I’ve written earlier in this blog about how Clarendon House Publications began as an outlet for my own books and courses.
I had been researching literature for decades, and had developed the ideas behind the book How Stories Really Work a few years ago. Rather than simply self publish that book, though, I thought it might be a smart move to set up an independent publisher to lend the whole thing some credibility and weight. After about a year of failed marketing attempts, though, I started to look into marketing as a practice - what actually made it work, as opposed to the consensus about it - and developed the principles which then went into A Marketing Handbook for Writers.
But as part of that whole process, I saw that there was untapped potential in the field of new writers looking for ways to get themselves published. While self publishing has never been simpler, many writers either don’t want to go down that route or prefer the notion of being published by a reputable body of some kind. It seems to be the great dream for writers - to ‘be published’. That’s not just a status thing, though it’s pleasant enough to be able to call oneself a ‘published author’. It’s more of an acknowledgement thing: the work that the writer has carved out from his or her imagination alone in some quiet room has reached a point at which someone else recognises its value and is willing to invest time and energy into it. That’s quite liberating and even invigorating.
It's like becoming visible for the first time. Exhilarating, and a little scary perhaps.
‘Vanity publishing’ is another way to get into print, of course, but this doesn’t really bring the acknowledgement that comes with someone saying ‘I will publish your work’. When I decided to open up Clarendon House to other authors in late 2017, I wanted to disassociate the whole process from anything to do with vanity - the authors I accepted were to be accepted on their own merits, and were to be able to rightly claim that they were being published by a reputable publisher who had read their work and recognised its quality.
What I did not expect - which I have written about elsewhere too - was the immense volume of high quality work that was out there. The number of excellent submissions which I received in the first few months put paid entirely to the notion that there was a dearth of good material, or that ‘all the good stuff had already been grabbed and published by the big publishers’. From the large piles of stories that came in for the first few anthologies that I printed it was clear not only that there was a market for independent publishers and that writers craved recognition, but that they deserved it too.
There was a massive amount of talent there: the bottleneck was in getting it to readers.
As one anthology followed another, some stars shone more brightly than others, but there were plenty of them regardless. Clarendon House has now helped over 100 authors to get published and has granted contracts to six authors for their own paid collections, with many more on the way.
Commercially, though, this is not a smooth process. Hours and hours of work are involved in editing, proofreading and formatting books, which are then sold largely to the authors who feature in them and possibly a few friends and family members. It takes time for any new business to grow, and I am well aware that the marketing strategy which I know will work is something that takes years to unfold. This means that, in the meantime, no profits are generated and turnover is very low.
How can you help (always assuming that you wish to, of course)?
1. The first thing is to continue to write.
Whether you have been published by Clarendon House or not as yet, or whether you wish to be in the future, the essential core of the matter is that you focus on writing.
Clarendon House has already ‘discovered’ several great talents. Not only can these be developed, but there are also many more writers out there, quietly working away all over the world, whose abilities need to be spotted and validated.
2. Learn the craft.
Writing begins with volume - you have to actually sit down and do it. But it certainly doesn’t end there. To become successful at it, you have to know what you are doing.
It comes as a surprise to some that there is anything to ‘know' when it comes to writing. Surely it’s just a matter of sitting down and letting words pour out onto the page? The rest is some kind of arcane process whereby those words are considered worthy, published and consumed by millions of readers, resulting in great wealth. Sadly, this isn’t true. While some rubbish does get printed and does make money, the truly satisfying route to success is to learn what there is to know about the craft of writing.
The best way to learn the craft is to study the great master authors. Over the centuries, works have survived because they have tapped into themes, constructed plots and characters, and developed styles which have attracted readers, gained emotional commitment and produced powerful overall effects. These things are not random. There happen to be certain key fundamentals at play in all successful fiction, whether novels, screenplays or plays - and these fundamentals can be learned and applied. Even a little application of them goes a long way: a bland character can be revitalised, a dying plot brought back to life, a writing style reinvigorated, by adjusting only one or two simple things. And the more that these things are applied, the more appealing and publishable the material becomes.
Those talents unearthed by Clarendon House can shine even more brightly when they grow in the craft.
The most successful authors are those who do not balk at sending their work out again and again and again, despite the inevitable rejections and the weeks or months of waiting that that can involve.
Rejections really have to be ignored, as a general rule. Yes, constructive criticisms can be taken on board and adjustments made, but the general notion that one’s work can be ‘rejected’ by another has to take a back seat. No one can really ‘reject’ another’s communication. A piece of work might be inappropriate for a particular publication, or it might contain errors and flaws which prevent it from being immediately received, but a story or poem should be considered as an utterance, a thing in its own right, not subject to the whims of another. Learn the craft and correct anything wrong about the piece, for sure, but never consider that there is anything essentially ‘rejectable’ about it.
A ‘rejection’ generally should come to assume the character of the air resistance experienced by a moving vehicle. As the vehicle gets going, there is some push back from the surrounding atmosphere; as it picks up speed, so this resistance increases. But rapidly the vehicle reaches a velocity which overcomes the resistance and it moves forward. To stretch the analogy, one could improve the rate of forward motion by aerodynamically altering the shape of the car, in the same way that a writer learns the craft of writing and adjusts the ‘shape’ of the story, but the principle remains the same. Persist, learn the craft, and persist some more and eventually the ‘resistance’ as measured by ‘rejections per month’ will decrease.
This can only happen if the writer maintains a certain pace of submitting stories to publications. Falter in that pace, or allow the resistance which a rejection represents to slow things down, and the ‘vehicle’ will stall.
Every time I publish an anthology, I send out a promotional sheet to the authors involved so as to get them participating in the process of getting the book out there, known, purchased and read.
I am well aware that not every author has time to engage in marketing; I am also aware that, even if they do, they are unlikely to have time or energy to do everything suggested. But if even a fraction of them did some of the actions on the list, each anthology would get a little bit further.
The biggest challenge faced by Clarendon House Publications now is commercial viability. Selling books only to the authors featured in them and a narrow group around those authors will not create the turnover needed to sustain the effort. Now I know, having written the book on marketing for writers, that this is a temporary and early phase: it will change over time, if certain principles are followed. As with the air resistance analogy relating to rejections above, the forward motion of CHP will eventually overcome the obstacles facing it. Just as with writers facing individual rejections, though, there is nevertheless a dangerous period when it looks as though rejection is all there is - or in the case of CHP, when lack of viable sales is all that there will ever be. This dangerous time will pass, provided that we all continue to do the things that push things forward.
It helps when you do even a little bit of promotion.
In the beginning, I took writers’ work from them without paying them. Recognition was supposed to be enough. But this didn’t seem right to me.
While it’s not viable at present to pay each and every author who appears in an anthology with 30 or 40 other authors, what I can and do offer is the chance to publish a collection of their own work, upon which royalties are paid. This seemed to me to be a way forward: if the story was good enough to shine in readers’ minds so that they voted for it, that author would get the opportunity to publish their own book and receive financial rewards as well as recognition.
Putting a ‘Donate’ button on the website looked initially like me taking again - but something about the character of Clarendon House Publications changed during the course of its first seven months: it became a group. It was no longer composed of individuals interested in their own success, but was a collection of friends, supportive of and encouraging each other. The ‘Donate’ thing was a natural extension of that. Many people have used it to flow funds toward what I would like to consider as ‘their’ publisher. It helps get the whole operation through its infancy until it can stand on its own two feet and move on to the next phase.
So how can you help Clarendon House Publications? Really, by being what you want to be only being it better: write, learn the craft, keep sending your stories out there, keep urging others to pick them up - and, if you feel so inclined, support the operation financially just a little until sufficient momentum is reached.
Then everyone will win.
And remember that you are appreciated even if you only do part of this. Recognition is where all of this begins: recognise that you are a writer and your journey with Clarendon House has begun.