NPO Activity

Comma Press’s NPO Activity commitments, for 2012-15, fall into the following 12 actions:

1. The Manchester Writers’ Centre

The Consortium will provide a 1,000 square foot ‘Writers’ Centre’ - a resource centre and workspace for writers who wish to carve out time to work away from other distractions. This walk-in facility will also host writing workshops and CPD seminars, provide IT resources and digital marketing support for writers, and signpost resources available to writers from other sources.

The Centre will give aspiring authors the space, structure and support to develop their work in a conducive literary environment, at the pace that high quality work demands. It will enable writers to network, working in close proximity with award-winning editors, publishers and digital media experts, in an atmosphere of entrepreneurialism, collaboration and creative excellence.

The venue will incorporate a Reader’s Centre (see Action 10) with a library of independent publishers’ books, as well as a programme of public events in situ (Action 10), with the aim of celebrating bold, new writing, and creating a hub for innovative literary work in Manchester and the North West.

2. Writers’ Workshops

The Consortium will host a series of regular workshops – covering different styles and aspects of writing – to provide support, guidance, and creative encouragement to new writers at each stage of their ascent towards publication.

These workshops are devised as an entry point for new writers into Comma’s structured programme of writer development, which helps emerging writers ascend through a series of seminars, masterclasses, mentorships and eventually publication, in its New Author Showcase, Ellipsis and Debut Collection programme (see below).

The workshops will foster relationships between new writers and publishers - enabling participants to benefit from a pragmatic (rather than purely academic) rigour in the feedback on offer, signposting publishing opportunities, and increasing the efficiency by which Comma, and other local presses, source and develop excellent new work.

3. Masterclasses

Each year, 15 emerging authors from the region (and a further 30 from across the UK) will participate in a series of writer development Masterclasses led by an internationally celebrated author or poet. These will take place quarterly at the Writer’s Centre, and be web-cast (and video recorded) for authors outside the region. Each Masterclass will focus on specific aspects of the writing craft, from idea development to self-editing, use of voice and imagery, to plot and characterisation. These sessions will be pitched at a high level, targeting writers with promising work already under their belts, and in many cases will cover the ‘last mile’ of the composition process: the difference between a good manuscript and an excellent one. After six months, Masterclasses will be made available as pay-per-view video downloads for creative writing students and aspiring writers anywhere.

4. Mentorships

Three established and internationally recognised authors will be appointed as Mentors to six of Comma’s most promising new writers (that is, two new writers each), to work with over an 18 month development period. The Mentorships will give young writers a flexible time-scale yet a disciplined structure in which to develop longer sequences of work under the watchful eye of a seasoned professional. This will give them a rare opportunity to receive author-centric advice, to complement the more pragmatic, editorially-centred feedback that Comma will also give during this period, and will help them achieve excellence at their own pace and on their own terms.

The ‘mentees’ will be selected from the 15 writers featured in the most recent ‘New Author Showcase’ (see Action 7). Authors featured in this anthology will be asked to submit five new stories, and will be selected for the Mentorship scheme according to the overall standard and consistency of these submissions. Authors will meet their mentors quarterly (6 times in total) to discuss the development of these bodies of work. At the end of their Mentorship authors will be asked to submit work to either the Ellipsis anthology, or for consideration as a full first collection (Action 8).

5. Commissions & Single Author Collections

Comma will continue its award-winning publishing programme, which is devised to nurture and celebrate short story writing in the face of a conglomerate publishing environment that does not support the form. Comma will commission two ‘themed’ interdisciplinary anthologies during this period, inviting both emerging and mid-career authors to work in collaboration with scientific advisers or to respond to non-literary themes. The aim of these commissions is to take authors out of their comfort zones, to engage them with material they wouldn’t normally consider, and consequently introduce their work to new interest groups and audiences that come with that material.

This boundary-crossing spirit of risk-taking will also inform the nine single-author story collections that Comma plans to publish during this period. As with previous Comma collections, authors will be steered through the manuscript development process with close editorial support, along with regular single-story commissions (either for anthologies or special events), each of which will require them to question assumptions, take risks, and redefine our understanding of the form.

6. Comma Translation

ACE’s definition of ‘excellence’ cites the ‘ability or potential to change how the audience or participants view the world,’ (Achieving Great Art for Everyone). Comma’s proposed translation work will continue to broaden the palate of UK audiences, delivering excellent international literature that expands and challenges readers’ perceptions of other cultures. Each year, Comma will publish a new, single-author collection of short fiction in translation by an exceptional overseas author previously unknown to UK readers, as well as an ‘explorative’ anthology focusing on authors from a specific city, country, or region. As in the past, this explorative anthology will identify the international authors whose work proves most popular with English audiences, informing Comma’s decisions to commission full collections. Comma will continue to value the work of its translators, working closely with early and mid-career translators based in the UK, offering close editorial and CPD support and signposting new opportunities as they arise. Comma will work with embassies and cultural organisations (e.g. the Goethe Institute or Instituto Cervantes) to bring over select authors from the anthology for a small tour of readings in England, and to ‘road-test’ authors with audiences at key English festivals.

7. New Author Showcase

During the three-year period, Comma will deliver two ‘showcase’ anthologies, devised to identify and celebrate the best emerging talent in English short fiction. A ‘Call For Submissions’ will be advertised and distributed throughout the country, deploying all of Comma’s virtual and physical networks. Comma editors will liaise with university creative writing tutors, grassroots writing groups, libraries, the literary press, and social media, to target emerging ‘previously unpublished’ authors (i.e. authors without a major, single-author book behind them). Based on previous new writer showcases, Comma expects to receive submissions from approximately 600 writers.

Comma views these anthologies as a place for sourcing and securing new writers it plans to publish full collections by in the future. To ensure that Comma invests in new writers of outstanding potential, a long-list of 30 authors will be asked to submit two further stories, to give editors a feel for their wider work. 15 authors will then be chosen (on the basis of long-term potential), and their stories published in the showcase anthology (as well as through the eBook and smartphone app work, see Action 9).

The book will feature a foreword exploring a specific aspect of the art of short story writing, and will distributed nationally and internationally alongside all Comma’s lead titles. As well as general readers interested in the best new talent, marketing will also target aspiring writers of the future. It will be a branded as a ‘must read’ for all future applicants to the scheme, and be publicised alongside all Comma’s online tutorial resources (video masterclasses, seminars, etc).

8. Ellipsis & Debut Collections

Comma will publish one debut collection per year, by an author sourced through previous or current writer development projects. To ensure progressive development of the writers Comma works with, in the second year Comma will also publish a ‘stepping stone’ anthology (under the series title ‘Ellipsis’) which will offer new writers, discovered by the Showcase and developed by the Mentorship scheme, an opportunity to publish linked sequences of their best work, as a trailblazer for collections to come.

As well as giving Mentored writers a publication to aspire to and work towards, this book will feature one writer established in another field, whose short fiction has yet to be collected. This will enable Comma to challenge authors to change direction and venture into new areas of writing.

It should be mentioned that the above two Actions (7 & 8), as well as the Mentorship scheme (4), will be available to writers anywhere in the country. In addition, The Masterclasses (3) and the Professional Writer Development Seminars (11) will all be either webcast or filmed and uploaded to our website so that participants from around the country can access them. Together the eight seminars and four masterclasses will constitute a monthly tutorial on the artistic and professional development, available for writers across the country including those in ‘low engagement’ places or communities.

9. Digi-Lit: Smart Phones, eBooks & Digital Involvement

MadLab will be charged with radically overhauling the way new literature from the region reaches digital audiences. This will involve a three-tier approach, covering the development of smartphone applications, conversion of hardcopy lists to eBooks, and a digital involvement strategy.

The first of these will see the design and programming of a bespoke template and work-flow for Apps, Beta-tested by Comma Press, then rolled out to Literature Northwest’s network of regional publishers (and potentially publishers from further afield). A cross-publisher template, licensed to all Literature Northwest members, will enable various organisations to share in this digital investment without any set-up costs. Literature Northwest will take on a new publisher every quarter, populating the App template with their content.

A new model of smartphone would be targeted each year (the iPhone first, Android OS second, then either the Windows Phone or iPad formats third). The new template will be developed under MadLab’s auspices and, once populated and launched for each publisher, will be available to subscribers for a small annual fee. The App template will offer subscribers the following types of content on a regular basis:
  1. a story/poem as text
  2. an mp3 audio-book reading of another story/poem
  3. a video recording of a third reading (poem or story)
In order to make this particular set of Apps unique, Comma will continue to coordinate short film ‘adaptation’ challenges (previously commissioned under the Comma Film project and Version Festival). These will be young filmmakers’ visual interpretations of poems and short stories published by the Literature Northwest network.

Literature Northwest will also provide regional publishers with access to a computer with Adobe CS5 InDesign, and provide consultation and ‘walk-through’ sessions on eBook publishing.

Thirdly, MadLab will be charged with increasing digital audiences for literary content through interactive mechanisms (‘audience involvement’ rather than traditional audience development), and develop arts opportunities for people and places with the least engagement. As detailed in the Actions above and below, many of these writer development and audience development Actions are devised to encourage participation from writers and readers beyond the immediate region. Online accessibility is key to this strategy, with seminars, masterclasses, and live events being made available as either live webcasts or hosted videos.

10. Live Events and the Manchester Writers’ Centre

Comma will host 12 public launches each year (averaging 2 per book), as well as at least two screenings of its specially commissioned short film adaptations (which will also be accompanied by live readings), plus the two-day Manchester Book Market (with its through-the-day programme of readers).

The 12 launches will be primarily in the Northwest, with some programmed in London and elsewhere in the UK. Comma will continue its partnerships with festivals and national literature organisations to deliver these events to larger and larger audiences. All of the Manchester events will be filmed and the edited videos either made available free immediately (via Youtube or Vimeo) or, if sufficiently exclusive, fed through as content into the above-mentioned smartphone App.

In addition to these events, the Manchester Writers’ Centre will be thoroughly public-facing. Through its provision of a free, walk-in daytime library, the ground-floor space will double as a Reader’s Centre, offering the general public an opportunity to browse and engage with new, independently produced work. Films and video readings will also be screened free at lunchtimes once a week (and more regularly if popular). The Centre will act as a hub for literary audiences in the city and beyond, and as the venue for regular literature, film and other events in the evening.

All of the digital initiatives outlined in Actions 9 and 10 will be implemented with the primary objective of attracting audiences – for both online and digital content, and for the Consortium’s calendar of live events. MadLab will target a digital audience growth of 7.5%, each year during the project. Similarly Comma will target a live audience and hardcopy book sales growth of 7.5% per year.

11. Professional Development Seminars

The Consortium will offer a series of eight seminars a year focusing on writers’ and their publishers’ professional needs. These will be open and free to any Northwest author, and will cover a range of professional development skills areas including business and entrepreneurial skills, performance techniques, self-promotion, digital marketing and social media, and making a living through other types of writing. Regular workshops will also be geared towards independent publishers (from within the region and beyond), and will offer updates and refreshers on various aspects of the ever-changing publishing business. 

With guest speakers coming from outside the region, and with a collaborative spirit of pooling expertise within it, these seminars will enable the region’s writers and publishers to raise their profile and collectively reach wider audiences more efficiently.

12. Manchester Book Market, and other markets

The Consortium will deliver an annual independent book market in the heart of Manchester (St Ann’s Square), representing a collaboration of independent publishers from across the country and giving a live platform for poets and writers from across the region. This will be a continuation of Literature Northwest’s annual Manchester Book Market, which targets passing trade in the second highest footfall retail space in the city. Customers buying from stalls and audiences in the performance tent are always from a cross-section of the city’s community, and represent many demographics that small publishers otherwise struggle to reach. By collaborating in this way, bespoke publishers can compete with major book retailers for footfall and visibility. The Market lasts two days, features a non-stop programme of live performances (over 60 readers) and approximately 30 different publishers, while providing an average footfall of 400 visitors per stall. A broad cross-section of these readings will be filmed and made available as free videos online. The Consortium will also approach literary festivals across the country (both rural and urban) and offer to co-ordinate smaller versions of the market, conditional on support from the festival or venue.