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?
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.
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?
Independent bookstores—used ones, in particular—are among my favorite human-made spaces. I love strolling between the shelves, inhaling that old book smell, discovering new stories I can let into my head. This is exactly how I’ve found quite a few authors I’d never heard of before, some of whom became my new favorites.
Unfortunately, most indie bookstores have long since bit the dust, with the last of them barely hanging on for dear life. But what if there was a way to save them?
As a horror author who submits fiction to publishers, I often find myself standing in the cold outside the gates of the City of Readers. As an editor who gets submissions for anthologies, I’m also someone who decides who gets to come in.
In other words, I’m both a “gatekeeper” and someone who is “gate-kept.” So a question I’m always pondering is: What is the role (and responsibility) of a gatekeeper?
Over the years I’ve submitted my work to hundreds of editors and agents. In my experience, about half of them never respond at all. Many of the rest send a form rejection, usually months to even years later. Only a small percentage get back to me within several weeks to tell me they’ve passed on my work or not, and a handful of those will explain why.
Turns out, every gatekeeper I’ve interacted with has taught me how to become a better gatekeeper myself, sometimes by example, often by teaching me how not to behave.