Hello everyone! Typically, I don’t get involved much in interviewing, but I’ve always found Shane Staley an interesting guy. I believe he is misunderstood, innovative, and a pioneer of the small press. I have had the pleasure of doing business with him as both a customer and a shop owner at Horror Mall.
I’d like to thank Shane for taking the time to answer my questions. Okay everyone, enjoy the interview and please feel free to open up a discussion if you’d like in the “Comments” section.
Why the switch from Horror Mall to DarkFuse?
The last few years of my life have been all about consolidation and focus. For those that aren’t aware, besides running a publishing company and the Horror Mall genre bookstore, I am a web master, web developer, published author, book designer, consultant, and the list goes on. Something had to give. The choice came down to what I most wanted to do. And that was ultimately publishing, not running a bookstore, not selling others’ books, but my own publishing company’s titles.
The change trimmed much of the liability I had in depending on other individuals and businesses to do their jobs which reflected on me as the owner of Horror Mall and that was becoming frustrating. One publisher’s delays in getting books out ultimately became my problem, although I had little control.
So although it was a financial success, Horror Mall just became something that needed to be cut from my involvement. Things might have been different, but Horror Mall never operated outside the recession and declining book market, so this fact always put so much uncertainty in running a business which depended on others to make it work.
You recently acquired the imprint Morning Star from Larry Roberts. Can you please tell us more about this and what your plans are with it?
Morning Star has always been my favorite imprint produced by Larry Roberts. DarkFuse’s acquisition basically strengthened the Morning Star imprint by giving it the same production and distribution arrangements as with all other DarkFuse imprints. Not much else will really change, as Larry Roberts was kept on as the imprint’s editor. I believe this division of labor where he can focus on the editorial side and DarkFuse handles the publishing side will allow him to really do even greater things with the imprint. For DarkFuse, it adds more market share and projects down the road, which is beneficial as well.
Which writers are you excited about right now and why?
I’m excited about most every author I’m currently publishing. It’s tough to pick out certain ones, as I feel it’s not giving credit to the others I don’t mention. But it’s not an easy feat to get published at any of my imprints, so to extend a contract to any of the authors I’m currently publishing really means I’m excited about what they’re writing and their potential as an author.
How do you see the genre? What are the positive things you are seeing and what are some of the negative trends you are seeing?
Unfortunately, I can sum up the positive in about a paragraph and the negative in a series of books, I’m afraid. Sorry to be pessimistic, but I’m also bluntly honest.
So let me start with a condensed answer on negative trends:
1) The Talent Pool Is Shrinking Due To Self-Publishing
a) New Talent
From my slush pile, sometimes it’s only a matter of weeks before a rejection letter goes out to an author until I see the same author marketing the manuscript as a Kindle edition. The phrase “I’m now a published author” has never been so undermining to real authors. The problem here is that the book I rejected wasn’t just OK or a “not-my-cup-of-tea” rejection, it was on every level “not-meant-to-be-published-or-consumed-by-any-living-thing” bad.
Back when I first started writing, I thought I was supremely talented. What I didn’t realize is that my fiction was actually pure CRAP. And lucky for me I began writing in times when you had to EARN your publication credits, as editors rejected me countless times (and rightly so) until I was forced to actually learn my craft.
If back when I started writing, there was such an easy option to self-publish like there is now, I’m afraid my inexperienced, ignorant and impatient self would have jumped at the chance at self-publication and the experiment would have set me back years or possibly worse. First impressions are HUGE in this market. So when a new author self-publishes without doing the work to develop their craft, they will ultimately suffer for it. The bona fide trunk stories that are being self-published today will be the first and last many readers will ever pick up. And it’s a shame because I see many new authors who have undeveloped potential out there. Unfortunately, their raw self-published works are what readers are getting.
There’s simply no substitution for hard work and no short cuts in the long road to being an author who matters.
b) Established talents
I think it’s a common acceptance of many out there to think that established authors can easily take the self-publishing route and thrive. But I’m not seeing that across the board. I will say that some may be able to take their name and capitalize off it for a while, but only because more times than not they first established that name in connection with having a publisher that had the means to get their work out to the masses and help create that initial readership.
What’s happening now is that a great deal of established authors’ works are declining in quality and suffering from editorial issues, content problems, and poorly formatted eBooks (which is also happening with certain publishers as well), but the quality control of self-publishing often comes down to writing a manuscript, sending it off to pre-readers which are oftentimes glorified fan-boys/girls who will ultimately praise and become the ultimate ego-stroker to any established author. After a couple typos are fixed and the yes-man/woman stamps ‘Approved’ on it, it’s off to the market 8 hours later, half the story it might have become.
It’s easy in these times to hate editors and professional publishers who make decisions that ultimately an author may not agree with. I felt the same way about some of my former magazine editors. It’s not easy for an author to get their ego popped. Once that happens, it’s easier to run away, scream, “What the hell does this schmuck know and how dare he demand a rewrite (doesn’t he know who he’s dealing with?)” But sometimes it’s what separates growing talent from decaying fruit on the vine.
2) The Lack of True Professionals in the Field
This is what ultimately causes point #1 to occur. Authors have little options in partnering with true professionals in this genre.
Horror literature suffers immensely from the lack of true professionals in the field. A new author with a passion has very few roads to associate with true professionals, ones that would nurture their talents into maturity, make them a better author and work to grow their readership. The independent press is full of publishers who are hobbyists, reverted fan boys who ultimately know little about running a real business. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what a publisher wants to be. And if you’re an author who only considers yourself a hobbyist and doesn’t care whether your readership grows, then it might work well for you to sign with that type of publisher. But for all other authors who would like to grow their readerships and make some sort of living off their writing, there really needs to be publishers out there who make the same commitment to their business (as their profession). With POD technology, there are publishers who serve only as a “funding source,” a glorified walking credit card who bankrolls every aspect of their business, never truly learning even the fundamentals of what makes you a good publisher. Hiring someone to lay out your book, copy edit it and then upload a few files to Lightning Source or CreateSpace can be done by anyone in America who has a day job with minimal wages to burn. With a logo and a name, that passes you off as a publisher. Just the same way as any person who can string together the English language in one form or another and who has an Amazon account is now considered an author.
But it doesn’t make you a professional. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean you’re doing anything lasting or impactful, something to base a legacy on.
Sadly, the lack of professionals in the field is due to the market itself. The masses no longer read regularly, if at all. Being a publisher isn’t a profitable profession and as a businessperson your first step in contemplating making a business in publishing would be to run far away. The horror literary scene has become a market where a true professional must have that fiery passion and drive to make it because they love the genre and want to help the authors who feel the same way. Any other notion for being here is obviously based off misinformation or foolishness.
And in these self-serving times, I’m afraid that those very selfless character traits exist in very few when paired with the technical-savvy skills and business acumen needed to further a business and help authors who are striving to grow their readerships.
These negative trends really all stem from a core source that is the waning market itself. Until we nurture a nation and world where art and literature matter more than the mindless traps found in every day life, we’ll unfortunately be forever stuck with the same downward trends.
Oh, that’s right: you asked for positive trends. Let’s go with…
The Affordability of the Digital Revolution and the Demographics of Horror
Send a poll to the masses and ask what’s more popular: using technology or reading literature. We all know what kind of landslide that poll will result in. But my belief with the dawning of the eBook age (due mostly in part to the popular eReaders like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iPad) is that this trend is likely to become the gateway for more of society to use technology to rediscover the joys of reading.
If you asked me back in my youth what I thought about reading, my reply would’ve been something similar to, “Screw that, I’ll watch a movie.” Back then, reading was synonymous with work and not entertainment and that would have never changed except for that fact that I stumbled onto some H.P. Lovecraft books at a local shopping mall. The covers initially attracted me to buy them, not because of the promise of a great reading experience.
This was my gateway drug, so to speak. What ensued was an experience like no other in my life, as I became lost in the pages and mind of an author I grew to love. The reading experience, in adapting Lovecraft’s words with my own imagination eclipsed any sensation I could ever have in watching a movie (as movies generally don’t allow you to expand your own internal perceptions and unleash your imagination as books do). Reading a well-written fictional story is both a solitary act and personal connection, shaped as much by your own mind than any other art form. And that’s the power of literature. And that’s a power that I believe will never be contained.
But with our fast-paced society, with all the distractions and mind-numbing alternatives to choose from, there really needs to be a bridge, that gateway drug, to usher in new readers, just like how those H. P. Lovecraft covers lured me in to discover what I still feel today is the most fulfilling form of entertainment at our fingertips: the written word.
And digital eBooks really bring this art form to our fingertips like never before and at a much more affordable cost. With all the apps and devices, it’s once again cool for younger audiences to engage in reading. And for the horror genre, the key demographics for potential readers is this younger generation, the ones that populate movie theaters when a new horror flick is released.
So the potential for our readership to grow due to these demographics and a new age of digital is quite promising.
How do you feel about the onslaught of underpriced and free eBooks on the market? How do they directly impact your line of eBooks (if at all) and the overall market? Do you feel they impact authors at all and if so how?
All in all, it’s hurting the market. It’s feeding the notion that literature is worth nothing. It’s feeding the consumer in their notions that they’re buying a file, not art.
I know there’s a problem when I have authors who come to me concerned that they can’t sell their book because I’ve priced it too high at $4.99. What these authors don’t understand is that I’ve released hundreds of books on the market and my overall bestsellers are still ones priced higher.
Overall, the cover price has little impact on the number of copies sold. On the other hand, the marketing of your book will ultimately have a much bigger impact (and it won’t matter what price (as long as it’s fair) if it’s a good book and properly marketed). In these times, it’s going to take real effort to set your book apart from the horde of eBooks made available every day. Posting a tweet or announcing your new title on Facebook doesn’t count. If you’re doing something everyone else is doing, it’ll be ineffectual at best. Partnering with a good publisher and creating a roadmap to specifically market your book is a good start. Roll up your sleeves, set goals and focus on selling your work. Authors and publishers need to be partners in this, because one can’t effectively market the book without the other’s involvement.
The real caution with authors or publishers offering free or underpriced eBooks is that once an author has work on the market that is priced this way, they’ve set their price points, and, to readers, their market value as an author. The same authors I publish who have other books at these low prices on the market do not generally sell as well at normal prices. And I’m now beginning to see that authors who maintain similar, more rational price points (even at a slightly higher price) are outselling the authors who have books at lower cover costs.
We’re in danger of reinforcing eBook consumers’ ideas that eBooks should be free because they don’t cost anything to produce (which is ultimately a huge misconception). See what happens when I walk into one of these consumers’ workplaces, demand their service or product associated with their company for free, which, in turn, causes them to work for free. They’d scream in fury. It’s no different with professional authors. Writing is their job and it’s a tough one. They’re not only laboring over (for example) a novel for months and sometimes years, sacrificing very personal details of their lives and spirits, their fears and sadness and much more, tapping into their creative imaginations. Writing is often a mentally draining hardship and can take physical tolls. It takes many hours a day, many months and sometimes years to finish a single novel. Would anyone else expect to sacrifice so much and devote so much time and not make a dime?
Now sales from a $0.99 eBook might be ideal compensation if the world was full of readers and you sold 50,000-100,000 copies of every work you wrote, but the reality isn’t that for most, especially for mid-list authors who I worry about the most.
The fact is that, as a publisher, eBooks do cost a lot to produce. Proceeds are split many ways: royalties for authors, distributor cuts, artist pay for cover art and maybe illustrations, conversion services, copy editing, marketing (which is expensive), etc. Again, it’s well covered when you’re moving 50,000 eBooks, but that can’t be the reality for the majority of authors and publishers, especially in niche markets.
I’ve had numerous authors come to me looking for a publishing contract and their leverage is that they “sold” 15,000 copies of their latest Kindle eBook. Impressive, but actually some authors count free giveaways as sales. And here’s a calculation that any mathematician would endorse:
15,000 giveaways=you’ve sold absolutely nothing. What you’ve done is to devalue your art. You’ve now set your market worth. And you’ve also failed to impress me as a publisher one iota. This fact has created more of a liability to selling your future work. And contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the 15,000 “readers” aren’t even reading your work. Yes, we’ve just entered the age of digital hoarding. Yes, it’s actually a phenomenon sweeping our nation, crazy as it sounds.
Authors: do NOT sell yourself short. Too many are scrambling in the here and now which will ultimately cut off many roads in the future. If you truly believe in your work, is asking a reasonable price really that much of a problem?
As for DarkFuse’s eBooks, they are priced accordingly and are still economically-friendly at $6.99 a novel and $4.99 a novella. The readers who buy them know what they’re getting: a product that has been professionally produced with clean layouts and conversion and fiction that have passed many layers of reviews and editing. If that’s not worth a few bucks more, then this market is really doomed.
But once this all shakes out, readers will seek out the best and won’t mind paying a fair price for it, and I am extremely confident of the fiction and the product I have on the market. I believe it’s among the best this genre has to offer. And as I plan to continue to offer high quality works, DarkFuse and its imprints will become a place where it’s easy for eBook readers to find quality genre fiction and not waste a lot of money mining for gems in the ocean of muck the market has to offer.
Can you briefly take us through the process of what you look for when you choosing stories for Delirium? What makes a great horror novella?
For instance right now I’m reading for 2013. I’ll receive 400-600 submissions this year (by invitation and unsolicited). I will choose the best 24 based on fiction alone. What makes them great is a combination of many things: I look for originality, a well-told story, smooth prose, and a lasting impression after the read.
What’s different about the Delirium novella series is that I don’t pre-contract authors to write. A big-named author has as much chance as being one of the 24 contracted than a newbie. I never pay out an advance for a manuscript to be delivered at a later date. Which actually eliminates certain authors from ever submitting, the ones who demand money up front. But the last thing I want is someone cashing the check and submitting something that’s either lackluster or something I feel doesn’t cut it.
The fiction comes first, the name recognition for its own sake and interest and potential sales is not a factor.
Will Patrick Kill return (for those of you who don’t know, Patrick Kill is Shane’s pen name)?
Patrick is a part of me, from earlier in my youth that will never go away. So the chances of new fiction under that byline is pretty high.
What is the last good album you’ve listened to and last good movie you’ve treated yourself to?
The last really good movie I watched was TAKE SHELTER. A great character-driven, emotionally-charged movie that I thought about for weeks after.
The last really great album I purchased was Blue October’s ANY MAN IN AMERICA. The lyrics and music were amazingly personal which I appreciate in any form of art.
DarkFuse was founded in 2011 by Shane Staley. Staley, who’s most recognized as being the man behind the legendary independent press, Delirium Books (1999-present), created the moniker DarkFuse to consolidate his publishing imprints which includes the aforementioned Delirium Books, Altar 13 (2010-present), Darkside Digital (2007-present) and his brand new endeavor, DarkFuse Publications. Along with these, DarkFuse acquired the publishing company Morning Star in 2012 to add to its roster of well-known imprints.
Staley, who is a published author (first published in 1992), started his publishing career in 1995 with a ‘zine called The Darklands Project. Since then, he has published more than 200 books in his career and has been a part of launching some of the most important writing careers in the horror genre. He received the Bram Stoker Award for Excellence in Specialty Publishing presented by the HWA in 2005 as editor-in-chief at Delirium Books.
DarkFuse and its imprints are focused on producing the very best in dark fiction. This innovative independent publishing company continues to prove every day that you don’t need to be a New York publishing house to make a positive and long-lasting impact on genre fiction.
DarkFuse consists of 5 publishing imprints all managed by founder, Shane Staley.