Going For Broke With 20 Minutes of Storytelling

Posted on May 7, 2012

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A week ago I was perusing through Craigslist and saw an ad soliciting writers for a promising newspaper that publishes short stories. If chosen, writers would receive $30 for their story. Of course curious me had to click the website at the link provided. At first glance the website looked unattractive and very dumpy (as dumpy as a web page on the internet can be). Bold and colorful banner ads ran across the bottom and top of the page. The main content was filled with basic text block type boxes that features a photo of a featured writer, the date and the title of their submission with a hyperlink attached to it. Clearly it didn’t seem like a proper home for any potential submissions I may have.

Naturally I thought the whole website and its ad on Craigslist wasn’t legit. Sorry, presentation is EVERYTHING to me and that presentation reeked of suspicion, desperation and for some reason I could smell fermented potatoes from its pores. Ok, Ok….. granted no pores, but I swear I felt like a derelict was nearby.  Yeah, I – -  Miss I-don’t-mind-drinking-from-the-red-plastic-cup-at-a-function – - have a nerve to be a web sob. So, I clicked off without a second thought. Then, over the weekend an article in the Washington Post pops up and it’s about the very same website and the brothers behind it.

20 Minute Tales is the creation of Dave McQuaid. He has enlisted the help of his brothers Danny, who serves as the editor in chief  and Michael, the director of sales. They all have some type of love or fondness of literature which has helped with their drive and motivation, but how far is this really taking them?

Dave, who is also part owner of a residential construction company told the Post that the idea was to fulfill a need; an outlet for local writers to publish and feature their work as well as give local small businesses an opportunity to advertise.  While they are online, the print edition was softly launched last week as it was circulated at only four Metro locations; Medical Center, Van Ness, Cleveland Park and White Flint. This week the print edition is expected to be distributed at 28 stations.

Sadly, the brothers are taking a lost at the moment as they try to lift this project off the ground. As with most publications, their lively hood depends on advertising revenue. Currently Dave is financing the publication with some of the money from his construction business. Frank Gatto, the lone full-time employee, hustles to scrape up ad sales. Gatto told the Post, “I probably talked to over 300 people. I borderline gave away the ad space.”

The brothers received a whopping number of 45 short story submissions. As best described by the Post:

“For the moment, the New Yorker magazine has nothing to worry about. The five stories in the debut issue are weak: chick lit without much wit and gothic tales that don’t raise the pulse.”

It is also noted that 20 Minute Tales is taking submissions for a comic story contest. The prize will be $500.

In theory this seems like an idea of splendor for writers, amature and blossoming alike. Yet, one can only wonder how much time, effort and sensible thinking these brothers have put into this. There are literary publications that float around like the national platforms of Poets and Writers Magazine and Writer’s Digest; both offer more than a chance to be a featured author. Both also offer up tips and valuable resources for writers. Then there are the obscure and underground lit mags, that mainly feature nothing but the work of budding authors. One in particular is something that a fellow member of my online writing group shared some time ago; Sw!pe Magazine.  Started more than a year ago, Sw!pe was founded by those who have a love of art and literature, perhaps have a degree in art and work in various positions (mainly as security guards) at New York museums; specially New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Clearly these brothers are on to something, but are they going about it the right way or have they researched and made the right connections to help their journey? Clearly they need help with their website presentation. It doesn’t have to be grand but something that doesn’t look to say  “we’re so low-key and underground that we look like a scam operation.” As the WaPo article was discussed on Facebook, Danielle Evans, author and creative writing professor at American University, pointed out that perhaps;

“some enterprising creative writing student needs to get on suggesting an internship to serve as content editor. The editorial experience could be useful/interesting, but the notes you’d get for a novel on a pair of kind, wacky brothers who think there’s big money in poems and short stories would be priceless.”

I also may add, that aside from placing ads on Craigslist, the brothers may want to search and solicit talent at various schools (high schools and colleges) and local art organizations, such as DC’s  Ward 7 Arts Collaborative and Maryland’s Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council. Linking up with organizations such as these will pull in contacts of willing advertisers; such as local art and book stores, coffee shops and all the hipster writer type places and businesses the McQuaid brothers may want to consider or attract for ad sales.  Local businesses like Busboys and Poets is perhaps a good place to start, if they know how to sell 20 Minute Tales.

Maybe the McQuaid brothers will stumble upon my post and get the hint. If they do, I hope they take a second look at their business. They really do have something good, that could work. It’s just a matter of researching, talking to those in the field for advice and suggestions (even if that means contacting the folks from Sw!pe) and evaluating what is the best route to take. They could very will have a small publishing company on their hands if it’s done right.

I don’t blame them for trying. I just wish this initial try wasn’t so derelict-ish. No, I’m not being an elitist in saying this, because I do believe in the whole diamond in the rough concept (if you will). Sometimes the most pure and beautiful work of art/literature comes from the crevice of the underground. Yet, if  2o Minute Tales is to be taken seriously by those that want to submit (like me) and potential advertisers, the McQuaid brothers need quality work and people behind their idea and mission.

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