Guest Post by Alison Taylor-Brown –

Most of us long for a readership. We hope to connect with people who appreciate what we write. And so we work social media, write a blog, launch a newsletter, and/or produce a podcast or tomorrow’s next thing. These all may help us find readers, but they rarely satisfy the yearning at our core—to create living characters who touch readers’ hearts.

I’ve always been a novelist to the bone. I want a big canvas, a complex story, and a cast of thousands. Always the hard way.

When Covid hit, I’d been in Italy for three years, working on a novel about the medieval Italian writer Boccaccio. By the end of 2020, that novel was finished, and I had an agent. I was mulling over many important decisions: what to write next, whether to return to the US, and whether I needed a piece of paper from the government to leave my house that day.

As I celebrated New Year’s Eve in a big way, shopping for books for my Kindle, I saw a medieval short story by a well-known author. Suddenly, my resolution for 2021 was to write some short stories for Amazon. Because:

1. I wanted my friends and family to see what I wrote. Although I had a top-shelf agent, we weren’t receiving a lot of positive responses (imagine!) to my novel. I had three novels completed, but no one close to me (except Mom and that’s her job) had read them.

2. I was building my platform through the recommended channels, but I had no real product to talk about. How could people engage with me as a writer if they hadn’t read what I wrote? I was tired of posting pictures of my dog, cute as she is.

3. I had a minor character who fascinated me, and I wanted to explore her story.

4. I was t-i-r-e-d of the long slog of a novel, and I couldn’t face writing another. These crazy times—waiting to go out, waiting in line for a test, waiting for life to restart—made me want instant gratification. To see something finished and beautiful. With a cover!

5. I wanted to see if I had an audience. The rejections we received said things like: no one wants to read about this time period. Yes, I was in a niche market, but was I the only person in the world who liked medieval Italy? I didn’t think so.

6. I wanted to learn to self-publish, but I didn’t want to experiment on my novel.

The problem was that although I had an MFA, I didn’t know how to write a short story. How did one create a character and a narrative arc in such a small space? So I wrote a draft and sent it to Richard Adams Carey, my editor for the Boccaccio novel. He showed me where to expand and how to bring the story back around, how to put hints at the beginning about what will come later. I wrote a second draft for him. And that was the total of my training in writing a short story.

But all we know about character and setting and conflict serve us just as well in a short story. If you can bake a cake, you can bake a dozen cupcakes.

I wrote four stories. Then I procrastinated on publishing them because I thought it was hard. I had friends who watched videos on self-publishing for months. Also, the covers stymied me. I couldn’t afford to pay a lot for a cover for every story when I hoped to publish one a month. But I didn’t think I could do them myself because I didn’t understand all the requirements about DPI and bleed, etc. 

A friend talked me into running a contest on 99designs. It was fun to see what all these artists came up with for my cover. But one really had the right feel for medieval Florence. (He turned out to be an Italian from Milan.) For subsequent covers, we made a deal. He would do the Photoshop work and get the cover ready to upload on Amazon if I found the art, the most time-consuming step. I almost always use free images in the public domain.

Finally, I decided to take myself by the scruff of the neck and jump into Kindle Direct. I didn’t watch any videos. I used Kindle Create—not that difficult and all free. When I had to jiggle the paragraph indents, I was happy to be working with ten pages instead of a novel. I published the stories as ebooks, with the vague idea to collect them into a hardcover when I have enough. I published the first story in a day. I didn’t use Kindle Vella because I didn’t want to make a novel-sized plan.

As I write this, I have six stories published, and when I look at their little covers on the series page on Amazon, I’m as proud as a cat with kittens. I write stories that stand alone but are all about the same character, Giulia della Rena, a real woman who lived in the 1300s in my little village, Certaldo, which still looks very medieval. In my stories, Giulia is a seven-year-old orphan in Florence, a teenager focused on who her foster father will choose for her husband, a young woman hindered by self-doubt, and a mature woman who has found her calling and her voice. Giulia brings me a lot of wisdom to navigate these troubled times. I get to explore her character in perfect freedom without having to worry about getting to that first plot point by page 46 or whatever. Bliss.

So I encourage you to think beyond blogs and newsletters, not that writing short stories precludes those things. But bringing characters to life is what we do; it’s who we are at our core.

And in these difficult times, we need some instant pleasures. We totally need more cupcakes.

Alison Taylor-Brown holds an MBA and an MFA in Fiction and once sold a novel to Simon & Schuster. She moved to the medieval village of Certaldo in Tuscany in the fall of 2017 to write a novel entitled A Story to Save Us, about the 14th-century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. With that novel in the hands of an agent, Alison is now writing short stories about Giulia della Rena, a medieval woman still honored in Italy as a mystic. These stories are available on Amazon in a series entitled Once on a Hill in Tuscany.

Scroll to Top