—if immeasurably more difficult—to rework the thesis as literary criticism accessible to a more general readership. The resulting work would be only two-thirds the length of the thesis but much of it would have to be rewritten from scratch.
Thanks for reading, and apologies for the abrupt termination of the newsletter. I’m sure you’ll continue to find excellent short fiction on Medium.