You may not realise it, but the publication of 17 anthologies containing short stories or poems by various authors, plus 10 collections by individual authors over the last two years was only the first part of a grand strategy designed to help you reach the 'broader uplands of the spirit' as a writer.
I became aware of the existing marketplace for independent writers towards the end of 2017 when I launched Condor: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Inaugural Anthology 2018. I had no idea what to expect. My own initial assumptions about the world of fiction writing proved to be entirely incorrect: I imagined that the world was full of writers whose only failing was a lack of mastery of the craft of writing. Therefore, I concluded, my book How Stories Really Work, would fill a gaping hole in the marketplace and become a rapid bestseller.
The conclusion was wrong because it was based on a fantasy analysis — wishful thinking, in other words. The truth was quite different: there was indeed a marketplace out there, but its characteristics were not at all as I had expected. The truth of the situation was that there were many, many writers out there whose mastery of the craft of writing was already sufficient to produce good, gripping and beautiful work. The ‘gaping hole’ in the marketplace was that there were too few publication opportunities for them.
Hence Clarendon House Publications. CHP was first designed as an outlet for my own books, but, on realising the above, it became a vehicle for the publication of much of the quality work I found floating around out there. Many anthologies followed, each appearing to surpass the last, until many of those writers whose work I had first glimpsed many months ago became established Clarendon House authors, gaining places in anthologies again and again with me, but also with other publishing houses. Now, Clarendon House anthologies are part of the landscape of independent publishing and several of those authors have gone on to publish individual collections with me and elsewhere.
As I say, though, this is only the first part of a larger plan. By running the competition whereby the story gleaning the most readers’ votes earned its author the opportunity to publish his or her own collection, I was able to further study the marketplace in terms of readers: What stories proved popular? What stories didn’t? Was there any correlation between what I personally preferred or thought about a piece of fiction and what the marketplace as a whole thought about that same piece?
Personal taste in fiction is an interesting thing, deserving of elaboration probably in a separate article. Let me just assert this: personal preferences in fiction are one thing; objective assessment of what makes a piece of fiction work for readers is quite another. The first is determined by many variables — a reader’s personal experiences of previous stories, their emotional state, their leanings in Life overall and so on. You can’t force a person who likes a good romance tale to like a Western, for example; nor can you often persuade a hardcore science fiction fan to enjoy a dry, voluminous literary novel. These things are personal choices and are sacrosanct. Some readers have wider tastes and can embrace romances along with thrillers and 17th century poetry, but even those readers will have things that they don’t like to read.
But an objective assessment of what makes any piece of fiction work? For the first time, this is now possible, based on my book How Stories Really Work. Whether the story is a romance, a Western, a piece of hard science fiction or a long, literary novel, the underlying principles which make it work as a piece of fiction can now be understood. You don’t have to like the story, in other words, to understand what makes it tick.
Here’s one of the things that arose from this initial phase of strategy: those stories chosen by readers and those stories objectively assessed by me to contain certain elements, matched up. In other words, every story that won its author an opportunity to publish a collection could be broken down into component parts and its success with readers ‘explained’, regardless of personal taste.
From R. A. Goli’s symbolic and sympathetic piece ‘A Flicker of Time’ which first appeared in Flashpoint: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, all the way through to Christine King’s ‘The Fight’, which debuted in Blaze: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Flash Fiction Anthology 2019, the winning stories could be understood in terms of the principles described in How Stories Really Work. There wasn’t a single winning tale which had me scratching my head wondering ‘Why did this one do so well?’
So the first phase of the Clarendon House Publications Master Strategy was conclusive: How Stories Really Work really did nail what makes a piece of fiction successful.
That wasn’t the sole aim of the first phase, though. Part of the product of this period of intense anthology production, which is continuing even now with various other anthologies published and in progress, was to find those authors whose capacity to impact a reading public was clear. (That doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that the authors who didn’t win the competitions lack any such power — all the competitions have been close-won things, and there are many, many authors who have had fiction published with me whose time will come, based on the clear qualities in their work.) What that means is that certain things stood out, not just theoretically for me, looking at a story under ‘laboratory conditions’, if you like, but for the general reader, who is normally not consciously aware that he or she is being attracted and glued to certain stories by very precise factors which they contain.
The first phase was designed to find solid foundations for the second phase. The second phase? That promises to be a whole new game, the outcome of which will be even more exciting opportunities for you all as writers.