A Writing Career Returns from the Grave

From Publishers Weekly:

In autumn of 1996, I was a mass market paperback writer for Kensington Publishing under the Zebra Books horror line. My career was steady and building momentum, with eight novels published and two forthcoming on its midlist schedule. Then, without warning, the horror publishing industry imploded, and Zebra unceremoniously shut down its line.

After six years as a full-time author, I was suddenly unemployed. The reason for Zebra’s shutdown, as well as for that of many other publishers’ imprints, was an oversaturation of the horror genre. To feed the ravenous appetite of a loyal reading audience, mass market publishers had taken on inexperienced writers who were penning novels with inferior plotlines that lacked the spit and polish that established authors were accustomed to providing. In turn, readers got burned time and time again, and sales dropped. In desperation, publishers began to cut books and authors to sustain fiscal stability. Eventually, many canceled their horror fiction lines completely.

My agent’s advice upon calling me and giving me the bad news of Zebra Horror’s demise? “Write anything but horror.” So, I took that advice to heart and did just that. As weeks led into months, I tried my hand at several other genres. None of them panned out. Plain and simple, I was a horror writer and the niche I had worked so hard to establish myself in was gone. Frustration led to bitterness, then to apathy. Seeing no chance of regaining my success—and having bills to pay and a family to support—I simply quit. I completely abstained from writing and even reading horror fiction for 10 long years.

That decade of self-exile was rife with resignation and depression on my part. At age 36, coming from a blue-collar family and having no college education to speak of, I turned to the factories. I laced up my steel-toed boots and punched the clock from eight to four, sometimes six days a week. There were highs—raising a family, buying my first home, and enjoying the security of a 401(k) and health insurance. Even when the horror genre regained its footing, I shied away from the possibility of returning. In my mind, I’d had my shot and then lost it, never to retrieve the glory and satisfaction of publishing again. I kept my nose to the grindstone and clung to that weekly paycheck and sense of security.

During those years, everyone swore that the rise of the internet would herald the death of publishing—that easy access to cyber information would replace the need and desire for the printed word. Ironically, it turned out to be the catalyst that sparked a renewed interest in my work. Fans began to purchase my old Zebra novels on eBay and praise my work in online discussion forums. Many urged me to come back to the fold. After some soul-searching, I took the plunge and returned to the horror genre in summer 2006.

However, during the time I was gone, an entirely new generation of readers had appeared—a generation that hadn’t read my work and had no idea who I was. For several years, I worked to rebuild my popularity and appeal. Having regained all rights to my Zebra backlist, I signed on with Crossroad Press, a new publisher specializing in e-books and audiobooks, in 2010. My eight novels, plus two that hadn’t been published, were released, as well as a number of collections of short stories I had written for major magazines and anthologies.

I continued work with smaller, horror-oriented presses, which provided more author control and say-so over content and cover design—something I never had during my tenure with Kensington. Slowly, readers took notice, and my brand of Southern horror fiction became popular again. My readership expanded with the help of social media, and my sales followed suit. YouTube videos featuring reviews of my older books brought them back to readers’ consciousness, and those forgotten titles took on new life and thrived.

I continued work with smaller, horror-oriented presses, which provided more author control and say-so over content and cover design—something I never had during my tenure with Kensington. Slowly, readers took notice, and my brand of Southern horror fiction became popular again.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Exhibit 9148722-C for not hitching your professional wagon to a traditional publisher. At least the author of the OP was able to get his rights back from Kensington. PG notes the OP doesn’t mention whether Kensington made him pay to get his rights back. With a standard publishing contract, they didn’t have to give rights back if the imprint closed down.

PG checked out the website of Crossroads Press, the author’s new publisher, and found the site was being reconstructed – not a good look. If you’re going to replace a commercial website with a new/refurbished/restructured commercial, you keep your old site front and center while you build your new site either offline or on a URL that nobody will ever find.

When the new site is ready, you replace the old site with the new site, probably at the same URL so you don’t have to start all over with being discovered by the search engines and off you go without losing any online momentum.

PG has done it. It’s not rocket surgery.

PS: When PG checked the link to Crossroads Press, he noted that the redesign began on July 21.

8 thoughts on “A Writing Career Returns from the Grave”

  1. Wow. I looked at the about page at Crossroads where it states:
    “My background, besides being an author, is in IT. I’m IT Manager for a very successful company, and have extensive background in web development, networking, and computers. All of this made learning the basic tools of the trade a short and simple task.”

    My background is IT as well. My website has never done what his is doing. It’s not a good look for the company or the owner’s competence at IT.

    • E., I thought the IT background was ironic as well. Must have been with mainframes.

      It’s just not that hard to put up a website with all the tools available today (or ten years ago).

      • Maybe, given the scary nature of the “redesign,” he meant Cousin IT, especially given the forthcoming Wednesday on Netflix? (Now there’s a frightening premise for a pharmaceutically-induced H’wood reboot: Gomez buys up all of the stock in Amazon so that he can race two different AWS threads into each other head-on to watch the collision. Just like in one episode of the original black-and-white series… although that involved railroads.)

        My bet is that the perfect is being the enemy of the good, and that some graphic-designer jerk (or other person overinfluenced by a graphic-designer jerk) is trying for perfect and perfectly consistent representation across all major platforms and browsers. Perhaps with the assistance of a five-year-old nephew during summer vacation.

  2. “Oh, the Horror, the Horror.”

    Before 1996, anybody who could write to length, and on time, would be published. They could not shovel enough books, fast enough to feed the relentless demand of the distribution channel. When the big box stores destroyed the distribution channel they dumped 90% of the writers, hoping that they did not dump someone who was actually popular.

    The story he tells of the collapse of the Horror genre is simply the Just So Story that was told by people who did not understand the reality of the time before and after the collapse.

    By 2010 Indy publishing was real, and a number of small “presses” provided the services that anybody could do for themselves. The problem will come when Crossroads Press decides to retire, leaving all of their authors high and dry. I suspect that they have all of the books under the Crossroads Press name and account. I wonder how they keep track of the money coming in from the various books and pay the money to the right author.

    We will be seeing a Writer Beware article when Crossroads Press shuts down, adding to his story of woe.

    For him to be dreaming of Trad Publishing shows that he still does not understand the reality of the market.

    Ronald Kelly


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