When I was invited to come on board Dark Continents Publishing I felt honoured and surprised at the same time.
Surprised because when you look at the roles the other DC folk have it looks like I have nothing to bring to the table. Serenity and Tracie have the editing skills, John P has a background in design and marketing experience and all members are successfully published and self-published authors.
I have none of those skill sets, and although I’ve been writing for a long time it’s only recently that I’ve started to take writing seriously enough to want to build a career on it. I feel I have yet to prove myself.
But they wanted me on board anyway. Why? One of the reasons is that we’ve all worked well together on the Underground Rising project and the community board on the DF Underground. We’ve all got the same mindset, the desire to advance our careers and prove that we can make a viable business out of our craft.
We’ve known each other for less than six months and already I feel that I don’t just have business partners, I have friends. There is mutual respect on all sides and a refreshing lack of inflated egos, both of which are all too rare in the writing game. The weekly board meetings are a chance to hear each others’ voices, to discuss any concerns, challenges and to make suggestions to give our baby firm a healthy start when it emerges from the womb at WHC Austin next year.
The business plan put in place is solid but flexible; Dave Youngquist recognised that like all small presses we’re going to face challenges that may not be immediately apparent. We have to ride the waves when they come, but at the same time ensure our strategy is resilient enough to ensure that our surfboards stay on top of the peaks and not go tumbling into the troughs. With the experience and sheer determination my fellow board members have brought to the table, those waves look high, scary, but not insurmountable.
But what about me? What can I do for Dark Continents? That’s where the role of UK liaison comes in. By attending conventions and participating in message board and forum discussions I can see that horror and dark fiction is making a return to the mainstream in the UK. 2010’s World Horror Convention was held in this little island for the first time ever and the recent FantasyCon in Nottingham was notable for the dominance of dark fiction and horror over other genres in the field.
But that doesn’t mean that all is rosy in the horror market. Like everywhere else, in the UK it’s harder than ever to break into the publishing world. The vibrant small press is still the way forward, but there are problems. As they’re smaller, they’re more susceptible to market forces. Many come into life full of high hopes and great plans only to fold a year or so later when the full enormity of the challenge of costing and distribution hits home. There are also some very shady outfits out there keen to make a fast buck out of newbie authors desperate to get published. And there are also some that are a front for self-publishing.
Some cynics may view us as the latter. It’s true that we’re starting off publishing our own works, but that’s not because we can’t be bothered to find an external publisher for them. John Prescott and myself have discussed the main stumbling block to novel submission; word count. My book is 150,000 words long – John’s is three times that size! Most small presses will only accept works under 120,000 words, which has ruled us out of most markets straight away. Our other members have had problems with their publishers, notably distribution and inadequate promotion.
So when the idea came for us to take control of our writing destinies and prove that 120,000 words and sloppy marketing should not be a barrier to introducing new novels, it was too good to miss.
But that’s just the start. We are not a closed shop; each of us have had the opportunity to invite one other member to come on board during our first year. Many have declined, because they want to see how we do first. I have no problem with that, and I’m confidant that when the world sees our first offerings we’ll be taken seriously and ready for our next stage – as a traditional, small-press publishing house open to unsolicited manuscripts and purchasing the rights to publish works by new (and established) authors.
The unique challenge that faces us is distribution, because of the location of each of Dark Continents’ board members. But it’s also an opportunity. A world-wide author’s co-operative in the dark fiction market has never been attempted before, and with POD and the rise of eBooks the UK horror market will have another outlet to satisfy its growing demand. Ebooks may not be popular in the UK at the moment, but they’re starting to take off. Amazon has advertised its Kindle reader on television in the last few months, and this December Christmas stockings will be bulging with them. By this time next year, eBooks could be as popular in the UK as they are over the pond.
One concern I’ve noted in certain publishing houses is that there is a shift to focussing on eBooks only; print versions are seen as an afterthought which is unfair to those who prefer a traditional hardcopy book.
Dark Continents will satisfy demands for both print and digital versions of books. My role as UK liaison is to spread the word about our house and to promote the works of my fellow authors, to ensure that they become just as well known in the UK as they will be in Australia and the USA.
It is the second year that will be the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. It’ll be my job to promote the new UK authors we take on, to attend book launches, signings and conventions and ensure their names are known. And to ensure that print versions of their works are readily available.
Yes, there will be challenges. Some foreseen, others will crop up unexpectedly and try to knock us off the surfboards and plummeting into the black wave of oblivion.
But as a team, we’re here for each other. We six are staring at the waves but feel confidant enough to rise to the challenge. The oceans are stormy and the waves choppy because the continents beneath are drifting.
But drifting together.