Horror and crime author Robert E. Dunn has been an avid supporter and ongoing contributor to Shotgun Logic for, hard as it is to believe, a couple years now and over the course of that time period he’s been a seemingly endless source of both great literature and great insights. I have the honor and the pleasure of finally having some of his crime fiction in my reader sights for 2018 in the form of his novel Dead Man’s Badge, and you’ll almost certainly see me talking about that here. But in the meantime, here’s a new entry in the “great insights” category. Continuing in the ongoing series he’s been contributing to the site for about the last year, here he talks about and espouses the unmeasurable importance of the independent press in the horror genre and the huge value add they are for the indie horror author. So, let me get the hell out of the way and shut my pie hole and let the way-more-eloquent-than-I great author Robert E. Dunn have the mic. Enjoy.

Go Small or Go Home

Last time Shane gave me space to blather on about becoming a published horror author, it was about writing the query letter. That was basically directed at querying literary agents for representation. This time I want to talk about the direct to publication route.

I recently had a discussion with a writer friend who has always had a desire to work in the horror genre he loves. I’ll tell you he’s a successful crime author, more successful than me. Like so many out there in the general reading world though, he loves the horror he’s been exposed to. Let me say the important part again, that he’s been exposed to.

Even as a successful writer he saw horror as King, Straub, Koontz, Barker, and the occasional break out. Horror in our popular culture has been defined by very few books and more frequently movies. It is the smaller, more vibrant culture of small press horror I was so happy to introduce him to. I told him that the small press world, especially for horror, is lively, more than respectable, and commercially productive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that small press horror is the bedrock of the genre. And more than in any other genre, where the real life is.

For a writer, small presses offer more direct access. The owner is often the publisher, editor, designer, even shipping person. (Get to know them and all they do.) Even better than access, is the openness to ideas. Small presses can get behind, and even make some money off of, books that the larger, more risk adverse, publishers would never consider.

One of the neat things is that you can find presses that specialize in sub-niche books. Kaiju? We got a press for that. Extreme, gross out horror? Got you covered. Even, or maybe especially, if you have a new kind of monster mash up you have options. Let’s say you’ve written, THE FULL MOON MOTORCYCLE CLUB, about werewolf bikers hunted down by a victim who has to kill them all with a silver machete before he is turned. Where are you going to go with it? Small press horror has you covered.

Something else to think about. Modern small presses exist because of affordable digital tools and a sales stream provided by digital distribution and web sales options. A lot of people talk about the eminent disappearance of publishing. They are wrong. It is changing, still shaking, but it won’t go away. In fact, publishing is exploding. There are more books being released now than at any time in history. That’s good and bad for writers. There are more markets and access to them but there is more competition for each dollar or each .99 spent on books. It’s that .99 that’s key. Prices for books have been pushed to the absolute bottom. Like it or not, your book is just another commodity in the marketplace.

You can go self-pub, hire an editor, formatter, artist, and do all the work to place the books and fulfill the orders. Congratulations, you’re a publisher. Is that what you wanted to be? Are you doing it as well as it needs to be done? Probably not if you’re like me. I don’t want to do those things. Don’t get me wrong there are many out there who do it. Some who do it make me envious of your talent for writing and skills at producing the book. But they are the exception. Keep in mind though, your book is competing against not just the good ones, but the thousands of truly awful ones too. And all of them at the lowest possible price. If you are out there fighting in the price current it is hard to stand out on quality. If you know how, I’m behind you but I don’t think it’s for me.

Small presses add value. They hire real artists, and book designers. Your book is grouped with their slate as a professional product. They have relationships with reviewers and bloggers. They have what you need to rise above the mud of the price bottom even if your book is at $.99.

So my advice to that writer friend, and to any writer who wants to build a presence in horror, is to go small or go home. To get you started here is a short list of links in no particular order. It’s just a sample of the many great publishers out there. These people do great work. You should read their books even if they don’t publish yours.