A writer creates a piece of horror fiction. To stand a chance of getting it out there, there must be some sort of potential readership. And for it to end up in readers’ hands, it must be published.
These three very different but essential components bring us to the question: Is horror fiction art, entertainment, or business?
Remember back in school when the teacher would give you one of three grades on a test: 100%, 80%, or failing?
Yeah, me neither. But that’s exactly what we authors and readers are up against with the 5-star rating system common to Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere.
TRIGGER WARNING: Non-ideological discussion of every trigger warning I can think of.
Now that you’ve been cautioned, dark reader, I want to start off by admitting that I don’t have a problem with trigger warnings. I fully understand that some people have been traumatized by certain life experiences, and to read about them can make them feel anything from discomfort to extreme distress. And in my own writing, I’m completely willing to provide trigger warnings for any editors or publishers who ask for them.
But as a reader I don’t have much use for them, especially in horror, as dark fiction for me is about pushing through the shadow into the light. Personally, I’ve found that refusing to explore something that scares me only makes it loom larger in my life. Yet, mostly, I tend to skip them because I like to avoid anything remotely resembling a spoiler.
So, while I totally get the point of trigger warnings and honor those who advocate for them, the tricky question that no one wants to answer is: What subjects qualify?
THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, the anthology I edited for Denver Horror Collective (DHC) in late 2021, just won a bronze medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, a Silver medal in the 666 Awards, and had previously made it onto the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. Meanwhile, at a recent horror writers conference, I lost count of the authors who told me they loved the book, which sold well at the DHC table, as it has been literally around the world.
While readers are hungry for Jewish horror as a unique exploration of the larger genre, I think I finally understand why THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR was one of the only Jewish horror anthologies ever released (all by small presses). And why nearly every working author who also writes Jewish horror tells me they have difficulty getting those stories published.
Because while pitching my Jewish folk horror novel to the editor of a large, established horror fiction publisher, one of my sneaking suspicions as to what’s been turning off so many gatekeepers was finally confirmed.
Not long ago, I messaged a horror fiction “gatekeeper” to thank them for their work and to ask if they’d be open to reading more indie horror authors. They responded by listing a few well-known names they were promoting, including one whose “Big 4” published novel had years ago been made into a popular Hollywood movie. And then basically told me that all good writers eventually become famous, which is when this person will read and share their work.
As an author, editor, small press publisher, and reader, everything I write about horror fiction is a conflict of interest. That being said, I also have the privilege of seeing the landscape from a variety of perspectives. On top of that, I’ve interviewed scores of writers, followed their careers, and listened to podcast after podcast with some of the biggest names in the genre. The one thing most of them have in common? They were thinking about giving up until that one big break.
After years of processing this information, I believe I’ve come up with the essential elements for getting one’s horror book published and selling. I call them the three “CONS,” as in: CONTENT, CONTACTS, AND CONTEXT.
I’ve been “seriously” writing horror fiction for the last six years. During that time, I’ve had a bunch of short stories and one novella published, edited and/or published three anthologies, and just finished a brand-new novel. I also co-founded Denver Horror Collective, a horde of over fifty horror authors helping one other spread the horror.
As a weirdo, my fiction tends to be a bit “unconventional.” Therefore, it’s not been easy to get the products of my mind through the mainstream literary gatekeepers, which is why I’ve so often built my own gates.
For instance, my latest book is a Jewish ecological folk horror novel, and I truly feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Although publishers wouldn’t touch my previous two novels, I believe this one is far more marketable and way less controversial. Yet two rejections I’ve gotten thus far—one from an agent, the other from a publisher—are total head-scratchers.
The second-most common question a horror author gets after, “Where do you get your ideas?” is, “Can you make any money doing this?”
The short answer is, “No.” The slightly longer answer is, “Not really.” But the honest answer is, “It depends.”
– by Josh Schlossberg
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “social proof” in the writing world. Especially after my novella MALINAE won Horror Authors Guild “Novella of the Year,” and the anthology I edited for Denver Horror Collective, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, just qualified for the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot.
I’m not just your seventeenth favorite horror author, I’m also a performing musician (or was, before the coronapocalypse).
Reader reviews are one of the most fundamental ways we authors have of getting our books out into the world. Tragically, we have a harder time getting readers to write those reviews than we do convincing them to eat their own…
But, Josh, I hear you thinking, we’re not all mountain hermits like yourself with nothing better to do. You think it’s easy for us to come up with some fancy review?
First of all, mean. And second, who the heck’s talking about anything fancy?