Publisher Interview – Pulp Modern: Alec Cizak

Interview with Alec Cizak, publisher of Pulp Modern


It was an era of bigger-than-life heroes, imaginative villains, sexy sirens, and hard-boiled detectives. The public consumed pages and pages of adventure, horror, and tantalizing mystery. No subject was too lurid or sensational. Pulp Fiction magazines teased readers in the first half of the 20th Century and the genre got its name from the rough, low-quality paper it was printed on.  Alec Cizak has brought some of this literary daring back with his magazine Pulp Modern, and agreed to talk with me about his passion and publication. You can find the current issue, Pulp Modern: Tech Noir for sale now on Amazon.  It is a special edition of futuristic crime stories in collaboration with the crime fiction journal Switchblade.

AF: What do you do as a day job?


AC: I teach lit and composition to pay the bills. I’m lucky to have a wife with a much more marketable skill. Between her salary and the pittance my salary as a part time professor provides, we don’t have to live on the street. I wish I made my money writing pulp fiction, but I was born at the wrong time in history for that!


AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?


AC: I started publishing Pulp Modern because I didn’t see any journals at the time that brought the major genres together. I also didn’t see any big-time publications publishing riskier stories, so I felt there was a need for a market that could take chances since no advertising dollars were on the line.  That’s not a slam on the majors, by the way. I understand they are beholden to advertisers who may not want to be associated with gut-honest stories about junkies, pimps, and hookers. As time went on and the bulk of the original underground pulps that were big at the end of the last decade and the beginning of this decade (Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Twist of Noir, Crime Factory, Pulp Metal, etc.) either folded or became much more low-key, I continued publishing Pulp Modern because it provided a place for new writers to get their work in print. I suppose it’s become something like a farm team in baseball. Writers get their work in Pulp Modern and then move on to get agents and contracts with the Big Five and all that good stuff. Of course, now we seem to be in a silver age for this movement, with journals like Switchblade, EconoClash Review, Tough, and Broadswords and Blasters providing a new generation of markets.


AF: How long have you been publishing and how many anthologies have you produced?


AC: I started publishing the work of other writers in 2010, at a blog called All Due Respect. That was taken over by Chris Rhatigan when I started Pulp Modern. Rhatigan, of course, has turned ADR into an independent powerhouse. To date, I’ve published fifteen editions of Pulp Modern–a first run of ten issues that ended in 2016, and a second (and current) run that started in 2017 when I asked Richard Krauss (publisher of The Digest Enthusiast) to take over art direction duties. The results have been stunning.


AF: Is there any profit margin?


AC: Nope. This is, financially, a losing venture. The recent Tech Noir issue cost about six hundred dollars to produce. It’s generated about fifty dollars in sales and I doubt that number will even double. This is a labor of love. The independent pulp fiction community has had lags over the last ten years or so, moments where there were almost no markets for new writers, and I’ve gone through periods where I thought I would quit, but enough people would write to me and insist I keep Pulp Modern going that I gave in every time and got back to it. There are many, many writers out there. Some of them are really good and they don’t have connections in the publishing world. A journal like Pulp Modern is there to make sure those unheard voices are heard.


AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?


AC: Funny you should ask. I’m expanding Uncle B. Publications to a “regular” book publisher. I will be working with David Cranmer (Beat to a Pulp) to produce a nice, single-volume collection of all the Drifter Detective novellas. I’m also putting together several charity anthologies, including a collection called Naptown Noir that will benefit the Indiana Literacy Association. Call me naive, stupid, or optimistic, I believe a population that reads is a population that thinks and that, more than anything, will turn this world back in a positive direction.


Publisher Interview – Jolly Horror Press: Jonathan Lambert

Jonathan Lambert is the founder and editor of Jolly Horror Press, and has been known to pen a horror story or two himself. His third anthology Accursed will be released December 10th, and if you love stories that mix comedy and horror, this compilation has dark scary moments featuring cursed items. Each story may lead you down some dark alleys, but then surprise you with some laugh-out-loud moments. I contributed a story to this anthology and was impressed with the time and attention Lambert paid to his edits and revisions. I can’t wait to read the entire book. In the meantime, I had some questions for him about the indie anthology business and his role as a publisher.


AF: What do you do as a day job?


JL: Interesting question. Truth be told, I like to keep my day job separate from my role as publisher at Jolly Horror Press, and even my writing. In my experience, people sometimes begin to act odd or different once they find out a coworker writes or publishes horror. God forbid the little old lady a few offices away grabs one of our books and starts reading about incubi and witch orgies, or some other risqué story in one of these anthologies. She’d never look at me the same, or she’ll never leave me alone. LOL. So, I’d rather avoid that all together If I can.

I’ll tell you a little though. I’m a senior executive at a US Federal Government agency. I lead a very large program (~2.5 billion dollars) to modernize aging computer systems over the next ten years. I work in Downtown DC near all the monuments and museums and I have a 2.5 hour commute each way, every day. That doesn’t leave me a lot of time for the publishing and writing business. That’s what the weekends are for.


AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?

JL: The genre I write is horror/comedy. Short stories. The long days I put in at the office aren’t very conducive to writing longer works at this time (maybe something I’ll do when I retire.) For many years I would submit these stories to other anthologies. I had a good bit of success, yet horror/comedy stories are difficult to place. Most anthologies want pure horror. I also sold a lot of stories for peanuts. I think 3 dollars for a 5,000-word story was the lowest. I also noticed how so many publications no longer pay at all. They pay through ‘exposure’ but if they aren’t well marketed, the exposure is limited.

After a few years of experience selling short stories to anthologies, I just decided that I could do a better job. Provide better customer service, and be more author friendly. I could also create a press that is dedicated to horror/comedy. Finally, these stories could have a home. I just needed the name, and one day Jolly Horror Press just popped in my head. The rest is history.


AF: How long have you been publishing and how many anthologies have you produced?

JL: I started Jolly Horror Press about two years ago. Purchased the domain name, developed the website myself, got some legal advice, had a logo created, and put out the call for our first anthology, “Don’t Cry to Mama.”

While the stories were coming in, I decided to put out a collection of my own work, all horror/comedy short stories, called “Betwixt the Dark & Light”, as all the exclusive rights had expired.

“Don’t Cry to Mama” came shortly after. We got a great response. Some really great stories. It was supposed to be horror/comedy, but we’ve found that not many people actually WRITE horror/comedy either. So for now, we accept both. However, funny horror stories will always be the ones we accept first. And in one of our next anthologies, “Coffin Blossoms,” we’ll only accept horror/comedy. Might be a great story but if it doesn’t make us chuckle…

Before that though, we will release our third anthology, “Accursed,” in December. It’s an anthology where each story is about some kind of cursed item. Again, both pure horror and horror/comedy.

I’m trolling the alphabet.  “Accursed”; “Betwixt the Dark & Light”; “Coffin Blossoms”; “Don’t Cry to Mama”. Not sure what the one after that will be called, but you can bet it will start with an “E”.


AF: Is there any profit margin?

JL: For now, no. An anthology generally consists of 20-25 stories. We usually pay $25 per story. That amount is the minimum sale price to qualify for Horror Writer’s Association membership. We thought that was a good thing to do for authors. If we purchase 25 stories at 25 dollars, that’s a cost of $625. Throw in a cover for minimum $200, and a marketing budget ($500), and costs for supplemental editing and other things, it easily costs about $1,500 minimum to make an anthology. And we do our own editing and formatting or it would cost even more.

We generally price our print books for $12.99. Amazon takes 40% of that, leaving $7.79. But then, they subtract the print price of the book (depends on number of pages, mainly). Jolly Horror Press books have a particular style and format that I really value. I could make the print price cheaper by using smaller fonts and cramming things together, but this is a labor of love. I won’t sacrifice quality for profit. So, from the $7.79, they subtract the print cost which for “Don’t Cry to Mama” was about $4.98. This leaves an actual profit of $2.81 per sale.

Ebooks are about the same. If we price them at $3.99, Amazon takes a 30% royalty leaving $2.79 as profit.

So, we need to sell around 600 copies to come close to breaking even. We are getting close with “Don’t Cry to Mama” but haven’t quite reached it yet.

Marketing costs soon have diminishing returns. After a few months, sales begin to drop off. They pick up again when a new anthology is released though. So, in the long run, who knows?

I used the words “Labor of Love” earlier, and that’s true. I don’t care if our books are profitable. I’d love it, of course, but it’s not going to stop us from producing quality anthologies. I do have that day job, you know?

AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

JL: I’d like to keep going until we have 10 or 15 anthologies out there, and then turn Jolly Horror into movie production company. You know how you watch a horror movie and see “Blumhouse Productions” or “Ghost House Pictures” in the beginning credits? Well, with any luck, one day you’ll see “Jolly Horror Productions” at the beginning of a horror/comedy movie

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