Many of us sf, suspense, and horror writers owe a debt to the small press.
Those of us who began our careers in the last half of the twentieth century—specifically, the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s—honed our craft by writing short stories. We had grown up reading pulp magazines and paperback anthologies, and what we aspired most to be in life was a paperback writer who wrote short stories and fast-paced serialized novels sold on newsstands or through subscriptions.
Our heroes had ascended the ladder of success via early short stories published in the pulps: Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Andrea Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Fritz Leiber, Fredrick Pohl, Isaac Asimov, H. P. Lovecraft, and countless others. Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Max Brand, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and even Faulkner and Hemingway and Stephen King wrote many short stories for magazines. Seeing one’s own name on a by-line in a magazine was the gold-standard of success.
But television killed most of the markets for short stories, especially pulp-style stories. Smart writers migrated to screenwriting (Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, Harlan Ellison, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner, and Raymond Chandler were only a few of the more successful screenwriters who got their starts in the pulps). Motion pictures and television shows were really only short stories in disguise. I view television as the modern reincarnation of pulp magazines
As the number of magazine markets dwindled, new writers sought alternate ways to get their stories into print. Fan fiction thrived, and Amateur Press Association APAs—mimeographed or photocopied hand-stapled magazines—achieved significant circulations. Distribution or sales in the hundreds and even thousands provided ways for new writers to get their fiction into print and their names known.
Some amateur publishers became semi-pros, paying ½ cent or a penny a word, almost as much as early pulp magazines had offered half-a-century earlier.
Semi-professional publishers became known as “The Small Press” because their distributions and pay rates were too small to attract professional writers.
Today many of those small presses are called “Independent Publishers” because they aren’t owned or controlled or distributed by one of the Big Five International media conglomerates.
Cemetery Dance Publications, Dark Regions Press, Gauntlet, American Fantasy, and 2AM Publications began as small press publishers of magazines. David B. Silva began The Horror Show as a small press magazine in the 1980s. Dave was a writer himself, and he created a vehicle for new writers—as well as a place for big names like Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon, and up-and-coming Joe R. Lansdale—to showcase short stories. Dave achieved newsstand distribution, a consistent quarterly publication schedule, and professional-quality covers and print production. When the First Gulf War glued Americans to their television screens to watch play-by-play CNN or Fox News coverage of the war, sales of newspapers, magazines, and books declined and didn’t recover. Dark Regions, 2AM Magazine, Weirdbook, Pulphouse, Deathrealm, and The Horror Show folded. Only Cemetery Dance survived as a continuously published magazine.
The digital revolution in publishing has seen a rebirth of the small press. Dark Regions Press, Cemetery Dance, and Gauntlet produce exquisite numbered and lettered hardbounds and trade paperbacks. They publish short story collections and novels. I support all of them by buying and reviewing many of their books.
I have supported the small press since the 1970s. I reviewed the small press under my own name and under my Irwin Chapman pseudonym for three decades. I served as the Grievance Officer for the Small Press Writers and Artists Association in the 1980s. I have contributed stories to most of the small press magazines over the years, and many of those stories (along with some of my stories that appeared in anthologies from major publishers) will soon be collected into a new short story collection entitled The Devil Made Me Do It Again and Again.
When Eldritch Press announced in the HWA newsletter that they were actively seeking novels and would pay a professional advance and royalties, I sent them a proposal for Abandoned, the first novel in my Winds-series of Supernatural Thrillers. They replied immediately, and I sent them the full manuscript. They accepted within a week and sent me a written contract that was more than agreeable. In exchange for an advance, royalties, and a one-year reversion or renewal agreement, Eldritch would publish Abandoned as a trade paperback, a hardcover, an e-book, and an audio book. They hired a pro artist to design a dynamite cover.
I informed my then-agent who was very displeased. Two professional publishers had expressed interest, but both were taking their time to make an offer. I withdrew Abandoned from consideration, and my agent and I parted ways.
Michael Randolph, the publisher of Eldritch Press, agreed to hurry the trade paperback into production so the title would be available at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May. We agreed on a March 1, 2015 publication date. Abandoned actually appeared on March 3, 2015, and copies were for sale at WHC. Michael said he wanted to wait to release the e-book, hardcover, and audio book until we could get advance publicity into place.
Eldritch Press never did do any publicity, nor did they publish a hardcover or audiobook. I did push Michael into publishing an e-book version at the end of summer.
I recently heard from other Eldritch authors that Michael closed Eldritch Press on November 18. The Eldritch Press website has vanished, along with the Eldritch Press Facebook page. Copies of Abandoned are no longer available for sale on Amazon.com.
I know from experience that the time, money, and energy required to sustain small press operations makes it impossible to live one’s own life. The burden can seem unbearable. If the small press publisher is also a writer, he or she has no time for his own creative writing. Family life goes to hell. Constant demands from authors and distributers destroy perspective. There is simply never enough time for one person—or even a small part-time staff of several people—to do everything required to acquire, edit, format, publish, market, distribute, and publicize multiple books. Necessary accounting for taxes and royalties eat up time and money. Communicating with authors and artists, negotiating contracts, and marketing published and soon-to-be-published works can become a real nightmare.
I don’t know if that happened to Michael Randolph at Eldritch Press. I only know that Michael is no longer communicating with me and Abandoned has gone out of print.
Over the years, I have had 43 stories and novels accepted by small press publishers that never made it into print. At least Eldritch Press actually published Abandoned, and they did a decent job. If I had waited for a major publisher to produce Abandoned, it would still be in production. At my age, I can’t afford to wait.
So, thank you Michael Randolph and Eldritch Press for publishing Abandoned in a timely manner. I wish you well.
And thank you Crossroad Press for wanting to produce a new edition of Abandoned. As soon as I have it edited and I’m certain the rights have reverted to me, Abandoned will be available as an e-book.
I will continue to support the small press whenever and however I can. Despite the temptation of large advances, I can’t afford to wait years for major publishers to bring out my new titles. I owe a debt to the small press for rushing many of my titles into the marketplace. I intend to pay that debt.
SPWAO Showcase nº 7