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.
“What else is new?” some of you might be asking. In that case: It’s turning me into MORE of one!
Here’s why: It’s the only way to get my shit out there. Allow me to explain.
I happen to have been blessed with an excellent and generous publisher, D&T Publishing. Despite being a small press, D&T has done more to promote my debut cosmic folk horror novella, MALINAE, than the “Big Four” presses do for most of their authors. For that I am eternally grateful and, indeed, it’s the main reason the book has gotten out there as much as it already has, which is quite a bit.
However, in the sales world, we all know that a tiny percentage of products get the vast majority of buys. Take Coca Cola for instance, which snags half of the soda sales in the U.S. Is Coke really the best carbonated sugar water in the country? Not even close (not counting its cocaine-laced days, of course)! Hell, I’ve probably drank fifty different small batch colas better tasting and less horrible for you than Coke. But you’ve only heard of a few of them, and barely, at that. Because it’s not just about the product—which does have to be adequate—it’s about the marketing.
Let’s take this into the horror world. Stephen King alone gets the vast majority of horror fiction reads. Now, before going any further, I’m not here to shit on “the King.” I cut my literary teeth on the man and found him formative in my teens. Today, I still enjoy many of his stories and novels and think he’s a formidable storyteller.
But is he the best horror author in the world, the way sales suggest? Not even close! Hell, I’ve probably read at least fifty horror authors who are better writers and storytellers than him. But you’ve only heard of a few of them, and barely, at that. Because it’s not just about the product—which does have to be adequate—it’s about the marketing.
So what’s my point? That people should stop drinking Coke and reading King?
Of course not. Simply that the playing field is far from level, and we authors don’t have the luxury of simply writing good books and expecting them to fly magically into the hands of readers.
A knife to the brain takes out a zombie. A stake to the heart finishes a vampire. And a silver bullet puts down a werewolf. But the only way to beat old age is to, well, die.
In the first of its “Monsters of D&T” virtual events onThursday, July 29 at 5 pm PT / 6 MT / 7 CT / 8 ET, D&T Publishing’s Dawn Shea hosts three authors whose new books examine aging—aka “elder horror”—in very different ways.
Summer Feaker (HAVEN MANOR TRILOGY), Josh Schlossberg (MALINAE), and Mark Towse (NANA) will read briefly from their latest works, share their takes on the elder horror subgenre, and reveal their greatest fears of getting old.
Read my flash fiction story, “Long Strange R.I.P.” in issue #5 of the Rock N’ Roll Horror Zine along with several other gnarly horror writers for a mere $4!
Here’s a teaser:
“Long time no see, Mr. Garcia.” Satan slouched on his throne of charred ribcages and femurs at the center of a vast dim obsidian hall. “Whatever can I do for you?”
The heavy-set, white-haired and bearded man—basically Santa Claus in glasses and a black T-shirt—stood with his feet planted wide on the ashy stone, sulfurous gases twining around his legs like friendly cats. “You know damn well why I’m here,” Jerry said.
“Written any new jingles?” Satan’s black lidless eyes oozed like tar as he scratched the mushroom head of the ghoul squatting to his side. “I still get a kick out of that one song. How does it go? ‘Set out running but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine.’”
“It’s gotta stop.”
“Is my singing that bad?” Satan flashed hundreds of tiny, immaculate teeth and the thing beside him tittered. “I forgot to congratulate you on the Hall of Fame induction. Quite the honor.”
“Leave Vince alone.” Jerry stuck out a trembling pointer finger, the finger beside it absent.
“Ah, yes, how is Mr. Welnick? Still tickling the ivories to your satisfaction?”
Jerry shook his head, spraying droplets of sweat that evaporated in mid-air. “You can’t keep killing them.”