How My Strategy Changed - and What That Has To Do With You
The last few months have been productive ones for Clarendon House Publications.
Starting in December 2017, I have published a series of anthologies which have grown both in size and reputation. The first, Condor, was an experiment to see if the ‘anthology model’ would work out technically as well as commercially. Technically, it was a success, though, like all the other anthologies since, it has yet to show a profit commercially. What it made me realise, more importantly, was that my own understanding of the marketplace was incomplete.
You see, when I first decided to become an independent publisher, my idea was to generate an income mainly from helping people using my own books. I imagined that there were thousands of writers out there who had run into brick walls in both writing a good story and then in getting it published. There would be no shortage of writers, I thought, who would recognise that they had a problem and who would be desperately searching for solutions. My books and courses about the craft of writing, I theorised, would fill that gap by outlining the most revolutionary (and simplest) methodology for writing stories that (as far as I know) had ever been devised and making it as easy as possible to get recognition and commercial success from fiction writing. The result? I would continue to publish more and more materials, I thought, and earn my living from the ‘passive income’ that they produced, while knowing that I was helping others to achieve their dreams.
However, over a year of trying to use conventional marketing techniques with my core book How Stories Really Work and its associated courses achieved very little, even though the book itself consistently gained rave, five-star reviews all across the globe. Slowly it became evident to me that my picture of the marketplace was wrong, as well as my ideas of ‘successful marketing’.
Hence Condor. The inaugural anthology was a move in a different direction: instead of putting out more and more materials of my own, I would ask for others’ work and publish that. Condor was greeted warmly, but didn’t produce its target income. I could easily have stopped the experiment then, but for the crucial thing that it told me about the marketplace: there were plenty of writers out there, as I had thought - but there was also plenty of talent.
Yes, there were writers who needed help - writers whose stories were shapeless, or whose language was full of hyperbole, or whose characters were watery and unattractive, and so on. But they were vastly outnumbered by the writers who could already produce emotionally effective and powerful stories. Abruptly, my strategy changed: instead of trying to sell my own work to writers, I would set aside any commercial ambitions and help them to achieve their goals in a new way.
It seemed to me, especially after producing Flashpoint, the next group anthology, that there were two central goals out there amongst the writing community: the first was to gain confidence and assuredness as a writer; the second was to make a career from writing. Dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of writers were creating well-told and for the most part competent and interesting stories, but, because they were failing to get them noticed and published, these two goals were being undermined: many writers were feeling crushed, becoming introverted and sinking into self-doubt; and this negativity seemed to drag them further and further from a paid career in writing.
What was needed to reverse this situation was a publisher who would be willing to take on new writers without necessarily having any guarantee of commercial success. The next two anthologies - Galaxy and Storm - verified my hypothesis: there was a universe of talent out there, but hardly anyone was offering a portal through which it could reach readers. By the time I reached Vortex and Window, I had gathered a ‘stable’ of authors whose talent was beyond question, even though the mass readership which every writer desires was yet to appear.
Confidence amongst writers was certainly boosted, as I could tell from the feedback I was getting from the authors themselves. What I calculated needed to be built into this model was some kind of pathway towards the paid career part of the goal. And so I incorporated a competition into the anthologies, a mechanism whereby authors could be selected from each by votes for favourite stories, and then be offered a collection upon which I would be able to pay royalties. It was and is a narrow road, but it was something - there have been three winners so far, each of whom will be releasing their own collections in due course and each of which will, over time, be receiving money from those collections.
Of course, the whole thing is still small scale. As I’ve said, none of the anthologies produced so far has yet covered its production costs. But the strategy rests on firm foundations - i.e. on the actual dynamics of the market: writers want to be recognised, want to be published and want to get paid for their work. Those are the basics and that is what this is all built upon.
The plan is to continue to support writers in achieving their goals. Commerce too often gets this wrong and puts the cart (the money) before the horse (the dream). Only those who lead with the dream can be assured that eventually the money will come.
That’s the plan, anyway.