Getting the written word out

Clark County siblings start website that bypasses literary agents to link short-story submissions to the public

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Tired of submitting her young-adult fiction to literary agents only to be rejected, Battle Ground’s Ginille Forest decided to take matters into her own hands.

The Clark College student and her brother, Vancouver systems administrator Justin Hayden, collaborated on Read the Shorts, a website that aims to connect aspiring authors with an audience (http://www.readtheshorts.com).

“It’s discouraging getting rejection letter after rejection letter,” said Forest, 30. “You kind of want to give up. But just because you’re not published doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer.”

Forest and 28-year-old Hayden officially launched the site at the beginning of March, but the idea has been in the works for some time.

Several years ago, Forest took a fiction-writing class at Clark in which she would write short stories and share them with peers for feedback.

Because writing can be isolating, Forest said she wanted to create a virtual environment in which writers could come together and experience the cooperative, supportive environment she enjoyed in her class.

Payment for work

In addition to being a professional network and a creative outlet, Read the Shorts provides writers with an opportunity to make money from their work.

Writers post short stories to Read the Shorts, and people can read the first half of each story for free. Access to the rest costs $2, payable through Google Checkout. Of that $2, the author gets $1, and $1 goes to Forest and Hayden.

People must register to become members of Read the Shorts to peruse or post stories, but membership is free.

There is also no charge for writers to display material. Stories cannot have been previously published and must not exceed 15 pages or 5,000 words.

Content is limited to short stories for now, but Forest and Hayden say they hope to add novels soon, as well as a forum where writers can discuss their craft.

As of Wednesday, Read the Shorts had 57 members, many from the Vancouver-Portland area, as well as other parts of the United States. There is an international following as well. One member is from the United Kingdom, and two live in the Philippines.

Members have posted 22 short stories across a range of genres and purchased 13 stories.

Readers can leave comments for writers on their stories, but the number of purchases also can serve as an indicator of how well the writing resonates with online readers, Forest said.

“If you put a story online, and people like the first half and purchase the second half, it reaffirms your dream,” said Forest, adding that she hopes to pursue a career in writing or editing.

A few of her own stories can be found on the site.

Forest and Hayden publicized Read the Shorts with fliers on bulletin boards at Clark and other local colleges and universities, as well as through Google AdWords and Craigslist.

Craigslist led Portland writer Alexander Smith to the site.

Smith, a 25-year-old writer and editor for the website http://www.thesurvivorsclub.org, posted three stories to Read the Shorts.

“I wanted to share my writing,” he said. “It worked well for me as a way to get my writing out there and have more people see it.”

A reader purchased the second half to one of Smith’s stories, a piece of young-adult fiction titled “The Adventures of Captain Locke.”

Though Smith is working on submitting his writing to various publications, Read the Shorts was an easy way to get started that didn’t require cover letters and the other legwork involved with courting most publishing and media-industry outlets, he said.

“It’s a quick way to get immediate feedback and see what people are enjoying, and potentially get a few dollars from it,” Smith said.

Forest and Hayden said they hope that literary agents will eventually go to Read the Shorts to discover new authors.

“Instead of the writers having to find agents, this could be the start of agents finding writers,” Forest said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.