Interview with Jonathan Lambert, owner of Jolly Horror Press A Prowl into Publishing Anthologies on Amazon
A Prowl into Publishing Anthologies on Amazon
By Angelique Fawns
With Halloween around the corner, Jolly Horror Press (JHP) is releasing an anthology full of tricks and treats. Coffin Blossoms offers up pages that promise to give you goosebumps; and a chuckle; at the same time.
This is the fourth compilation of short stories from Jonathan Lambert and his team at Jolly Horror Press. His third anthology, Accursed, was the most profitable yet, so I got into the weeds with him about his publishing journey.
Full disclosure, I have a story in Coffin Blossoms and the previous anthology Accursed. Lambert is a fastidious editor, and the hours he spends working with his writers shows up in the final product. Autumn Miller and Lori Titus are co-editors.
I sampled the very first story “There’s Something About Bloody Mary” by Richard Lau, and it had me spewing chardonnay out of my nose. What would you do if the ghoul from the urban legend joined you at the bar for a drink?
Coffin Blossoms was released on October 10th, 2020. JHP publishes solely on Amazon and is part of the Kindle Unlimited program.
AF: Coffin Blossoms is the fourth horror/comedy anthology in this series. (Accursed, Betwixt the Dark & Light, and Don’t Cry to Mama). What is different about this one and what did you learn from the previous creations?
JWL: With our new one, Coffin Blossoms, we decided not to have any theme at all. The only requirement was that each story had to be humorous horror. That’s why I started Jolly Horror, and that’s what the “Jolly” is all about. It’s my favorite genre, and in the other two releases (Betwixt the Dark & Light was a collection of my own stories) we gave preference to funny horror but, not a lot of submissions were funny. Each of those had a theme that authors could write to. This one was wide open. We got a lot of stuff. The most submissions we’ve received to date. Alas, humor is subjective isn’t it? A lot of stories, even though the author said “here is my funny horror story…” just weren’t funny. And not every story in Coffin Blossoms is laugh out loud funny horror. Often, it’s subtle. I do wish they were all laugh out loud funny. Next time we do an anthology that’s only horror/comedy, if someone sends in a legit laugh out loud horror story, I’m pretty sure we’d take it. They are still few and far between.
So, to answer your question, this one has no theme and each story has some kind of humor, be it subtle or in your face. The others had a theme, for example, every story was about a cursed item in the last one.
AF:Your covers are unique and eye-catching. How do you get them created?
JWL: The process for every cover has been different. I think we at JHP are maturing a little in how we get these created. The first one, for my own book, was done by Eloise J. Knapp. She’s an amazing cover artist, but she has limited time to work on them. If you get one of hers, you are lucky. I didn’t have any idea what that cover should look like, I only told her “maybe a little day, maybe a little night”. She sent me back a cover I loved. Done deal.
The cover for Don’t Cry to Mama was a premade. I won’t do premade covers again, but Lori found it and I kinda loved it. So we got it. It’s definitely cheaper to get a premade.
With Coffin Blossoms, I knew I wanted a form of Sugar Skull. One of my Facebook friends was posting sketches in different mediums. I inquired, could you do a skull with flowers? She sent me several versions, then she sent me one which nailed it. The one you see on the current cover. I passed this to Eloise and the cover was done soon after.
For our next one, which I know is a later question, I found an artist in India, Suryavo Pal, to do the basic work. Not the actual cover, but the art elements he created will be used in the actual cover.
So, I think we are growing. Reaching out, finding new artists and new voices to put our visions to image.
AF: How long does it take you to produce an anthology from conception to release date? What is your favorite part and least favorite part of the process?
JWL: I already know the concept and have most of the artwork done for our next release, Fornever After. If you haven’t noticed we are trolling the alphabet. Accursed is the A release. Betwixt is the B release, Coffin Blossoms is our C release, Don’t Cry to Mama is our D release. We will do F next, then come back to E. Just because haha.
We will start accepting submissions for Fornever After early 2021. You can find the call here https://www.jollyhorror.com/opencall.html?fbclid=IwAR2JaG_YdotHG5_KdB6GzvI9g0VViXtmnJIbROBLT_t8uo7Qtl1W0GekuN0
Once the open submission period starts, the stories begin rolling in. With our third anthology, I hired a trusted author and editor, Autumn Miller, to do all the reading. Honestly, I just don’t have time for that anymore. One of the things I’m most proud of about Jolly Horror Press, is that Autumn was in the inbox every day. Reading stories. And I fully empowered her to make decisions for Jolly Horror Press (this was hard for me to give up, but also a growing moment for me haha). I’ve been friends with her for a long while and she likes the same movies and books I do. She loves horror/comedy and I had no problem trusting her with the decisions.
With Autumn on board, if you send us a story, you’ll likely get a decision in a few days. Not months, or multiple months with other publishers. She’s tough. So, it’s likely a no. Way tougher than me. But we need that. We want the best.
I’ve strayed from your question but that’s because our end to end timeline totally depends on Autumn, so hopefully we can keep her happy and still on staff.
With her, our end-to-end timeline looks like this:
Three months open submission period. All throughout those three months, accepts and rejects are going out on a daily basis. At the end of the submission period, there may only be a few (less than five) stories we still haven’t decided on. We make those tough decisions, then it all comes to me.
I take another month or two reaching out to each accepted author, getting contracts signed and payment issued, editing their story and seeking author permission for the edits (we never change stories without author permission, unless just an obvious typo). Once that process is done, and it does take a lot of back and forth with authors, I place each story into the book. I could go on and on with every detail, but let’s just say it takes a good 6 -7 months to create a JHP release.
My favorite part is editing, and dealing directly with authors. My least favorite part is rejecting good stories that don’t fit (but Autumn does that now so I only have a favorite part haha).
AF: Publishing to Amazon, there is a “Print on Demand” option. How does your distribution work?
JWL: We use Amazon’s print on demand. ebooks are far more popular, but I like being able to hold an actual book in my hand. So, we make both available. Sometimes I think only the authors are ordering the print copy haha, because ebook far outsells print.
AF: Do you publish exclusively with Amazon or do you publish wide?
JWL: Exclusively on Amazon, and Kindle Unlimited. We make far more money from page reads on Kindle Unlimited than we do with sales. Like 80 percent Kindle Unlimited reads, and 20 percent actual sales.
AF: Formatting is the biggest nightmare from what I can see (even scarier than the stories in the books lol). What program do you use, and what are your experiences?
JWL: I don’t use any program. Just MS Word. I have a template set up which has Jolly Horror’s style. It’s preconfigured with the book size we use, with offsetting margins (always there is an author, when we send out the final pdf, who says “hey your margins shift each page. Not sure you want that.”). It always cracks me up because in the email I send them, I mention this. Margins are offset because in print, every other one is feeding into the spine and needs to be bigger to allow for that. So when I edit a story for JHP, first thing I do is cut the text from the original document and paste in into the JHP story format editor. Then I fix the font, spacing, justification, indents etc. Format first, then edit.
I have encountered a number of strange problems in each anthology. Straight quotes that won’t change to the JHP curly style, text with a white background (which no one would see unless you view the book with a cream background on Kindle, double spaces, tabs before each paragraph. So I took a class in Visual Basic for Applications. MS Word supports it. I’ve written Visual Basic programs to correct all these issues. For example, one of the programs I’ve written cycles through the whole document, finds each occurrence of a single quote, deletes it, then puts it back. The new quote mark is curly, so problem solved. I’m always looking for things format wise I can automate, but you have to be careful with it too. You don’t want to inadvertently change italics to regular, and not notice it.
AF: What are your marketing strategies?
JWL: Lori does our marketing. I’m not good at this. I’m good at making the book. Don’t really know squat about marketing. I’m punting this question. At least though, JHP does have someone experienced in marketing. It’s just not me.
AF: I have a story in your anthology, and I am so impressed with your editing skills, I am thinking of seeing if you are “for hire” for independent projects. Do you have an editing business as well?
JWL: First, thank you for saying that. I’m honored. We’ve been thinking about it, because it does seem a lot of people have been very happy with our editing. Not sure it’s something we would do one-offs on though. We CARE about Jolly Horror Press stories and spend the time to make sure the edits are done right. If we had an editing service, not sure the time we put in would equal the affordable cost we’d charge. Also with editing in general, some stories are ALMOST there. But some are in very bad shape and need to be totally rewritten. How does one put a price on that? A flat fee per word might mean one 5000 word story takes 3 hours since it’s so well written, but another takes 10 hours because it’s full of issues, even if story and plot are great. You know?
AF: What is your trick to managing to work a full time job, take care of your family, and keep producing these wonderful anthologies?
JWL: For me, personally (not sure everyone is like this) I have a drive to be productive. I do take days where I lie in bed all day and Netflix it. But that produces guilt in me. I know things need to be done, and that knowledge wrecks my ability to just chill. So, while I do take the occasional Netflix binge day, most days are work 8:30pm to 5:00pm, then I get after home improvement projects I have going on till it gets dark. Then I come inside. Sometimes I have to help the kids with homework in Calculus or Java programming or other topics. But more often than not 7:30pm-11:00pm is book work. Editing, all these things I’ve been talking about. And a hefty dose of Facebook chatting and commenting. I guess, in the end, I just don’t like not having something to do, so I make sure I always have something, and all this book work helps. I hope that makes sense.
AF: Tell me more about Fornever After?
JWL: Our next project is the F release (told you already we are skipping E, we will come back to it). The main reason we are skipping E is because the next book will be called Fornever After and I’m already in love with the concept. It’s going to be an anthology of tragic love, each story with a horror element to it. If you take away horror/comedy for a minute, this horror love tragedy is my second favorite concept. All of my favorite horror books contain an element of tragic love Odd Thomas, Horns, Wizard and Glass, etc. There is just something about it that affects me. And I want to see what authors can bring. I expect to cry, reading the submissions. Once Autumn has sorted out the ones with no tragic horror, which will come, haha. I’m willing to bet, Fornever After will be one of my favorite books ever, and Jolly Horror Press will have put it together. How cool is that?
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Angelique Fawns writes horror, fantasy, kids short stories, and freelance journalism. Her day job is producing promos and after hours she takes care of her farm full of goats, horses, chickens, and her family. She has no idea how she finds time to write. She currently has stories in Ellery Queen, DreamForge Anvil, and Third Flatiron’s Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses. You can follow her work and get writing tips and submission hints at http://fawns.ca/.