I don’t know about you, but when I want a beer, I almost always go for a microbrew. Not only do they taste better to me, not only am I supporting a small business, but because craft brewers are free to experiment with a diversity of flavors, they’re far more likely to create my favorites.
Now, I’m not here to rail against the popular mass-produced breweries, and I’ll even drink one if it’s the best option around. While it may not always suit my particular palette, at least I know what I’m getting.
I feel the same way about horror fiction. While over the decades I’ve enjoyed authors whose books have been published by large mainstream publishing houses, my favorites these days tend to come from small and indie presses.
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.
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.