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.

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Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

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