Confessions of a Horror Micro-Publisher
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Running a micro-press can be horrific. People sometimes wonder why a nice gal from Mexico would become a purveyor of tentacle smut. Not that I deal in smut, but parties who do not recognize the name Lovecraft think I peddle porn (the “Love” in Lovecraft causes the confusion), while some speculative fiction readers are baffled, wondering why I’d want anything to do with a racist, old-school dude like ol’ H.P., who seemed incapable of imagining a female character. I mean, does the world really need more tales of lily-white New England gentlemen who scream at the sight of nameless horrors?
The answer is no. The world can probably do without more clones of Lovecraft’s heroes. But it can probably do with more Lovecraft.
Lovecraft has left big claw marks on our current horror and dark fiction landscape, never mind his mark in other arenas such as the movies, games and the like. You can do only two things when faced with him: ignore him or wrestle him. I prefer the later.
Innsmouth Free Press is a horror micro-press. It publishes Innsmouth Magazine and several anthologies during the year. The website also features columns such as “Cthulhu Eats the Movies” and “Writing the Mythos”, along with other general horror items.
Lovecraft does not need to be all lily-white New England gentlemen cloned from one of his stories, any more than an epic fantasy needs to include hobbits. We’ve published one Multiethnic Lovecraft issue with stories set around the world. We have also published the Historical Lovecraft anthology, which jumps through time and cultures as varied as the Peruvian Moche to the artic Sami. Forthcoming is our Future Lovecraft anthology, which surprised even us with the number of female writers in the slush: we thought a science fiction theme might attract more men. We’ve published or are publishing writers from more than 20 countries, including writers translated from the French and Spanish.
We live in the 21st century. We can’t be expected to read and produce the same stuff Lovecraft wrote almost a hundred years ago. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Lovecraft – and other writers of the weird bent around his time – cooked up some very interesting scenarios, questions and characters which are still relevant.
Lovecraft liked to share his creations with other writers. He might be a bit surprised at some of the turns they’ve taken, but I’m sure he would be flattered and happy to discover that a century later, he is being embraced by newer generations.
So what’s it take to run a Lovecraftian horror micro-press? Money, love, and lots of stamina. I have little money which means an even bigger dose of stamina since I do the bookkeeping, layout, design and send out lots and lots of material into the world. The love is crucial, because otherwise a sane person would drop it all.
You have to communicate a lot. I am constantly in touch with Paula R. Stiles (http://thesnowleopard.net/), who is our editor for the Innsmouth Free Press website and the magazine. I do social media updates and outreach. I also get to chat with illustrators, contributors, writers, public relations people who send us stuff for review, and the like. I don’t think most people understand how much of running a micro-press is about people. Sure, it’s about words and the words we put on the page matter a lot, but we have to make a connection in order to get those stories out there. So I chat. I coax. I talk some more.
Drill it into your head: the most important element of a micro-press is people. Both the fans who consume this stuff and the fans behind the scenes who write reviews of horror movies, draft Monster Bytes, and offer to help edit an anthology, like Mr. Orrin Grey did this fall.
The other thing most people don’t get about a micro-press is how much money goes into it. We pay for website hosting, for the fiction, for the advertising. The actual books we produce are printed through print on demand, which lowers production costs. But the cover artist still needs to get paid, the writers need to be paid, the writers need their complimentary copy, the review copies must be shipped and you have to advertise.
The money comes from three places: donations, sales of our products (the anthologies and e-book copies of the magazine) and my bank account. If you want to take vacations and buy nice new shoes, then publishing is probably not for you. In the battle between buying an interior illustration or forsaking eating out for the rest of the month, I admit to dinning on cans of beans.
The final detail that is easy to forget is how much reading you’ll be doing. You’ll be reading to look for writers who might be potential contributors, reading to see what others are doing and, if you’re like us, reading a lot of slush.
The slush is actually not that bad. There is a lot of stuff that is plain bad, a lot of it unimpressive, but that is also where some of the most exciting discoveries come from. I don’t think I’d ever want to do an anthology without at least a brief open submissions period.
Talking about submissions: we haven’t obtained those writers from 20 different countries just by sitting and waiting. It is a misconception to think that if you build it, writers will follow. Especially when you are a micro-press and you want the most diverse and interesting slush possible. So you are ideally: reading to find writers of interest, asking for recommendations from writers who have already contributed and you enjoy, asking writers who have already submitted to recommend you to other writers as a potential market, and telling writers that you exist through social media or other methods such as conventions, though I don’t attend many of them and rely more on virtual connections.
Why would you do that? I knew someone who worked as a talent scout for a modeling agency. She held open calls where people dropped off their photos and portfolio, but she always carried a camera and took snapshots of people on the street. Her greatest finds had come from grocery shops and coffee shops. She didn’t just wait for talent to show up and as a micro-press we can’t do that either. We’ve got to hunt it down. We want to be different from the competition.
All of this amounts to reading, reading, reading. I read as I walk home, while on the bus, during lunch. I don’t read a lot at home because after my children are asleep it is generally time for writing, e-mailing or production.
On the weekends I have editorial meetings and general ‘let’s talk about fun stuff’ conversations with Paula. We are in different countries and different time zones, but that tends to be the case for most of the Innsmouth people I work with. I often wake to find several e-mails from the people in Europe. Most of the illustrators I work with are from Europe. Weird quirk.
During the week I browse the Internet for illustrators. I am often looking for people to interview for the website, but I’m also looking for names I can add to my list of interesting artists we might use one day, or artwork we might purchase for covers. We don’t really use many interior images, though Future Lovecraft will have five of them.
If you’ve gotten this far you may think my life is pretty damn depressing, with the constant struggle to sell enough copies and the big workload, but I think it’s quite wonderful. We are in a great, brilliant era of speculative fiction. Yes, many print magazines have folded. But there are so many small online ‘zines out there replacing the photo-copied, side-saddle stapled publications of yore. E-books are here and eating a bigger chunk of the market, but that doesn’t mean readers have disappeared. In fact, we may be able to reach more readers than before as geographical barriers disappear. You can Kickstart a publication into life like AE The Canadian Science Fiction Review has done and connect with your readers in more immediate ways.
We are now selling our magazine issues as Kindle or ePub files. It has been surprising to see how many people purchase our anthologies in e-book version, which prompted us to also offer the magazine in the same format. This e-reading trend will continue to increase.
I think that there is a demand for short stories out there. I think small-press horror fiction has a brilliant future ahead of it. Finally, I think Lovecraft still has a thing or two to show us.
Feed your shoggoth and keep reading.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia was born and raised in Mexico. She moved to Canada several years ago and now lives in British Columbia with her family and assorted cats. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as Fantasy Magazine, Evolve 2, and The Book of Cthulhu. In 2011, Silvia won the Carter V. Cooper Memorial Prize (in the Emerging Writer category), sponsored by Gloria Vanderbilt and literary magazine Exile Quarterly. Silvia is the owner of Innsmouth Free Press, a micro-publishing venture. Find her at silviamoreno-garcia.com.