On Writing, Starving, and Success

A Conversation with Kevin Lucia

About the Modern State of the Writer’s Market.

Three writers walked into a bar.  One, is Stephen King.  The other two, you’ve probably never heard of….

If there has proven to be a true constant in the world, it is change.  If there has proven to be a scary reality to that constant, it is the speed of it.  I imagine, and wonder, and try to speculate what a meeting of the three or five generations of my ancestors would be like going from me backwards; and then do the same for even the two or three generations leaping from me into the future.  I think this constant is most visible in this context.  Most of us, if we are about forty something, see more similarities between ourselves and our great-grandparents than we do in the likeness of our experience with that of our own children.

There is no combating change.  As nostalgic as I want to be, as much as we can tell there is a certain romanticist approach going on in entertainment capitalizing on that nostalgia for a lost time.  Shows like Stranger Things, remakes such as It, and upcoming projects like Ready Player One, to say nothing of the continuing phenomena of things like Star Wars, or the complete take over of “vintage” rock and movie shirts in Wal-Mart and Target fashion, prove that there is obviously a pining for the past taking place.  But juxtaposed against that is the absolute lightning speed of technological progress.  Just in the case of TVs and Phones, the staggering speed of costly “upgrades” and the almost immediate obsolescence of older technology is completely obvious, if not, in some cases such as downgrading the infrastructure for older devices, proven.

 

Why does this matter to our two inauspicious writers walking into a bar in the shadow of the Master?  It matters because if you are a forty-something in the world right now, you belong to the generation that got caught completely in the middle of a major cataclysm. On almost every single level, this change has proven to be seismic.  Planning your degree program, and the expectations of that degree program, changed just as you were completing your degree program.  Basically, if you are a forty-something you were educated in one system, but have to navigate a completely different system: and yes, the change is that fast.  This is just as true for independent/ new artists trying to make a name for themselves.

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the best personal memoirs of the craft.  Both of our nameless writers have used it in their Creative Writing classrooms.  But much of the book’s autobiographical section tries to give an insight on how King navigated the waters of publication.  Many of those avenues have changed, or in some cases completely dried up, so the use of the book as a “how to manual” can certainly still be done, but it requires some modification.  As I have written, and now proven over months of feature articles here on Keep the Greasy Side Down, the power of the online medium is its immediacy.  Whereas Mr. King’s On Writing is a fantastic memoir of the craft, and offers great insights into the creative process, it has become somewhat dated in terms that print media – across the board – has changed.

 

So, it is of particular interest that Fall of 2017 marks the ten year anniversary of a pivotal change in my life.  It also intersects with the timing of my first meeting with Kevin Lucia, a man who has proven in many ways to be Christopher Marlowe to my Shakespeare: H.P. Lovecraft to my Poe: C.S Lewis to my Tolkien.   Contemporaries are wonderful gifts to the artist, as a solid contemporary pushes one to excel their own limits, exceed their own boundaries, and continually strive for a new level of achievement.  It is much more difficult to become complacent when you have a solid friend in the business, honestly wishing for your every success.

Ten years ago, two writers stumbled into a bar and made a bunch of plans… then they got lost in a dark and foreboding forest where their paths diverged onto two distinctly different journeys.  Ten years later…. after meeting in Arizona over fine New Mexican Cuisine, the writers discuss a few of the steps along the way.

 

So… this article is going to be a bit of an experiment.  I have divided the discussion into five different but connected topics.  Starting on Sunday, October 22.  I will post the first of these topics.  It will appear as a link here, at the bottom of this article.  One new link will then appear each morning leading up to Friday October 27.

The intent is to create a semi interactive experience with two up and coming horror fiction writers.  But, as discussed, there are a whole lot more similarities between all indie artists, painters, musicians, writers, photographers… all of us are navigating a very shifting and continually changing environment and can learn a lot from each others’ experiences.  Please feel free to comment within each of the page discussions!  If you have questions, post them!  The more lively the dialog, the more use it will be to other artists looking for guidance in a Brave New World.

DAY ONE

Ok… time machine. Roughly ten years ago…. the market and economy  was in a tailspin. Kevin Lucia was an established private school teacher, I was an established, but resigned public school teacher. Both of us were literature and writing teachers… both with a penchant for Mr. King, whose book ON WRITING, we both used as a text.

 

RYAN B. CLARK:   For the first part of our discussion, I would like to talk about the road to becoming a writer at this stage. Even Mr. King was a teacher as he sold short stories and eventually worked up to his first novel: the very short, in comparison to his other works, Carrie. So I guess question one… that I would like us both to kind of discuss, is the early motivations and struggles and obstacles both real and by expectation of those early years.

 

KEVIN LUCIA:   Well, I’ve wanted to be a writer since the 8th grade. My motivation came from my love of reading. All I knew was this: I loved reading stories, and because of that, I wanted to write stories people might read someday. I spent my high school years writing stories in a spiral bound notebook. My senior year, I wrote a “novel.” A kind of wish-fulfillment thing about this guy who helps his varsity basketball team win the state championship, all while winning back his ex-girlfriend’s heart (and this was in no way related to my life at the time, at all). One day, on the way out of 12 English, I slipped my notebook to Mrs. Lida Bassler, my teacher. She offered a very thoughtful critique, with this addendum: “You’re good. You need to pursue this, and get published.” So that became my mantra, going forward.

 

RYAN: Again to echo this strange similarity between our three writers walking into a metaphorical bar, this is an almost carbon of one of my first writing experiences. When I was a junior in high school English class, my teacher, Mrs. Baker, assigned a weekly journal. Those journals could be of any topic, and I chose to write segments of my fiction stories. My first published story, Scotland Yard Demons which was published in the anthology Sinister Landscapes, was directly born in those journals, and Mrs. Baker gave a very similar critique, “You are very talented, and I fully expect to see you published one day.” Amazing the effect high school teachers still have on forty-something year old men, isn’t it?

 

KEVIN: Initially I wanted to write science fiction. But after several years of reading sci fi and trying to write in that genre, (all while attending college and playing college basketball), I realized it just wasn’t my voice. When I discovered Stephen King for the first time – in his novels Desperation and then The Stand – it was like someone kicked open a door in my brain. This was what I wanted to write.

 

Something in King’s work spoke to me. His characters, especially. They seemed real, and flawed, and somehow both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Of course, all my early stories were attempts to copy his plots. And even when I tried to write characters, they were caricatures of Stephen King characters, not Kevin Lucia characters. But the imitation phase is one all writers go through, I believe. I experienced the same thing trying to write like Bradbury and Lovecraft.

RYAN: I too was early affected by fantasy. It was a staple gift at holidays to just get me gift cards to Walden Books because nobody could remember where I was in my Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms collections. One of my first attempts at a novel was to be a six part series of two trilogies about a Time Lord named Dalamar. The entire plot was a direct modeling of TSR, Dungeons & Dragons plot lines. But, the great benefit that came from those early years lost in role playing games, was that I was taught them by my very religious aunt, when I was eight. I was staying with my cousins one summer, and she taught us all Gygax’s original red box base D&D game. She told us, she was very much the artist in my mother’s family, that she knew of no better way to teach a love of reading and characterization. She was right. What I learned from Dalamar, was a direct benefit from learning how to build believable characters from the ground up. Eventually, I too bored of fantasy, and at about sixth grade I discovered Stephen King and Anne Rice. By the time I was in junior high, I was well versed in Derry, Maine and everything Lestat. Shortly after that, and certainly into college, my mind was overtaken by the classics, and Shakespeare, Bradbury, Huxley, and Vonnegut had become major inspirations.

KEVIN: Probably the initial obstacle was realizing that having an English Degree and being an English teacher and a rabid reader didn’t automatically make me good at writing fiction. Unfortunately, I was slow to seek out critique from others. Meaning, I didn’t do it all, for about ten years. But I also wasn’t submitting my work anywhere, because I hadn’t yet learned how to finish anything. I wasn’t even thinking about writing short stories or reviews at first, I just wanted to write big Stephen King-esque epic novels and quit teaching and write for a living. I couldn’t finish anything, though. I spent five to seven years re-writing the first halves of several different novels.

 

RYAN: This is a part of your journey that I have not been able to emulate as much as I would have liked. One particular event you always mentioned to me was the Borderlands Boot Camp with Thomas F. Monteleone.  I have been trying to lay the groundwork to reaching out here in the Southwest to various writers groups so that I too can address this concern. Especially in the world of self-publishing, aside from my editor, beta readers, or reviews… there is nobody there that is really in the position to help me hone my craft – unless I go out and actively seek those opportunities. This continual realization that one needs to push their limits, improve, and invite criticism as a professional means of becoming the best version of yourself… is necessary in the lives of all artists.

For myself, my largest obstacle early on was my own sense of entitlement. It is almost sickening in some ways for me to reflect on just the sheer amount of time I spend waiting. Waiting to be discovered. Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for an agent. It was almost like I had this sense coming out of college that I was brilliant. All I had to do was write it and they would come. A lot of time can be wasted on waiting.

 

CONCLUSION

In essence, this part of the Dialog is about Dream. Dream and Inspirations.  I can remember a conversation with one of my younger brothers, years ago, about the difference between Thinkers and Doers.  For most of my life I have been a Thinker, a Dreamer, a Wisher.  I have spent years and vast amounts of wasted energy simply waiting, and complaining, and fantasizing…. but doing nothing.

All goals begin as a dream.  Something crosses our road, and immediately diverts us onto a new journey, motivating and inspiring us to reach beyond ourselves to achieve something… lasting.

DAY 2

One of the premier Horror Conventions in the world is the annual HorrorFind Convention.  The year that I met Kevin Lucia, the convention was in Baltimore, Maryland, and I was not only attending my first convention, but was also physically meeting my publisher for the first time after the release of my first novel Grave Whispers.

 

RYAN B. CLARK:  So, moving on…. we find ourselves at HorrorFind, both in the presence of Brian Keene, and actually having conversations. If you remember, I pitched him my werewolf story and he said it was one of the most original story concepts he had ever heard of. Kind of cool…. still need to do that… Anyway, so there we are, you with Hiram Grange and me with Grave Whispers…. from here, our paths divert more so… you embraced the Con…. while I shunned it. So I guess question two… let’s talk about early marketing and publicity, specifically, the use of the Con vs. the Signing.

KEVIN LUCIA:  Well, to be very honest, I never thought much back then about “marketing” myself. At that point, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One hadn’t even come out yet (the whole series had been delayed; Joke was on me for buying a vendor’s table with no book to sell!), so the biggest thing I was trying to do was meet people. I was just getting to know folks within the Shroud Publishing circle, so I could sense how important it was to meet people in the industry.

RYAN:  I found myself with my face against the wall of my own unrealistic expectations when it came to that first Con.  I had not only never been to a Convention before of any kind, but I had not even attended an author event… of any kind.  I was completely starry eyed and starstruck.  Somewhere in my head, as I hearkened to in the earlier part of our discussion, I was completely inflated with this idea that I was now some sort of neo-celebrity.  Thinking back on it now, it is ludicrous the extremity of my own self delusions!

 

But, honestly, I went to Baltimore thinking people would be lining up to meet me, as laughable as that now is, and really the only responsibility I put on myself was showing up.  Imagine my complete shock to find that I was basically one of about a million other starving artists, pedaling their wares to the horror-loving masses!  I had never seen myself as a salesman at all, and in the end I left the Con with a very negative impression of the experience.  In hindsight, this judgment, like most if not all judgment, was completely unfair and based more on my own unrealistic dreams than any basis in reality.

KEVIN:  I’d already attended Mo-Con, NECON, and far more importantly, Borderlands Press Writers’ Bootcamp. I’d realized that meeting other writers – veterans and newbies alike; editors, and publishers – got you out of the fish bowl and into the sea with the big fish. I was eager to do that. I wanted to know more about writing and publishing. I didn’t know if I was going to fail or succeed…but I was gonna jump into that sea, even if meant I might get swallowed by a whale.

RYAN:  One of the things I have learned, perhaps even the most important lesson that I have learned, from having now completed the first half of my month long Spirits of Jerome Book Tour is the sheer truth of the importance of what you just said.  I have built up my endeavor of Ghost Writer Press this year using primarily Facebook and other social media.  It has been a great success, and I have achieved or exceeded every goal that I have set.  However, the limitations of a network system based largely in non-real “Friends” and “Likes” and “Shares” has become glaringly obvious.

My first and foremost goal moving forward this winter is to pursue active involvement with several local writer’s groups.  My colleague Ken Lamberton, has proven to be amazingly helpful in this regard.  The importance of a network of real people, other writers, people who share your passions and …. struggles…. is almost impossible to emphasize enough.

KEVIN:  However, I wanted to attend Cons for other reasons. I was a big follower of Brian Keene‘s blog back then, had read several of his blog memoirs, in which he talked about how he had met some of his closest friends at Cons, and how they all formed a second family. Let’s be honest, writing is a lonely gig. And when you’re a weird horror writer, it’s even lonelier. I wanted to get out and meet folks like me, folks who understood what I was going through. Eight years later, I’m so glad I did. I’ve made so many friends, (including you!) met even more colleagues, and I made it out of the fish bowl.

 

RYAN:  A simple Google search for “Arizona Writer’s Groups” populates a huge list of conventions, workshops, and editing groups.  This is one of the reasons, exemplified right here, why other professionals who share your craft and your passion are so vital.  The more we think we know… the less we learn, and I am continually trying to absorb as much information and advice as possible.  Just to list a few of the resources available in less than a minute:

East Valley Writing Workshop

Central Phoenix Writing Workshop

Write By Night: Resources for Arizona Writers

South West Writers

KEVIN:  As far as marketing and publicity, at the time I went out on the Con trail, I was selling my very first short stories and was writing book reviews for Shroud Magazine. So I did have the chance to perform readings of my short stories and sell copies of anthologies containing them. Because I was also a very prolific review writer at the time, initially to everyone I was: “Hey, that’s the Shroud Book Review Guy!” A few years later I became, “That’s the Hiram Grange guy!” You speak on panels, and if you don’t screw up too badly, people become interested in you and your writing. And if you’re a normal and sane person and don’t freak people out, you hang with other writers – both newbies and veterans – at the bars or in the hotel parking lot, talking until 3 AM about everyone under the sun. You form relationships. That’s the only kind of publicity and marketing I’m interested in.

RYAN:  Knowing a bit about your path, I am familiar with your near expert use of platforms like GoodReads, and Review Blogs such as Cemetery Dance.  You have built quite the audience with these endeavors; furthermore, one of the things that is immediately obvious is the quality of those digital relationships.  As we will discuss further along in the interview, and as I began to discuss above, social media offers quite a wide range of friendships.

I have found success with Keep the Greasy Side Down, and with Ghost Writer Press, with embracing the perception of Arizona being a niche market.  In many ways, the differences in our use of book tours and signings and conventions is about proximity.  Many conventions are within driving distance of your home in New York, whereas many of these Cons are a bit of a travel expense for me.  However, my ability to utilize local business, local flavor, and small town appeal is something that is quite foreign to you back East.

DAY 3

Have you ever had one of those discussions where everything in the conversation hinged on the definition/ interpretation of a single word or phrase?  When I was a teacher, my side gig was as the Speech & Debate coach; in debate we call this a topicality argument.  The idea is that proper conversation can not take place when the parties involved do not have a baseline of the terms being used to relay that discussion.

An entire layer of depth was added to this part of my interview with Kevin Lucia, because in my original introduction to our discussion I used the word obsolete as a descriptor of parts of Stephen King’s On Writing.  (In my feeble defense, I do have a tendency to try to condense what in my head are more complicated and connected ideas into overly simplistic, if not often times too strongly worded, phrases.)  I certainly do not think the memoir of the greatest horror writer of our time is obsolete.  However, my use of that word sparked a fantastic discussion about the changes in our current writer’s market.  In that regard, I am glad I used the word, although… I certainly lost the topicality debate.  Rightfully so, Kevin, rightfully so.

So there it is, the context, for what proved to be the most lively part of our interview.  Enjoy!

RYAN B. CLARK:  Question three is about building audience. Specifically, let’s discuss, for purposes of offering our how to spin for other artists, our use of GoodReads, Social Media, Personal Websites, and Patreon. How do you propel yourself as a brand in today’s market? The days of building a writing resume, through short stories and pay per word small magazines, as King describes, are they a thing of the past?  How have we evolved, or devolved….. adapted?

KEVIN LUCIA:  First, I don’t believe the days of building a writing resume are a thing of the past, at all. The nature of it has certainly changed, without a doubt. Most of King’s advice in On Writing about forging ahead in a professional writing career still holds true. It just needs some tweaking, is all.

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RYAN:  Specifically, King addresses in the autobiographical section of the book his pursuit of small publications that offered pay-per-word return on short stories.  Magazines like Amazing Tales, Fangoria, Tales from the Crypt, hell even M.A.D. Magazine had a much larger market for unsolicited manuscripts.  Much of my early days as a writer, as if those have ended, has trying to navigate the writer’s market exactly like King describes, without realizing the changes happening in media all around me.  This led to a belief, at least in my experience that these avenues had dried up.  In context, even Rolling Stone and National Geographic, both major world wide publications, are a fraction of the size they were even ten years ago.

KEVIN:  Here’s the thing, though there a fewer zines, there are still many, many venues to pursue. For example: I did it the Stephen King “way.” That has worked for me, and continues to work for me. And it still works for a lot people, and I still encourage that route to all my students.

 

RYAN:  That is actually fantastic news!  It is certainly not the case that On Writing does not offer a vast wealth of continued relevance, so long as it’s viewed through a different lens.  King’s path, which you have followed with much more direct success, is certainly not the only path – which is the reasoning for this discussion in the first place.

KEVIN:  Now, keep in mind: this worked for me. It may not work for others. I can only offer my experience about how it turned out. Your mileage may vary, of course. In any case, in my previous answer I talked about folks knowing me as the “Shroud Review Guy” when I started traveling to conventions. Long before I started reviewing for Shroud, I reviewed for local newspapers, the free ones no one ever reads, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was a byline.

See, I could approach publishers for review copies, saying, “I’m Kevin Lucia and I write book reviews for The ______.” Not long after, I landed a few gigs writing for book review blogs and entertainment sites. My visibility increased dramatically.

I found myself on publishing companies’ marketing contact lists, actually receiving emails from authors themselves, asking if I’d review their book. I transitioned from this to writing a paid weekly book review column for our city newspaper. Now I had an even better byline, and more local visibility.

 

This experience was important for other reasons, also. During this three to four year period, I was still struggling to finish stories. Having to write reviews which had to be 550 words or less on a regular basis helped me learn a lot about word economy. It was also my first experience sending my work to an editor. I didn’t get too much feedback, but I knew I had to meet this word count, and there was the feeling that if I turned in sloppy work, the editor would most likely send it back.

I eventually transitioned to writing reviews for Shroud Magazine, and running their review blog, because I wanted to focus mostly on horror. As I already mentioned, by the time I started attending conventions, Kevin Lucia was at least a name a few folks had heard, even if in only a “I know that name. Why do I know that name?” kind of way. Again, this growing writing resume most definitely helped, because I once again found myself on publishing companies’ marketing email lists, with authors either wanting to thank me the reviews I’d written of their books (thankfully, none of them wanting to kill me), or authors asking me if I’d review their work.

 

RYAN:  I have seen some of this in the public space with your use of GoodReads as a review medium.  In many ways the effort that I have thrown at Facebook is a mirror of your effort on that platform.  Here, after a solid run of months, the limits of the latter and the wisdom of the former are starting to become apparent – in terms of building audience.

To put it bluntly, the realism of digital relationships can be placed on a spectrum when it comes to the quality of those relationships.  Building a Facebook audience, under the framework of trying to build a group of independent artists, across platforms, that could help propel and promote each other’s work, worked.  My friend list increased by 900 in the last nine months.  This growth propelled the popularity of the website, eventually Google Ads were approved, and the goal of building an on-going blog style/ magazine site was underway.  All of these are good things.

However, when it has come to the actual reality of that aspiration – the success has been hit and miss.  When it comes to most social media, in this case mainly Facebook, one is continually having to face the realization that most people are “liking” what they see on their newsfeeds because they are bored, and they are addicted.

This does not, in hardly any measurable way, translate to true data on your fan base.  In that context, if the entire point was to build audience, Facebook can only reach so far.  This lack of reach has been proven very obvious on this Spirits of Jerome Book Tour.  Marketing on Facebook, via events, shares, likes, sponsored ads, gives a business owner a lot of data about reach and about people… but that data does not translate into the real world with any degree of predictability.

 

In juxtaposition, your digital following, is rooted first in the interest of reading good writing.  That in and of itself starts off your friends list at least in the right lake for the type of fish you are trying to catch.  To drill that metaphor home, in context, I am continually trying to figure out if I am even the fisherman… or just somebody else’s fish in somebody else’s lake.

KEVIN:  And I think maintaining a writing resume is important. I write a monthly column for Cemetery Dance Online called “Revelations,” highlighting horror authors who’ve had an impact on my growth as a writer. I also used to write a quarterly essay series for Lamplight Magazine called “Horror 101,” which examined the historical roots and evolution of the horror genre. Aside from the obvious benefits – cash – it was nice to still have something with my name popping up in the industry on a regular basis in between fiction releases, or during a dry period.

 

RYAN:  In some ways it is frustrating to try to negotiate both trains of thought, but they are directly connected.  One needs to submit work for publication in order to build the resume, and at the same time try to build audience – which should go hand in hand.  The difficulty of my route, is that the writing credits that come from the articles that I write are only truly credits if they are seen as valuable over time.  Otherwise, I am just another blogger that thinks he has something to say.  The idea is for the quality of these offerings to eventually build and promote interest in my other writing – namely my books, which house the vast majority of my writing anyway.

That said, regardless of my early frustrations, I have plenty of short stories that are floating in the ether without a project that are simply needing a home.  There is a lot of wisdom in the approach of trying to be multi-faceted.

KEVIN:  The thing is, though, it’s still a very viable route for many people, and always will be. Yes, it takes longer. Took me seven years to crack my first pro sale. But it’s what I wanted. So, if we’re offering advice to newbies, it’s best to offer ALL the routes. This year, I’ll be bringing in both traditionally published and self-published authors to speak with my students. It comes down to what a writer wants. For me, it was always going to be a traditional path. I just wasn’t going to settle for anything else. But hey – now that there are more options, I’m not above trying something experimental. So there are all SORTS of routes to publication, many of them are valid. It all comes back to what the writer wants, in the end.

 

RYAN:  There has been, in years past, this huge divide between traditional publishing and self publishing.  Print-on-demand (POD) publishing was like a curse word in many circles.  This perspective is changing, however, and changing quickly.  As I was just discussing with my friend Ken Lamberton last week down in Bisbee, even traditional publishing houses are using POD publishers, like Lightning Source, to meet their print demands.  It is simply faster than it ever was, and the logic of boxes of printed books sitting in warehouses makes much less sense.

I have struggled with my own resolve over the years with what it was that I actually wanted in my writing.  For the longest time, I simply expected to be rich and famous, almost automatically.  With the endeavor of Ghost Writer Press, I did not see it as a settling for less.  I saw it much more as a route to freedom, and an avenue to be able to do exactly what I wanted to do with my writing.  That realization – that this was exactly what I wanted to do – was very liberating.

 

KEVIN:  So in others words, the magazines may not be there as they were. But the venues still are. The path of establishing a writer’s cred, and making yourself known with editors still exists. It’s just in a different format.

They say that the magic blog article length is about 2000 words, and that it really should never go over 300.0 words.  Additionally, the third question in my interview with Kevin Lucia, ended up sparking additional go betweens and dialog.  As I was typing everything up, there seemed to be a solid divide that could be drawn between the importance of a writing resume and the actual building of one, so that is where I tried to divide the question over two days.

It also bears mentioning, I am the newb of our little trio of writers hanging out in the metaphorical bar of horror writing.  I have been learning from Kevin for ten years, and I am nowhere the expert of anything.  In fact, a huge part of this entire Keep the Greasy Side Down concept is an actual embrace of that lack of personal knowledge and admitting that ones needs a community: both in the arts and in personal spirit.  I certainly believe that I have gems to offer from time to time, but most of my gems are simply from hard knocks and hard work at this point… not from any real measure of greatness.  I am still hoping for that someday.  It is a worthy goal.

So… let’s get back to it shall we?!

DAY 4

To recap, question three was about building audience.

RYAN B. CLARK:  Specifically, let’s discuss, for purposes of offering our how to spin for other artists, our use of GoodReads, Social Media, Personal Websites, and Patreon. How do you propel yourself as a brand in today’s market? The days of building a writing resume, through short stories and pay per word small magazines, as King describes, are they a thing of the past?  How have we evolved, or devolved….. adapted?

KEVIN LUCIA:  As far as submitting fiction to build a resume, again – it may be different than in King’s early years, but I still think it’s vitally important. Yes, far fewer magazines with large circulations and subscription bases publish horror fiction. Even so, there are plenty of horror anthologies – especially now with the advent of the ebook, affordable horror anthologies – and ezines publishing horror fiction. There are several reasons why I feel submitting to these venues – if a writer enjoys short fiction – is important.

 

First, I still believe in the gatekeeper as a standard of quality.

Self-publishing has more than proven itself to be a viable and respectable pursuit, but I think that regardless of a writer’s ultimate publishing goals, (or how those goals may evolve), establishing some pedigree is never a bad thing. So, I’ll be terribly vain and use myself as an example (keeping in my mind I am NOT God’s Gift to Horror Fiction). I’ve recently started a Patreon page, with my first posts coming in November.

NOTE: Patreon is a platform that many, many artists are either using, or modeling.  Many independent bands are using Pre-Order formats, that basically guarantee a certain yield that then funds production.  In my recent trip to the Shiprock Kody Dayish Film Festival, Adam Beach was discussing the same kind of thing being used to completely revolutionize pay-per-view movies, and it is a game changer for Independent Film Makers.

The idea that one does not have to be world famous, or accepted by major publication or production firms is changing the way we experience entertainment.  This is proven in everything we see.  Netflix kills the video store.  Now it is completely changing cable.  Netflix is effecting the film market.  Just to name one example.

KEVIN:  I never would’ve dreamed of starting a Patreon page when it first debuted. I don’t think I’d even landed my first professional sale (5 cents a word). But in the past three to four years, I’ve been fortunate enough to place stories in collections alongside Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Ramsey Campbell, David Morrell, Tom Monteleone, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and most recently, Robert McCammon. My first hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publications is coming soon. I don’t know how much of a difference that has actually made in my pledges, but for me, I at least feel comfortable giving Patreon a try, because there’s been some sort of track record established regarding my short fiction.

 

RYAN:  To be honest, when you first mentioned Patreon, I had never heard of it, and when I looked into it, my first reaction was, “why would anyone do what I am doing on Keep the Greasy Side Down then?”  The domain and hosting costs me.  The material is free, and it guarantees zero income.  It seems like a no brainer.

In short – it comes down to building an audience versus reaping the rewards of one.  One must attain a certain degree of street cred before they can legitimately expect to have paying patrons.  Additionally, it is not like modern writers would not be using as many avenues as possible… Goodreads, Facebook, Personal Website, and Patreon.  You have all of those.  So it becomes a matter of once again, returning to that key question, of what it is that the writer wants…. or hopes to gain…. from his or her writing endeavors.

 

KEVIN:  Hey – for every Christopher Golden (traditional) there’s a Robert Swartwood (completely self-published, and one of his ebooks was one of the first self-published selected as a USA Today bestseller), and there’s folks who are doing both.folks can pursue traditional routes (like I have) and experimental routes (like I’m going to with Patreon) at the same time, to build a “hybrid” career. That’s the buzzword, lately.

RYAN:  Maybe someday.  As I mentioned I think, earlier on, my particular short story work, in terms of collections, has actually taken a very specific turn.  Many publishers consider it niche, however, it is proving to not be at least in terms of what I am wanting from the experience.  That said, however, there is quite a lot to be said for taking those stories that are awesome as stand alones, but do not necessarily fit into a collection like Spirits of Jerome or the upcoming Echoes of the Ancients and send those out into the world of submissions.

This has already been shown in our discussion, just in terms of keeping a writer on his toes, to be a solid idea.

KEVIN:  Another important reason to submit to various venues (again, if you like writing short fiction), is what horror legend Tom Monteleone calls “the usual suspects” effect.

One thing Tom has always stressed is that if you’ve got the talent (and I’m going to go out on a limb and say while I believe taste can be subjective, what constitutes as a basic writing talent is not), and if you work hard enough, knock on enough doors long enough, you’re eventually going to get in. And, if you get in often enough, editors and readers start recognizing your name. You establish a track record.

 

Say an editor is putting together an anthology. They’ve got some established names secured, but they want to find some news names. They remember this one anthology, where they read this one story by someone they’ve never heard of before, and they think: “Hey, I really liked that story. I’m going to hit them up for one.”

Said writer accepts and produces a solid story on time. Said editor is pleased, and happy that said writer has proven to be solid and reliable. They may or may not go back to this writer for more stories in the future. Why? Because this writer has proven their quality, and that they’re reliable.

 

So, another editor is putting together an anthology, and maybe looking for new names. Said writer submits a story, and this other editor thinks, “Hey! I’ve read this person in such-and-such anthology, and I really liked their work.” Who knows – maybe this editor will ultimately pass on said writer’s story, but even so: said writer’s name is now lodged in said editor’s memory.

RYAN: Case in point, hearkening back to my use of the word obsolete, I was not even considering the submission of work to anthologies.  I was only referencing the shrinking world of print media, and the rapid increase, of not necessarily note-worthy, digital media.

KEVIN:  That’s how we need to look at On Writing through a different lends, not toss it out entirely.  Additionally, I would argue that with the advent of Kindle, less and less writers are going to be on the shelves.  If that is the case, does that make the $2.99 anthology ebook the new magazine?  It has already somewhat done that with the paperback.

RYAN:  Sadly, that is true.  I think we are both lovers of actual books and brick and mortar stores, but this is all part of the navigation of the changes that we are seeing rapidly take over the market.  Anthologies have actually been on my mind a lot… as a way of getting my name out there, and as a way to drive audience towards my own Ghost Writer Press projects.  The upcoming Tales from the Lake 5 anthology from Cemetery Dance is very much in my sites for my first outside submission in a long time.

KEVIN:  Well, like I said before, it takes time, but for some folks it works.  Do not forget the “usual suspects” game.  Keep submitting, weather the rejections, keep improving, crack an anthology here, crack one there, get rejected, keep trying…..

Eventually, if you don’t give up and keep submitting, you crack a few more, move a little higher up the chain, editors remember reading your story.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worked for me.

And you learn every editor has different tastes. Once, I had story rejected in the final round, for only a $25 token payment. I turned right around and sold it to pro-pay market. You just never know.

 

RYAN:  I like my niche idea. It is a very neat place to be, and once again, returning to our hopes and aspirations, being able to be the Indie Literary Voice of Arizona… and doing it on my own similar to great inspirations like Roger Clyne and Ed Abbey… That is exactly what I want!  The upcoming projects are really cool, and maybe one day the bigger boys are going to realize that Arizona is a whole lot less niche than they thought… but here and there, in the meantime, trying to pepper a few stories out there certainly would not hurt.  As always my friend… you are an amazing teacher.

KEVIN:  And finally, as the third reason to keep submitting, guess what? You end up meeting a lot of these editors at Cons. And if you’re normal and not insane and don’t freak them out, when they receive a story from you, and if they like it, they now have a face to go with the name, and they think -if you’re normal and not insane and didn’t freak them out – that they’d like to work with you.

 

Readers – especially horror fans – start recognizing new names that pop up. I can’t count how many times my reviewers at Cemetery Dance Online (where I’m the Review Editor, now), have mentioned in their reviews, “I’ve seen so-and-so’s name listed in numerous collections, and decided it was time try out their work.” So now, readers have started to recognize said writer’s name. Said writer has now, according to the venerable Tom Monteleone, become one of the “usual suspects.”

RYAN:  Well said!

KEVIN:  A couple caveats, of course. For this to actually happen, said writer must always be looking to not only sharpen their craft, but also to aim higher. I’m not going to “punch down” on 4thluv anthologies and magazines, and those who submit to them. I HATE it when authors do that.

RYAN:  What exactly is a 4thluv Anthology?

KEVIN:  It is the industry term for anthologies and magazines which only pay very low flat rates for stories.  Say $10 or maybe $25 a story.  It comes from the idea that said publication doesn’t have a big enough budget to pay competitive rates, they’re only publishing their magazine “for the love of ___________” (insert genre).  Basically, they are trying to relate to the “Fanzines” of the 70s and 80s, the problem being that those publications actually paid competitive rates.

 

RYAN:  So they are a waste of time?

KEVIN:  I published a few of my earliest short stories there.  Were they any good, no.    Do they advance your career?  No.  Do they offer the exposure that they claim?  No, not really.  No one reads them.  But there is this perspective by some who like to criticize young writers, saying that if you submit to a 4thluv Anthology you have ruined your career.  That is also not true.

Keep in mind and it bears noting: this sort of thing only starts happening when writers begin making regular appearances in at least semi-pro pay venues (.2 – .3 a word) and up. It really kicks off when a writer hits the pro payment range. This will take time, patience, a thick skin, willingness to absorb critique, and a diligent study of short fiction in your reading diet.

I sold my first short story in 2007. I didn’t sell a pro-pay short story until 2014. So. It takes time. It can happen, (or might happen, let’s be honest), but it takes time.

CONCLUSION:

My friends, I hope that you are enjoying this ongoing interview as much as I am enjoying putting it together and sharing it with you.  I think the wealth of information and experience that we are sharing, alone, might help some other gifted souls out there who are ready to find that ledge…. and take that leap…..

AND WRITE !

 

And that, dear readers is the whole point.

Success is elusive: defined over centuries of time, through different ages of governance, economies, and regimes.  As students growing up, we are continually influenced by different teachers, mentors, professors, to say nothing of our own personal journeys and spiritual quests, as to how we are going to navigate the reals of the world.  How do we pay our bills?  How do we enjoy our lives and do the most of what we want to experience?  Is it about the quality of our relationships?  Is it about the total in the checking account?

 

There are a million memes and self-help books advocating these ideals that in the real world are so very hard to realize.  Instead, we trudge like Thoreau’s ants, marching in our established patterns and routines, and our dreams start to fade, and change, and devolve into something else.  Our lives become this continual struggle between the realities we face and the ideals we aspire to.  And in the process… that hardwired definition of success haunts us with its judgement, taunts us with its temptations, and forces us to question our own determination…. to succeed.

DAY 5

RYAN B. CLARK:  Final topic…. here we are ten years later… I have titles released, and upcoming through a personal printing endeavor Ghost Writer Press.  I am trying to do what BBS books could have done… slowly, methodically, and with quality.  My first book under that project, Spirits of Jerome, was published on October 1, 2017, and I am currently on an Arizona Tour to promote the title.  You, on the other hand, have more traditional publishers: Cemetery Dance and Crystal Lake Publishing.

So… let’s each talk about the real PROS and CONS of our position… in terms of creativity… in terms of financial opportunity vs. obligation…. in terms of that elusive thing called SUCCESS.

KEVIN LUCIAAt the end of the day, all I want to do is write. I don’t want to be a publisher. I don’t want to run a small business. Self-publishing has more than proven itself as a viable avenue for producing quality fiction. It no longer has the stigma it once had. I myself have enjoyed many fine, quality self-published works (yours included). And let’s be honest, the process of self-publishing (uploading and pressing ‘publish’) isn’t necessarily that hard.

However, quality self-publishing requires hours of type-setting and and formatting. A workable budget to pay for editing and formatting services, and for a decent cover. At this point in my life, I don’t want to manage all that. A good writer friend summed up my reluctance to self-publish with the following:

“Self-publishing the right way really needs to be viewed as running a small business. Having a business and a marketing plan.”

RYAN:  This is 100% true.  With Ghost Writer Press, every single step of the way has been a learning curve, and not just a process learning curve, but a major educational endeavor.  I have had to teach myself web programs, editing programs, layout platforms, and, in regards to actual publication, each mistake or necessary change is a costly edit.  To say nothing of learning about taxes, wholesale margins, returns, and return & destroy options.  The time investment has been massive!

Now, that said, if I ever wanted my stories of Jerome to see the light of day, as the intended book, I was going to have to do it myself.  At that point, as we have been discussing all along, I had several different options.  There are plenty of self-publishing mediums, Create Space, for example that are VERY alluring to new, unrepresented writers.  It is a much cheaper option, with a much less intensive time commitment, but there is a nagging feeling that it isn’t a real book.

I don’t say that to bag on writers that take his route.  It is a fantastic option!  Let’s be honest, how many books sell outside of the Amazon platform nowadays anyway?  However, with that option comes the reality that your book is ONLY available through Amazon.  Your book cannot be ordered by a bookstore.  Your book can never have the chance to land in Barnes & Noble.  Your book looses legs.

In the end, this might not matter very much.  Time will tell.  Those legs, end up being your own, and the effort you put in you hope is going to pay off.  But already, I have enjoyed signings at various bookstores in various towns throughout Arizona, because I have negotiated the gray area between being a self-published author and actually being a small-press publisher.  Every single step of the way has been a balancing act, like a drunken tight-rope walker, negotiating between the business brain and the creative one.  But yes, the work load and financial commitment is significant.

KEVIN:  I may be a misty-eyed romantic, but when I first dreamed of becoming a writer, I certainly didn’t dream of anything like that. And yes – I’ve of course had to replace my dreams of becoming a bestselling author with more realistic goals and plans.

But I get up every morning (as I have for the past ten years) at 3 or 4 AM to make stuff up. To spin tales of the fantastic out of nothing.

I don’t want to wake up in the morning to format my ebook manuscript or work on typesetting, or any of that stuff.

So, the clear advantage for me pursuing traditional publishing: I don’t have to do any of that. I’m happy to let publishers take what little they do from my royalties for their work.

RYAN:  There is certainly something to be said for the quality of thought during that first cup of coffee in the mornin’.  {If you know him, insert Norman “Papa” Clark’s voice as you read that line.  It will make you smile.}

You know, I often miss teaching.  I really do.  In fact, much of my life this last seven years has been learning to love that part of my life, to cherish the memories and the lasting relationships it forged, without losing myself to the sorrow of the loss of it.  One, very major piece of that part of my journey, has been Ghost Writer Press and Keep the Greasy Side Down.  I could never, ever, do what I am doing now as a teacher.  There is simply no way.

 

First, Costco is a very good job, and pays well.  It certainly is not education in the state of Arizona which has moved to the bottom of the list in the United States – unfortunately and sadly.  I still have a lot of friends in the field, and it is a very sorry state of affairs.  The benefits, both medically and financially, to say nothing of the sheer time, that Costco provides is a massive blessing in this undertaking!  I could never do what I am doing while having to grade stacks of essays, reports, stories, and coaching debate… all on a teacher’s salary.

Second, the downside of working outside of education, is that I have a mass wealth of knowledge that I simply no longer get to use.  I too wake up every day between 3 and 4, I am at work by 5, but I am never home later than 2 PM… with no papers to grade, and nothing to fill the void in my head.  For many hears… this was a recipe for depression from loss and self-pity.

In many ways the time commitment and complete dedication to my business has not only given me a great focus, but it has also propelled a renewed passion in writing, creating, and networking with others who do the same.  Writing… and the business of it…. has saved me.

 

KEVIN:  Also, I don’t want to spend endless hours thinking about marketing angles. I’m more than willing to take part in interviews like this and appear on podcasts, share reviews of my work and links to sales, blog about my writing and my life, attend conventions and generally be very visible, both in real life and digitally. But I have no desire – or funds – to scour the internet for promotional opportunities or pay for ads which may or may not work. Again, I’m willing to let my publishers handle all that, and let them take their cut for it.

RYAN:  Certainly.  There is much to be said for that.

KEVIN:  Two caveats, however.

One, the white elephant in the room: I’ve been very fortunate to work with ethical, industrious publishers who go the extra mile for their authors and readers.

Working with Shroud, Crystal Lake and now Cemetery Dance has been wonderful. Hardworking publishers trying their best for their authors, and beautiful cover art (Malcom McClinton and Ben Baldwin), all represent a commitment to quality and building relationships with readers….this has been my experience.  All my publishers have treated me fairly, their feedback on my work at the editorial level has, I truly believe, made my books better. In some ways – even though I’m not a bestselling author writing for a living, as I always dreamed of being when I was a kid – I’ve obtained my dream. I’m very aware others have not had the same experience I’ve had with traditional publishing.

RYAN:  Not to get too sappy and campy, but I too, in many ways have achieved my dream.  My wife and I were talking a while back, and I said, “You know, one day, I will look back on these times, and regardless of all the trials and struggles, I will remember these as the best days of my life.”  There is a lot to be said for that.

 

In reference to your good fortune, and without going into detail, I have not been as lucky {those words used loosely, because the work and patience involved has everything to do with work and perseverance}.  However, that said, I am trying very hard to begin to see my life as a continual wonderful journey through an amazing landscape.  I learned a lot, an unspeakable amount, really, from my brush with semi-traditional publishing.  I learned that I could do exactly what you describe above, and even if it was only ever for myself, Ghost Writer Press would still be a legitimate small publishing press with offerings of quality about the wonderful niche that is Arizona.  I love the freedom and the creative control of being the guy calling the shots.

 

One achievement with Grave Whispers over at BBS Books was the originality and creativity of my cover.  That cover was an original painting that I commissioned from an artist friend of mine.  It was different than every other cover that BBS Books released.  Now with Ghost Writer Press, I have been able to do EXACTLY what I have wanted to do with the covers, all while staying independent and showcasing other artists.  The cover of Spirits of Jerome showcases my wife’s photography and the amazing skills of Rene DeJoras, a friend of mine and fellow entrepreneur from Costco.  The cover of next year’s Echoes of the Ancients will be another commissioned original painting from Apache Artist Noah Nez.

 

I am very proud of being able to showcase other Arizona Independent Artists on my projects, and that is a creative power I would never have in the traditional publishing world.

KEVIN:  Second, pursuing traditional publishing requires patience, above all. The writing of Hiram Grange for Shroud was a collaborative effort. All the Hiram Writers wrote the books at the same time. Some finished before others – in fact, if I remember correctly, myself (Book 4) and Richard Wright (Book 5) finished before everyone else. Because of this, the series debuted later than we initially anticipated. I could’ve said “Screw it, I’m not waiting” and bailed. Based on the folks who liked my Hiram installment, I’m glad I didn’t. It wasn’t a smash hit, but it gave me something solid through a solid, respected publisher.

Likewise, Crystal Lake is a small publisher with a small staff, so they can only publish so many books a year. I finished Things Slip Through in April 2014, and it wasn’t published until Fall, 2014. My next short story collection, Things You Need, was finished Spring 2017, and it won’t be published until Spring 2018. However, the long lead-in time for Things allowed us to get a lot of early reviews and blurbs, which I believe helped sales, and my hope is the same for the next collection.

 

Mystery Road, coming out through Cemetery Dance, has been several years in the making. Why would I stick it out and wait? Simple. It’s Cemetery-Freaking-Dance!

That’s not a opportunity I’m going to pass up because I got impatient. One of the huge lessons my father taught me is that patience gets you where you want to be. It may take a long time, but is often better than the shortcut. When I first started out (after readjusting my youthful dreams to more realistic goals) a big watermark I set for myself was getting published by Cemetery Dance. So there was no way I was going to get impatient and pull out of that. If I’m ever fortunate enough to see another book published through them, I’ll wait even longer, if I have to.

RYAN:  Patience has also been the entire name of the game with my project Ghost Writer Press.  I am entirely self-funded; furthermore, my wife and I have been able to do everything that we have done with zero use of credit.

Ghost Writer Press is a 100% cash operation, which comes with one major realization as a caveat: quality, coupled with cost requirements – requires patience.

I would certainly like to think that my first product, Spirits of Jerome, is a quality piece of work, and I have absolutely zero intention of discontinuing that trajectory.

 

KEVIN:  Besides, I’m always writing. And I’m in no hurry. So I have no problem with waiting for release day, which is part of traditional publishing, because I’m busy working on the next thing, or writing a short story for an anthology.  But, as I said previously, “hybrid writer” is the current buzzword. I have no interest in self-publishing, but if I can make this Patreon thing go without giving myself a brain hemorrhage, I can still pursue traditional publishing while filling up the quiet spaces between releases, on my own terms, without the overhead costs of self-publishing. We’ll see if it works. Or if it drives me insane instead…

 

{VISIT KEVIN LUCIA, and become a PATRONKevin Lucia is creating strange stories, and I promise you will not be disappointed!!}

RYAN:  That, my friend is the Danse Macabre we move to…. and we LOVE it !  Thank you so very much for taking the time for this interview.  I think we did a good one!

 

KEVIN:  No problem, and I think so too.

CONCLUSION

I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this week long Halloween present as much as we have enjoyed the conversation it has produced.  Regardless if you, dear reader, are a fellow writer, a fellow reader, a fellow poet, a fellow wordsmith, a fellow creator…. our processes are the same.  Our struggles are similar.  Our obstacles share the same qualities.

In many ways we all wandering into that metaphorical bar.  We are all haunted by the ghosts of our failures and daring to be haunted by our ambitions.  We are all independent, introspective surveyors of the world that we see, and in our own ways, weaving our own visions, we provide a perspective on that world that is wonderfully unique.  We hope for that journey of creation to not only do something spiritual within each of us on a personal level… but we dare to hope that our vision will resonate with our fellow human beings.  We dare to be egocentric enough to think that something of our vision… is a worthwhile addition to the human panorama.  One day… we hope that the ghosts that haunt us… will lead us to the elusive place…. of peace with our journey.

If you are just joining this conversation, or if you simply want to go back to the beginning and enjoy it again….

KEEP THE GREASY SIDE DOWN MY FRIENDS  !!

Published by Gho5tWriter

Arizona Enthusiast. Writer. Rider. Dreamer.

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