{Interview} Taking Back Control: Steve Stred talks to the brilliant Adam Nevill.

Taking Back Control

Image: Tania Glyde

Steve Stred: First off, huge thanks for doing this, Adam. Since I first connected with Gavin, close to five years ago, he’d always say “You need to read Adam Nevill.” When I did, I saw why. My first read of yours was ‘Last Days,’ followed by ‘The Ritual,’ which blew me away. I’d watched the Netflix movie when it came out, here in Canada, but the book … wow. Stunning stuff. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions!

For myself, the movie adaptation of ‘The Ritual’ was my first experience with the name Adam Nevill. This book was released in 2011 and was your third release. A decade later, which of your books would you say seems to be new reader’s first Nevill?

Adam Nevill: Still The Ritual, Steve. That and No One Gets Out Alive and Last Days are the three I see cropping up most often in feeds and posts. Though I’m happy for folks to try any book first. I never go through the motions and write everything with all of myself.

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SS: You have two perma-freebie mini-collections on Amazon, ‘Before You Sleep’ and ‘Before You Wake.’ What was your personal reasoning for doing this? There seems to be a frequent discussion about offering works for free or not.

AN: It’s a discussion worth having and one that I’ve had with myself, other writers and colleagues in publishing, and many times too. On one hand, no one wants to devalue books – though the 99p eBook, and even 20p eBook, was something that trad’ publishers indulged in to a significant extent about a decade ago. That 99c/pence price seems to have set a precedent since in digital. Pricing is something all indie authors and presses have to think very hard about – you don’t want to price your books out of the market, nor undervalue them.

I rarely discount my eBooks – I offer the samplers but generally keep my full-length Ritual Limited books at full price; you have to value your own work. I tend to think that 99p has suggested a “disposable” status to books in the digital format.

For me, the two free mini-collections are samplers and were part of my marketing as an indie entity – 3 stories selected from the two larger collections to introduce readers to my horrors and to my website, where there is a third free eBook available, mostly containing nonfiction. The two free eBook collections are not full books and I wouldn’t ever give a full work of fiction away. So they are part of a marketing strategy designed to expand my existing readership, as well as thanking regular, loyal readers by giving something back.

On the subject of availability, trad’ published books tend to have their rights contained in one territory whilst the foreign rights depts try to sell publishing rights into other territories. As the horror readership in the UK is relatively small, but large internationally, and as rights are harder to sell now, I saw this situation as a real disadvantage as a trad’ published horror writer on a midlist. I was peppered with emails asking why many of my novels were not available in North America. So I have done something about it with my imprint’s publications. In the English-speaking world, all of my Ritual Limited books are available, same day in every format. I pressure-tested the size of the readership with the first two free eBooks too and the results encouraged me to continue on the indie path. I don’t think they have dropped out of the top 100 horror chart on Amazon, four years and counting.

SS: The Reddening’ came out in 2019 on your own Ritual Limited publishing. I remember a palpable buzz over an author of Adam Nevill’s level going this route and essentially “taking back all control.” You’d previously released collections through Ritual Limited, but this was your first novel release, correct? I would imagine there were a lot of nerves as you went this route. What precipitated this decision?

AN: You’d be right, Steve. It was a huge decision I had to make. Ritual Limited was only intended for short story collections and future novellas. I never intended to publish a novel, though never ruled it out. Times were changing fast, though, and so was the publishing industry and book trade. The latter has reduced by nearly half in the last ten years. Getting published traditionally now isn’t the same as getting traditionally published before (around) 2013.

I did get several offers for the novel, plus the next book, but couldn’t reach agreement on the rights situation, among other things. To my eye, by 2018, UK trad’ publishing had also lost much of its appetite and enthusiasm for horror. So, I had reservations about publishing/editorial strategies. I didn’t want any more books resigned to the midlist. By taking control, I could also escape the emphasis on a six week to two-month publication period; I can see that all of my books have had a long tail and endure mainly by word-of-mouth. That is something I can now boost with more vigorous promotion.

Also, my books won’t go out of print now with lengthy waits for reprint decisions, so they’ll always be available in several formats, wherever there are book retailers globally. I also wanted hardback editions – as do the readers; only one of eight of my trad horror novels had a hardback edition. And I wanted audio editions of every new book too – as do readers; only half of my trad’ novels ever made it into audio. But audio is now rivalling paperback as a format.

Being on the midlist means your books are never as much of a priority as the front list; think of the title-count at publishers in relation to the staff complements and capacity. I can be more focussed on publishing each title and maintaining/enlivening the growing backlist at Ritual Limited, because the books matters to me more than they could ever matter to a large media corporations who own 1000’s of books. I’m free of publishing and editorial trends – I don’t chase the “general reader”; I speak directly to my constituency: horror readers.

My wife works full time on the company for part of each year and I employ up to nine publishing professionals to create the four editions; so, to me, this is indie publishing and not “self-publishing”. I follow the same critical path I followed when running imprints for major publishers (Virgin Books and Harper Collins Avon). I’m not just throwing unedited books into the grinders to produce ebooks and POD paperbacks. I’ve never managed to write a single book in less than 12 – 24 months full-time, so I cannot get the publishing wrong. It took me two years to complete The Reddening, so I was damned if it wasn’t going to be given its best chance.

On remuneration, I don’t like nor agree with the “prevailing rate” clause in trad’ contracts – higher discounts, smaller royalty provision. That, to my eye, had gotten out of hand, with royalties dropping as low as 4% on print editions. Add sale or return and it’s a world of hurt. As a writer in the middle of what I hope will be a long career, I don’t trust that system to support me. So, I have been able to take the clock back – I don’t allow huge discounts of my books at retailers and I don’t permit returns, nor “giveaway” price points. I pride myself on the quality of the writing and the quality of the editions – each takes all of me to produce – so, I am ascribing a truer value to my own work.

I’ve also moved the emphasis from the UK domestic market to a global market and from the high street to the internet. This is a standard example of moving with the times, and not just to survive, but to flourish. So far, it’s worked out. My novel sales are back to where they were in 2013. This model has also proven to be pestilence resilient for me. There’s a deep trust between the brand and the readers now after four years – people get their books, they are produced to a high standard, they are published on time. I don’t gamble on pre-orders; I commit to an expensive offset print run of hardbacks, check the books by hand, and then announce pre-orders. I’ve watched too many catastrophes unfold in this business to change my own best practice.

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Some Will Not Sleep and Hasty for the Dark were also popular and continue to be so (the first collection has been far more popular than the preceding three novels of mine, all published by a big international publisher, and this was a short story collection). So, I realised, that both for aesthetic and commercial reasons, to continue writing the horror that I wanted to write, I should try at least one novel through my imprint.

In one year, The Reddening became my fourth most successful book – some of the earlier novels had been bestsellers, one was supported by a film. But The Reddening made me realise that I probably cannot afford to go back …

There is a question of scale and context here though; I’d established myself from 2004 as a horror writer and had also worked in publishing for 11 years, so I had some idea about publishing books. I’m no expert in anything and am still learning about indie publishing and keeping up to date as I go along, but I had certain advantages. I’d had 17 novels published traditionally since the 90s and was mid-career. Going indie is not for the faint-hearted, nor should anyone attempt it on a shoestring.

And if a publisher is going to put your book on the front list, take the offer. There is also some prestige in trad’ publishing. If you’re starting out and catch a trad’ editor’s eye, you need to take that interest seriously. But if you are midlist and have a good readership and are not on the front list, I do recommend the indie route if you do it properly. Lot of work involved and it’s a long game but also liberating and rewarding.

For new authors, if you go indie, go back to school first – take a course like those that Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson and Carla King offer; they’re comprehensive and emphasize just how much you’re going to have to learn about advertising. This is a long game, both for your writing and publishing. We’ve gone way past peak books too; I think we may now have more authors than readers. I suspect that a growing number of indie published books find no readers at all, or a mere handful at best. Trad’ published books that previously saw sell-ins in the thousands are down to hundreds, and less. Be prepared and observe quality control and be patient and determined. The core principals of writing and publishing haven’t changed, even if everything else has.

SS: Wyrd and Other Derelictions’ is your most recent release, a stunning collection that came out in 2020. Most reviews laud your willingness to really push the boundaries and release what many readers (myself included) have called a bold and daring collection. Did you think the response would be like it has been? Would this book have been a tough sell for “traditional” publishing?

AN: Thank you for appreciating Wyrd’ so much. I felt that if I had my own imprint and didn’t push the boat further out to sea, then it would be a missed opportunity. Writing and publishing books like Wyrd’ was one of the principal reasons I began Ritual Limited.

A trad’ publisher wouldn’t have published any of my short story collections either. Even in 2008, as an editor, I even had a fight on my hands to publish a Ligotti collection. As a rule of thumb, trad’ publishing doesn’t see enough commercial value in the short story, unless they’re collections from household names. And I am far from being one of those. The environment for the short story has long been the indie scene.

On the reception of Wyrd, I suspected that my regular readers would appreciate the collection but I had no real idea of how a wider horror readership would respond to the stories. It’s been almost wholly positive so far. Even those reviewers who didn’t care for the style seemed to indulge in long debates about what a horror story is; even that was still immensely satisfying to me. The stories aren’t obscure or difficult, to my eye; they’re just different and designed to conjure a specific kinds of effect.

SS: My apologies, but I have yet to read ‘Lost Girl.’ Saying that, I have seen a number of people allude to this release and recent world events. With the book having been released in 2015, does it mean different things to you now when you reflect on it and the story you wrote?

AN: There are two things that have to be in place before I commit to writing anything: the idea has to compel me, and I accept that I will never give up on anything that I start, even if it takes years to complete a book to my satisfaction. As a result, I have yet to regret writing any of my books, though I am critical of them all.

Lost Girl was borne of a burning desire to imagine and write about runaway climate change and its consequences on humanity and civilisation. It was also a book borne of parental anxiety. The two things go well together when you’re bringing a new life into the world, and at a very precarious moment in its history . . . What continues to surprise me, is how my predictions for a world in 2053 are already occurring – from the fires and interior temperatures in Australia, to the floods, the European heatwave, the covid pandemic (Lost Girl features a corona virus pandemic that originates as a zoonotic spillover from bat urine in a Chinese wet market). Each of these catastrophes have occurred after the book’s publication in 2015 (and it was written before that date). That scale of refugee crisis in Europe also occurred as I was writing the book. And this really concerns me; I based much of the world in Lost Girl on the predictions, scientists and writers on the environment made for the second half of the 21st century. But, we’ve already there. So, what 2053 will actually be like, doesn’t bear thinking about. But I’m very fond of the novel; I only wish more people had read it.

I also don’t believe we dare let the world go back to the way it was after this pandemic ends, or at least subsides. This is the moment we must grasp as a species to re-evaluate our role, purpose, our very place in nature and on the only planet that we will ever know. Last chance, I think. We’re there, folks.

SS: Huge congrats on the movie adaptation news for ‘No One Gets Out Alive.’ I’m excited to see how Andy Serkis’ team handle this novel. Has the approach to making this novel into a movie been very different than when ‘The Ritual’ was filmed? Has Covid-19 played a role in any differences?

AN: The development process (3 -4 years) was long for each film and the new film has been quite similar to how The Ritual reached a critical mass. Covid played a significant role but the film production company, cast and crew still managed to successfully make the film in 2020, by following incredibly strict health and safety protocols. I’m in awe of what they have achieved. And again, one of my books is in great hands so I’m excited for when the time comes for it to be unleashed.

SS: You’ve been an incredibly prolific short story writer. Of all of your short stories, is there one that you think stands head and shoulders above the others? Or one you think back on frequently?

AN: I’d say, I haven’t written that many – only three collections in 26 years since writing the first story. But I think three were key; they were published widely, and reprinted, and supported by some impressive editors. They each opened doors and encouraged me to try new approaches to horror: ‘Mother’s Milk’, ‘Where Angels Come In’ and ‘Hippocampus’.

SS: You’ve always been very open with your influences and how those writers who came before you helped you become a better writer. For new readers, who should they read?

AN: I could spend all day on a list. There are a great many talented writers out there, new and established. I think we’re in a golden age right now; it’s continued for a decade and shows no sign of abating.

Reggie Oliver and Nathan Ballingrud are superb writers and seemingly effortlessly entertaining. Stephen King, John Connolly and Ramsey Campbell, all giants in the field, are still producing fabulous books. And I’m very partial to Gemma Files, Brian Hodge, M. John Harrison, John Langan, Matt Cardin, Sarah Waters, Conrad Williams, Josh Malerman. Recently, I’ve been very impressed with books from Stephen Graham Jones, Aliya Whiteley, Gary Budden, Catriona Ward, Naomi Booth, Kylie Whitehead, Frances Hardinge, Rebecca Lloyd, Ben Myers. There’s been a real firming up of horror in trad’ channels too, from Joe Hill, Paul Tremblay, Grady Hendrix, Josh Malerman, Matt Ruff, Daniel Kraus, Victor Lavelle, to name but a few.

The indie scene has just exploded, and I’ll be the first to admit, that I have no real hope of keeping up with it, nor reading a fraction of the books being published. It’s a sign of horror thriving. The field is so well supported by a large and ever-growing reviewer and podcast community, and remains perennially popular in gaming, comics, film and TV. And if the mainstream fails to understand it, or finds horror not to its taste, or keeps blowing hot and cold on it, I believe horror has found its own means of surviving and thriving on its own terms. I’m just one example of that continuation in a new form. Long may it continue.

SS: Throughout 2020 and now into 2021, we’ve seen the cancellations of a number of Conferences and Expos. You had some scheduled to appear at. For you personally, what do you love most about these events?

AN: I always enjoy the book launches, my own and those of other presses, and the dealer’s room immensely. The bar is a given and a couple of good meals always go down well. I guess, it’s the people, new and old friends, that make all of these things special. And I love to meet the readers of my books. They keep me going.

SS: Last Days’ was my first long read of yours and left me stunned. If ever there was one of your releases screaming for a follow up and learning more about the Temple of the Last Days, this would be it. Have you ever thought of writing a sequel to any of your releases or knowing ahead of time that what you were working on will most likely be a series?

AN: Thanks very much. That’s really confirming to know.

I haven’t been tempted to write a sequel yet, though have been tempted to expand elements of the individual stories; the backgrounds, entities, organisations and characters. What I find more pressing, though, are the new ideas that keep hatching and then persisting that I write them. So I tend to favour looser connections between my stories, while writing standalone stories. I haven’t ruled out writing a series though – I do so much research for each novel that it’d be good to finally use more of it beyond one book. But, watch this space.

SS: In closing, thank you so much for doing this Adam. I’m over the moon that you have taken the time to fit this in. Best of luck with all of your work in 2021 and I hope you and your family stay healthy.

AN: Well thanks for taking such a keen interest in my horrors and for appreciating them at Kendall Reviews and elsewhere. And be sure to keep yourselves and your own folks well too.

Adam Nevill

Tania Glyde
Image: Tania Glyde

Adam L.G. Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is the author of the horror novels: ‘Banquet for the Damned’, ‘Apartment 16’, ‘The Ritual’, ‘Last Days’, ‘House of Small Shadows’, ‘No One Gets Out Alive’, ‘Lost Girl’, and ‘Under a Watchful Eye’. His first short story collection, ‘Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors’, was published on Halloween, 2016, and won the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. His second collection of short fiction, ‘Hasty for the Dark: Selected Horrors’ was published on Halloween 2017.

His novels, ‘The Ritual’, ‘Last Days’ and ‘No One Gets Out Alive’ were the winners of The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Last Days’ were also awarded Best in Category: Horror, by R.U.S.A. Several of his novels are currently in development for film and television, and in 2016 Imaginarium adapted ‘The Ritual’ into a major motion picture.

Adam also offers three free books to readers of horror: ‘Cries from the Crypt’ (downloadable from his website), ‘Before You Sleep’ and ‘Before You Wake’ (available from major online retailers).

Adam lives in Devon, England.

Find out more about Adam by visiting his official website www.adamlgnevill.com

You can follow Adam on Twitter @AdamLGNevill

Steve Stred

Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.

He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.

You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred

You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred

You can visit Steve’s Official website here

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