Horror – Writers – Ink: Community and Your Writer’s Toolkit
Community and your writer’s toolkit
One thing I’ve learned is that community is one of the biggest assets available. It’s community that pulls you through, holds you up, and keeps encouraging you to persist. Writing is a solitary craft, and sometimes writers need more than the fictional voices in our heads to help us succeed. While community isn’t for everyone, I’ve certainly seen it true for most. There are many ways of being part of a community too.
I’m a Melbourne-based author and I write in several genres with my nonfiction covering topics from hauntings to spelling to sport, and my fiction either literary or speculative. But the horror writing community is the one I have been most connected with since I started my writing journey, and it is for them I hold the greatest soft spot.
In 2012, I commenced studying writing and editing, and as a part of my course, I was given a yearly membership to Writers Victoria, the state writers’ organisation. This was the beginning of writerly me being part of something bigger than myself. Around this time I also joined the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA), and since then I’ve joined more organisations, subscribed to newsletters, Patreons, and volunteered as well. I do this for two reasons: to keep informed and to pay it forward.
This article is about what I’ve learned about community and what resources I’ve come to use or rely on as a horror writer. It’s an article for aspiring authors as well as a checklist for established ones.
What support is out there for horror writers?
Broken down, there seem to be three basic elements: 1) improving craft – learning and financial support; 2) where to submit your work; 3) getting noticed. There is also a fourth, which encompasses aspects of the previous: 4) writers’ conventions.
There are a multitude of other things that work alongside these streams: competitions, podcasts, YouTube, publicity companies, specialist publisher promotions. Probably even more. Again, participation is key. Have a look for social media connections where people talk and promote horror. A few new and energetic groups have opened recently on Facebook: Get Reading Horror and Get Writing Horror by Joe X Young, and another one is Horror Oasis. The biggest one is the Horror Writers’ Association (HWA) group There are many more, just do a search for ‘Horror’ on your preferred social media platform. Another recommendation is to follow your favourite authors on social media.
Here’s a breakdown of the four points above:
1) Improving your craft – learning and financial support
Let me count the ways! You can buy/borrow books on writing craft or study authors’ works that you admire. Some of us collect books on craft. There are also many other ways to learn: author interviews, podcasts, book launches, conventions, Q&A sessions. Plenty of academic organisations offer writing courses and writing organisations offer short and long courses. Some writing courses are run privately by writers or editors. Most writing organisations are not genre specific or may not have diverse offerings which is why it pays to follow horror organisations if you are a horror writer. Although, in saying that, my local writing organisation, Writers Victoria, has recently offered courses with Kaaron Warren and Alan Baxter, two big names in the Aussie horror writing community. So, keep an eye on the local offerings too.
LitReactor has been around since 2011 and is a writers’ community in itself. It offers an online magazine, LOADS of online writing classes with some of the best names in the biz, a discussion forum and community-wide writing comps.
Some organisations offer financial assistance to pay for courses or writing expenses. Ladies of Horror Fiction (LOHF) has recently established an annual LOHF Writers Grant for women horror writers. The Horror Writers’ Association (HWA) has a well-established scholarship program for members and non-members. The Australasian Horror Writers Association(AHWA) has a well-established mentorship program for members.
2) Where to submit your work
When I see a writer say, ‘I have a story where should I send it?’ I know they haven’t done any research and it drives me a little wild. People in this community are very generous, but people still have to do some legwork! The question is – so that you can forever have the skills yourself – ‘How do I find out where to send my stuff?’
Here are some suggestions:
- Duotrope – a submission tracker and listings site (subscription fees)
- Submission Grinder – a submission tracker and listings site, run by Diabolic Plots (free/donation)
- Ralan – a submission listings site (free)
- Horror Tree – a submission listing site, articles, reviews, Trembling With Fear (free, Paetron)
Membership organisations also list open calls on websites or direct to members. Publishers list them on their social media channels. Some authors also collate lists. Gwendolyn Kriste (author) does an excellent monthly submission round up, plus the following Facebook groups list regular open calls:
- Open Call: Speculative Markets – Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy
- Open Submission Calls for Horror/Paranormal/Mystery/ Sci Fi Writers
These are ones that I visit, but there are so many others.
3) Getting noticed
This section crosses over with point 1) because it depends on what side of the article we sit. If we’re the one reading and absorbing author talks, interviews, podcasts, Q&As or reading other people’s book reviews, then it’s learning. Maybe you haven’t looked at it like that, but that’s what it is. If we’re doing all those things for our own work, it’s promo.
There are so many aspects to promotion, and everyone does it in different ways. Books have been written on how to promote your own work. I’m going to talk about the simple things you can do to get yourself out there as a writer: get book reviews, write a feature article, be interviewed. For an author, the best things you can do is to get into the spotlight as much as possible. Sounds terrifying, but it’s what works.
Articles and book reviews appear in many in-print horror magazines and there are plenty available online as well. Kendall Reviews, The Ginger Nuts of Horror, The Horror Tree, This is Horror are just a few of the sites that post reviews, articles and features. If you are looking for someone to review your book, a comprehensive reviewer list can be found at Bark at the Ghouls. Even though the list is dated 2019, it has updates in it from 2021. As always, do your own due diligence.
There are also opportunities for author promotion in membership organisations – some free, some paid. Check out what your org offers.
Reviews are wonderful supports for authors because a review – good or bad – gets a book out there, into discussions, and onto people’s lists and shelves. This can be said for interviews and features because the more we get to know an author and feel we can relate to them or are interested in what they say, the more we are interested in what they write.
Lastly, I will mention awards. Awards do sell books. Award winners are more visible, and visibility translates to sales. Even if you don’t think you will win, enter awards where you are eligible. You never know. I’ll also add the disclaimer that there are plenty of great books written that are not award winners. Please don’t judge your work by its award status.
The one thing I’ll say about conventions is – GO TO THEM! As often as you can! It’s been a bit hard over the last few years, but hopefully things are changing. The first writers’ convention I went to I was on my own and I was terrified. I sat in a workshop, walked around for 20 minutes afterwards and then went home. It was a real waste of the admission fee. But I didn’t know any better. Now I go with friends and try to make others feel welcome when they attend. Next time, I’m even going to go on a panel as a speaker! Progress.
Conventions organically lead to knowing where to submit to publishers, connections and new friendships. You can meet the people you have only known through social media. Author talks, panels and workshops are fabulous, and most conventions have marketplaces if you want to sell your books. There is always so much to learn at a convention. And spending time with people who are likeminded – it’s just great.
Social media, following authors or pages, and friends have kept me informed about conventions. There’s no one place I can suggest to keep you informed because what is available depends on where you are, but perhaps your local horror organisation or writing centre is the best place to start.
I’ve put a few of the main organisations in horror into a timeline. I was really surprised how long some places had been going. There are many other places and services in existence – this is just a small snapshot of the organisations I have mentioned in this article.
|1980s||Horror Writers’ Association (HWA)||member organisation, member and non-member learning opportunities, promotion opportunities for members, resources, newsletter, merchandise, Bram Stoker Awards®, StokerCon|
|1996||Ralan||submission markets, writer resources|
|2003||Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA)||member organisation, member mentorship opportunities, promotion opportunities for members, member newsletter, resources, Australian Shadow Awards, Robert N Stephenson Short Story and Flash Fiction competition|
|2005||Duotrope||submission tracker and submission markets, weekly market update email|
|2008||The Ginger Nuts of Horror||reviews, features, interviews|
|2011||This is Horror||reviews, features, interviews, podcasts, This is Horror Awards|
|2011||LitReactor||online classes, community writing comps, online forum and magazine|
|2011||The Horror Tree||reviews, features, interviews, submission markets, submission opportunities – Trembling with Fear|
|2013||Submission Grinder||submission markets, submission opportunities – Diabolical Plots|
|2017||Kendall Reviews||reviews, features, interviews|
|2018||Ladies of Horror Fiction (LOHF)||reviews, features, podcast, LOHF Awards, LOHF grants|
Member organisations offer connection, mentoring and learning opportunities, sometimes submission or promotion opportunities, the hosting of awards, in-person events and/or meet-ups and many things in-between. They’re worth their weight in gold. Even though there is a cost, the benefits outweigh it. Most – if not all – of my writerly connections started through member organisations, and through these connections I’ve found support and chances to publish in unexpected places. I have even been able to give a bit back by being involved on committees, being a judge for competitions and awards or being part of events.
Many writers’ organisations are mainly or fully volunteer and need all the help they can get. Besides, paying it forward is a big part of a writer’s success. If it’s not, it should be!
Most people are familiar with membership organisations but may not join for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they are not sure what the value will be for them as a writer, other times it’s because there is a fee and people look at the free social media options first. There could be many reasons. It’s a good idea to follow a member organisation on social media or subscribe to their newsletter to get a sense of what they do if you are considering joining but are a bit hesitant.
Whatever your preference for learning and connection, there are so many ways available now to grow your network and improve your skills. For years I thought that because I was not skilled in certain areas it was to my detriment. It took me a while to realise that by reading and analysing other work I’m learning, and that by writing and getting critiques I’m learning too.
In a way, the last few years of restrictions have led to expansion. Many new avenues for connection and ways of learning have opened up that perhaps we haven’t made good use of before. Even if you don’t want to go out to connect, there are plenty of innovative ways to learn and meet new people. And one thing’s for certain – as writers most of us want to see each other grow. And along the way … well, rejections and acceptances are better shared with friends.