NEW BLOOD: The Rebirth of Indie Horror A Conversation with Andrew Robert
NEW BLOOD: The Rebirth of Indie Horror
A Conversation with Andrew Robert
by Matt Micheli
These interviews are intended to be very candid and conversational. There is nothing off limits.
For Part 4 of NEW BLOOD, I am here with the founder of Horror Oasis and a fairly new press that is making waves in the indie horror world, Darklit Press—you may know him as The Book Dad on various social media platforms. It is my pleasure to present to my fellow indie horror fans, Andrew Robert!
Andrew, we are excited to have you! Thank you so much for giving us your time and sharing your thoughts with us.
I appreciate you having me here, Matt. I’ve never felt interview-worthy but I’ll do my best to be interesting, HA! Also, I wanna say that I absolutely love Horror Tree and their staff. Stuart and Stephanie, you are massive assets to the horror community. I cannot thank you enough for all that you do.
First thing’s first (I don’t like bullshitting around, well maybe sometimes): I’ve seen 2 different names for you… Is it Andrew [redacted] or Andrew Robert, and why isn’t there more dirt on you in Google? Besides social media posts and some articles and a couple three-sentence bio’s, there really isn’t much. Please explain why that is and give us the extended version of who Andrew really is: the details, the dirt, all that.
First, the ol’Google machine definitely has some dirt on me but it’s dirt I am proud of. I won’t divulge the details of where I work but I do have a day job and at that day job, I was a vice president and executive member of a labor union. The union and my workplace had a labor dispute that lasted a long while. I had to disable most social platforms and shy away during that time in order to protect the job I hoped I would return to and for my own mental well-being. That was one of the toughest times of my life, but I am grateful for the experience. I learned some hard lessons about corporate greed. Solidarity to all my brothers and sisters in the labor movement.
Second, I won’t name the person but there was someone who crossed some serious boundaries. I communicated to the person that they were overstepping boundaries, but they didn’t listen. I decided to block them which isn’t abnormal. I think we all block people on social media often. They did NOT like that I blocked them. They began contacting bookish friends and even my editors at the blog I was writing for. I made the decision to use an alias to keep my family life and bookish life separate going forward. To that person who violated my personal life, thanks. Facebook hates me now and I need to make a new profile every few months because they don’t like that there are two of me…
Touching on corporate greed, I feel corporations by design are greedy. It only makes sense for them to try to spend less and make more. They are actually held to this by the shareholders. Unfortunately, as corporations grow, the spending less is typically taken out on its employees, thus decreasing everyone’s (except those very few at the top) quality of employment. It’s a pattern that I’ve seen too many times. Being in management positions delegated with the task of telling my employees that pay and benefits are going down while quotas are rising aren’t conversations I’d ever like to have again. That’s one of the main reasons I left the corporate world and started my own business. That and waking up at 3 a.m. stressed about the impending workday. With that being said, I’m glad to see you pulled the trigger on starting and running your own press (which we’ll come back to)!
As far as social media stalkers and boundary-pushers, I am yet to have the pleasure of dealing with that. But it sounds like a total pain in the ass, almost like a stolen identity where you are having to start over. Sorry you’ve experienced that and hopefully, that for the most part is in the past.
I saw you are a contributor to Lit Reactor. How is it working with that gang?
LitReactor is INCREDIBLE. Much like Horror Tree, they are there to help writers in so many ways. I have enjoyed my time there and am grateful for the opportunity they gave me to write for them. HUGE thank you to Joshua Chaplinsky. LitReactor wouldn’t be what it is without you. I haven’t been so active there lately due to my work with DarkLit Press but keep on the lookout for the odd article or interview from me.
Staying with Lit Reactor, I assume you’re a Chuck Palahniuk fan. Which book of his is your favorite and why?
WHO ISN’T A FAN OF CHUCK PALAHNIUK!? I would say that, like most of us, Consider This is my favorite of his work. It is an incredible achievement and so, so, so valuable to all those learning the craft. He is a prolific author with a lot to teach. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, this book offers a plethora of experiences that are compelling, motivational, and worldly. I cannot recommend it enough.
Yeah, I put Consider This right up there with King’s On Writing. Throw in Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark, and you’ve got my top 3 books on the writing craft. Palahniuk, though, he is the author who inspired me to write my first words. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my own voice yet, and my forced emulation of Chuck was AWFUL, full of overly descriptive and gross shock, shock, shock. My emulation of myself is much more readable. Ha.
When did you become a horror fan and what specific movie, book, story, tv show made that happen? Does it still hold up, today?
You know what? It doesn’t feel like that long ago. Certainly not horror fiction anyways. As an elementary school kid, my best friend and I would rent horror movies. We had a letter on file at the rental store from my buddy’s mom allowing us to rent whatever the hell we wanted. AND WE DID! I’ve seen them all. I also remember reading Goosebumps and watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? But as I got older, I didn’t pursue the macabre. It wasn’t until my son was born that I got into reading again. Our little guy would nap, and I would get sucked into a book. It started with Game of Thrones (eye roll), and Michael Crichton novels which were great. Then one late night shift at work I decided to listen to a scary audiobook. I listened to the first chapter of N0S4A2 by Joe Hill and immediately turned it off. It scared the living hell outta me. I decided on Pet Semetary by Stephen King instead and was hooked. The narration of that book by Michael C. Hall is fantastic. After a few more King books I returned to N0S4A2 (now, one of my all-time favorites) and never looked back. I became obsessed with horror fiction ever since.
Do Pet Semetary and N0S4A2 still hold up today? Hell yes, they do. Those are two of the best horror novels of all time. I don’t normally like to talk about non-indie horror books but damn. Those two stories did me in.
Oh, man. Movie rental stores. Some of my fondest memories are just browsing the aisles after school on Friday, excited as could be. RIP Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and all the mom-&-pop video stores that were lost in the technology war. You are gone but not forgotten.
Is your son old enough to appreciate Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? I’m trying to revisit some of these with my 8-year old daughter, but they are kind of dated, production quality wise. Fortunately, there are some cool horror/supernatural kids shows these days between the streaming platforms, so I can get TV time with my little girl without going completely insane. Ha.
My son is five years old now and LOVES spooky shit hahaha. I was actually surprised because I certainly don’t push it on him. I’ve tried watching Goosebumps with him, but he wasn’t having it. He does, however, obsess over Huggy-wuggy and Poppy-playtime. Do yourself a favor and avoid these two, they are pure nightmare fuel. We recently moved and during the move, we gave him a little too much freedom with YouTube and somehow he came across Huggy-wuggy. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear about these abhorrent creatures…
Ha! You mentioned Stephen King… I’m going to come clean on something that most horror writers would never admit: I’ve never finished a Stephen King novel. But I’m a HUGE fan of his short stories. This leads me into our next topic: length of manuscripts. In the old days, publishers required manuscripts of no less than 300 words, because anything less wouldn’t sell. Nowadays, shorter novels and novellas are making a big push. I, myself, have 2 horror novellas under contract, one coming out on New Year’s Eve and another in June of 2023. As a reader (whose attention span may be fairly short and whose time is limited due to work, wife, writing—the 3 W’s—and kid), I find myself primarily reading shorter works. As a reader, writer, and publisher, what are your thoughts on this new shift in publishing?
I relate so, so much. It seems impossible to read for pleasure these days. When I say for pleasure, I mean I read a lot for business. My TBR is seriously neglected. Fortunately, for me, I read a ton of incredible manuscripts for publication consideration. It’s a mixed bag. Lots are novellas but a few are novels and one is a real whopper coming in just under 130k words.
In my opinion, readers love novellas for exactly the reason you said, time constraints. I believe that people struggle to commit to larger works in general. Now, do I think that there isn’t a market for larger works? No. Not by a long shot. Hence why I recently signed the author who submitted the chunky book (TBA).
Here’s the thing. It has never been easier to read than it is right now. Ebooks are accessible on any device and come with integrations for people with a disability (like myself), audiobooks continuously gain market value year-after-year and print-on-demand gives authors complete freedom to accomodate readers in format and style. It is often assumed that readers don’t have the attention span or time to read longer works but in all reality, they have all the time in the world.
I encourage authors to write the story. Do not restrict your craft to what you think might sell more books. As a reader, I can spot that from a mile away. Go where the story takes you. Readers will thank you for it.
You started DarkLit Press in 2021, launching with the anthology Slice of Paradise and its counterpart Beach Bodies. What made you pull the trigger on starting the press which has to be a HUGE undertaking, and what were your goals going in?
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to work with authors in our space. The path to get there was a little unclear but I knew that I wanted to create opportunities for marginalized voices who primarily write dark fiction.
I have education in marketing and public relations so, after spending some time in the horror community promoting authors via writing reviews, blogging and sharing my experiences about horror fiction, I decided to take things a step further. I started a community newsletter to share news, cover reveals, etc. I was/am fascinated with email marketing so learning how to optimize my newsletter to grow a following, improve open rates and click-through became an obsession. Eventually, I needed a blog to compliment the newsletter because of the amount of content I had coming in. My new obsession became web building, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and content marketing which led to Horror Oasis. So now you see what I meant when I said, the path was unclear.
Ultimately, I learned a ton from blogging, but I wasn’t creating opportunities for authors. Yes, I gave them a platform to promote their work, but it just wasn’t proving to be valuable for the authors who spent all the time writing the blog posts.
I felt that I could effectively market a book. That I had spent time networking and gaining insights not necessarily in publishing but the horror community. I plunged myself into publishing because I was confident I could do what I set out to do: help authors build their platform and find an audience for their work.
You can ask any one of the authors who trusts me with their work. I am there for them every single day to answer questions, to offer insights, work with them to strategically market their book and help them produce a finished product they can be proud of. I am far from perfect, and I know I need more experience, but I show up and bust my ass for them.
On the marketing front, I know you are very active in the writing community—more than most—obviously passionate about and dedicated to what you do. In many ways, marketing is just as important (or maybe even more important) than the actual work itself. Someone may have written and published the best book in the world, but without successful marketing of some kind, no one will ever know to read it.
You mentioned opportunities for marginalized voices… are you speaking to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and do you offer preference to those who are marginalized? If so, does that mean that you may not accept work that is essentially better to ensure more opportunities for underrepresented voices? Obviously, the intent is a good one, but I could see challenges trying to balance this. Thoughts?
I go out of my way to actively seek out underrepresented people. Although, it hasn’t been the case yet, but I do feel there will come a time where I set aside peoples work to make room for LGBTQ+, POC, and/or women. I feel very strongly that they have the better stories. The publishing scene has gotten exponentially better, but I believe that readers are bored of the white male perspective. There is a wide range of experiences that marginalized voices have to offer that simply cannot be told better than they can.
DarkLit Press is releasing a series of standalone pirate horror novels and novellas that aims to do exactly what I said. We are publishing stories from marginalized voices and introducing a diverse cast of characters that will make a reader feel at home in the story, no matter how terrifying. I am very proud of what we are doing with these books, and I think there is a lot for readers to be excited about.
Personally, “they have the better stories” is a little blanketed, in my opinion. But I agree, I feel diverse voices from different backgrounds are going to produce different ideas and stories. I believe every individual regardless of what group they find themselves in has a story to tell, some better than others. In the end, everyone’s voice should have an opportunity to be heard, and if it is good enough, spread far and wide for all to hear. But Andrew, as a white male author, please don’t count me out yet. I’ve still got a few stories up my sleeve:) Actually, I’ve got a good one coming out this December by D&T Publishing called The White (it’s a about a freak snowstorm in south Texas, not about skin color). Beware the snow and the shameless plug:)
What separates DarkLit from other indie horror presses? As in, besides the obvious killer lineup and quality associated, why would a writer choose y’all for publication?
I don’t have the same literary backgrounds a lot of indie publishers have. I am not an editor nor do I have experience in writing fiction. I don’t exactly understand the methodology of traditional publishing and I certainly don’t want to run my business like the big four publishers either. I am focused on the needs of the authors I represent, and I would rather give opportunities to those who publishers have turned their backs on. There is so much incredible talent who knows what their readers want. It’s my job to bring that finished product to fruition and get it in readers hands by any means necessary.
What is something you’ve learned since starting DarkLit you wish you had known prior, maybe something you’d do differently if you had the opportunity?
How to say no and how hard it would be to do that. Most all of my upcoming publications came to me unsolicited. Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly grateful that people would consider me to publish their work. I really haven’t opened up for submissions because I’ve had enough people approach me through social media. But the problem I have now is that there are so many amazing people wanting me to consider their work, I can’t possibly say yes to them all no matter how badly I want to say yes.
I know, it’s probably not the worst problem to have but it isn’t easy for me to do.
Also, I’d slow things down. This next year is going to be a busy one. I look forward to spending more time with an individual author and giving each book the time it deserves. Until then, onward and upward!
Speaking of slowing things down, what does a typical Andrew workday consist of with the job, press, family?
IT’S HECTIC. Wake up early and respond to messages/emails. I spend a crazy amount of time corresponding. I truly believe in the power of communication. I make myself available in an effort to be as effective in my role as possible.
I have recently seen a massive decline in the effectiveness of several social platforms. The Instagram hackers are out of control. So, I usually spend time engaging with readers on TikTok. I focus most of my promotional efforts there. I probably spend way more time on social media than I should, but I am enlisting help with that very soon which will be a relief.
It’s a balancing act for sure, but if I’m not at work, I am spending time with my family. Late nights and early mornings are spent formatting books, writing newsletters, and creating content for social media. Somehow, I fit reading and reviewing in there as well. While I work, I listen to audiobooks. Breaks and/or commutes are spent reading manuscripts. My schedule is jam-packed but I love it. I feel passionately about this press, and I will continue to bust my ass to make it a successful endeavor.
Being an author who has worked with really bad presses (now bankrupt, hopefully not thanks to me—ha), and who is now fortunately working with one who is doing things right, one of the most important things for me and most writers is accessibility, communication, and involvement. I’ve seen a lot of presses over my writing journey grow way too fast and pump out book after book after book. When any company grows too fast, history shows the top loses sight of the bottom. Quality and communication always suffer. Much like my publisher who is also fairly new, it seems like you’re doing things right while learning how to improve along the way and give more to your writers, not less.
Now that I’ve stressed you out about work (ha!), what does a day off look like? What does Andrew Robert and family/friends do to escape the throes of the indie press plus corporate America grind?
You can likely find the whole family at the pool or at our campsite in the warmer months. During the winter we are snowboarding. My kids are still very little, but they are always excitable and voracious thrill seekers. I don’t want to wish away time, but I am so excited to travel with them as they get older. I cannot wait for long nights under the stars and chilly days on the slopes.
Sounds awesome! I’m a dad to an 8 year old girl. My wife and I do some things just the two of us, but we are both excited to experience things with our daughter, most of which are things we weren’t fortunate enough to do when we were young. Even something as small as going to the movies… I didn’t get that when I was a kid. And Holidays… we are basically fanatics. They only grow up once; I want her childhood to be as good as it can be which is ultimately on us as parents.
Let’s talk submissions for if/when you open up for them: for a writer aspiring to be a DarkLit author, what are some dos and don’ts?
We are always looking for something unique and a good pitch is crucial. In my short time, I have seen a lot. Hit me with the hook. Give me a reason to read your story. To be fair, I read everything that comes my way. It is rare that I outright turn someone away. I hate the idea of missed opportunities.
Don’t be shy with the goopy, gory details. I’ve read all kinds of tales and am not afraid to read whatever you. I do tend to steer clear of stories that are predominantly romance, erotic or involve children in compromising situations.
For any aspiring publishers out there: what is one piece of key advice (be specific) you wish you had been taught before starting DarkLit?
Communicate. Spend more time accommodating writers. Be available to them and discuss anything. They are not your employee. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to represent these stories and to be honest, authors do not need us. They can absolutely do this on their own. Promotion, financial support, and distribution is our job. I whole-heartedly believe all of that can be done better with communication and teamwork.
At the moment, if you were to recommend a book to a first-time DarkLit Press reader, what book would you recommend that best represents Dark Lit Press?
This is Where We Talk Things Out by Caitlin Marceau. It just so happens that the book comes out this week, but I feel it is a great representation of what I am trying to accomplish. The tension is wound tight from the opening lines all the way to the end. It offers good representation of familial trauma that I am confident readers can relate to. Laurel Hightower called it, “Caitlin Marceau has crafted one of the most horrifying reads of the year.”
Coming from Laurel Hightower who I’ve come to know as of late and respect (she was my first guest on NEW BLOOD!), “one of the most horrifying reads of the year” is a helluva compliment.
Caitlin and I were extremely excited and grateful for the kind words from Laurel. I have been a fan of her work for so long now and I cannot wait for her new novel coming to Flame Tree Press.
I had a good feeling that she would dig this story. Seeking blurbs is tricky. It’s not always about asking someone you admire, it’s about pairing stories to authors. I felt like Caitlin and Laurel have very similar writing styles and just knew it would be a good fit.
What’s on the horizon for fans of DarkLit?
My biggest goal is to enlist a distributor like IPG or Consortium Books. I have already begun the process to start working with Small Press United which is a division of IPG. Bookstore placement is important, not just for me but for the authors I work with. It has been a very exciting process and to have a distributor on my side would be a game changer.
My favorite question: what will loved ones put on your tombstone (no word count); how will the world remember you?
Forever in our hearts. The weird, the wicked and the wonderous. Andrew is a man who indulged the minds of those who least expected it.
This sounds more like a bio for the world. Let’s go deeper. How do you want your kids to remember their dad and wife remember her husband?
I have spent good portion of my life working with people for people as a leader in my labor union, an advocate for human rights and a supporter of indie authors. I believe my intentions are clear. People come first, always.
If there is anything I could be remembered for, it is that. I can be proud of that.
Will their remembrance of you match with who you think you are, or who you’re trying to be as a person?
If you know me, you know what I stand for. I am transparent about what I believe in. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be remembered for who I am and not for the person I am trying to be.
Good stuff. As I’ve gotten older and matured (that takes time for some of us), I like those around me whom I never have to guess what they’re thinking, which is how my closest friends often describe me. Be transparent. Speak your mind. Be you. There isn’t enough time to try and be someone else.
Last question which is my least favorite since it signifies the end of our conversation: Where can folks find and follow you?
You can follow me on every platform under the handle @thebookdad or @darklitpress. I also highly recommend you sign up for my newsletter. There’s lots of exclusive content, deals and community news. It is and will always be a tool to uplift creators in the horror community.
Andrew, again, thank you so much for taking the time to give us a glimpse into your life and press and for supporting indie horror authors in a big way! I’ll speak for all Horror Tree fans when I say, I really enjoyed the conversation and will be keeping a close eye on DarkLit Press! Thank you again!
No, sir. Thank you! Opportunities like this aren’t easy to come by, and I greatly appreciate you and everyone at Horror Tree for facilitating this chat. I hope your readers take a chance on a DarkLit book sometime in the future, and everyone please feel free to reach out to me anytime and ask questions about my publication. I am always available.
Come back for Part 5 of New Blood where we throw on a soothing English accent, and discuss stories that “aren’t your mother’s stories, oh no”… (add sinister laughing). You won’t want to miss it!
Thanks to all those out there supporting the rebirth of indie horror, and don’t forget to share, share, share away!
- About the Author
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Matt Micheli is a writer out of New Braunfels, TX. He has several fiction and non-fiction pieces featured in various magazines and is a multi-contributor/reviewer/columnist at This Is Horror. Most recently, his work can be found in horror anthologies: Executive Dread and Night Terrors vol 18. His new horror novella The White is slated for release in December of 2022 by D&T Publishing which will be followed by his second horror novella Two Minutes with the Devil tentatively scheduled for the Summer of 2023.