By Anthony Servante
With Lori R. Lopez, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Jimmy Pudge contributing.
“The Tower of Ebabel” refers to the proliferation of electronic formats available to readers to download their ebooks. Publishing has come into the 21st century with a vengeance. Here anyone can be published. No longer does an author need to wait on the acceptance of a paper publisher; he can now simply publish himself on one of the many media: personal or professionally run websites, on Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, Ipad, Kindle, or pdf. On the other side of the coin, there is a deluge of ebooks being published. Authors of paper books are entering the lucrative e-market, while a new crop of e-authors, who publish exclusively on the internet, are flooding the market. These latter authors publish via a convenient format and promote themselves on social networks such as Facebook or MySpace.
In the book Future Shock (1970), author Alvin Toffler warns readers that “too much change in too little time” creates a vacuum between what we as readers can read and the numbers of books being published daily that we want to read. We can never catch up; we cannot read everything as the future closes in on us faster each and every day. The pool becomes diluted, and we must wade through more and more sub par readings just to get to a handful of good books. As a reviewer of books and movies, I find myself skimming through books more and more and fast-forwarding movies more than I’d like because there is so much bad stuff out there that it is a rare pleasure to find a good novel, novella, or short story like finding a nugget of gold while plowing through a pile of rocks.
Thus it is that fans of the Horror genre are faced with “future shock”, the deluge of ebooks hitting the market from professional and amateur authors alike, a vast selection that weighs upon the buyer to be more selective with his purchases. Cyberspace has become crowded with stories from known and not-yet known authors, some bringing premium work to the market, others sharing tales that fall below publishable standards in the paper book business. The massive shadow of ebooks has influenced the literature of Horror in both predictable and unpredictable ways.
I call this shadow, Cybernocturnalism.
I approached three authors to discuss this trend, their role in its growth, its effect on Horror as a genre, and its potential effect on paper publishing. Before we proceed to their opinions on Cybernocturnalism, allow me to introduce our participants:
1. Lori R. Lopez
“Lori R. Lopez writes novels, a number of book series, poetry and columns in a variety of genres including Horror, Fantasy and Humor. Available titles include a collection of strange tales, Out-Of-Mind Experiences, and a Horror-Fantasy novel, Dance Of The Chupacabras (Tome One of The Tome Trilogy Of Trilogies).
Her stories and verse appear in anthologies such as an H.P. Lovecraft tribute (Arcanium Axiom), Deadication (Panic Press), ePocalypse (Pill Hill Press), I Believe In Werewolves (Netbound Publishing), Masters Of Horror: Damned If You Don't (Triskaideka Books), Soup Of Souls (Panic Press), Bleed . . . And They Will Come (Panic Press), and fifteen of Lori's poems were published for an anthology titled In Darkness We Play (Triskaideka Books), as well as magazines: Ghosts And Haunts; Women Empowerment. Lori is a renegade indie author who believes creative writing should not be standardized or conventional. She has two sons and a website: www.trilllogicinnoventions.com.” Lori is about to enter the e-market after years as a paper author.
2. Kealan Patrick Burke
“Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is an award-winning author described as "a newcomer worth watching" (Publishers Weekly) and "one of the most original authors in contemporary horror" (Booklist).
Some of his works include the novels KIN, MASTER OF THE MOORS, CURRENCY OF SOULS, THE HIDES, and THE LIVING, the novellas THE TURTLE BOY (Bram Stoker Award Winner, 2004), VESSELS, JACK & JILL, SELDOM SEEN IN AUGUST, YOU IN?, and MIDLISTERS, and the collections RAVENOUS GHOSTS, THE NUMBER 121 TO PENNSYLVANIA & OTHERS (Bram Stoker Award-Nominee, 2009), and THEATER MACABRE.
Kealan also edited the anthologies: TAVERNS OF THE DEAD (starred review, Publishers Weekly), BRIMSTONE TURNPIKE, QUIETLY NOW (International Horror Guild Award Nominee, 2004), the charity anthology TALES FROM THE GOREZONE and NIGHT VISIONS 12 (starred review, Publishers Weekly, British Fantasy Award & International Horror Guild Award nominee).
A movie based on his short story "Peekers", directed by Mark Steensland (DEAD @ 17), and scripted by veteran novelist Rick Hautala (Bedbugs, The Mountain King), is now available for viewing online, and more stories have recently been optioned.
He recently played the male lead in Greg Lamberson's film SLIME CITY MASSACRE, the long-awaited sequel to the cult classic SLIME CITY, now available on Blu-Ray and DVD, with a limited theatrical release to follow.
Kealan is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization.” He publishes in both paper and electronic markets.
Visit him on the web at www.kealanpatrickburke.com or visit his blog at http://kealanpatrick.wordpress.com/
3. Jimmy Pudge
Jimmy Pudge has self-published, Yo A$$ is Grass: Tales From a Rednek Gangsta (2010), Bad Billy (2011), and Chasing Vampyres (TBA). Born 06-09-1972. Jimmy has always wanted to be a writer. After years of rejection slips from paper publishers, he ventured into the e-market, creating a persona that is part ‘gangsta’ and part Barnum and Bailey. He, in essence, is a performance artist whose act is publishing books. Visit him at http://www.jpudge.com/
I. Lori R. Lopez
Hi, Anthony. Thank you for the invitation! Here are my initial replies. I'm putting together my first E-book release this month.
How will the Horror genre change, if at all, with the influx of so many e-authors?
There is in all genres the concern that quality will suffer, and I have seen a shortage of proper editing in some such books. There are bound to be more retreads of the same trite plots, more copycats, but I trust there will also emerge fresh voices and perspectives that might otherwise have gone unheard. This is the best thing about independent authors taking control of the publishing reins. I think it's an exciting age to live in, for both electronic media and print books. Horror, like Science Fiction, can benefit enormously from a broader range of ideas. I just hope the books worth reading will be able to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace.
As print authors seek to e-publish old books, do e-authors look for acceptance in traditional paper print?
My personal preference is still paper, but I will soon release my first E-book as well as convert my print books to digital versions. I think authors should take full advantage of both forms of publishing. There's simply no reason not to with ready access to websites that make publishing attainable. It is no longer the dream and the privilege of the elite few. E-authors who are serious about promotion and sales will want to reach the widest audience possible.
The cream of the crop will rise from this massive e-author influx: will the cream be competitive with the old school authors who see e-publishing as a minor extension of their paper books?
I think there is room for any author who has something legitimate to say. An old-school print author could begin to see the E-book sales as comparable or better than print, while the E-author "cream" could find stiffer competition from established print authors who may have longevity and a larger fanbase on their side. They might also have larger promotions and physical book signings. The E-authors would be wise to learn from seasoned veterans of the trade and vice versa. Like any industry, publishing is evolving and authors need to stay flexible to grow and change with it. I believe the two sides can benefit each other.
II. Kealan Patrick Burke
I think, of this new wave of horror authors, not all of them want to be published in print unless they can do it themselves, i.e. e-publishing has given writers so much control over all aspects of the process that it's made it harder for them to relinquish any of that control to mainstream print publishers. Add to this the belief that print publishers are evil, an oft-cried motto that I find unappealing and not always true, to be honest, and you're left with writers who came into being and will stay in digital regardless of the pros and cons.
I agree with your assessment that the good will rise to the top, and the rest will fall by the wayside. This is inevitable. However, I don't think it will be categorized by "old" versus "new" schools. I think, rather, that it will come down to quality. And there's a lot of quality out there. A lot of bad stuff too, of course, but over the years, I've come across many phenomenal books by unknown authors who stayed unknown because no one would publish them. This is one of the many reasons I celebrate digital publishing. It finally allows some really good writers to get their work out there to the reader where it belongs, without having to run the gauntlet of some agents and publishers who are only looking for the next big thing, and don't always see it when it's right under their noses. By that same token though, you have a lot of work out there that could have benefited greatly by the gauntlet. Rejections by editors and publishers when I was first starting out, inspired me to do better, to improve my craft, so that when I finally cracked the markets I was targeting, it felt like a major achievement, and one I had worked toward obsessively. In the current climate, writers seem to take rejections personally, and opt for digital publishing to avoid the blow to their ego. Typically though, their books don't sell, or get negative reviews, and then their ego suffers anyway. And this is what worries me. A lot of people out there are using e-publishing as a way to get instant gratification, and money. They want to be the Next Big Thing, the Next Big Success Story, the next Amanda Hocking. And like Hocking said in an interview, she did what she did because she wanted to be famous. John Locke did it to make money. Frustrated writers are being given a carrot to e-publish, and it's sometimes the wrong one. They're obsessed with sales figures and fame and money, not with bettering their craft and not always about telling the best story they can. I have seen this first hand on message boards. In one case, a writer openly asked everybody what they thought he should write so he could sell a ton of e-books. He wanted to know what was hot so he could cash in on it. Which is fine, I guess, if money's the object. But when I saw this, I went to Amazon, downloaded an excerpt of his one and only book, and it looked like he had thrown 40,000 words into a bingo machine and published the results.
The writing is what needs to matter. Yes, we've become publishers and business people, but we're storytellers at heart, or at least, we're supposed to be. I have no delusions of massive success, and that's just fine by me. I've already accomplished my goal, which is to have my books widely available for anyone who wants to read them. And every time I get an email from someone who enjoyed my book, I know I'm doing something right. I tell stories. I do it for a living. And it's the best job in the world.
As far as whether or not horror will change as a result of e-publishing, in terms of content, I don't think so, at least no more than it always does over the years. Horror evolves with time regardless of the format, and writers do too. I do think we'll see shorter stuff making a comeback, though. Short story collections, anthologies, and novellas, ordinarily a hard sell in print, will enjoy a return to the shelf, and I couldn't be happier about that. Some of the most powerful work ever written in horror was novella-length. So, no, I don't think e-publishing will have a drastic effect on the type of work we're producing (unless we take the ill-advised route of trying to copycat the more successful authors), but it will change how we're able to market it.
Back to the old school versus new school - I don't think it comes down to that. It's all about what appeals to readers. I'll use myself as an example. My backlist is now available digitally. Up until this year, the only way you'd be able to get your hands on copies of most of my books, was to either get one at the library, buy it direct from the publisher for around $40 as a signed limited edition, or get it on the secondary market after it sold out (sometimes cheaper, sometimes ridiculously more expensive). My books were tailored to the collectors, with low-print runs. So, despite great reviews, awards, etc., the books never got mass exposure. Now, readers who couldn't afford my books back in the day, can pick them up for a couple of bucks and read them instantly. And readers who'd never heard of me are discovering them too. So I don't really think it matters which school the author comes from. Again it'll come down to what's good and what isn't. I am just as likely to buy a Stephen King e-book as I am to buy one by a new author I've heard raves about.
Bottom line: It's an exciting time to be an author, and an even more exciting time for horror, as long as we don't forget where our hearts are. Parchment, paper, cocktail napkin or electrons, formats don't matter, but quality should.
III. Jimmy Pudge
1. Will horror change with this new wave of e-authors and will they lead the way or will they follow the dominating old-school authors?
Yes, I believe horror will change. I think all genres are constantly evolving. Having platforms like Amazon and Smashwords give writers with very unique perspectives a chance to revolutionize the horror field which they may have normally been excluded from in the past by the “in crowd” of horror. What I mean by in crowd is a group of horror writers, agents and publishers who network, attend conventions, and join horror writing organizations. It’s no coincidence that many of the horror books you picked up five years ago read alike. I look at this new period in horror, fantasy, romance, etc…as a new golden age of pulp fiction. The demand for e-Books are there, it’s a huge market, one that’s got the traditional publishing companies scared, so you’re going to see more unknown writers emerging from obscurity than you’ve seen since the pulp fiction magazines. As a result of this, you’re going to see some new and exciting ideas emerging. As far as e-authors leading the way, I feel in some cases that may be true. The people who will lead the way will be the most talented and creative writers. Sure, you’ll have tons of hacks who are out there writing e-books similar to their icons. There were a lot of hacks in traditional publishing trying to write like their icons. Some of those hacks made it pretty far and are now considered old-school authors. You’ll also get those talented individuals who are full of originality and bring experimental works to the table that shakes everything up. As far as following old-school authors in the e-book field in terms of marketing, no, these new e-writers will not follow that path, unless they’re rich or well-connected. What’s going to happen is you’ll see Amazon and eventually Barnes and Noble offer contracts to the big name authors. They’ll transform themselves into publishing houses and market the hell out of the already famous writers. The new guys are going to have to market themselves aggressively on Facebook and Twitter and do tons of interviews and whatever else they can to get people to notice them online. They’re not going to have a free publicity ride at all.
2. What will it take to survive this deluge of e-authors, to be the cream that rises to the top of this deluge?
You have to be original and write something that people will enjoy. You have to impress people with your grammar and layout skills. You have to constantly promote your work, so people will know that it exists. If you’re a newbie, not someone who has tons of friends in the field, and you have no money for a publicist, then you’ll have to put in tons of hours to get your novel out there. The fact is you may have written the greatest novel in the world, but no one will buy it if they don’t know it exists. You also need to network with other writers. Find out what they’re doing and what is working for them.
3. Can e-authors compete with old-schoolers?
Here’s what’s so wonderful about the e-book explosion. New authors who keep their prices dirt cheap, and I’m talking 99 cents cheap, will get the impulse buy from people. It’s the same principle as I-Tunes. You see a song, listen to the sample, and decide 99 cents is worth the risk. You buy it impulsively. It’s only a click away. The same process exists for e-Books. Now, if your book sucks, then the chances of repeat business is going to be poor. But the fact is, many people are going to be flocking to these cheap e-books, keeping away from the traditional authors because their publishing houses will list those e-Books at $5 or higher. Already, the process is reversed. Already, the old-school authors are looking into self-publishing. Stephen King’s 81 Mile is only $2.99, an incredibly cheap price for a new King product. Other well-known authors are turning to self-publishing, and their books are cheap: Lawrence Block, W.D. Gagliani, Bryan Smith, etc…
Now, here’s the problem for the old-school authors. They must always write okay books in order to compete from this point forward. In the past, if their shit has sucked, they’ve been able to get away with it, but not anymore. Not in an e-Book environment where you have unlimited reading options that are probably cheaper than their products. E-books may wind up a lot of old-school authors’ careers. It really just depends on if they get signed on by Amazon.com. In answer to your question, yes, e-authors can compete. It’s the best time ever to be a new author.
4. Do they or should they have to or is the e-market your domain, not the old-schoolers?
The e-market is everyone’s domain, but the whole game plan is rapidly changing. It’s no longer only about who you know. I mean, sure, talent was an important factor in the past, but it wasn’t the driving force to getting a publishing contract. The truth is that networking has always been the key to becoming a published author. Not anymore. Those days are over. Traditionally published authors with minimal talent are going to see some huge problems in the future. I can name a handful of writers who are considered popular in their genres that I expect to see go belly up with this e-book explosion. But I’m not going to name names. I’m sure some people expect me to go belly up when the e-book “fad” dies down. But the e-book explosion isn’t the pet rock. It isn’t a fad. It’s going to be here for a long time.
5. How do you see yourself? Leader or follower?
I’m a leader. My works are highly risky and very original. I consider myself very original in the horror genre. I don’t go with the flow. Not ever. I think it’s important to stand out, and you’re not going to get anywhere by kissing an old-school author’s ass. Not anymore.
My thoughts on the e-Book explosion are very simple. The new guys are getting a break. The traditional writers, publishers, agents, these are dark times for them.
1. Lori R. Lopez
Kealan, I think you dinged the carnival bell with your statement about new-wave horror authors wanting to do it themselves in regards to publishing, whether print or digital. I personally find this to be a tremendous asset available to us as writers in this age, while at the same time it swings the door quite wide in regard to quality and professionalism. In some cases, many it seems, these are painfully lacking.
Likewise, it isn't that publishers are evil, I agree; it's that they are businessmen, and they will cater to that which is most commercial, not necessarily what is most deserving or important. So either way, with or without them in the middle damming the stream, there is a loss of quality. What sells might not be the best, and it usually does not encompass the risk-takers and avant-gardeners who strive for the uncommon and plant the seeds of growth. Nor do the rigid policies and conventions practiced by these publishers, that serve a purpose to demand high standards, allow for much of the flexibility that should go hand in hand with creative writing.
I, too, applaud the digital age of publishing for giving voice to meritorious unknown authors who would otherwise remain anonymous. The written word no longer needs to be dictated by the few. It is now the voice of the masses. But if everyone is speaking at once, who is there to listen? Good writers need good readers. And good writing requires a great deal of time. I hope there will always be enough readers who are not too busy and preoccupied with writing.
It is true as you say that rejection can challenge us. It can also block us unfairly, particularly we writers who do it for love over fame and financial success, because we might not be willing to sacrifice as much time from writing for promotion as the fortune-seekers. We might not be willing to jump through hoops for publishers, or surrender our principles. Yet it is a common goal to survive as writers, to focus our time and energies upon this craft.
I further agree that shorter works are regaining popularity thanks to E-publishing and the Internet, something I am excited about. To that end, I also believe poetry is making a welcome return for the same reasons.
Jimmy, I like what you said about "a new golden age of pulp fiction". Some of the freshest and most exciting writing in the past was exactly that, probably due to such "in-crowds" as you mentioned. What is great today is that we can find seasoned literary veterans now rubbing elbows with writers at all stages and levels, especially online. And there seems to be more of a sense of camaraderie rather than competition amidst the ranks of the struggling unknowns and lesser-knowns.
Your point about new guys having to market themselves aggressively -- I would say exhaustively -- to gain any notice online is already happening. As is what you predicted about Amazon becoming a publisher and offering contracts to authors whose books are selling. This is already a reality as well.
I agree that originality is key. Good writers need to stand out from the horde of hacks and wannabes. As you pointed out, these are nothing new. Dating farther back than most would realize. It is equally vital to stand out from other good ones.
You are right, E-books are no fad. They are here to stay. Personally, I do hope that print books will survive alongside them; Print-On-Demand companies make me think they will. If traditional publishers are smart and learn to be flexible, perhaps they too can endure. We see everything changing nowadays, including television and cinema, due to the digital age. In one form or another, the written word is here to stay. It has seen a lot of changes through the years. In the future, virtual books may float in front of us, a flick of our hand turning pages.
I think we are all in agreement that this is an exciting time to be an author.
2. Kealan Patrick Burke
Interesting, Anthony, but again I think only the medium is changing. Stories are stories. For the industry, on the other hand, yes the change is undeniable. Novellas are popular again, but just because the market is seeing more of them now that digital allows for them, it doesn't mean horror writers ever stopped writing them. So content-wise, I would argue that there is no change to what we writers have been doing all along. Market-wise, the change is huge.
3. Jimmy Pudge
After reading the responses, I feel like I'm in pretty much complete agreement with my peers. The only thing I see differently is Burke's comment about horror not changing. I feel most people currently in horror are hacks, based on what I've read...and I read a lot of current horror fiction. For the most part, the ideas are stale and the plots repetitive. It can be really hard to find something completely unique in this genre. I think in the past this has partially had to do with the fact that popular horror has been determined by horror writer groups. A broad audience is not going to dig around for horror gems but go straight to what people are hailing the great horror writer.
This e-book revolution is going to change this. You're going to get more originality, and more authors are going to start changing their plots and style to match the new success stories. So I feel horror will see some pretty big changes in terms of content. An elite few will not determine what is hot like they have in the past with their top 100 horror picks or whatever.
Anthony Servante: Summing things up.
Cybernocturalism: The Modern Horror Movement is happening in cyber space with an avalanche of horror stories. It is the culture and the field for sowing the next wave of horror writers. For instance, a writer on Facebook has five thousand friends; he sends his story to his friendship circle and has each friend share the story with their friendship circle and that circle with another and so on and so on. The story can circulate amongst thousands in less than an hour. But, as in any pyramid scheme, only the cream of the crop, namely, the top of the chain, succeeds. Which brings us to the paradox of Cybernocturnalism.
The Paradigm Paradox: the Cybernocturnalism paradigm shift itself is subject to extinction and therefore renders the modern definition and application begging the question. It’s like pointing out someone is right when what he said was you were wrong. Quite simply, a paradigm is a belief system one develops in most fields, from science to horror, that is subject to corruption and erosion by a new belief system: we once believed the world was flat and now we believe it is round. And what will we believe next? Each generation’s view of their own belief system, believes theirs correct, thus setting up the corruption that comes from reaching a conclusion based on belief and setting up the erosion of the former belief. Belief is in constant flux, ever-changing and evolving.
Horror, too, is a genre in flux. But old-school dies hard as the new kids on the school ground enact change by revolutions. And therein lays the rub. The new wave is anachronistic by virtue of “future shock.” And the next wave. And the next…. A self-conscious cycle of mirrors facing other mirrors with “Horror” reflected in a perpetual image of past, present and future all at once.
As I am the one to point out this trend on the medium of cyber space and attempt to effect popular doctrine on modern horror, I, too, become an example of my own thesis/exposition. If you were to point out that had it not been for the internet, this article about ebooks and e-authors and their role in Cybernocturnalism would never have seen print, I could only respond: Touché.
Yet, here I am. And here we are.
Thank you, authors, for your participation in this article on Cybernocturnalism: The New Age of Horror Publishing.