Pressing Skin: Publishing Horror With a Small Press

Pressing Skin: Publishing Horror With a Small Press

by Lee Rozelle

I’m the type of writer who rolls body horror over my tongue until it makes me concerned about myself. I like to handle and manipulate words—flip them, control them— long after they become the property of other people. I squeeze myself between editors, get in the comfort zones of layout designers, stalk cover artists, and expose myself to bloggers. Craving validation for my literary efforts, I invite myself to online interviews, doll up to charm reviewers, and brand myself until it hurts.

Does that mean I need help?

I do need help. I do. And if you share my dark need, fellow horror writer, small press publishing might be a great fit for you. There are many horror publishers to admire when your brand-new book is ready for the world. Dark Regions, Unnerving, Black Bed Sheet, Quirk, Tartarus, Chaosium, Weirdpunk! Clash! Dark Moon!… There’s Crystal Lake. There’s Cemetery Dance. There’s Eraserhead and Flame Tree. And many more. My own new collection is coming out from Montag Press, a small independent publisher that describes itself this way:


“MONTAG PRESS presents the very best in experimental, weird, subversive, speculative, science, historical, and horror fiction, in either a narrative or dramatic structure, with a strong plot, well-developed characters, and engaging voices.”


To be perfectly honest, I submitted my fiction to Montag Press because they sounded cool. Their name comes from the protagonist of one of my favorite books, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Their tagline is “Books Worth Burning,” which I thought was killer, and they describe themselves as an “underground press collective.” I had no idea what an underground press collective might be when I sent them my book, but I pictured hirsute bohemians and edgy counterrevolutionaries laying down subversive fiction too gnarly and provocative for the mainstream. And I was half right. Like most publishers these days—let’s be honest—they’re basically a subsidiary of Amazon. However, if you get your hands on a book from Montag Press, you’ll see the idiosyncratic artistry of the covers, a distinctive narrative style, and content strange and new. So when the editors showed sincere interest in what I was trying to do as a writer, I was excited to sign.

You might ask, why not post directly to Amazon? I’m not saying you shouldn’t. It might be just the ticket for you. There are writers out there who’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams going it alone with KDP. But for me, it is very rewarding to know that a team consisting of an editor and experts in various aspects of the publishing process are double checking my impulses, keeping up with the timeline, and cleaning out the textual rot. And if you are having a hard time finding a literary agent or a Big 5 publishing deal, independent horror presses are an excellent place to hone your craft, learn how traditional publishing works, and get your work out there.

It’s true that almost every author walks alone when it comes to perhaps the most frustrating, time consuming, and befuddling component of the book publishing process: promoting the book. For almost all of us, post-launch marketing is where the rubber meets the rear end, where the bloody gavel of trial-and-error can smash to a pulp the horror writer’s fragile self-esteem. Where an ad budget can be sucked into a vortex of no, ahem, return. Marketing is where amateur writers like me gambol like circus geeks, denuded, plucked, never really knowing where the rotten tomato or sale actually came from. It’s a sideshow of hawkers, balloon men, clowns, grifters, cold-blooded drifters, would-be publicists, wheeler dealers, and double agents. Enter a phantasmagorical app-land of guest posts, blog tours, ARC giveaways, and brazen BookBubbery. Welcome to the jungle inside the jungle, a mixed bag of tricks when it comes to small press support, and an arena always changing and thus difficult to master.

Despite its seediness, promotion has become one of my favorite parts of the publishing process. Swimming with sharks on social media can be fun! Using Canva to design advertisements for BookBub or the Slasher app can be a rewarding creative act. Doing an interview on a horror podcast can be an illuminating experience. And writing articles like the one you are reading now can be cathartic. Pressing skin—at horror cons, with DMs, blog posts, and retweets—is essential for writers preparing to launch and an important part of any small press venture. I wish you luck!

You may also like...