A Revolution In Horror?
Welcome to my first feature for Kendall Reviews, and I want to begin this one by thanking Gavin for offering me the opportunity to use his platform to throw some light on the independent horror scene, to celebrate the exciting work being done outside the slush piles of larger presses. In a world that consistently trumps the death of horror as a genre, I feel that spaces such as Kendall Reviews are the place to scream “hell no, it isn’t dead yet.” So, here we are, raging against the dying of the mainstream light.
I’ve been in and around the horror writing industry for ten years this year. I haven’t always been active, and the last couple of years have seen me at my most productive for quite some time. In all honesty, that renewed productivity is precisely what led me to become a reviewer and content creator for this esteemed channel.
In the ten years I’ve been around, learning the boring business side of things, there are a few things that never changed. Here’s the painful truth that no one really talks about much. Don’t worry though, this isn’t a “woe is me, struggling artiste, darling” feature. I have to start out that way though, so you understand how significant developments in the last year could be … if …
So, here’s the truth. Indie writers are broke. Yep, that’s right, flat broke. Most of us work full-time day jobs, writing and negotiating the business in our spare time. We sacrifice time with our families to get our daily wordcounts in, we sacrifice cash on promotions, stocking books and a plethora of other sundry things we have to do and pay for as writers. None of it comes cheap, but is what we have to do if we want our work seen by anyone beyond friends and family. The reality, as a study showed a few years ago, is that the vast majority of writers are doing well if they make anything approaching $10k per year, and most of that majority make nowhere near that figure. Most writers don’t even make enough to warrant paying tax, although we still have to go through the rigmarole of international tax declarations each year.
Here’s how it works: you upload your work to Amazon (or any other streaming service,) and they take their cut. Then, they hide your stuff with their algorithms. That’s why writers in this genre have to work hard to make sure you know their books are out there and available, but the platforms really aren’t helping. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine. There’s a lot of talk about acceptable content, but that only seems to apply if your name isn’t Stephen King. Simply put, there is no respect in the mainstream for independent horror writers, and it shows. They still take their cut of royalties though. Hell, they can take as much as 70% of your royalties if you forget to do certain paperwork. You think it’s any better for small or medium presses and their authors? I mean, they already have a readership, right? Well, it isn’t. Those presses face exactly the same difficulties as the self-published writer does. Difference is, the market takes their cut, the press takes their cut, and the writer can only then get a percentage of the press’ percentage. A 35% contracted royalty cut, in reality is only 35% of whatever percentage the platform offers. That makes life harder for both the press and the writer, and one of the reasons writers are struggling to make it pay. It’s okay though, because the market makes sure it gets theirs, right?
Things have to change. Everything I said above might well come across as a massive bash against the big platforms, but it really isn’t. It’s the way the market has been constructed, and we just have to live with those constraints. The problem is that, year on year, talented new writers give it up after one or two releases because they just can’t earn a living or justify their time in doing the work. It’s really that simple. You, dear reader, are missing out on a lot of potentially awesome writing because the platforms don’t think we matter enough to get a fair shake. That, quite frankly, sucks.
Things have to change, and there must be a better way. It’s a mantra we’ve heard ever since I started in the industry, but everyone seemed to be at a loss as to actually effect that change. Well, until last year …
Last year, Drew Stepek decided to try something a little different, something I haven’t seen attempted before. In short, he created his own platform, Godless Horror. The ambition was to rival the bigger platforms, offering a venue for writers of horror to come together and sell their wares. From small acorns, and all that. He embraced a group of writers who would be committed to sharing the output, using each other’s readerships to reach out and gain more fans. On the whole, it’s worked too. There are some breakout stars among the writers there, Ryder Kinley being among them (I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about her soon,) Daniel Volpe, Mark Towse and a plethora of others. All of them work together to get the word out, and Godless has created something of a stir within the community. The books there are priced fairly, and the writer gets to keep more of the royalties, so it’s a win on both sides of the relationship. Why would a reader not wish to take a look and find their new favourite writer?
There have been misconceptions, chiefly that it’s only for the “extreme horror” crowd. It isn’t. It was never intended to be that way, and Stepek has consistently tried to distance himself from that notion. In his eyes, there is no extreme horror, only horror. All are welcome in his house. Another is that it is somehow anti-religious as a credo. It isn’t. A lot of this comes from the name of the platform, Godless. In fact, the organisation is completely unbiased and doesn’t care about religion one way or the other. The name denotes that they operate without boundary or constraint, working to their own ideals. It’s a name, not a mission statement against any deity.
Godless Horror is moving into year two of its existence, and what it could represent is still very much up in the air. This sense of the indie community banding together to raise each other up is needed, but requires everyone to contribute. Personally, I think all small and midsized presses would be well served to use the platform too, and share their own reader bases with the larger group. Co-operation is key, and these kinds of pursuits can only work if everyone works together to raise everyone up. As I said, from little acorns …
There does seem to be an appetite for greater co-operation within the writing community as a whole. Godless is at the forefront, but by no means the only one. Hell, my presence here is a part of wanting to show everyone that there is a bright future in horror, if only readers didn’t have to search so damned hard to find it. There are groups on social media geared up to help new writers to navigate the choppy waters of the industry, from first page to publishing. There are others seeking to direct readers to new writers, having daily discussions about what they’re reading and what’s good. Seek them out, because the reader is just as much a part of the community as any writer.
Is there a change in the air? I don’t know. Is there a hope? Always. Can Godless Horror be the vanguard of a new horror revolution which brings new writers to the mainstream? That’s uncertain, but they’re definitely giving it a good go.
I am a delusional optimist though …
Paul Flewitt is a horror and dark fantasy writer from Sheffield, UK, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Paul began publishing in 2012, beginning with the flash fiction story, Smoke, for OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes anthology. He went on to pen further short stories, including Paradise Park, Climbing Out, Apartment 16c and Always Beneath.
In 2012, he also published his first novel, Poor Jeffrey, which was received to much critical acclaim.
Paul cites writers such as Clive Barker, Stephen King, James Herbert and JRR Tolkien as inspirations on his own writing.
Paul continues to write, contributing to Matt Shaw’s The Many Deaths of Edgar Allan Poe anthology in 2020 with The Last Horror of Dear Eddie. He also began releasing free short stories and fanfiction on his Wattpad account for fun.
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