I’m pleased to report that Cemetery Dance Publications was featured in The New York Times and you can now read the article online:
Last year I interviewed Joe Konrath, but somehow that interview never got posted. Most of this is still very relevant, but keep in mind that a lot can change in a year. Still, there’s good stuff in here for all kinds of writers and I didn’t want that to go to waste:
Brian James Freeman: I’ve heard a lot of very large numbers thrown around over the years, but how many books/stories/words did you really write before you sold your first novel?
Joe Konrath: I wrote nine novels before selling Whiskey Sour in 2002, plus over a hundred shorts. I received more than 500 rejections. I’d easily crossed the million word mark before I made a cent.
To talk numbers, Whiskey Sour was a three book deal, $33k per book. I got a second three book deal for $41k per book, and right after I signed it my publisher dropped their mystery line, me included.
That said, my books are all still in print, in multiple printings, and they’ve earned out their advances. My last 6 month royalty check for these was $25k, and naturally the majority of sales were ebooks.
BJF: Many people would have given up, but what drove you to keep writing?
JK: I love writing. I always wanted to make a living doing something I love, and now I’m lucky enough to do so.
BJF: What has been the best part about working with a New York publisher?
JK: Signing a deal was always a reason to celebrate, and I’ve worked with some smart, talented folks.
BJF: The worst?
JK: Poor royalties, no say in title or cover, lots of self-promotion, small marketing budgets, long publication times, short shelf life, returns, coop, and we’re supposed to be grateful to be published. Last I checked, the writer was an essential component in book sales, but we were never paid like we were, or treated like we were.
BJF: Now that you’re one of the best known self-publishers, new authors are always asking you how you did it, and you always say it’s a combination of luck, luck, and more luck. Seriously, how did you do it?
JK: I was in the right place at the right time. When Amazon created the Kindle, I had an extensive backlist that NY publishers rejected. I’d also spent seven years learning how to market and self-promote. Malcolm Gladwell calls it the Rule of 10,000. You have to spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert at it. I had 10k hours in writing and 10k hours in makerting and publishing. I was also determined to succeed. Put all this together and I was in a good position for luck to strike.
BJF: Do you think the ease with which authors can self-publish will change anything about how New York publishers operate?
JK: No. I don’t think NY will adapt. They’re doing a very good job of making themselves irrelevant.
BJF: How much of a role do you think Amazon.com will play in publishing in the next ten years?
JK: They’re the new kid on the block, with new ideas and a smart way of doing business. Watch to see how many authors they sign in 2012.
BJF: Now that you can self-publish anything you want to write, has that affected what you choose to write?
JK: I did a choose-your-own-adventure type of ebook, and have been doing a lot of novellas and collaborations that would have been impossible to sell a few years ago. That said, I still write commercial fiction, because that’s what I enjoy. If I ever become so self-indulgent that I stop entertaining the readers, please kick me.
BJF: What has been your most successful marketing effort for your own work? Why?
JK: For paper books, I once went on a summer tour and signed at over 500 bookstores. I believe my early touring and internet efforts are a large part of the reason I’m still in print, which turned out to be a big mistake on my part. If I’d let those books die rather than pushed them so hard, I’d probably have the rights back, and would be making a lot more money on them.
As for ebooks, I don’t do much marketing. I try to write good stories, with good covers, good descriptions, and low prices. They seem to sell themselves.
BJF: Your least successful marketing effort?
JK: I once mailed out 7000 letters to libraries and bookstores. That was a lot of money, and a lot of work, and I don’t think it was worth it. I believe ads are a mistake. So are postcards, give-aways, contests, and book trailers. Think about the last book you bought. Why did you buy it? What made you aware of it? Figure that out, and use that strategy.
BJF: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
JK: Doing what I’ve been doing the last twenty. Writing, writing, writing.
BJF: What advice do you have for writers who are just getting started?
JK: This is a business. Act businesslike.
BJF: Finally, if you had to point new readers to just one of your books to get them hooked, which one would you recommend?
JK: Endurance by my pen name Jack Kilborn. It’s scary. Real scary.
Many of you have probably heard of Lorraine Garland, aka Fabulous Lorraine, who works as an assistant to Neil Gaiman. That means she’s responsible for making sure Neil Gaiman actually has time to write at some point in his work day, which I’m pretty sure makes her a national treasure.
Brian James Freeman: I think the first question most people have is: how did you land a job working for Neil Gaiman?
Lorraine Garland: I was working as a nuclear scientist at NASA, and I can tell you, DULL DULL DULL. If you’ve split one atom, you’ve split them all, and along came this Englishman…You know, many stories can be started with that phrase “Along came an Englishman” can’t they? It’s like in Irish music, most songs start, “As I walked out on a May Morning” the THINGS that happen to people in those SONGS! I’ve walked out many a May Morning and nothing has ever happened to ME, no lovely women washing their hair in the river, no press gangs, no wiggly woggly leathermen saying How D’ye do again…I must not drink enough.
What was the question?
BJF: Ha! What’s a normal day like at the office?
LG: Like a game of Dodgeball. Only not just balls being lobbed at you from all sides, every so often a ROCK comes crashing down in the middle of the court, with no warning and you have to move the rock OUT of there, all the while, not getting hit by all the things being lobbed….
BJF: How about an abnormal day?
LG: An abnormal day would be peaceful, quiet, no email would come and the phone would not ring. Also I would be in Bora Bora.
BJF: What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to do in the line of duty?
LG: Acquire, have shipped, and delivered to studio (and kept fresh) a Haggis for Craig Ferguson
BJF: What’s the best part of your work?
LG: It’s never dull. Or Boring. Always something different, every day, you never know what could happen. And quite literally, anything could. At any moment, and does. Often.
BJF: And the worst?
LG: It’s never, ever dull. Or Boring. Could use that, oh, one day in 30. Also hate the bit where I have to turn into the Princess of NO. No one likes her, not even me.
BJF: Your essay “Top Ten Things Never to Send Your Favorite Writer” has been a huge hit because you found a way to share important information and be funny at the same time. Has it helped slow the arrival of sand, things that squeak, and things that might have been food at some point? Is there anything you’d like to add to the list?
LG: It has helped, lol! I do need to add to it, or write another essay. In fact, just yesterday, another assistant dropped me a note about something she gets sent a lot asking if I agreed and saying it ought to be added to the list. I suggested we write that new essay together.
BJF: You’ve been part of Neil’s career for a very long time now, so obviously you enjoy your work, right? Do you plan on doing this job long into the future? Is there anything that could pull you away?
LG: I plan on doing this job until I breathe my last breathe. So, another 50 years or so. And no, nothing. Well, maybe… No. Nothing could pull me away. Seriously, I love this job, in fact, I do a job very much like it for my Derby team, as Bout Production Coordinator. I love making things work right, I love solving problems. Love puzzling things out, there’s always a way to make it happen. I’ve never failed.
(OK. ONCE. Once I failed. There was this volcano in Iceland and it closed UK airspace. And half of Europe. It got me. This will always rankle me deep in my soul. Forever. I will never forget this.)
BJF: I like to remind readers that the people in the business are real people with real lives, not just cogs in a machine. So with that in mind, are you finding much time for your music? Anything new in the works?
LG: Cog? Me? I think not! I am this show! As far as real lives go tho, it does get tricky. Not much time for music these days, I’ve taken up roller derby and skate with the Chippewa Valley Roller Girls, and I have to say, that’s where my heart is. I’ve never been a part of a team sport like this before, or been with a group of girls quite like this. My Derby Sisters are the most wonderful, amazingly supportive, caring, loving Family I’ve ever been a part of. Doesn’t matter what the problem is, what you want to do, or what you need: One of them will be there. They hit real good too. No messing with these Ladies!
And I have to say as an after work stress reliever, you can’t beat it for anything.
BJF: And finally, here’s probably the most important question: if you had to explain to someone why Bengal cats are absolutely the best, what would you say?
LG: Oh my. There’s an essay in the making. Bengal cats are wonderful, I have 5. I would never recommend ANYONE have 5. They need a lot of time and attention and are quite capable of making sure you understand this, CLEARLY, but if you are willing to change you life some, and I assure you, you adapt to them, not the other way around, they make wonderful friends.
They’re smart. And sleek. And spotted. Like little Leopards running around the house.
But before you acquire one, make very sure you know: They’re like little Leopards running around your house. Some are just as sweet and quiet as any cat. But the Leopard IS there. You need to know this BEFORE you acquire one.
If you’re interested, read EVERYTHING you can find on Bengals, and when you’re done, if the idea of a Kitty who can leap entertainment centers in a single bound, open cupboards and remove contents, mew in six different languages and will quite possibly love taking bathes with you, consider contacting a Bengal Rescue group like mine, Great Lakes Bengal Rescue and adopting (or fostering) one of the many Bengals waiting for a home.
My thanks to Kimm Schroeder for providing these photos of a few beautiful Bengal cats, which you can click on for larger versions (larger versions of the photos, not the cats):
Photos by Kimm Schroeder
The Question of the Month has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In these posts you’ll discover how these authors think, giving you insight into where their darkest tales come from. These responses are listed here in the order they were received.
This month’s question is: If you had to recommend just one horror novel for everyone to read, what would it be and why?
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Why? Because it’s not only the scariest novel I’ve ever read, it’s also a “literary” novel, so it can demonstrate to snobs and skeptics that the genre can have intellectual heft. In addition, it’s a mainstream work of fiction with no overt sex or violence, so it has the potential to win over milquetoast Middle America, those wimpy readers who flinch and flee at the sight of blood. It’s the perfect poster boy for horror. As far as I’m concerned, Jackson’s masterful novel should be required reading for every human on the planet.
— Bentley Little
I’m going to hail Richard Matheson’s Hell House, because I still recall finding it impossible to put down and wishing I hadn’t stayed up after midnight by myself to finish it. Truthfully, it’s the only book that made me realize that looking over your shoulder because of what you’re reading isn’t always an exaggeration. Forget the timid movie adaptation and go straight for the real thing—Matheson certainly does.
— Ramsey Campbell
The Shining by Stephen King. I love that man. I love that book.
— Nancy Holder
The one horror novel that I would recommend that everyone should read is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As an inward and an outward journey of discovery it exposes the narrator to the nature of evil. Both it and its palimpsest (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) resonate for a generation (mine) that went to college, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, or Vietnam in the ’60s. Those of us who did those things (I did all three) understand perfectly Kurz’ (or Brando’s in the film) cry at the end: “The horror! The horror!”
— Robert Booth
My answer is Reprisal by Mitchell Smith. Reasons: the nightmarish scope of his human imaginings, the austere and limpid grace of his prose.
— Michael Shea
Dracula by Bram Stoker. As a King “expert” it would be expected of me to recommend The Stand, It or even the under-rated Bag of Bones. But, our whole genre is founded and fed by certain great classics. Stoker’s great novel has influenced the horror genre more than any other, and no horror book has had a greater impact on popular culture. Yet, most of those who still read entire books have not actually read this novel. Surprisingly that goes for many horror or dark fiction genre readers. Yes, it is written with a Victorian sensibility and the epistolary style is difficult for many but the payoff from this carefully crafted novel, full of the back-imagery of our minds, is immense. The sexual tension, the multi-layered representational use of blood, the ancient fear of the unknown, and the tools of a newly scientific age, all combine with tremendous characterization and a rollicking good story. Best of all, when the tale is done, a mighty genre lies downstream from its headwaters.
— Rocky Wood
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This is a classic novel for a reason. The story evolves from two thirteen-year-old boys, James Nightshade and William Holloway, who are still at that age where the world is full of unknown mysteries and anything can happen. They are opposites, one adventurous and daring and spur-of-the-moment, the other cautious and grounded and wary. They are at the crossroads of innocence and adulthood. And when a dark carnival comes to town, they find themselves drawn to the darkness by all the possibilities.
And while that’s the core of the story, it’s not the whole story. Something Wicked This Way Comesalso explores a part of human nature deeply rooted in all of us … wishing things were different. The aging school teacher who wants to be young again. The disabled ex-football player who dreams of playing again. The father with a bad heart who fears experiencing life to its fullest because it might mean his death.
And of course, there’s the dark carnival and the small town and the library.
How can you go wrong!
— David B. Silva
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. It’s my favorite book by the best writer in the field. It shows King at his best, with wonderful characterizations of a small town filled with fear. I was 20 years old when I first read it and it dazzled me. It showed what horror writers were capable of and I never looked back. Even three decades later I remember the story vividly. No other book has ever hit me so hard and I recommend it at every opportunity.
— John R. Little
This, at least for me, is a deceptively difficult question because so many exceptional books so easily come to mind. On a strictly personal level, Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood and, before that, Richard Matheson’s Hell House, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were all huge influences that I believe remain as exceptional “ambassadors of horror” for new readers. However, if I must choose only one, (and possibly a bit of an uncommon or even contentious choice as it is often labeled as “fantasy” rather than horror) I’d have to select Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The novel is beautifully written, can be appreciated equally by readers of all ages, and touches upon some of our deepest universal fears and aspirations including our fears of growing old, of dying, of lost opportunities, and of lost friendship, among others. The book examines horrors of both supernatural and entirely mundane, human origin and manages to be mutually terrifying and life-affirming and a thoroughly entertaining read.
— Norman L. Rubenstein
As I mentioned the other week, my new feature called “The Question of the Month” over at FEARnet is a mix of “The Final Question” from Cemetery Dance magazine and also original content. What I forgot to mention was that last month’s column ran before my blog was launched, so I’m going to post that content here today to catch everyone up.
The feature has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of horror/dark suspense authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In theory, this should give you some insight into how these authors think and where their work comes from. Each month you can read the answers here on this blog or over at FEARnet.com.
This month’s question is: why horror?
Given the immensity of the gulf between what we desire and what we must live with, given also our own dread of what lies in us of both monstrosity and transcendence, horror was an inevitability.
— Peter Straub
Because there’s nothing so extreme — from there you can work your way back to courage, loyalty, community, tenderness. Then there’s that old sex ‘n death thing….
— Jack Ketchum
Horror is a genre in which I can throw characters into dire situations, strip away the veneers of their self-imposed personas, and then explore with them their most basic human emotions and reactions.
— Elizabeth Massie
I misspelt “humor” on the application.
— Kealan Patrick Burke
I read horror for the same reason I read any other kind of fiction. I want strong stories about interesting and sympathetic people. The bonus with horror, as with science fiction, is that the writer can conjure a world of his own to comment on our world. Ramsey Campbell and Christopher Fowler are two good examples. They twist reality into hyper-reality so that a visit to a pharmacy can become a horrific comment on the medical system. Their monsters are not only the great dark Them, they’re also Us.
— Ed Gorman
Why horror? … Indeed. Because horror in all its manifestations says … and sometimes whispers … the deepest, darkest secrets about what it means to be human…. Horror addresses and, when brave, confronts the twin terrors of existence … and non-existence.
— Rick Hautala
Horror! What a rotten name for an amazing genre. Because Horror’s great appeal isn’t just the screaming and the gore–it is a voyage into our spiritual natures. It asks questions about that “otherness” that’s so important in our lives, but which we cannot taste, touch, smell, see or hear. Horror allows us to encounter that dimension, which we intuitively believe in, but lies just beyond our fingertips.
— Simon Clark
Because, as–for instance–H. P. Lovecraft so deftly asserted, the greatest fear we can experience is, not the fear of the dark, or the fear of death, mutilation, rape by monsters, impregnation by para-dimensional abominations, or what have you, but the fear of the unknown. No genre transfigures this fear more potently to the reader than the horror genre. Even in great “literature,” I’ll contend. True, great literature often exists on a much more important level than horror (though not always!) but it seems to me that horror must stimulate the reader’s mental pressure points more effectively and more consistently than other genres. It must! And with that mental stimulus comes the provocation that makes us ponder our inner-selves. Provocation is the key, and it can be just as legitimate in horror as any other field of creativity. I very passionately appreciate the works of, say, Faulkner, Kafka, Sartre, Marquez, etc., and regard their literary contributions as paramount and more significant than even that of the most astute horror writers. Ah, but horror is so much more fun, isn’t it? And the provocation of thought that it induces in us is just as functional.
— Edward Lee
Haunted houses, bloody footprints, hitchhiking ghosts, and devil dogs–the stories I heard in the backyard as a kid were the first stories that made my imagination boil, and there was something about them I understood. Or wanted to, because those stories always left questions. Did that really happen? Could it happen to me, and what if it did? The tale became a springboard to an answer or conclusion that made the reader/listener reach, and that’s a very good thing.
— Norman Partridge
Why not? Nothing wakes you up in the morning or lets you know you’re alive like a good scare does.
— Brian Keene
It’s not that I made a conscious decision to write in the horror genre. It’s just that when I wrote, what came out of me didn’t fit anywhere else.
— Ray Garton
Over the weekend I asked Justin Cronin — author of the internationally bestselling novel The Passage — some of the more frequently asked questions about the sequel to that book, which is titled The Twelve and should be out in 2012 if all goes well.
Brian James Freeman: So how is The Twelve coming along?
Justin Cronin: You know that whine from under the aircraft when the pilot drops the landing gear? The Twelve is making that sound.
BJF: You’ve mentioned that the next two books each go back to Year Zero. Can you give a little more detail about why?
JC: Because you didn’t see everything that was going on then. Some things you only glimpsed from the corner of your eye without knowing how important they were, how much bearing they would have 97 years in the future.
BJF: Any additional hints about the plot for The Twelve?
JC: If I’m not mistaken, I just gave one. Here’s one more: Lawrence Grey. Here’s another one: I like spy novels.
BJF: Will The Twelve be around the same length as The Passage?
JC: Mercifully no. About two-thirds to three-quarters of the length. Which is not to say it will be short. That’s not short.
BJF: Are you traveling again to research locations, or did you cover all of that in your prep work for The Passage?
JC: I did a fair amount of travel, but mostly within Texas, and some in eastern New Mexico. If you know eastern New Mexico, and you know The Passage, you might be able to guess why.
The feature has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of the genre’s authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In theory, this should give you some insight into how these authors think and where their work comes from. Each month you can read the answers here on this blog or over at FEARnet.com.
This month’s question is: What is the future of horror?
Writers in pain. Their wounds, unconscious or otherwise, define the genre.
— R.C. Matheson
I don’t know what the future of horror will be, but I always live in hope that whatever it is, it’ll be a bit more subtle, quietly disturbing, surreal, and otherworldly than a lot of the trends we’ve recently seen. Something that instills genuine dread rather than aiming to shock or gross out. Not because I dislike accessible, splattery fun, but just to shake things up a bit. I’m loathe to use the word “cerebral,” but something with a bit more depth would be nice. Can we rewind to the ’80s and welcome Clive Barker as the future of horror, please? That would be grand.
— Brett Alexander Savory
The future of horror is the past–the sins of the past, that is, repressed and otherwise, which have been at the heart of virtually every horror story since Horace Walpole wrote the first gothic novel way back in 1764.
— Dale Bailey
The great thing about horror is that it doesn’t give a crap about the future or the past. It’s immune to trends. Humans will never lose interest in sex or death.
— Scott Nicholson
My hope is that horror will blaze a course through this present fascination with extreme violence without any subtext or meaning—simple shock and brutality—and start re-exploring the concepts that make the genre so powerful. Without a human element to these stories, the characters are just so many pieces of wood waiting to be hewn and chopped into kindling. If horror is to have a future beyond revolting people and making them scream with cheap scares, writers, readers and moviegoers alike need to rediscover that the best horror is about bad things happening to characters in whom we have an emotional investment.
— Bev Vincent
The future of horror is…assured. The arc of expression seems to be following the media arc as a whole: less attention to print, more to video games and movies, but horror reinvents itself to fit. Horror will prosper as long as people get a frisson down the spine from things that go bump in the night.
— Holly Newstein
The future of horror? The past. As always.
— Glen Hirshberg
People (or Soylent Green, if you prefer the packaging). Us. With our capacity for feeling and inflicting pain, our reaction to mystery and the unknown, our appetite for the world and each other, we’ll be drawn to horror like lemmings to a cathartic sea for a while. The Greeks dug it, we dig it. However the source medium may evolve, as long as there are people, there will be both the inspiration and audience for horror. Horror will truly be dead when we’ve split angel from demon and cast off the monsters inside us. And we’re a long way off from that feat of genetic engineering. Or exorcism…
— Gerard Houarner
It’s vampires who sparkle in the sunlight, like David Bowie in his sequined androgynous glam-rocker phase, or maybe it’s werewolves who crap strawberry scented sprinkles. I’m pretty sure it’s one of those.
— Gary Raisor
What is the future of horror? WHO THE FUCK KNOWS? But I betcha we’re about to find out! (P.S.: The future of horror starts right… about… now.)
— John Skipp