I’ve written elsewhere about the process that a submission goes through once you send it to me for possible inclusion in a Clarendon House publication. But I am well aware that there seems to be an awful long time between you sending something off to me, and hearing back from me about its fate - so I wanted to give you a bit more of an idea of what happens in between.
I used to open three anthologies at once and set the same submissions deadline for all three. This was for three reasons: a) I wanted to create a bit of a ‘splash’ on the independent publishing scene b) I wanted to give writers a variety of targets for their pieces, and c) I wondered if that tiny bit of pressure on writers, to write for more than one anthology at the same time, might actually help to push them through some obstacles and get more writing done.
I think I succeeded regarding the first and second objectives. Clarendon House generated a huge amount of production between February and June this year, putting out Flashpoint, Galaxy, Storm, Vortex, Window, Carrier Wave, Cadence and Fireburst in very short order (though everything took much longer than I would have wanted it to). Not to mention the books I published in between. And lots of writers wrote lots of different kinds of things.
I’m not sure that I was right about the third objective though. Being persuaded by members of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group to ‘stagger’ the deadlines of the next set of anthologies, I noticed that something remarkable happened: the number of submissions sky-rocketed.
This might have been due to two things: firstly, Clarendon House might have become slightly more well-known over a period of a few months, and so have attracted more attention in the general marketplace; but also, I was probably wrong about the time-pressure thing. Given a bit more breathing space, it looks as though writers were able to get more stories finished and sent off.
Whatever the reasons, the results were that hundreds and hundreds of submissions poured in, particularly for Rapture, the romance anthology, and Enigma, the crime/mystery/thriller anthology. Both attracted over 150,000 words of stories, enough for two books each. Which is why it’s taking a while for me to get back to you on those books.
In addition, I am still working on Showcase: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Special Anthology 2018. That’s because each submission is being looked at from the viewpoint of my book How Stories Really Work. It’s not a case, with these submissions, that a story is simply accepted on its own merits: it has to be inspected, examined, ‘X-rayed’, to see if any of the principles of my book can be applied to its advantage. Progress has been painstakingly slow, therefore.
Furthermore, I am also working on Steve Carr’s next extravaganza of short stories, about which you will hear more in due course. And on a few other things too, which will remain mysterious for the time being.
All of this probably explains enough about why it’s taking so long. But there is another layer of reasons as well. That is to do with the way I work.
I’m not what I consider to be a ‘fast reader’. I have known people able to absorb books as though by some kind of osmosis, taking away huge Victorian novels and returning in a couple of days for the next book. I can’t do that. I reckon it takes me at least a couple of minutes to get through an average page of text, reading for pleasure. But what happens with submissions slows me down even more.
As your submissions come in, I cut and paste them into a ‘master file’ for that collection so that I gradually accumulate an anthology of potential stories. When the deadline comes, or as soon as possible after that, I start reading the master file. It’s not just reading, though: I am proofreading as I go, partly because it will save time if I accept a particular story at the end, and partly because I find it hard to drift past any kind of noticed error. As I read, I am calculating whether or not the piece is a good fit for the particular anthology in question. If I quickly come to the conclusion that it isn’t, I cut and paste it into a different document, for attention later; if I decide that it is - and this decision is partly based on whether or not it has held my attention right to the end, as well as on a number of other factors - then I complete the proofreading and format it into place in the master document. Then I move onto the next story.
In that way, by the time I have completed the first read-through of the whole file, I also have a workable draft anthology. I then read it over again, picking up errors that I missed the first time; then I add the ‘top and tail’ (the papers at the beginning of the book, including a table of contents and, if needed, an editor’s foreword, plus the papers at the back advertising other Clarendon House books) and devise a promotional letter.
Then I write to each accepted author and include the promotional material. I have to wait to hear back from all the authors, as one or two occasionally inform me that their story has been accepted elsewhere in the meantime, and I have to modify the whole document accordingly. (This is annoying - it’s much better for us all if you either don’t do multiple submissions, or if you must, you let me know as soon as you can of any acceptances elsewhere.)
I also then write back to those who haven’t been accepted.
Once I have had feedback from the authors, I can design a cover - as I like to have each author’s name on the cover (and I’m sure you like it too, if you've been accepted). I also write a blurb and put a back cover together. Then I can upload the whole thing and order a proof copy.
There’s about a week’s wait for the proof, which then gets another check through to pick up missed mistakes - there are always a few - and then I can go to print.
I hope that makes it clear why you have to wait such a long time sometimes, and in particular why you’re having to wait longer for feedback on Showcase, Rapture and Enigma. Right now I have something like 350,000 words of submissions in total to get through, with all the proofreading that that involves. And I can’t rush it - I’m trying to improve quality, not miss things.
On the question of Kindle, which comes up regularly: I am in no rush to use Kindle or Amazon generally. This comes across as heresy to some people, who are still convinced by the 'numbers illusion’ that any appearance on Amazon seems to engender. Yes, Amazon is a huge marketplace and I will eventually get every published book on it, but is it worth it commercially? No. I’ve been doing this for ten years or more now, in one way or another, and I can safely conclude that the time and effort involved in getting a book ready for Kindle and putting it on Amazon results in only a tiny, tiny fraction of the commercial returns from releasing a paperback elsewhere. ‘That’s crazy! That can’t be true!’ some will protest. But it is factual, based on hard experience and a lot of wasted time and effort. How can that be? Because (as I have said time and time again and will no doubt say again) ‘Marketing doesn’t work that way.’ Putting a book in front of millions of fast-moving people (even in an easy-to-access electronic format) does not outweigh putting a book in front of a few hundred more interested and slower-moving people in a smaller venue. Fact.
Play all the algorithm and keyword games you like. For myself, I prefer to use my time writing and communicating with real people.
Anyway, I thought I owed you something of an explanation. Now I’d better get back to reading…