Becoming a Published Horror Writer: Industry Tips from Puzzle Box Horror

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Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

If you talk to most horror writers, it is more than a hobby to them. Some aspire to become a famous author, who will have their books converted to screen plays. Other writers love the potential of selling a horror screen play that may become a series, to networks that are buying up original content like crazy. Entertainment leaders like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

Every once in awhile you will hear this amazing story about how a talented horror writer met the right connections and was able to move and shake their way to the desk of a publisher, talent manager, and their copyrighted work was purchased. For a lot of money. Happy writer. Happy production company. Happy horror fans.

But how often does that really happen? What is the process for a horror writer to get their work noticed or have the rights to their work bought by a large production company? Do you actually need to publish and sell a horror novel first, before you have a chance of pitching the rights to your creative work to a film company?

At Puzzle Box Horror, our team has a lot of experience in marketing and relationships with horror authors and indie film makers. If you are at the stage where you would like to get serious about having your work published and making an income from horror writing, we would like to share a few tips to help get you started.

Publishers Will Not Throw Money Down Unless You Have Built An Audience

No matter how talented you are, a publisher is not going to bite or buy in to a product that does not have an audience. That is a hard fact that many writers struggle to understand. Why wouldn’t publishers want to snap up your work, package it up into a novel and start selling it for a profit? That model has not been predominant in the industry for over ten years.

The average cost of launching a new book? It can be as much as $25,000 to an average of $60,000 or more depending on the size and resources of the commercial publisher. When your book has been accepted and you have signed a contract with a publisher, there are a series of steps and services that happen to your original work, before you will see your book distributed on the shelves.

The process of launching a new book with a publisher can take an average of 18 months or longer, and will include the following steps and services:

  • The setting of the target date for retail distribution. You are issued a payment by check after endorsing your contract with the publisher.
  • Professional proof reading and editing for first revisions.
  • The manuscript is then sent to the sales and marketing departments for another revision. This is where changes are proposed to the novel, to tweak it for marketability. This can also be a long process as authors tend to object to changes, and it becomes a negotiation process. The copyeditor oversees this process and helps consolidate edits and reviews.
  • The cover design will commence about 6 months before the release of the book.
  • Galleys or ARCs are advanced copies and excerpts that will be sent out for getting book reviews of the work about 6 months prior to release. Authors are also provided with the advanced copy to start marketing efforts as well, podcast interviews, social media teasers etc.
  • Marketing and sales plans go into effect about 3 months before the book is published. This includes setting up interviews, live book signing events, tradeshow attendance, press releases and more. The pre-launch reviews will be received with favorable reviews used to accelerate the promotion of the book.
  • About 8 weeks before the book is published, the author will receive a copy. The finished novel goes into distribution and the writer begins to earn residual payments per volume of book sales.

In short, a whole lot of people and talent goes into every commercially published book. And it is expensive for publishers to complete the process and make sure each book has a successful launch. Publishers will not take a risk on a new author that does not have audience and personal branding established. They use the size of your audience as a measurement of the potential commercial sales of your book.

No audience? You are unlikely to attract a commercial publishing deal. There are no assurances that your book will be a best seller, but with strong personal branding and an established audience, it is the jump start that publishers need to feel confident about investing and absorbing the cost of selling your novel.

Be Careful About What You Self-Publish if Your Goal is to Be Picked Up by a Commercial Publisher

One of the biggest mistakes talented horror writers make, is self-publishing. The process of building an audience and authority authorship (recognition of your name or pen name) can be time intensive. It can take years before you build a substantial audience that would make your novel(s) attractive to commercial publishers and that is frustrating.

You want the recognition, the money, and the fame now (not years from now), particularly if you have been working on your fiction for a long time. By comparison self-publishing is so affordable! For less than $20 (USD) and a small royalty to the printer, you can start selling your own self-published novels or collections of horror short stories or micro-fiction work.

The approach to self-publishing with the intention to build a brand name is not entirely wrong. In fact, if you are already working aggressively on your branding as an author, some pieces of self-published work can escalate the growth of your readership. Add your books to your website and start generating some revenue for your creative work.

However, anyone who has self-published will tell you that the revenue (while it is pretty exciting) is not exactly enough to quit your day job. There is a price sensitivity to self-published books. If you plan to offer them on Kindle for instance or digital download, the average price might be $4.99 to keep your price competitive with other new releases. And if you plan to sell print on demand, and keep the book under the $9.99 price threshold, you may make between $3.00 to $5.00 per copy.

The most important consideration is what to choose for self-publishing. One of the strategies that has worked very well for horror writers (including the legends like Stephen King) is to produce short horror story collections.

Give the audience a little taste of your writing style, themes, and macabre mastermind, and build a fan following with your short stories. And save the novels for commercial publishers; that is where the real money is in terms of royalties and residuals. And they will not be interested if you have already self-published the same work, because it complicates copyright, and it is not a ‘new’ book if it has already been circulated as an author-published piece.

Want some tips on building your personal brand and authority authorship? Watch for our upcoming articles as we share strategies for horror writers that work and free resources you can use to start building your audience of readers and fans.

Book Recommendation – “Spontaneous Human Combustion” By Richard Thomas

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

For December we bring you the upcoming release from Richard Thomas “Spontaneous Human Combustion.” We were fortunate enough to receive an ARC copy and can confidently say this is our final recommendation for 2021.

In this new collection, Richard Thomas has crafted fourteen stories that push the boundaries of dark fiction in an intoxicating, piercing blend of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Equally provocative and profound, each story is masterfully woven with transgressive themes that burrow beneath the skin.

Portrait of Horror Writer Richard Thomas
Horror Author Richard Thomas

A Series of Short Horror Stories

• A poker game yields a strange prize that haunts one man, his game of chance now turned into a life-or-death coin flip.
• A set of twins find they have mysterious new powers when an asteroid crashes in a field near their house, and the decisions they make create an uneasy balance.
• A fantasy world is filled with one man’s desire to feel whole again, finally finding love, only to have the shocking truth of his life exposed in an appalling twist.
• A father and son work slave labor in a brave new world run by aliens and mount a rebellion that may end up freeing them all.
• A clown takes off his make-up in a gloomy basement to reveal something more horrifying under the white, tacky skin.

Powerful and haunting, Thomas’ transportive collection dares you to examine what lies in the darkest, most twisted corners of human existence and not be transformed by what you find.

* Puzzle Box may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Spontaneous Human Combustion Book Cover by Richard Thomas

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4.4 Stars on good Reads – 4.5 stars on Amazon

What the Reviewers Have to Say

Beat collection I’ve read since THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE by Mariana Enriquez. Thomas’s range is astounding.

Edward Lorn

I received the ARC for this collection a few months ago so that I could have time to read it and chat about it before its release on 02/22/22. I wish I had read it immediately upon receipt because it’s THAT good. So good that I will reread these stories, even have actually reread a couple already even though I just finished the collection recently. (I am determined that 2 stories were connected, that a character we meet in the beginning, we get his origin in a later story and I will die on that hill…but I won’t tell you who so you can reach your own conclusions…)

Each story is unique in its style and tone. Some are good old fashion classic horror, we have a few with sci fi elements, cosmic horror and magical realism. There were a couple I would have claimed were written by Stephen King and 2-3 I would have pinned on Stephen Graham Jones (two of my favorites, by the way) I did post mini-reviews of each story on my Instagram if you’re interested, I can be found on IG @the_nerdy_narrative.

I read one story per day and that is how I recommend approaching this collection because these stories will make you think. Some have those fun endings that give you plenty of fodder for your imagination to carry forward as to what could have happened going forward. Some are just thought provoking, ones that deep thinkers will enjoy exploring the meanings of actions of the characters or the underlying theme.

I was blown away by the collection as a whole – I loved every single story. Honestly. There was one that I was lackluster about, but the ending flipped it and made the whole story SHINE. (I may not have had enough coffee and missed some connections as to what was happening, lol) It’s rare I read a collection of this size and feel each story is a 5 star read, but this one is it…especially with all the stories being by the same author. Now I want to read EVERYTHING Richard Thomas has and anything he has coming out in the future.

Top short story collection of the year for me – trust me, it had some steep competition too! 

Lezlie The Nerdy Narrative

Thomas (The Soul Standard) breathes fresh air into the genre of dark speculative fiction with a brilliant collection that teems with haunting elements, dark nostalgia for lost love, dysfunctional families, and self-torment. These 14 stories ably demonstrate Thomas’s skill at conjuring visceral emotion through immaculate detail work. The gut-wrenching “Repent,” about a crooked ex-cop who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his dying son, is told with an artist’s attention to scene setting. “Hiraeth,” about a farm boy with a “hole in his chest” who is robbed and subsequently punished by the men in the family, bristles with astonishing detail, realistic characters, and emotional depth. In “Ring of Fire,” an isolated scientist with an altered memory runs strange experiments on minerals, splicing horror and science fiction elements into an eerie tale about the evolution of the human mind amid isolation and interference. Equally devastating and refreshing, this is a collection to be savored by horror fans and literary readers alike.

Publishers Weekly

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