award-winning Amazon-bestselling author and editor
When I first started looking for places to submit my work, your website christopherfielden.com was where I was directed to look. What made you take on the mammoth task of compiling lists of places people could submit their work to?
When I first started developing my website, I planned to use it to showcase my writing. After the site was launched, it quickly became apparent that no one was finding the site and reading my stories because no one had heard of me. I had a background in digital marketing, so I used my experience to think of ways to develop the website and grow my audience.
I had a large spreadsheet of publishing opportunities that I’d complied while researching publications and competitions to submit to. I thought other writers might find that useful, so I built a list of short story competitions on my website. Over a six month period, I saw my website traffic shoot up, simply because of that one page. I’ve written about it extensively for Moz (a leading digital marketing blog), explaining how I made it work in more detail and sharing all the statistics. You can read the article here.
Due to the success of my short story competitions list page, I developed other similar resources for flash fiction, novels, non-fiction and poetry. As more people found my site, I started to receive requests from writers for information on other topics, so I developed all sorts of resources based on what they’d asked for. This in turn led to me selling more books and gaining a wider readership for my own stories.
So, in answer to your original question, I did it to gain a larger audience and help my writing career. I’m pleased to say it worked, but it’s taken a very long time to develop and continues to be a time-consuming project. Luckily, I enjoy it.
You can learn a lot more about my journey as a writer, and how I make a living from writing, by reading this (rather epic) blog post on the subject.
You’re a writer yourself. What are your preferred genres to write in and why?
My favourite genre is humorous fantasy. I’ve always been a big fan of writers like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams – I love their use of humour. But I also enjoy reading darker stories, like those by Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Philip K. Dick and Clive Barker, so my writing sometimes contains horrific elements but with an underlying sense of humour. On top of that, I love general fantasy stories, like those written by Ursula K. Le Guin, David Gemmell, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Robert E. Howard etc. My list of influences is very long so I’ll stop there…
Essentially, I enjoy reading all forms of speculative fiction, so that’s what I’m drawn to write – an amalgamation of those genres. My short story collection, Book of the Bloodless Volume 1: Alternative Afterlives, was published by Victorina Press in 2019 and we published the audiobook version recently, in January 2021. You can learn more about my writing style by reading the book:
Apologies for the shameless plug, but my publisher will be very pleased with me.
On your website, you run a series of writing challenges and competitions (links here). What advice would you give to writers who are just starting out?
Read a lot (if you like a story, read it twice and try to work out why you like it, then apply what you’ve learned to your own writing), write a lot (‘practice makes perfect’ is a cliché for good reason), say yes to every opportunity (you never know where it might lead) and never give up.
The idea behind the flash fiction writing challenges I run was to encourage new writers by giving them the experience of seeing their stories published in books. Many of the writers I’ve published via the challenges have gone on to bigger and better things. It’s always nice to receive an email from someone I’ve published telling me they have had a story accepted by a prestigious magazine or been offered a publishing deal. It makes it all seem worthwhile.
Recently, I launched a challenge specifically for young writers after being contacted by an arts teacher at a school where most of the children are underprivileged, asking me to publish poetry written by their students. That’s what inspired the challenge. I’ve received some amazing creative writing already, from young authors located all over the world. It’s great to encourage them to be creative. Readers can take a look at their stories and poems here.
Rejection is hard to take when you first begin writing. Why do you think it’s important for young and emerging writers to continue submitting their work?
All writers experience rejection. It’s just part of being a writer, so if you want to be successful, you have to get used to it. Take Stephen King as an example. He talks very openly in interviews about how long it took him to have his first story published (many years). If he’d given up when he received his first rejection letter, the world of literature would have been deprived of one of the greatest and most prolific writers who has ever lived. You can learn more about that by watching this YouTube conversation between Stephen King and George R. R. Martin. It’s very interesting.
The thing to remember is that if you receive a rejection, it doesn’t mean you can’t write. And it doesn’t mean your story is bad. It just means the publication you submitted the story to isn’t its rightful home.
A story I wrote recently called ‘Life of a Superhero’ took a long time to find its home. It was rejected by nine different publications before being accepted by Dark Lane Books for their next anthology. I could have given up after the first couple of rejections, but I didn’t – I believed in the story and wanted it to be published, so I kept trying.
I run To Hull And Back, is a humorous short story competition.
Every year, I have to reject brilliant stories. This is because I receive around 550 to 600 submissions and there are only 20 places on the shortlist. I simply pick the stories that are most suitable for my competition. Many of the submissions I reject go on to be published elsewhere, which is fantastic. They often deserve to be published.
I think judging a competition or editing a magazine gives you a different perspective on rejection, so I guess I’m privileged in that respect. That’s why I openly share my experiences, so other writers can learn not to take rejection to heart. Every time my competition runs, I do a full write-up and try to put everything into perspective for the authors who submitted and weren’t successful. You can read my most recent write-up here.
Remember: if you receive a rejection letter/email, it’s your story that’s been rejected, not you. Keep submitting and never give up. Persistence is important.
You’ve written a ‘how to’ book about writing short stories. What do you think is the most important aspect of the short story and which author do you think best encapsulates this?
I think a short story needs to feel complete. The most important thing (in my opinion) is to have a protagonist with something at stake so the reader sympathises with them and wants to read on. The conflict that comes out of the situation the stakes create can resolve itself in many different ways, but if the conflict is resolved, the reader will feel satisfied.
As an example, if you look at Lord of the Rings, Frodo has to take the One Ring (or Ruling Ring) and destroy it by throwing it into Mount Doom. If he doesn’t, the Shire and everything he cares about will be destroyed. In the end, he succeeds. Therefore, the reader feels satisfied at the book’s conclusion. This is important for novels, but it’s also important for short stories – the same principle should be applied. As a writer, if you understand that, you are likely to see more of your stories published.
There are so many different writers that are good at this that it’s impossible to select one that best encapsulates it. But try Terry Pratchett. His short stories and novels are excellent, and I have never been disappointed by one his endings.
You can learn more about stakes, conflict, and many other aspects of short story writing, by reading this excellent article written by Dr Lynda Nash.
Which short stories would you recommend as ‘must reads’?
There are so many… I think Roald Dahl is a good place to start. He has a vivid imagination and his stories are compelling. Philip K. Dick is the same. His short stories have inspired films like Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, which stands testament to the quality of his writing. And you could try reading some of the To Hull And Back competition anthologies – the winning stories are excellent. Admittedly, I am slightly biased… but they really are very good.
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Christopher!
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