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A new path for writers

When I was eighteen, I was desperate for any kind of inspiration from established comedy writers. I waited nervously for Barry Cryer to finish his show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and slipped back into the theatre with his book in my hand. As he signed it I asked, probably stuttering and way more high pitched than I normally am, “Do you have any advice for a budding writer?”. He looked up, sighed, and said; “Oh, my dear. You’ll be told ‘no’ a lot but you’ve just got to keep going”. At the time I didn’t realise how important that advice was.

He was right. I’ve been through many situations of hearing no. I’ve even had incidents where established producers were interested in my work but then only wanted to meet for ‘drinks’, never reading a single page. I found myself feeling depressed, that I wasn’t being heard. I settled for a less inspired job of Copywriting and Ghostwriting eBooks, but this wasn’t satisfying. It seemed impossible to get my writing read by anyone in the industry.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably had your fair share of rejections. J.K Rowling, one of the greatest writers of our time, received rejection letters for the first Harry Potter book ‘Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone’ and later for her book ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith and published after her successful Harry Potter series. Rejection letters are the norm for a writer. To add insult to injury, they don’t often contain feedback or ways to improve. Just a no and a thank-you for your time.

Well, this needs to change.

A year ago, while living in Nottingham and feeling utterly defeated. I set up Nottingham Writer’s Circle. It was a place for writers to meet, share their work and their progress. Sometimes you’d have a whole group and other times maybe one or two writers, but that was fine. It was about getting in that creative frame of mind. A lady who hadn’t written in years came along to just sit and enjoy the work, and emailed me later that day to say she’d felt inspired and had started jotting down her thoughts. When I moved back to the North this year, I set up the group again in Manchester. Two months later and it has nearly two hundred members. We meet every other week in a quiet room, drink coffee, share our work and encourage each other with positive words or constructive criticism.

These sessions are always well attended and by such a variety of writers; poets, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, flash-fiction writers, and songwriters, all sharing the same ambition, but the same set-backs; I often heard ‘The industry is all about ‘luck’.’

This sparked an idea. What if there was a place where writers can meet, post snippets of their work, edit each other’s work and receive feedback. Just like the Writer’s Circle meetings but global. Great, but this didn’t solve the impossible fortress of getting published.

Okay, I’m going to jump back to the example of J.K Rowling receiving rejection letters from many different publishers and I’m going to compare that to the success story of ’50 Shades Of Grey’. The book, written by E.L James, was originally posted on a ‘Twilight’ fan-fiction website. The story received a large online following and was successfully published becoming a best seller. The idea that the online popularity of a piece of writing can gain the attention of publishers inspired me to create a new platform for writers. I call it Orton.

Orton (named after my favourite writer, Joe Orton) is a new way for writers to be recognised. It takes the concept that writers need their work editing and through easy annotation and conversation features, it makes feedback in-depth and concise, on a level not seen before.

It’s also a place for readers to enjoy the genre and style of writing they like with a smooth and beautiful reading experience.

If work gains a following it will get the chance to be published through our site or through an established publishing partner. Readers can even pre-order a book they’re enjoying via the site. It’s letting the audience decide what they want, not the publishers. A path for writers that is accessible, where there’s always room to grow, and a place to be heard.

Publishing may not speak out to scriptwriters, but this is only the start. I have so many plans for this platform. One of my ideas for scriptwriters is connecting them to producers and filmmakers, and also providing space for playwrights to put on their work. This won’t be available in the first release of the site, but the ability to post snippets of your script and getting it to industry standard will be a fantastic way to improve your work while it gets reader traction.

I know posting your work is like handing your baby over to a stranger with mean eyes, but Orton will track who has read your work and who has annotated. My aim is to make writers feel safe enough to share.

Finally, I just want to stress that the website is completely free. I’ve noticed that some sites like this can charge creative folk to share their work and have a membership, but I really disagree with that. The way I see it is if you have the boat and you have the paddle, then you shouldn’t be charged to use the lake. Also, we are currently working on the publishing side of things to make publishing more fair than the current industry standard.

I hope this coveys just how passionate I am about Orton. I really hope you can jump onboard whether you’re a writer or a reader. We are due to release the first version soon but until then please sign-up – it really helps me see if interest is there – and get an idea of what the site looks like via the homepage.

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Beth Cleavy

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