A Different Way of Doing Things...Part One: Four Observations
I wanted to brief you on something big coming from Clarendon House in the next weeks and months. Yes, I know — it seems that there is always something big coming from Clarendon House. I hope there always will be. This particular thing — or set of things — though, may be something of a game changer for us both.
After two years of running the Inner Circle Writers’ Group and having published hundreds of thousands of words from over 200 new and established authors, I’ve observed a few things. Here’s a quick summary:
1. There are a LOT of writers out there.
The ones I have helped to publish are only a tiny fraction of the writers who are out there, all over the planet, trying to finish things, trying to publish things, trying to sell things. These people have become visible due to the miracle of social media — prior to about a decade and a half or so ago, writing, due to its solitary nature, was largely an invisible activity. The public at large only saw what writers were doing when a publisher released a new book; the only glimpse of the writing life that most of us had was when one of us admitted that we were ‘trying to write a book’ at a party.
Social media has changed all of that. By enabling even the quietest, most introverted writer to communicate, whole communities of creativity showed up. Connections were made, groups formed, small publishers appeared, and the profile of writers generally became much more distinct. Along with the rapid improvement in desktop publishing tools, this all formed quite a different culture around the writer. Instead of being shut inside the traditional garret, struggling to finish his or her book, the picture of the writer changed to one of an individual more engaged with the community at large, someone who could, if they so chose, publish their own book or books.
The Inner Circle Writers’ Group has just over 5,000 members at this writing; some of the larger writing groups have over 100,000. The world is awash with people writing — and that’s just the ones who are brave enough to show their faces on social media.
2. Writers fall into some broad categories.
Not all of these writers are at the same stages in their careers. In fact, there are wide ranges of things going on. Some are ephemeral presences — they appear and disappear and we might never know if they are actively writing anything or not; some occasionally produce something and then drop out of sight again. Others, at the other end of the spectrum, are published authors and well-known names, many of whom are admired and emulated.
My own hazy definition of ‘the writer’ two years ago was far from adequate. As I’ve said before, I had no real idea of what was going on in the field, but had formulated some kind of vague concept of a writer busy producing works and facing rejection after rejection because they lacked key tools of storytelling and were thus missing the mark with publishers. What I didn’t realise until much later on was that, while there were a few writers for whom this was happening, the majority of writers did not fit into that category. Most were competent, had work completed or almost completed, and were looking to be published, or, if they had already published something, were looking to reach more readers and make more money.
The Clarendon House Anthologies were developed to satisfy the demand for publication opportunities. But there were many other demands in the marketplace too, including (though by no means limited to):
i) a need to overcome the barriers presented by Life so that writing actually occurred (I wrote a free ebook to help.)
ii) a need to know what was wrong with their writing so as to improve its craft (my original conception of what was going on which How Stories Really Work addressed.)
iii) a need to package their work so that it attracted the right readers
iv) a need to find the right audience and make more money (see my Marketing Handbook).
Broadly speaking, these writers fell into two groups:
A) beginning writers who were responding to a subjective urge to write but had little idea of what, how, when and why or where to go from there
B) established writers who had work out there, a track record of success to some degree and who were now looking to be able to focus on writing as a paying career.
Of course, there were some who fell in between these two: writers who had perhaps had some success but no clear strategy or idea why their work had been accepted; or writers who felt that they really knew why they were writing but didn’t understand why they weren’t more successful commercially.
3. There were a LOT of wacky and false marketing ideas out there.
I won’t go into those here, I’ve written extensively about them elsewhere. Suffice it to say, the world is awash not only with writers and wannabe writers but also with fiercely held but totally deceptive notions of how to market and sell books effectively, notions so powerfully held that they are glued to many writers emotionally and won't be prised away from them by any amount of logic.
4. The whole culture of ‘writing’ is not isolated from the culture as a whole.
Most of us will be familiar with the ‘artist starving in his garret’ picture which comes from the 19th century — a poor, emaciated painter, the image usually goes, unable to make any money at all from his art, but so passionate that he is unable to give it up and ‘get a real job’, and so is subject to brutal commercial consequences.
From this flows the idea that the ‘poor writer’ is lower on the food chain than the mighty carnivorous publisher, and that it is the writer’s destiny to be endlessly chasing publication opportunities in the vast marketplace in the desperate hope of one day being recognised as a great author and making it into the Big Time.
The Writer is Effect, goes this stereotype; the Publisher is Cause. The almighty Publisher is the only one who can take work out of obscurity and find it a viable number of readers — until this wonderful miracle happens, the writer must bear the burden of failure, rejection, ignominy and poverty.
You have probably recognised this picture by now. Indeed, you may have so swallowed it that you question how it could be otherwise than the Bitter Truth: how else is a writer supposed to proceed except by begging, door to door, at the offices of publishers with open calls for submissions?
‘What if I told you’ (he says, echoing the lines in The Matrix film that the character Morpheus never actually said) ‘that that picture of things is almost entirely false?’
I don’t mean, of course, that it doesn’t happen. Of course it does: most of you have directly lived that scenario of ‘open submission chasing’. How foolish of me, you might think, to suggest that it was not the absolutely verifiable state of affairs for all creative writers?
And yet I do dare to say so.
There is another way.