About a year ago, I announced on this blog that Samhain Publishing, the company that published four of my books between 2013 and 2016, was about to go out of business. After various twists and turns, none of which it’s worth going into, it has finally happened. Samhain is shutting down at the end of this month (February 2017), and the four novels I wrote for them–Zombies of Byzantium, Zombie Rebellion, Doppelgänger and The Rats of Midnight–will soon temporarily be out-of-print, though a few copies might still be available on Amazon or other retailers if they still have back stock.
This post is not about Samhain Publishing. I had a fine relationship with them and I thank them, and especially their former horror editor Don D’Auria, for everything they did. But now, unfortunately, I find myself “un-published”: after the end of this month, everything you can find out there that I’ve written will have been published directly by me, through Kindle or Amazon or some other outlet. That’s essentially the same position, at least in a manner of speaking, I was in at the time Samhain took a chance on me, in early 2012, to put my novel Zombies of Byzantium under contract. That, I thought, was my “big break.” Now it all seems to have gone glimmering. Or has it?
My science fiction novel The Valley of Forever, which came out in 2016 under my own imprint, is unlikely to have ever been picked up by a traditional publisher. I’m very happy with how it came out, though.
Oddly enough, in reality I’m far less chagrined or disappointed by this turn of events than I might be. In fact I don’t feel like I’m back to “square one.” My Samhain novels, Zombies of Byzantium in particular, gained me a lot more visibility and readers than I otherwise would have had. While there were never a lot of them, many of the readers who discovered me in the Samhain days have stuck with me, and look to continue to do so in the future. My base of readership is small–but that’s true of just about everyone in the writing business who’s not named Stephen King–but they are loyal. This is the audience I should be writing for, and now I can give them more of what they want, and what I want to do, which gives me a lot of freedom as a writer.
The simple truth is, writing fiction is now, in the 2010s, mostly a niche thing–and was probably always destined to be. The Internet and the rise of self-publishing has completely atomized the universe of books out there. There are now millions of them in every conceivable genre. And yes, most of them are not very good quality. It’s easy to mock a system where an “author” can publish a book, in minutes, that consists of nothing but a picture of his foot–I found such a book on Amazon recently–and have that “book” enjoy coequal status with something an author painstakingly crafted over 7 years. It’s also easy to become angry at a professional publishing industry that is hardly a meritocracy, which feels it cannot and will not take chances on writing talent that doesn’t already have a built-in sales gimmick, like salacious memoirs of a famous person or a retread of whatever’s supposed to be “hot,” which is how we got utter crap like 50 Shades of Grey. But I can’t really change these things. I can, however, write and publish books that I find personally meaningful, and that a few carefully self-selected others will also find entertaining and perhaps illuminating. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Here is the video promo for The Valley of Forever. It’s not much, but those who have read the book have really enjoyed it.
To be sure, there’s a lot of work involved in promoting your own stuff. I now have to find advertising outlets, publicity avenues and promotional strategies on my own–none of which I’m trained to do, and the best of which cost money I just don’t have. But this is also true, for the most part, of traditional publishing. Many agents and publishers now require authors to do their own promotion or to submit a “marketing plan” along with their book. Undoubtedly I will do some marketing and promotion, as I’d love my work to find wider audiences, but the central part of my “marketing plan” is, and always will be, keep writing interesting books. I realize it’s a fine line between this and a purely hopeful “if you build it, they will come” mentality, which is unrealistic; but writing books that are at least good enough to rise above the oceans of trash sloshing around in the depths of Amazon’s Kindle Store is a necessary cornerstone to getting anyone to read your work at all.
So, what am I going to do now that my publisher has gone under? Basically, whatever the hell I want. I’ve got a romance book called February Romance coming out this month, and I’ve got various other ideas on the drawing board including another short story collection. At some point I will republish the four ex-Samhain titles under my own imprint. I can also tweak them: I can, for instance, finally go with the title I always wanted for Zombie Rebellion, that being Zombies of the Whiskey Rebellion. In the past few months I’ve gotten much better at book design and cover graphics, and I’m actually looking forward to the challenges ahead.
One of my fans poses with Hotel Himalaya. Yes, I do have fans.
I could be upset about being “un-published.” I’ve decided not to be. I’ll never be a New York Times best-selling author, but that’s totally fine with me. What do you do when your publisher goes out of business? Get back to work writing more books. What else can you do?