Stories for Homes short story anthology. One was a feature about the potential shift in power in publishing from the established publishing houses to agents and, ultimately, authors. With the rise of self-publishing, the question of who judges what is fit to be published has become a vexed one.
The other thing I heard was a review of this year's batch of Christmas singles. The reviewer all but apologised for reviewing the charity singles in terms of their musical worth, as if anything done for charity should be above criticism for quality.
Which brings me to Stories for Homes. It is a bumper anthology, with more than sixty stories, all donated by the authors, all on the theme of 'home'. All the profits from this book go directly to support the homeless charity, Shelter. I was one of the proof-readers for the book (as well as having a story included) and one of the things that struck me was the sheer quality of the writing. A book that is the result of an open call for submissions via Twitter and Facebook, produced in a matter of months by passionate volunteers - surely it can't be a good read, can it? And yet it is full of powerful, poignant, funny, clever, and moving writing.
One of the secrets to this quality is the fact that the book has two editors, Sally Swingewood and Debi Alper, who read all, yes all, the submissions. After many hours, cigarettes, cups of coffee, and a few cakes, they selected the best stories. There were a lot of them. And time was short. So (and this is the genius part), every writer was paired up with another writer to peer-review and edit each other's stories.
This is another feature of the new world of self-publishing and social media - the rise of the 'reader', by which I mean the trusted people who get to read and comment on my writing before I unleash it on the world. Thanks to the internet, I have a bunch of fabulous writers that I turn to when I need a properly critical eye turned on my words. And I do the same for them. I've had the pleasure of reading several novels recently pre-submission to agents. Writers, it turns out, are generous people. Generous with their time, their support, their skills.
And so it proved with Stories for Homes. Some people were new to the idea of peer-editing and were probably quite nervous. Others, like me, were old hands. We got stuck in, the stories were edited and polished and then they were sent back to Sally and Debi. Then began the Herculean task of deciding the running order, designing the cover and getting it ready for publishing on Kindle. The Facebook group was (and still is) alive with discussion - finessing the design and blurb, devising marketing strategies, exchanging skills and expertise.
It was at this point I offered to proof-read the ebook version. I didn't have very high expectations, to be honest. I've been involved in anthologies before. The quality of the stories is sometimes, well, 'variable' would be the polite way to put it. Sometimes I wonder what on earth the editors were thinking. Obviously my story would be top notch, but some of the others? Sheesh. Not so with Stories for Homes. As I read Mandy Berriman's exquisite opening story 'A Home Without Moles', I knew this would be a charity anthology with a difference.
A few years ago, people would have turned their noses up at a self-published book, even if it was for charity. But I'm sitting at my kitchen table looking at a fat paperback book, with a gorgeous cover and even more gorgeous content, and I'm thoroughly proud to be a part of it.
Oh, yes, did I mention? Stories for Homes is now available in paperback. You can buy it from Createspace or Amazon. Every single penny of profit is paid directly to Shelter. Every. Penny.