Small (Press) Giants

So, you wanna be an author? More specifically, a horror author? Cool. I can relate. I can dish. There is wisdom to be imparted here. Hopefully the next 1264 words help…

In any case, let’s start this sucker off properly – with the tipping of my hat, and a knowing nod of my head, I wish you good luck. The road ahead is rocky, and dark, and populated with its fair share of frustrating frustration. It ain’t easy, Loyal Reader, but if you know how to put a sentence together and have a head full of gruesome stories, small press glory awaits!

(These novels by Jeff Strand are some of the best horror has to offer!)

When I decided I wanted to be an author I had some serious delusions of grandeur. I had no idea how anything worked. I figured once I got a novel written, and edited, I was all set. All I had to do was print it out, and send it off to one of the major, New York publishers, and the money would start rolling in. This was way back in 2000, 2001, and e-mail submissions (a saving grace for anxious folks like myself) weren’t an option. If you wanted to take a crack at it, you had to write that ever-daunting cover letter and then print either your entire manuscript, or the first three chapters (the general standard), and then send them all off via the US Post.

And then you’d wait…

And wait…



Hold on a sec.

Let me back up a bit.

I’m hammering this out as I go and my brain likes to get ahead of itself. While we are waiting for that response from big New York (anywhere from three to twenty-four months) let’s talk logistics.

First, you gotta write the book. I’m at the point where that really has become the easy part. As a career novelist, I’m happy to report that after I wrote my first two novels, the process just got easier and easier. I enjoy the whole ordeal from the first word to the last. Let me stress that this is Super Important. If you’ve written that first novel and every second of it was like pulling teeth, and then you went on to work on a second, and maybe even a third, and things have yet to ease up…

This novelist thing probably isn’t for you. The pay (we’ll get to that) doesn’t justify the headache. If you want to do this, you have to enjoy it. You have to have a bit of that inner nerd rumbling around your heart and the four-eyed geek has to get excited about all of this dry stuff. There has to be an intrinsic need to do it.

Things like moving commas, and finding rhythm, and reading and rewriting the same passage hundreds upon hundreds of times, has to hold appeal. I teach high school English by day and though I am dealing with mallable kids who are still growing into adults, I see the frustration writing instills in some. The majority of these kids, I love ’em to death, but they will never ever, ever be authors. When they hear I’m an author, a few of them always come to me and say they want to write too. They share their stuff with me. They are not great. Then, there are others, who, at sixteen, seventeen, are as good as the pros. There has to be a bit of natural talent to succeed.

(Bram Stoker Award winner, Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s wild dark fantasy demonstrates some of the best writing out there!)

It boggles my mind, that some adults, some sane, seemingly together adults, want to be authors but can’t write a lick. I’ve met them through the small press horror boards, or Facebook, or at conventions, and I’ve agreed to read their stuff, and…well…it just blows me away. It’s kind of embarrassing. And this isn’t a personal opinion thing. This is a broken fundamentals thing. This is true delusion pure and simple.

Do your author friends a favor. If they suck, not story-wise or character development-wise, that stuff is all subjective, but on a fundamental grammatic level? Tell them so. I know it’s horrible to be mean and crush dreams, but it has to be done (not that I’ve ever been able to do it).

Anyways, if you love writing, and you knock out that first novel, and you look back at all the blood, sweat, and tears, and you still can’t wait to get going again, no hesitation, no fear…then you’re in! You pass! Okay, let’s go!

(Following JOHNNY GRUESOME, Gregory Lamberson has two, pulpy, fun series going at once! This author is working it!)

Sending out that first manuscript is rough. Expect rejections. Lots of them. And lots more. But don’t give up. This part of the process happens to almost every author (there are exceptions). When you finally get a bite and the publisher actually follows through and brings your work to print – pat yourself on the back, you are officially a published author. Awesome. Except… Well… Step back and take a look at the details of your publishing contract and the quality of the end product. Are you one of those that got so excited that a publisher, any publisher, wanted to buy your book, so you jumped head first before evaluating the validity of said publisher’s standards? It happens all too often (especially in the small press horror community).

I know what I am talking about because that is exactly how I got my start. No offense to Lachesis Publishing (the nice folks who took on my debut, I WILL RISE), but their micro-business tactics and ugly as sin art direction are not the way to go. I didn’t know any of this. I figured a publisher is a publisher and I was all set. Lachesis did as promised, but the end product was near embarrassing. I stand by the book (it’ll get another printing with a bigger publisher soon enough), but the POD quality, the layout, and my own cover art (and I am NO artist – they just figured they didn’t have to pay extra if they asked me to provide the art and I was eager enough to help out) reeked of the small press.

Don’t get me wrong. Small Press can be a beautiful thing, but the army of micro-publishers out there are uglying up the literary landscape by releasing sub-standard work that brings everyone else down. In my book there are maybe…I don’t know…five…six…maybe seven, excellent small press publishers that do incredible, professional work.

It’s my ultimate goal to work with major publishing houses and to get my work featured on prominent endcaps in bookstores (however long they may last). Once I’ve secured a review in Entertainment Weekly, I’ll be a happy camper, until then I’ll keep publishing with small press giants and demand that my work is well represented via top notch production values.

And so should you. If this horror writing thing is your thing and the major houses aren’t ready to take a chance on your work (this horror stuff tends to be edgy and dangerous, presenting a monetary risk), don’t settle. Please. I made that mistake early on, but have since figured out how things go down. I’m still not earning the professional rates (I believe my art deserves), but the dedication, and the willingness to spring for striking cover art, and the craftsmanship put into each of my recent hard cover limited releases, makes it all worthwhile. My readers can expect nothing less than the highest of quality and my books on my bookshelf (I know, I know, conceited) look damn sexy.

(John Little does some emotionally affecting magic and his writing is crystal sharp.)

In summary. Write. Enjoy writing. Be unique. Be strong. Be discerning. Don’t settle. Accept rejection gracefully and remember, so long as your stuff is well-written, and well thought out, somebody is bound to “Get it” and give you a shot.

Somehow none of this feels like enough. I can remember the frustration I felt in trying to get that first break. I wish I could do more to help other than offer up rambling, disjointed blog posts. Then again, you are my competition and if you succeed I will automatically loathe you.

Kidding, kidding. Once you’re in – you’ll see – we are all one, big, happy, disgruntled family of starving artists. Which reminds me… Here’s one more super valuable piece of advice. Be sure to attend horror conventions and mingle (same goes for mystery, thriller, romance and literary writers – find an appropriate convention and GO!). Published or not, don’t be shy about discussing your ambitions. You run into someone like me and I’m likely to introduce you to one of my benevolent publishers. Sometimes that’s just how things work.

See you tomorrow, Loyal Reader. Until then, write on!


6 Responses to “Small (Press) Giants”

  1. Oh, you hit the coffin nail right on the head. The road to horror publishing is lined with many well intentioned corpses. But the rewards are sweet as hell.

  2. As a huge advocate for the small press, and the owner of Evil Jester Press ( now go check our three month only opening debut of serious talent. A great line up and forthcoming projects, and goals to promoting every one of our authors and putting out professional work and never, ever self publishing our editors or me, and our three year plan) I promise you we will be a Big Small Press who cares about every author!!

    You need to do it right. And your article speaks truth. All writers must research their market. I was in the same boat as I sold 14 short stories and two Novels (2 novels sold within three months to reputable small presses) I have the same vision as you Ben, we writers need to support and protect each other. There are many vanity and small press antics going on!! However, there are other struggling well intentioned small press, and those I will support!! Good stuff Ben!!

    Every writer needs to do their homework.

    All the Best,

    Charles Day

    • Michael, sorry about calling you Ben. I was thinking about the cover I passed as I was reading. And dran, I can’t get back in to correct the error of my ways!!

      C. Day

      • No problem, Charles. I love Ben Kane Ehtridge and am Proud to have his cover representing my blog if only for a day.

        I’ve been paying attention to your climb (with Dark Jester) and wish you all the luck in the world. I know it’s tough, tough work to get a new press off the ground. So far, so good though. Your lineup is lucking great! Keep up the good work, my friend.

  3. Oops! I meant to say “looking great,” not “lucking.” Sorry.

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