About Comma

Mission Statement:

Comma’s Mission is to put the short story at the heart of contemporary narrative culture. Through innovative commissions, collaborations and digital initiatives, we will explore the power of the short story to transcend cultural and disciplinary boundaries, and to enable greater understanding across these boundaries.

Our Aims are:

(i) To commission and publish new short fiction in a way that demonstrates the potential of the form, and speaks to the diversity of perspectives that make up contemporary England.

(ii) To create opportunities for emerging and established authors to develop, as writers, and to share their work in new contexts, be these interdisciplinary, intercultural, or digital.

(iii) To develop new and diverse audiences for literary short fiction, and new ways for these audiences to access, experience, and interact with it, as well as with each other.

(iv) To support the wider publishing ecology for literary fiction, throughout England, creating new opportunities for translators, editors, and other publishing professionals to enter and prosper in the industry, where those opportunities are often geographically or socially biased.

Comma’s award-winning publications include collections by new and established authors, interdisciplinary collaborations between authors and scientists, and translation commissions devised to identify cutting-edge (often marginalized) voices from across the world.

Our digital initiatives have helped thousands of aspiring authors to self-publish and then learn from the reading habits of those who download their work (MacGuffin). We have also enabled readers to virtually interact with cityscapes around the world, through short stories in translation (LitNav).

Comma delivers masterclasses and creative writing courses throughout the year. We host the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, which gives aspiring writers access to key agents and editors, and we support the wider publishing sector through the Northern Fiction Alliance.

Read our 2016 Annual Report here.

Read our Comma Survey 2017 Results here.

Why the Short Story?

In his essay The Lonely Voice (1962), Frank O’Connor famously distinguished the short story from the novel in terms of the types of characters you find in each: ‘The short story has never had a hero,’ he argued. ‘What it has instead is submerged population groups.’ By this O’Connor meant characters on the fringes of society, disenfranchised, without voice or audience.
      Publishing short stories is an act of giving voice to these characters on the margins, individuals like Chekhov’s Iona Potapov in ‘Misery’, who have no one to tell their story to, no audience that will listen to them in their daily lives. In this sense, publishing short stories is an attempt to democratize literature, to make sure voices and characters aren’t excluded from the narratives we tell ourselves. It is also a call for pluralism, for differing, contradictory ‘discrete moments of truth’, as Nadine Gordimer calls them, ‘not THE moment of truth, because the short story doesn’t deal in cumulatives.’
     In this sense, an anthology of short stories has certain advantages over a novel: it is better equipped, for example, to give readers access and insights into new cultures, because it is able to embrace difference and diversity within any one culture: an anthology of short stories can accommodate a series of discrete, contradiuctory truths, rather than promote one single, cumulative, ‘Truth’.
     When wider public debate sometimes reduces subjects to simplistic, one-sided narratives (often perpetuating myths like the ‘Great Man Theory’ that assumes 'the history of the world but the biography of great men’), short fiction can offer an alternative perspective, something closer to Tolstoy’s version of history – ‘the unconscious, common, swarm life of mankind’ – in which an emperor plays no greater role than a humble hussar.
    At Comma, we believe that short stories have other tricks up their sleaves, too. Short stories are so tightly coiled, structurally, that they are already well predisposed for translation and transplantation: a short story gathers up it references, its back-stories and its contexts, and travels light - meaning it can be transplanted into new cultures, new languages, or indeed new audience groups. In this, we feel the short story is the most ‘smuggle-able’ of literary forms, and all of Comma’s commissions – be they translation projects of ‘science-into-fiction’ collaborations – build on the belief that short stories can cross borders!

Praise for Comma:

‘We are living through a golden moment in the history of the short story...Eudora Welty called [her editor] William Maxwell "the headquarters". I'm not sure where the headquarters of the current excitement lies – somewhere between McSweeney's in America and Comma in Manchester, perhaps...'
- The Guardian.

'Remarkable for its consistent brilliance and commitment to the short story, you will be hard pushed to find a better short story publisher than Comma Press.' - Ink Sweat and Tears.

'Trailblazing.' - Arts Council England, Autumn Report, 2007.

'It’s not too great a stretch to see Comma as the literary equivalent of Factory Records.' -  The Herald.

'The fiction landscape would have been a lot flatter without Comma.'
- M. John Harrison.

Named as one of the 'Top Six Publishers Outside of London' - New Statesman, Oct 2012.

Initially formed in 2003 (as an unincorporated artists' group), Comma began by building on Ra Page's Manchester Stories series (published in conjunction with City Life magazine) with a series of short story booklets in four cities across the North of England (distributed as free supplements with each of the cities' listings magazines). This project then developed into a series of book-length anthologies - starting with The Book of Leeds and The Book of Liverpool. From the outset Comma has published a biannual 'new writers' showcase as a way of bringing in new talent alongside collections by already established writers such as David Constantine, Jane Rogers, Sara Maitland and Sean O’Brien.

We also publish the Ellipsis series (featuring linked or themed story sequences by three writers per book), and biannual genre anthologies, starting with crime (ID and MO), horror (Phobic and The New Uncanny) and SF (When It Changed). Since Oct 2007 Comma has been a Not-For-Profit Company Limited By Guarantee, Company Number 6390368.

In 2007 Comma also launched a translation imprint (again specialising in short fiction) to bring new masters of the form to British readers. It has published a number of translation anthologies to date covering Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and various single author collections in translation, most recently The Iraqi Christ by Iraqi refugee Hassan Blasim, described in the The Guardian as the 'perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive'. Comma has previously won the Shirley Jackson Award (for The New Uncanny) and the World Fantasy Award (for Rob Shearman's Tiny Deaths).

Comma also publishes poetry collections and the occasional novel.

Alongside Comma Press, the organisers also run a film adaptation project, Comma Film, which commissions and occasionally produces adaptations of short literary texts (poems and short stories) into short films. Working with the Manchester based Picture Lock Productions, it originally launched the adaptation-only festival Version (14-15 Nov, 2009).

More Praise for Comma:

'For the near future at least, short fiction is in good hands.' -   The Independent on Sunday.

'A small but powerful champion of the short story.'
- The Guardian.

'Fills you with hope for the form.'
- Time Out.

'Manchester is fast becoming the UK's most influential centre for short story writing.' -  The Observer.

'A high-performing specialist imprint with a robust commitment to the briefer forms.' -
The Independent.

'Increasingly impressive.' - TLS

*Frank O’Connor's ‘The Lonely Voice’ & Nadine Gordimer's ‘The Flash of Fireflies’ are both available in Charles E. May, ed., Short Story Theories (1976).  More on Thomas Carlile’s ‘Great Man Theory’ here..

Comma's Single Equality Scheme (SES)

1.1 Introduction

The purpose of the Comma Press Single Equality Scheme (SES) is to set out our commitment to equality and diversity in each strand of our activity. Comma Press recognises that inequalities exist in society because of discrimination in relation to age, disability, gender, race, religion/belief, and sexual orientation and we seek to address these inequalities where they act as barriers to participation in the arts, and in particular, to our artistic practice.
As an independent publisher with internationally recognised work in translation from many languages and cultures, we recognise that diversity in artistic practise is not merely a statutory requirement, but the lifeblood of our success. As such, this SES does not merely confirm our adherence to the following legislation:
* Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000;
* Disability Discrimination Act 2005;
* Equality Act 2006;
* The Equality Act 2010
But emphasises our commitment that, as an organisation, equality and diversity should be pervasive and evident in everything we do.
1.2 Context
1.2.1 Comma Press
Comma is a Manchester-based independent publishing house that launched in 2003 (as an unincorporated association) and incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee (not for profit) in 2007. Originally publishing novels and poetry, it quickly focussed on short fiction which, from 2006, also included short fiction in translation. It publishes between 6 and 8 titles a year, and delivers over a dozen public events and is involved in a further 15 per year. Comma also coordinates an annual commission and screening of short film adaptations under the banners Comma Film. The following is a summary of the short fiction it has published over the last four years.
Publications since Jan 2008 (total 378 stories):
BME: 80 (21.16%) 
non-BME: 298 (79.84%) 

1.2.2 Literature Northwest

LNW is a regional support agency founded in 2004 (originally titled ‘Index Network’) which provides professional and promotional support to the Northwest’s independent publishing sector. It hosts networking sessions, CPD publishing seminars, a cross-publisher selling website, a regional literature information service, and cross-publisher public events, such as the Manchester Book Market. The first of these markets was co-delivered with DXN (Diversity Exchange Network) in September 2006, with a particular agenda to redress the diversity imbalance in mainstream publishing.
Although DXN disbanded in 2007, Literature Northwest was keen to continue the market and returned in the summer of 2009 to deliver the second instalment, in what has since become an annual fixture in the Manchester cultural calendar. Despite DXN no longer being involved, LNW has been keen to continue its proactive Diversity agenda with regards to the authors it programmes for the live readings.
Market readings since Summer 2009 (total: 156 Performances):

BME: 37 (23.72%) non-BME: 119 (76.28%) 
Female: 67 (42.95%) Male: 89 (57.05%)
LGBT figures are not currently available, but can be collated retrospectively.

2.1 Legal Context

The Equality Act 2010 introduces a consistent approach to most of the concepts that apply to the different equality ‘strands’, and which the Act calls ‘protected characteristics’. The protected characteristics are:
* Age 
* Disability 
* Sexual orientation 
* Gender reassignment 
* Marriage and civil partnership 
* Pregnancy and maternity 
* Race 
* Religion and belief or lack of religion or belief 
The Act sets out the basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation and disability discrimination, which are referred to as ‘prohibited conduct’. The types of discrimination covered by the Act are:
* Direct discrimination 
* Discrimination by Association 
* Discrimination by Perception 
* Indirect discrimination 
* Harassment 
* Third Party harassment 
* Victimisation 
Full definitions and examples of these types of discrimination can be found in the Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice; Services Public Functions and Associations Statutory Code of Practice document. 
This SES further establishes Comma Press’ commitment to anti-discriminatory policy as defined by the Equality Act 2010, and adherence to the guidance on implementation of protection against the types of discrimination as defined by the Act.

3.1 Governance and Strategic Objectives

Comma Press is governed by a Board of Directors, appointed on the basis of their experience and ability to assist and advise Comma in meeting its key objectives and supporting its strategic growth. The Board meets on a bi-annual basis to discuss standard operational issues, long-term strategy, and convenes additional reactive sessions as and when necessary. The status and effectiveness of our SES policy - including a review of our Equality Action Plan (EAP) targets - will be a standing item at Board of Directors’ Meetings. The Board, working with the Managing Editor, will be responsible for checking the timed outcomes of the EAP at regular intervals, as well as shaping our SES and EAP criteria to respond to perceived needs to meet our overall SES goals. The Board will produce an annual report on the status of Comma Press’ SES and EAP, making recommendations for further policy and EAP target implementation when deemed necessary.

3.2 Equality Action Plan (EAP)

The Comma Press Equality Action Plan (EAP) is a schematic approach to implementing the objectives of the SES, tailored to the particular artistic practices of Comma Press (and Literature Northwest). It will be implemented over a three-year period (beginning April 2012) and reviewed annually. Its purpose is to provide a framework for:
* Identifying and implementing SES objectives 
* Implementing SMART targets to monitor the impact of our SES policies
* Identifying gaps in current provision
* Defining staff responsibilities for participation in, and implementation of SES objectives
* Ensuring SES policies reach each strand of our activity,and are appropriately tailored to our artistic discipline (literature and publishing)
* Ensuring our partner organisations help us meet our SES objectives, and identifying whether new partners should be sought

3.3. Equal Opportunity Policy and Documentation in Training and Employment

Comma Press has an existing Equal Opportunities Policy, which specifies its responsibilities with regard to preventing discrimination in the recruitment of staff (be they full-time, part-time, or voluntary). While this policy previously focused on race, gender and sexual orientation, it has now been modified to cover all the protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (and listed above). A copy of this policy is available on request from Ra Page or the Board of Directors.

3.4 Partnerships

Comma Press works extensively with partner organisations at a regional, national and international level. In order to ensure that our SES is fully implemented, Comma Press will a) notify any potential partner of our SES before working with them and b) require our partners to agree to adhere to our SES standards in any work they undertake in partnership with us, as a standard term of any working agreement made with them (whether expressed contractually or otherwise). For clarification, a partner organization could be another publisher, a literary agent, a cultural institute or a literary festival.

3.5 Monitoring

Monitoring of this scheme will take place on an ongoing basis at a strategic level via the schedule of the Comma Press Board meetings. Progress reports will be undertaken annually from the summer of 2012.

Ongoing scrutiny and artist/audience involvement will continue with key stakeholders (see EAP below), including the collection of relevant data – where possible – at live events.
3.6 Publication and Access to equality information
The SES policy will be published on our website www.commapress.co.uk, as will our annual reports on the implementation of our SES policy, when signed off by the Board of Directors.