Dark Continents Publishing is introducing a new forum this month — we present the same question to 10-15 people, and give them an open opportunity to answer the question based on their own interpretations and beliefs. Over the next few weeks, these views will be posted as part of our ongoing series. We encourage everyone to read and react to our questions, and all comments are welcome.
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For our inaugural March 2012 forum, the question is:
Why are small publishing companies important?
Dark Continents is pleased to welcome Del Howison to our forum today. Del is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” Bookstore in Burbank, CA.
There was a time in the early nineties when horror had been relegated back to the bargain basement bins of books. It happened not long after publishers like Zebra, Paladin, Jove and others realized the sales figures Stephen King and Anne Rice and Dean Koontz were racking up and figured they’d make a little of that money for themselves. Read “Greed” here. So in the 1980′s we (the reader) were given an over abundance of horror. An over abundance of bad horror. Garish covers of children with bloody weapons and clowns with pointed teeth grinning through die-cut holes assaulted us from the book racks.
By the 1990′s horror was dying on the shelves since people could not discern the wheat from the chaff. They quit trying and the dust of neglect collected over the evil tales. Conventions were packed with panels of Is Horror Dead? and Will Horror Survive? But Horror wasn’t finished, it was over-exposed. It needed to mutate. Only the names known by people who did not even like Horror were surviving on one book a year mega-sales while the fans crept for their fix to the low budget horror films being offered. They were mostly made up of a lot remakes and chapters of series that used to be good. Everything was wrong. Any new writer who had talent found that there was almost no place to go except the magazine market if you wanted to be read.
The small press began to claw its way out of the cemetery where horror went to rot and slowly ever so slowly published a book here and a book there. Copy edition runs of 300 to 1000 collectible signed hardback books brought the horror fan back into the market. New names, new approaches and new cover artists enticed the reader to drop big bucks for a chance at something a little different. It worked and by the end of the decade horror panels switched their topics to Where Will Horror Go from Here? The cycle began again.
Here we are ten years later and horror is repeating the problems of the past. Ebooks give us an over abundance of horror. An over abundance of bad horror. Like the last time, there are plenty of fine writers hiding in the forest but nobody has the time to look at every tree. There is no way to discern between a quality writer and monkey computer operator. No way to find them. No way to sort the wheat from the chaff because anybody with a laptop can write, or steal, anything they want and post it up online as their own book. Payment rates are forcing otherwise fine writers who would have been discovered in the past to look elsewhere for a creative outlet and a living. Everybody jumped into the pool and nobody took the time to think any of this through first. Panic led way to greed which led way to panic.
There is a place now, more than ever, for competent genre editors and inkslingers of the highest caliber to make horror in the small press work. Hope still clings to the inside of the horror box.
Will the small press have the professionalism and knowledge to find those writers and editors and artists needed to make things work again? Will they be able to bring a crap weary reading public back to quality horror with the enticement of good product? Time will tell. But it is the Wild West out there and Boot Hill is going to be crowded before the final showdown. Were I a betting man, and I am, I would never count out the small press.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com