Curious Fictions helps readers find (and pay for) short stories

Anthony Ha

Most of you, I suspect, haven't read a short story in a long time. Well, there's a Y Combinator-backed startup called Curious Fictions looking to change that — and to turn those stories into a regular source of income for their writers.

The company was founded by Tanya Breshears, a designer who previously worked for Airbnb. (I've known Breshears for more than a decade, since she and I attended Stanford at the same time.) She also writes short fiction herself, and she started Curious Fictions as a side project.

Breshears told me that she knows readers who care about fiction but "weren't really aware of short fiction." There's no dearth of short fiction magazines, but "it's hard to pay for, and harder to read on mobile." At the same time, she was convinced that many readers would enjoy, and pay for, short stories if she made things easier. (The recent viral success of "Cat Person" seems to back this up.)

So Curious Fictions is an uncluttered, mobile-friendly site where readers can find stories. There's a weekly featured story chosen by Breshears, but you can also browse a wider selection based on the writers and genres that interest you. Before you dive in, the site tells you how many words are in a story and how long it should take to read.

Breshears said that even when was the site was just an idea, she got an enthusiastic response from short story writers.

"It’s really tough," she said. "The unreliability of income makes it something that most people can’t pursue full-time. I wanted to make that easier for people."

Curious Fictions isn't necessarily meant to compete with existing publications. In fact, it only accepts stories that have already appeared elsewhere, partly because Breshears said she wanted the site to be "low risk for the author," particularly when she was starting out.

But where most magazines pay authors one time, upfront, Curious Fictions can provide a recurring source of income. Readers can sign up to pay $5, $10 or $15 per month, and then the money is distributed to the authors of the stories that they liked that month. They can also tip authors for individual stories.

Breshears emphasized that the service is still very early — she started working on it in 2016, but she didn't start on-boarding authors in earnest until she joined the YC accelerator a few months ago.

Even so, there are already more than 100 authors on the platform. Breshears said they're currently skewed towards science fiction and fantasy (not necessarily the biggest names in the field, but all writers who have been professionally published), because authors need to be invited to create a profile and post stories, and those are the genres where she had connections.

Over time, however, Breshears said she's hoping to bring on authors from a wide range of genres. She also wants to experiment with formats beyond short stories.

"There’s a lot of unrealized potential now with mobile devices," she said. "Not only with short stories, but other form factors: novels ... fan fiction, serialized stories."

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