EQMM‘s Department of First Stories in the current issue (November/December 2019) contains a story by Angelique Fawns, a producer and writer for Global TV in Toronto. Although she only started writing fiction last summer, Angelique’s stories have appeared online and in several small-press magazines. In past decades, whether someone qualified for EQMM’s Department of First Stories was usually easily determined. It is more complicated today, with so many small, nonpaying markets for stories available. Often, these days, a judgment call is required. Some of the things we consider are how frequently an author has been published in small journals or online and how wide the circulation of those publications is. What is most crucial is whether the previous appearances were what the industry considers “paid professional publications.” Small journals often pay nominal amounts or nothing at all. EQMM will usually accept an author for the Department of First Stories if his or her previous publications fall into that payment category. But another factor is whether the Mystery Writers of America has approved the publisher for award consideration; any previous publication in a magazine or journal approved by MWA disqualifies the author from appearing in EQMM’s Department of First Stories. As complicated as the appearance of so many new, small markets for mystery and crime fiction has made our job, I think this proliferation of markets is a good thing. As Angelique explains in this post about her own experience with small presses, they give many talented authors a start while also providing personal attention and encouragement. Perhaps what she has to say will point some new writers in a promising direction.—Janet Hutchings
It is an exciting time to be a writer in this brave new world of self-publishing and expanding markets. With the advent of several online platforms, including Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords, authors no longer need to rely on traditional publishers to get their work out into the world.
A good place for new (and even established) authors to get their work printed and do some networking is through small independent publishers and their anthology or magazine projects. Who are the individuals taking the time to create these books? What motivates them, and is there any profit margin? Where do they see the future taking them? In order to get a sense of the people behind the anthology and indie-magazine covers, I asked a few publishers these very questions.
Azzurra Nox is the force behind Twisted Wings Productions, and she has a short story horror anthology coming out in February 2020 called Strange Girls in Horror. She launched her company in 2015, with her first Women in Horror anthology My American Nightmare printed in 2017.
Nox says, “I work as a graphic designer for my day job. Which I guess helps with being able to have an eye to choose the most appealing book covers for the anthologies I put out.”
As with most of the publishers I interviewed, her ventures are more of a labor of love.
Nox explains, “By far, My American Nightmare: Women in Horror Anthology has been the most successful I’ve printed, but all profits made were used to invest in the second anthology that I’ll be printing. All money made gets invested back into new projects that will showcase a whole new slew of women writers.”
When asked why she does what she does, she says, “I look forward to putting together more Women in Horror anthologies in the future! By far, those have been the most fun to do, because writing is a solitary task—but when you work with other authors then you’re able to forge new friendships, and I think it’s important for writers to have friends that are writers too, because they will be able to understand many of your struggles that your nonwriter friends may not comprehend.”
Alec Cizak is the brainchild behind Pulp Modern, a fiction journal that publishes crime, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and even delves into topics that are typically taboo. Though he wishes he was born in the era where pulp fiction was a profitable venture, he teaches literature and composition to pay the bills. The current issue of Pulp Modern features futuristic crime stories. To date, he’s published fifteen issues of the magazine.
Cizak says, “I started publishing Pulp Modern because I didn’t see any journals at the time that brought the major genres together. I also didn’t see any big-time publications publishing riskier stories, so I felt there was a need for a market that could take chances since no advertising dollars were on the line. As time went on, I decided to continue publishing Pulp Modern because it provided a place for new writers to get their work in print. I suppose it’s like a farm team in baseball. Writers get their work in Pulp Modern and then move on to get agents and contracts with the Big Five and all that good stuff.”
When asked about profitability, he says, “This is, financially, a losing venture. The recent Tech Noir issue cost about six hundred dollars to produce. It’s generated about fifty dollars in sales, and I doubt that number will even double. This is a labor of love. The independent pulp-fiction community has had lags over the last ten years or so, moments where there were almost no markets for new writers, and I’ve gone through periods where I thought I would quit, but enough people would write to me and insist I keep Pulp Modern going that I gave in every time and got back to it. There are many, many writers out there. Some of them are really good, and they don’t have connections in the publishing world. A journal like Pulp Modern is there to make sure those unheard voices are heard.”
Lewis Williams works full time in the industry, saying “books, editing, and writing are my day job.” He is the founder of Corona Books UK, and claims he can’t take all the credit because he has friends, family, and business partners who help quite a bit. Corona Books UK was started in 2015, and have published The Corona Book of Ghost Stories, The Corona Book of Science Fiction, and three volumes of The Corona Book of Horror Stories.
He started his small press as, “a desire to seek out, celebrate, and give a voice to some of the writing talent out there that mainstream publishers are apt to ignore. Genuinely, there’s so much writing talent out there in fields like horror and science fiction. For our last horror anthology we received over 800 short-story submissions, and whilst it’s true not all of them were of the standard we’d want to publish, there were still far more stories we’d have been very pleased to publish than there were room for in one book.”
As for profitability?
Williams says, “It’s true to say we’re doing this more for art’s sake than for profit, at least at this stage, and if you genuinely counted all the hours that went into producing something like The Third Corona Book of Horror Stories from 800 submissions, profit would just be a distant spot on the horizon!”
Future plans include “The Fourth Corona Book of Horror Stories for 2020 and, as long as my heart’s still beating, a horror anthology every year after that! We also plan to do more with science fiction and other genres—and will be announcing plans soon.”
Jonathan Lambert is the founder and editor of Jolly Horror Press, with a new anthology Accursed available December 10, 2019, and Betwixt the Dark & Light and Don’t Cry to Mama now available on Amazon. He works as a senior executive at a U.S. Federal Government Agency, and spends his weekends working on his writing and anthologies. His press specializes in comedy/horror.
Lambert says, “after a few years of experience selling short stories to anthologies, I just decided I could do a better job. Provide better customer service, and be more author friendly. I could also create a press dedicated to horror/comedy. Finally, these stories could have a home. I just needed the name, and one day Jolly Horror Press just popped in my head. The rest is history.”
Lambert explains, “I use the words ‘labor of love,’ and that’s true. I don’t care if our books are profitable. I’d love it, of course, but it’s not going to stop us from producing quality anthologies. I do have that day job, you know?”
Natalie Brown just recently released the Scary Snippets Halloween Anthology, and is a stay-at-home mom with three small boys. She opened Suicide House Publishing on July 28, 2019. Scary Snippets Halloween was its second debut publication; with the first being Calls From The Brighter Futures Suicide Hotline (hence the company name) released on September 19th.
Brown says, “I became a member of the online horror-writing community in February of this year. During that time, I have had so many ideas for future collaborations and anthology topics. Since then, I have been offered so many amazing opportunities as an author; I really wanted to pay it forward. It means a lot to help other people’s dreams come true like others did for me.”
Suicide House currently has a call out for Christmas microfiction, and Brown says, “one plan we have is to create a market for people to take their microfiction holiday pieces. We plan to have collections for every holiday, with Christmas well underway currently. Also our insect-horror anthology Death and Butterflies will have two installments released in early 2020, with the first being set to release January 1st.”
Valerie Willis works as the lead typesetter for Salem Author Services serving under the main imprints of Xulon Press and Mill City Press and also runs Battle Goddess Productions. She has been hosting the Demonic Anthology since 2017, and currently has three Demonic books in print.
Willis says, “I wanted to traditionally publish in the beginning. It was through conversation with several literary agents that I discovered some very important things about myself and my writing. First off, I blend and mix so many genres that my work can be difficult to market and target the right audience. Secondly, they gave me resources and advice and set the expectation that my story was good, but if I wanted to self-publish, I would have to become a small press or entity that wasn’t afraid to push out the same quality look and feel of the big publishers. With all of the good advice, I moved forward with the reassurance that this had been my fate. Learning so much, and after much practice, I eventually opened up Battle Goddess Productions so that I may publish, push, and help other authors like so many had done for me.”
Willis says her anthologies are different because, “we are an unexpected blend, with paperback books that are a little more decorated inside than the average book. Authors are encouraged to blend and mix genres and we do our best to let the readers know what to expect.”
As for profit, “right now, it’s a tight fit. Most of the profit earned is rolled right back into the business to maintain sites, pay for subcontractors, and mostly into the advertisement and marketing. We are not pushing out to our full potential, considering I am technically still a one-man-army raising a family with a day job. Still, we sell books constantly and steadily even when we are not pushing for all our titles at once.”
Willis has no plans to slow down, saying, “it would be wonderful if in the future I could even provide several imprints to include genres outside the speculative-fiction focus that we currently have built. If you need something dark, fantasy, or even off the beaten path, know that you will definitely find it here at Battle Goddess Productions.”
As an author with stories in all of these anthologies, I personally appreciate the efforts of the individuals behind the pages and the time and attention they pay to their passion. It truly is an exciting time to be a short-story writer!