How I Ended Up Working at Cemetery Dance Publications

Since this is a really common question, I thought I’d answer it early: how did I end up working at Cemetery Dance Publications?

In the spring of 2002, I was graduating college, getting married, and looking for a job in the Baltimore area — and I had no idea what I was going to do.  I was graduating with a Journalism degree, but didn’t want to be a journalist.  (Now that’s planning!)

But I had been doing freelance book marketing on the Internet since I was 15 years old, which had always been fun, and I had done some freelance work for Rich Chizmar the previous summer — basic marketing stuff, putting together plans to promote a few books, etc — which I liked a lot.

I’ve always loved publishing, I’ve been fascinated by the business since I was a kid and started writing my first stories, so it made a lot of sense to me to try to land a job at Cemetery Dance — even though the company was just two employees at the time (Rich and Mindy) and Rich had never hired any outsiders before.

Instead of just emailing or calling Rich to pitch the idea, I decided I should make it blindingly obvious that I could help his company immensely so he had to say yes.

I put together a 17 page proposal, complete with charts and graphs, outlining everything I could do in the first year alone to increase the company’s visibility and alert more casual horror fans to CD’s existence.  This was a really over-the-top, well planned, kind-of-crazy proposal — complete with a presentation folder!

Off into the mail the proposal went… and then the waiting began.

I tried to follow up via the phone the next week.  Mindy said Rich was in a meeting.

The next week: he was in a meeting.

The next week: still in a meeting.

(Maybe it was just one really, really long meeting, right?)

Finally, an email arrived from Rich: “Let’s talk about this!”

The details came together quickly and by the end of the summer I was married, living in Baltimore, and working at Cemetery Dance Publications.  I have no idea what Rich and Mindy thought in those first few months when Kelly Laymon and I — the first two “real” employees as they called us — started helping out, but it was a blast for me.  Everyone at Cemetery Dance does a bunch of different jobs and no project could get finished without the help of someone else.  Like many small business, everyone works together and that’s the only way everything gets done.   It’s very much a collaborative workplace in the best sense of the phrase.

In August 2002, I started by packing orders in the basement of Rich’s house.  I can’t remember what Kelly was doing at the time… maybe reading submissions and editorial work?  My memory is pretty fuzzy now because everything was happening so fast and life was changing in so many ways that year.

In September, we moved to our current offices in Forest Hill.  (There are photos on our website of what the office looked like in those first six months.  Some things have really changed, others… not so much!)

Before too long, I was helping with the email newsletters and updating the website and selling ads in the magazine.

Not long after that, the newsletters and website were all mine and I was helping Mindy with customer service, too.

Soon after, Rich gave me my first project to take through the production process.  This is where things got really interesting!

The small press isn’t like a New York publisher where a bunch of people each have one important role to play during the publication of a book.  In the small press, when you manage the production of a book, you might handle ALL of the steps from beginning to end: negotiating and issuing contracts; editing, copyediting, and proofreading; working with the artists and the designers; sending the signature sheets to the contributors; getting review copies printed and sent out; creating the “spec sheets” that tell the printer what materials to use; working with the media to get coverage for the project, etc.

Basically, you take the manuscript and make sure everything gets done to turn it into a real book. It’s a ton of work and extremely rewarding when you hold the final product in your hands.

Thanks to Cemetery Dance, I’ve worked on projects by many of my literary heroes over the years, which is an awesome experience that I never imagined possible when I was a senior in college trying to figure out what I was going to do for a career.

Nine years later, I honestly can’t imagine working anywhere else.  There have been some stressful times over the years — after all, there are just five of us trying to do all of the work a publishing company does, so 60 hour weeks are just kind of the norm — but the work itself and the people I work with and the readers and collectors I’ve gotten to know so well can’t be beat.

PS: By the way, I’m still running the website and the newsletters and writing all of the product sales copy and announcements, so any problems you see with those are all my fault. Feel free to email me about them.  😉

17 thoughts on “How I Ended Up Working at Cemetery Dance Publications”

  1. BJF —
    Hoping you stay tuned to the small press market…your talent will take you far.
    Does the overseer work you do influence your own writing?

    1. Thanks, David. My writing hasn’t changed because of my work at CD, mostly because I’ve always just kind of written the stories I want to write. They don’t fit easily into categories, which is not a smart career move, but it’s pretty much the only way I know how to write!

  2. Brian,
    I think without the small press horror would have dried up a long time. Brian, I have dealt with you on many occasions. You and Mindy have always bent over backward to help out. To CD and Lonely Road Books you guys are the best.
    i

  3. Brian, while you and I have never met, I was actually turned your way by a former employer we both share many years ago–back when you were still in college, actually. So, it’s quite interesting to see the progression you have made over the years.

      1. Last time I was back East, which was a few years ago, the bookstore had changed names from Walden to Borders Express, and I gave Mr Munchel a copy of The Voluptuaries by Betty E. Ullman.

  4. And I want to Thank You for all that you do. This website, CD, and the amazing magazine have planted a crazy seed in my mind for collecting! I love horror and am a big SK fan. Thanks for everything. You and the group are doing an awesome job!

This is where you post your thoughts: