Category Archives: Genres

The Call of the Small Publisher

Beware! All small publishers aren’t created equal, and most of them will do absolutely nothing for you except waste your time and tie up your rights.

First of all, there was a time when a small publisher could really help a writer. But this was before the Internet and before services widely used by small publishers weren’t readily available to writers.

Nowadays all services that are available to small publishers are available to writers in one form or another, everything from editing to interior and cover design to printing to promotion to distribution. As a writer, you can become the publisher. You don’t have to rely on someone else to control your writing destiny.

Now, if you talk to enough people you will hear plenty of positive and negative stories about small publishers, and this includes print and e-publishers.

I have been with three small publishers over the last fifteen years. I needed the first small publisher because it was when the Internet was still in its infantile stage, and self-publishing had so many negative connotations.

Back then, subsidy publishers were rip-off traps that raped writers young and old. They charged outrageous prices for their services and offered little help after they finished printing your book. You were left to swim or drown. Most writers drowned, never recouping their initial investment. Many of these companies are still in business in one form or another.

My first publisher represented a dozen or so writers and helped when they could, but they had a limited budget. Most of the footwork and promotion was up to me. I understood my part and did what I could to promote my book. Things were going along slowly, but smoothly. Then, the publisher ended up biting the dust, and that was it. I was back to square one.

My second publisher was someone I respected greatly. He had been in the business for a long time, and had connections with a lot of different people in the industry. But publishing is a grind. It burns out those with the best intentions. He ended up giving all his authors back their rights and closed shop. To his credit, he helped me a lot with my writing and was the first person to suggest I start my own publishing company. The company would publish one author—me. I should have taken his advice.

Unfortunately, I was offered a three year deal from a larger small publisher, one that represented several hundred authors in one form or another. They gave me a small advance that was used for a three minute video to promote the book. When I signed the contract I knew they were a lot different from my previous two publishers. Their contract was much longer, and contained clauses that would make it difficult to leave if I wanted to sever my relationship early.

Things started off well. They were polite and attentive, answering all my questions. But in the back of my mind there were things I didn’t like about them. I almost didn’t sign with them, and looking back at it I should have followed my gut and passed on their offer.

First of all, their acquisition editor confused me with another author. That was the first warning. Then, they didn’t care what size the book was or what was on the front cover. They were like ‘that’s up to you.’ Then came the price they would charge for the book, and my discount rate. I thought both were too high for an unknown author.

Lastly came the advice they gave me for any future books. They suggested that I make them a certain length so they would be easier to package. After a few months, I realized I was going to make zilch from this deal unless I really busted my butt. They were going to make money no matter what happened.

That’s when it hit me! Why bust my butt for a small percentage when I can bust my butt and reap the lion’s share.

Now I have to admit that I had no idea about cover design, interior design, blurbs, price points, discounts, promotional pieces, giveaways, reviews, ISBNs, and a bunch of other information that my publisher knew.

But you know what? All that information is readily available on the internet. There are many good people out there who are willing to help you. Of course, you have to beware of the many sharks too, but it is like any business. There will always be good with the bad.

Next, look at the life expectancy of many small publishers, both traditional and on-line. Notice how many of them are out of business after a short while. A lot of them! They will never have the passion that you have for your work. no matter what they say. Many of them are like a lot of agents—they will suck your blood dry, and then when there is nothing left, they’ll move onto the next victim. I mean writer.

If you can start your own publishing company this is the best time to do it. There is a ton of information out there. If you’re still a little nervous about taking the plunge, team up with another writer. You can share the cost, the hours, the ups and downs.

But remember, it’s a business and you should treat it like a business. The more you put into it, the better chance you will get something positive out of it. But be realistic. Most likely, you will never get rich. You probably won’t even make a living or you will make a marginal living.

As writers, we all want to make money, but if you’re in the business just for the cash, do something else. You can make a lot more money in other lines of work.

Lastly, I want to give two references that everyone should read if they even have an inkling of becoming a publisher or if they just want to become a better writer.

One of these people I know well, and I consider him a friend. He’s smart and at times inspirational. The other is someone that I don’t know. But the guy is friggin’ brilliant. Every article I read from him gives me hope and makes me want to write and publish.

The first gentlemen is Harvey Stanbrough. You can find him at HarveyStanbrough.com. The second gentlemen is Dean Wesley Smith. You can find him at deanwesleysmith.com.

Guest Bio:
Glen M Glenn is an entrepreneur and a fiction writer. His books Last of the Firstborn, Dark Ritual and Sheepland will be coming out later this year. You can check his website out at glenmglenn.com.

 

Coffin Hop Press – Home of Weird and Wonderful Fiction

An Interview with publisher and author Axel Howerton.

Axel Howerton has a great sense of story – not only for those he writes, but also for those he publishes. What strikes me about Axel is his sincerity – he isn’t involved in the writing community as a marketing or publishing strategy – for him, it’s a passion for a good story told, to support authors, and to provide readers with access to the unique and weird tales they love. I asked Axel about his experiences as a publisher and what he sees in the future for noir and noir crime genres.

Axel, Coffin Hop Press serves the genre of horror and noir and embraces it in all the sub genres of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, detective noir, western and literary. You belong to the Crime Writers of Canada and have had several stories published. What did you see or not see happening in the market place that spurred you to start Coffin Hop Press?

When I came back to writing fiction (after a decade of “entertainment journalism” doing reviews, interviews and articles on film and DVD), I started in horror. My first few publications were in horror publications, and I worked briefly as an associate editor for a quarterly called Dark Moon Digest. I found myself in a new community of horror and dark fantasy writers, and found that there were very few promotional avenues for us at the time. I started a blog hop event called Coffin Hop. Back then, all of the blog hops and online events were for romance writers.

By the third year of the event, it had exploded beyond expectations, and many of those involved wanted to put together a book. So, we chose a charity – LitWorld.org – and put together what became the first Coffin Hop Press book, Death by Drive-In. Once I had created that imprint, and had the systems in place, I used it to self-publish a few things, but something about that felt disingenuous, so I sought out a new anthology project. The first idea was for weird westerns, borne of my own love for weird pulp fiction, and the number of writer friends I have who have similar interests. As I became more involved with Crime Writers of Canada, and especially my local writing community in Alberta, I once again felt the need to build something to showcase the underexposed people I had been working with. That led to AB Negative, a collection of Alberta-based crime stories by Alberta-based crime writers. My new goal is to turn Coffin Hop Press into a solid business, to continue making great anthologies, but also branch out and help the world discover great new writers and unusual genres.

Coffin Hop Press has done a lot of interesting things to promote itself, its books and anthologies but also to promote the genre of horror and crime. I sense you’re having too much fun with it all! You have Noir at the Bar events, you participate in Canada Crime Writer and con events, you’ve sponsored several fun and twisted crime anthologies and now you’re launching Noirvellas.

I’ve long been known (in my own little publishing circles, anyways) as the genre guy, and particularly as the “noir” guy. My tastes have always run to the weird and wonderful – 40’s gangsters, 50’s sci-fi, 60’s sleaze, 70’s crime thrillers – and that’s what I want to publish. With novellas being more marketable due to the proliferation of digital readers, and “noir” becoming something of a catchphrase for dark crime thrillers, it seemed like a no-brainer to put the two together. I think the dark subject matter and shorter format go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Noir at the Bar was another way to foster crime writing in my own community. It’s something that started a while ago in St. Louis and spread across North America. I’m proud to say ours was one of the very first in Canada, but more than anything, it’s a way to get people out to hear local crime writers and talk about that kind of fiction.

I’m also working with the Chiaroscuro Reading series, which is a national series sponsored by ChiZine Publications that focuses on the darker side of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as horror. All puddles that I still have my toes dipped in. My latest novel, Furr, and the upcoming Wolf & Devil series are a mix of crime and dark urban fantasy.

For a few years, you held the Coffin Hop which was a week of blog hops and tours held in October. What were your goals with that event? You eventually stopped running it. What were your take-aways from the event and would you recommend it as a marketing strategy for other niche presses?

At the time, an extended multi-author event was a novel approach for horror. We tried very hard to make it something special. We made it a week long, with required cross-pollination between authors. We added special events like poetry slams and art shows, and everyone was required to do giveaways. The problem was, the more popular it became, the more diluted it became, until it was just a flood of people demanding to be involved, yet unwilling to follow those rules, or provide those benefits to readers. The original participants began to get disheartened by the number of people who swooped in and just threw up a paragraph mentioning the hop, then spent a week blasting their own repetitive advertising, instead of working together to make the week a real event for everyone’s readers. Eventually, I got tired of explaining the rules to boorish spammers, and trying to enforce some semblance of fun and frivolity out of the chaos of hundreds of people trying to out scream each other. It had become something akin to a carnival barker convention on crack. At the same time, I wanted to use the imprint that I had created and owned the website for, etc. etc. to work on new book projects, so I suspended the hop and opened the press.

I do think that a similar type of event could work very well, if contained and managed properly. I blame myself for opening the floodgates and not being ready for the onslaught. It was definitely a wake-up call to see the difference between writers and self-advertisers. There’s a troubling ocean of people out there who are flooding the internet with product. They care much less about the art and value of their writing, about telling stories, than they do about getting attention and flogging their wares for a quick buck.

What is local and normal for some is exotic for others. You’ve made it a point to encourage and promote crime and noir stories set locally in the province of Alberta and in Canada. Why this strategy?

AB Negative was a way for me to try and foster the community that I’m in, my hometown crime writing community. There’s a lot of great talent here that is mostly overlooked. There are a lot more avenues for promoting your work in Toronto or Vancouver but, as I found in my dealings with the Crime Writers of Canada, the rest of the country is very much left out in the cold, if you’ll excuse the pun. I wanted to showcase some of the people whose work I admire, and put out the kind of collection I like to read, something eclectic and diverse, with different voices, different styles, and different sub-genres of crime fiction. Nothing annoys me more than using the label “Crime Fiction” and then only applying it to a narrow definition of cozy mystery stories, or quirky local detective yarns. Crime should encapsulate everything from Jim Thompson psycho-sheriff stories to Agatha Christie locked room mysteries; from James Ellroy’s serial-killer lit to Elmore Leonard’s Detroit hipster pulp; from Poe to Patterson and from Marlowe to Fargo.

Looking into your noir crystal ball, what do you see for the future of noir and the noir crime genre? What would you like to happen next?

Neo-noir is big business these days, mostly due to the amount of great television out there, and the ease of access to foreign crime shows and books. The Nordic stuff, especially, has had a great influence on our own culture through shows people are watching on Netflix and the like. There’s also a wider appreciation for the great history of incredible British crime programming. People are watching these dark crime shows and movies, and it’s resonating, much as it did in the 30’s and 40’s when the term “noir” was coined to describe nihilistic American crime flicks.

It’s a much slower, and more difficult process to see those trends in book selling (and especially book writing). It takes an incredibly long time for a book to gain traction, let alone cause a profound influence in our modern culture. Television and movies, current events, these are the things that tend to reflect more quickly in our fiction. The great thing about writing books – and I’m not condoning writing for the purpose of getting a TV deal or anything, I think a book should always be written for the sake of the story itself – but, the great thing about writing books is that you become a one-person production studio on your own film, your own epic TV saga. In the end they are all just mediums to carry our stories. When you produce visual media, you need hundreds, sometimes thousands of collaborators with individual interests and opinions. When YOU write a short story, or a novel, or a “noirvella”… YOU control the mood, the lighting, the sets, the actors.

That being said, the culture right now (as always seems to happen in times of social upheaval and political insecurity) seems to be leaning towards science fiction again. There’s already a number of great films and tv shows coming out, and the revival of old favourites like Blade Runner, Aliens, and Star Wars (albeit with a darker edge), seem to point to a coming resurgence of science fiction in our popular literature. It’s already been happening with runaway hit novels like Ready Player One and The Martian. I think there’s a lot more to come.

That’s partly why we have revived the Sci-Fi Noir anthology we had shelved last year. Keep an eye out for Black Hole Son in 2019. Before that we have an anthology of weird holiday tales, Weird Wonderland, coming this November and featuring writers like Jessica McHugh, Will Viharo, David James Keaton and the amazing Sarah L. Johnson. We have an anthology of “Ladies of Canadian Crime” called The Dame Was Trouble coming out in April next year to celebrate the “Year of Publishing Women”, and a second volume of weird western tales, Taller Tales of the Weirder West, next summer.

Right now, Coffin Hop Press has a sort-of dual presence as a publisher of “weird tales”, EC Comics-type stuff, and crime fiction – usually dark, almost always tempered with black comedy. We have plans to spread out more – take the weird side towards more horror, sci-fi and urban fantasy; expand from crime into more literary -tinged mystery and gothic fiction.

Any advice for those thinking about starting their own small press to fill void in a niche market?

Diversify. Serving a niche is fine, serving several works better. More than anything, just like writing what you love, publish what you love. While publishing is a business, if you’re smaller potatoes – julienne, even – why waste time on material you don’t believe in? Why waste passion on books you wouldn’t want to read. Here’s the tip. You’re going to have to read these books. Over and over and over. They might as well be the kind you really enjoy. Seek out authors that you find exciting, not just profitable names. If you help those emerging writers who are doing really vibrant and exceptional work, the world will eventually notice, and you may be the one who gave them that break. Surround yourself with authors and editors that you respect and really connect with, and treat them with respect in turn. Word gets around. If you do good work, and you treat people professionally, you can build a business. If you’re in it to make fast deals and crap out product en mass? You may make a little money to start, but you’ll be dead in the water by your second or third project, and nobody is going to want to work with you. Of course, if you’re treating it like a scam, you probably haven’t read this far because I’m not talking about revenue streams and Facebook ads. Be good. Be true. Tell stories. That’s what it should always be about.

 

Axel Howerton is a former entertainment journalist, and the author of the Arthur Ellis Award nominated detective caper “Hot Sinatra”, the modern gothic fairytale “Furr”, and the forthcoming “Wolf & Devil” urban fantasy series. His work – including short stories, columns, poetry and essays – have appeared the world over, in no fewer than five languages. Axel is a former Prairies director of the Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, the Calgary Crime Writers, and the Kintsugi Poets. He is also the editor of the books “Death by Drive-In”, “AB Negative”, and “Tall Tales of the Weird West”, and is the Calgary chair of the Chiaroscuro national reading series, and the organizer behind one of Canada’s first recurring “Noir At The Bar” events, #NoirBarYYC.

 

 

Awesome Releases

When my new publisher, Brick Cave Media, said we would be releasing my new book, Moon Shadows, at Phoenix Comicon, I didn’t want to hope. Now, in two days, the hope will become a reality. It’s been a lot of hard work, on their part and mine, getting a book that started the publication process in late December ready for a release in May. That seems like a long time, but in the world of publishing, that’s extremely short. Why so much work to reach a certain date? Because timing is an important element of a successful book launch.

Brick Cave isn’t the only publisher who likes to release books around significant fan events. I’ve seen many other publishers do the same thing? Why?

  1. Fan anticipation: The more an event advertises, the more excited fans tend to become. As they become more excited, the event and everything associated with it becomes a bit of a holiday. With a holiday mentality, fans are more willing to try new things, check out new authors, and buy that new release that sounds really amazing.
  2. Branding: This is a means by which a seller gets their potential buyers to identify a product quickly. In the world of marketing, that can be a logo, a jingle, a spokesperson or a number of other ways. Who doesn’t see a gecko and think of Geico? Many authors have a certain way of dressing, presenting themselves, or presenting their booths that help fans identify them quickly. For myself, it’s usually the black and silver beret I always wear. By releasing a book around a fan event, that event becomes part of the book/author/publisher’s branding. Whatever hype and warm fuzzies the fans associate with the event, as the book release is publicized in association with it, can often carry over and even years down the road, the readers will associate the two together.
  3. Crowds: The last one I’ll talk about here, and the most obvious, is the fact that events draw people, more of them than any other venue. I had a book release party at a local restaurant and I had a good turnout from friends and the community. Of course, that doesn’t compare to a Comicon and it never will. And where there are crowds, there are more people to find the new book appealing. Also, as you sell more, the people themselves become advertising. In buyers’ hands, the carrying of your book becomes a walking billboard. It’s as if someone is whispering to everyone around them, “this is good enough it was worth my money, maybe you should check it out.” Nothing beats free advertising except advertising where the person paid you so they could do it. Which is another reason, nothing beats fans.

So, next time you’re getting ready for that book to release, think about what events are happening near your timeline and plan accordingly. This is one of the best ways to get your special sauce tasted among a wide palette of audiences.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Really epic Epic Fantasy

lotr posterI love epic fantasy. It’s always been one of my favorite genres to read, and of course the very first book I tried to write was epic fantasy. Didn’t go so well, but I have an epic fantasy series I plan to release eventually, so I’ll get there.

What makes epic fantasy so, well, epic?

The best epic fantasy, whether they’re a Tolkien spin-off or some other giant, multi-volume series of tomes big enough to prop up the sagging foundation of a house, there are some common elements that make great epic fantasy work.

Think Tolkien. He was really the father of epic fantasy, and a big ingredient in his special sauce was the world he created. Many other successful fantasies leveraged that world and resonated with the work Tolkien did. World-building is a huge element to most epic fantasy, and few authors do it so well.

The Name of the WindOne who does is Patrick Rothfuss. In The Name of the Wind, he creates a vibrant world, full of magic and music and poetry that does an unrivaled job at transporting readers into another world. Fans want to explore the world with the hero, linger there, and wallow in the depth of the vibrant cultures he creates.

George R.R. Martin takes a different approach. His political intrigue and huge cast of characters who get killed off more than just about any other series, transports readers in a very different way. The intricate plot, warring families, and intense action has captured an entire generation of readers.

Usually when we think of epic fantasy, we think magic, and the king of awesome magic systems is Brandon Sanderson. Whether the dark, gritty world of Mistborn or the hugely epic Stormlight Archives, Brandon always delivers intricate magic systems and unexpected twists and turns that keep readers clamoring for more.

There are many other great examples of epic fantasy, but these are enough to get a sense of the challenge facing authors trying to break into the epic fantasy world. The stories really need to be epic, usually there’s a large cast of characters, the stakes are as high as they can get, and the magic can be in a powerful magic system, an intricate political world, or a setting so majestic people don’t want to leave.

So what are your favorite epic fantasies, and why?

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org