Books Vs. Writers

I shall get long-winded here and veer off on tangents 'cuz I have a tendency to do that (a personal flaw is not too great a personal flaw if you are aware of it - Zwolf 3.16), so let me give you the gist right away because it's important and I don't want you getting bored with me and skipping it:

Horror writers are getting screwed over by what was, until recently, the major horror publisher. At the B-hole we are the blog that's about every-damn-thing, whatever-the-hell-we-feel-like-at-the-time, but if you read us at all you've noticed a predilection for horror. We all like it. And I'm all about it. Like, in my town, I'm (point and whisper) "that guy." And horror fans are a fanatical bunch for the most part. I've never met one who wasn't really a gentle sweetheart of a person, but you fuck with our dudes, then we're gonna even that shit up. And Dorchester Publishing, home of Leisure Books (and former home of my other big favorite, Hard Case Crime), is fucking with some really good writers.

Evenin' up time.

One of the writers that Leisure's doing wrong, Brian Keene, is leading the charge, and the most important parts of this post are going to be links to posts on his blog, which will explain it with more inside detail and authority than I can provide. So, be sure you click the following:


List of Professionals Endorsing the Dorchester Boycott (we're on it, and greatly appreciate being there)

Friday Frenzy (With More Dorchester Stuff)

There'll undoubtedly be more to come, so stay tuned to that channel.

And there's another great post from another of Leisure's screwed-over authors, Wrath James White, which covers a lot of ground that's wrong with the publishing industry in general. I'm glad he said it, because I've been screaming some of this stuff for a while now but nobody listens to me 'cuz I'm not actually a published author. (More on that as I digress, should you choose to hang around for it). Be sure to read Wrath's post:

The Rape of The Genre (And What You Can Do To Stop It!)

(And I stand by my review of Succulent Prey from last week, it's a book you all should read, but, ummmm, hold off 'til Wrath gets a new deal and can make some money from it. In the meantime he has other non-Leisure books which you can and should buy).

Okay, that's the important stuff, so if the rest of my personal rambling bores ya, skip me. Or go read me on Twitter, where I'm not allowed to be so long-winded and just make jokes about violence and bodily functions and try to get the pretty comedian girls to talk to me. (And they don't. Probably because I'm talking about violence and bodily functions. Y'think?) Anyway, if you hang around for the rest I promise to try to make it interesting, but if your time's too short to indulge me, fine, you got the important part. Spread it around. Act on it.


Now, llllllllllet's get ready to rammmmmmbllllle!

I always liked Leisure Books, so this whole thing makes me sad. Back in the day they were the craphouse of horror publishing, one step up from Zebra, but I still had a great fondness for them. I admit it, I'm charmed by crap; I used to collect Charlton comics, for godsake. In the early 80's Zebra was the worst of the paperback empire (mainly because they published William W. Johnstone, the single Worst Professionally Published Writer In The History Of Mankind - it took a special kind of low-standards to look at that guy's work and think "Oh, yeah, the public needs to read this! I love how a character we've never seen before gets shot on every page! That's panache!"), but 80's Leisure was only a little better. They did have a few decent writers in their stable - William Schoell was usually entertaining, J. N. Williamson had his moments, and Mort Castle is one of horror's best-kept secrets. And for the hardcores, Sean Hutson, baby, formative splatterpunk. Horror was having a renaissance, and even though Leisure was just a remora following the bigger sharks, they were worth watching.

Then in the 90's, after Dell's great Abyss experiment (Abyss was to horror publishing what SubPop was to music, just a beautiful thing for horror fans) fizzled, horror went into a slump. The big publishers timidly backed away and avoided eye contact, and Zebra (which had been improving) shit the bed and dropped their horror line. Pocket pulled a fade, too (anybody remember D. A. Fowler? What a twisted woman!), Pinnacle packed up its silly cover art and headed for parts unknown, and horror went into a huge tar-pit. Who was pretty much the last man standing? Leisure! I'm mad as hell at them right now, but I've got to give them credit - they saved the genre from stagnation by staying open for business. And being the only game in town they got a pretty good stable and a better reputation. They were publishing the mighty, mighty Richard Laymon, the genius works of Elisabeth Massie, Mary Ann Mitchell, John Shirley, Edward Lee, Ed Gorman, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton. Ramsey Campbell -- yes, RAMSEY fucking CAMPBELL was on Leisure! And they were growing a whole new crop of great writers -- Brian Keene, Tom Piccirilli, Steve Gerlach, Simon Clark, Wrath James White, Nate Kenyon, Sarah Pinborough, Bryan Smith, Gary A. Braunbeck, Michael Laimo, J.F. Gonzalez (Survivor is one of the craziest things you'll ever read, but wait 'til somebody else republishes it). Lots more - I'm not even trying to list 'em all, but it had become a strong stable, with hopes of further growth.

Sounds like I'm celebrating them, doesn't it? Well, maybe, but only because that's what you do at a wake. Leisure's dead. Luckily, Hard Case Crime (the newest SubPop type label - I bought EVERYTHING they put out and will do so again) found a new home. But Leisure's all e-books now, and sorry kids, but fuck a bunch of that.

Here comes one of those tangents I was talking about, in the form of a crazyperson rant. Might be a good time for you Kindle Kultists to skip out for a pee.

I am a militant paper loyalist; if your book comes out electronic-only, I won't consider it published, and I won't read it until I can find a printed copy. I don't blame anybody for e-publishing; it's hard enough to make a living writing, and anyone who wants to try would be a fool not to take any avenue open to them, and e-publishing does have a few advantages for writers because they can cut out the middleman and keep more of the money. If it puts food on your table, go for it, godspeed, I won't hold it against you. But if you want me in your audience, kill a tree, partially because those machines look like ass (market it all ya want - I've seen 'em and I don't buy it), but mainly because I'm not paying for something I can never own... and you will ALWAYS be at the mercy of somebody who's giving you "access." Libraries are already having issues with e-journals upping their prices and pulling their access; you cannot count on the "book" you buy always being there, so don't go thinking you've got a "library" in that little cute lil' Etch-a-Sketch. It's fine if you like to read a book once and toss it, but I'm a collector (*cough hoarder cough*) and downloading a file to a machine that's gonna be outdated in five years does not scratch my itch in any way.

And you know what illegal downloads did to the music industry? Gonna be worse for writers. In music at least the bands can still make money by playing live on the road if people pirate their CDs. What are writers going to do, though? Nothing. All you have is your product... and I hate to tell ya, but your product is already on bit torrent sites, being handed out for free. And you'll go broke trying to track it down and stop it. Those Kindle and Nook codes are so easy to crack that I know people at work who've already converted 'em to files so they could print things out, and they're not any kind of hacker. If you start relying on E-publishing, you are so goddamn vulnerable it's not even funny. And the new generation believes everything should be free, so they're not even going to understand why they should pay for something when torrent will just hand it to them. Oh, it's boom-time for e-books right now because it‘s a fun new toy and an in-thing, but a terrifying bust is coming, and when it settles in, "writer" may not be something one can make a living at anymore. Call me a luddite, but MARK. MY. WORDS. I hope I'm wrong, I really do, but I wouldn't bet against me on this one. Play it out. How does it end any other way? Seriously.

Plus, the other whammy: e-publishing is too easy. E-books and print-on-demand have made getting material out there too cheap. Back in the day it cost somebody money to put your stuff out, to print it and market it. Now it costs nothing, so they're eager for any and all material, because whatever it is somebody will surely buy it, and that's a dollar made. If you don't have to back something up with cash, your standards get really low. The firewall is down on literature and the virus of horrible-writing is free to buttrape the literary world. That's going to wear the reading public out. Everybody wants to be "published," so there's going to be so much gack that it's going to be too much of a struggle to wade through it all to find the good writers. Established people will survive it, but new writers who aren't known yet? Your opportunities are going to fade amongst the din. It's gonna be tough to get noticed when there's a billion of you and no editors acting as a floodgate to stop the bad ones from getting through. Look how bad music is now that nobody has to get signed. Enjoy Rebecca Black, ladies and gentlemen... and be sure to buy Friday: The Book. I believe it comes out on Friday, Friday, Friday...

HAVE I MADE MY POINT, MOTHERFUCKERS?! LISTEN TO IT AGAIN! FIFTY MILLION VIEWS in a month that thing had! That is your future! More of that! Forever! I have seen the calendar and the future is aaaaaalllll FRIDAYS! ARRRGGGH! GO FUCKING READ MOON PEOPLE! Thanks to Kindle and Print-on-Demand, Dale Courtney is a published author! William W. Johnstone oughtta send him a goddamn fruitcake from the great beyond for taking the worst-author-ever heat off of him!


Where are me meds? Who was that unpleasant man?

Okay, so, anyway, Leisure's mostly an e-publisher now. Threw 100% of their business behind something that was generating 10% of their revenue, that's the most brilliant idea since buying "amish.com" as a domain name. They weren't going to get my business on that end anyway, but I would've bought some of the trade paperbacks they were planning to put out.

But then, they started screwing over their writers.

As an eats-lives-and-breathes horror fanatic, I take care of my sources. You don't fuck them over and get to walk. You screw them and I'll lay a wreath on you by cutting off what you need from me -- money. And I'm not casual -- I buy LOTS of horror fiction. If I wasn't embarrassed by the messiness, I could post pictures of piles of books in my house, and many of 'em Leisure would damn sure recognize. I'm a horror hoarder, and I don't just go wide, I go deep. In Brian Keene's new book Jack's Magic Beans (which is published by Deadite Press, who also put out things by Wrath James White, Bryan Smith, Edward Lee, and others - books are on the short side, but still quite worthy of your business) he bets twenty bucks a lot of us haven't heard of Robert W. Chambers. In my case he'd lose, because I not only read him, I once helped a librarian friend assess a gift collection made by Chambers' estate. I know of the King in Yellow and his tattered mantle and pallid mask-which-alas-dear-Camila-is-no-mask. And I know of Hodgson, James (both good ol’ M.R. and ah-shaddap Henry), Machen, Onions, Blackwood, LeFanu, W.F. Harvey, F. Marion Crawford, the Benson bros (E.F., A.C, and R.H.), Bierce, Hearn, Lovecraft, C.M. Eddy, Kuttner, Stoker, Matheson, Bloch, Howard, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Ligotti, Michael McDowell, Schow, F. Paul Wilson, etc. And I'm pissed that Karl Edward Wagner is out of print and think The Library of America should give the man a volume. You can search this forum and find references to old horror writers astounding and abounding, and yeah, I'm bragging on that because I am a proud horror teacher ‘n‘ preacher... which is why what Leisure's doing pisses me off. If you are in the horror market, I am your money. So quitcher fuck’n with my dudes. The customer is always right. And the customer is saying no.

And, since I've always had "writer" in mind as a potential supplemental/fallback career, I also take the screwing-over-of-writers personally even if I don't really have any right to do so. I can't really call myself a writer because I'm not published, so I haven't entered the business end of it, and that's the really hard part of the whole schmear. But I do know the mechanics of writing stories pretty well. I'm lazy and lack the dedication-to-craft I should have, but if unpublished works count, I am el prolifico loco. Before I got out of high school I'd written a series of Road-Warrior-ripoff action novels, which I've talked about here before. There were seven of 'em (the last couple unfinished but already short-novel length) - The Law of the Road, Galil Justice, The Renegades, The Losers, White Line Fever, Burn In Hell, Hired Guns. All the worst kind of juvenalia and not even remotely publishable ('cept maybe now, as Kindle fodder; Moon People, ya'll! Y'heard?), but they taught me things about writing long form, developing situations and characters, and especially how to write violence. Then after college, around 1990, I wrote a horror novel called Rictus Grin, which was a zombie novel that took a very similar approach to the one Brian Keene used in The Rising... except mine was a lot sloppier and had pacing problems, while Keene's is classic. Again, Rictus Grin was unpublishable, but it was good practice. Since then I've written five full novels that would probably be publishable if a capable editor woodshedded me and knocked a few corners off of 'em. All horror, and I've mentioned them on this blog before, too. Death Metal Creeps, Deadhouse, Orphans, Signal 30, Steve's Trailer. And I've got a bunch of unfinished projects that I could probably complete if I bore down for a few months, because they're already nearly novel-length - Daisyland, Blacklight Autopsy, Seth's Soul, Ducts, Choir of Worms. I've had these things read by smart readers and they told me they're good. Granted, they're friends of mine and might be trying to be nice, but one of 'em got excited enough about one of 'em to try to play editor and sell Deadhouse to Tor Books. Never heard back from 'em, but their horror line was dormant at the time so I wasn't too discouraged. And that's the only thing I ever tried to submit, other than a truly terrible short story I once sent in to a Twilight Zone Magazine "unpublished writer" contest when I was in high school. That story sucked farts out of dead cats, so I don't feel bad a'tall for losing. And y'know who won that contest? Dan Simmons, with "The River Styx Runs Upstream." So there's no shame in that, because I wouldn't be able beat Dan Simmons now. Or ever! :) And o’ course I put a couple of short stories up here as a Halloween present. I don’t think they’re works of genius but you can check ‘em out if you like, here and here.

Anyway, I can't call myself a horror writer because I've been too lazy and content with my day job to chase it (it's not an easy business to be in - you've got to respect the people who do it, even William W. Johnstone), but as a dabbler, I side with the writers, big time. And a publisher -- a fucking leech machine that seldom really does much for writers to begin with -- who robs these people... it doesn't make me happy. Sure doesn't make me feel like supportin' it.

Maybe I'll use the money I might've spent with Leisure to buy this Night of the Assholes book I've been flirting with instead. That would seem all poetic-justicey.


  1. Very decent rundown on why e-books suck as a business and suck even worse for writers intending to make a living writing.

    Like you, I bought pretty much everything that came out in the 80's and early 90's. Hell, I remember there being about a dozen new horror novels every Thursday at my local paperback shack.

    I'm sure William Johnstone is enjoying a cooler life since the heat was taken off him. Jesus, we have had parallel paths. I look over my shoulder here and I find Schoell's 'Spawn of Hell' glaring at me. I look left and there's Johnstone's 'Cat's Cradle' (mint condition). Look up and there's Patricia Wallace's 'Water Baby' (mint condition also).

    Yes, I like paper, too. And I refuse to buy e-books. Refuse! Fuck 'em in the ear! I don't think they're the next big thing. I think they're the latest thing and latest things wear out fast.

    I wonder what bug crawled up Dorchester's ass and came up with this "solution". It's probably laying bad eggs in there because that company now smells funny.

    I'm glad most of their horror scribes are finding homes.

  2. Hi, Phantom! Thanks for reading. :)

    I think I've got "Water Baby" around somewhere, and a lot of her other books. I've got them piled all over and yet I find myself buying more, used, often after reading about 'em on blogs.

    Every day I find more things I hate about E-books. Today I was reading some scam people are running - http://hothardware.com/News/Beware-the-New-eBook-Scam/ Yep, I think I'll stick to paper.

    The Leisure writers seem to be finding new publishers, which is great... they're some good people.

  3. Great article, sir! E-publishing like you're talking about strikes me as simply a kind of vanity press. No thank you.