A Guest Post from Christa Wojo
Dark fiction writers have a difficult time when it comes to promoting their work. Romance, mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy books have a clearly defined reader. Dark fiction is a lesser known term, a sub-genre that may encompass horror, transgressive, speculative, and thriller stories. Most readers who love this genre probably don’t even know that what they are reading is considered dark fiction. The stories may be horrific, but they’re not traditional horror. They can be thrilling without being typical thrillers. They are closer to literary fiction than your mainstream bestsellers. Characterization is finely sketched. Plots are subtler. Disturbing situations explore deeper questions. Theme is everything.
As a digital marketer, I’ve helped market paranormal romance, crime thrillers, memoirs, and picture books, but when it came to promoting my own work, I was at a loss. Where did I fit in?
I went seeking advice on this matter. The first person who came to mind when I thought about marketing dark fiction was Richard Thomas, whose Contemporary Dark Fiction course I’m taking this fall. Richard Thomas is the author of seven books and has published over 140 stories. He’s been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. His list accomplishments is so long, I won’t post it here. Just visit his bio to learn more. Here is advice straight from the master. Bookmark this page.
8 Marketing and Promotional Tips for Contemporary Dark Fiction with Richard Thomas
- FIND YOUR PEOPLE. There are going to be plenty of people who enjoy exactly what you do. Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, horror, thrillers, or transgressive fiction, seek out your audience. They are in groups on Facebook, they will follow you on Twitter, just be yourself, and lean into what you’re creating. Those that don’t dig your genre, you’re probably not going to sway them. Connect with your people online, and in real life. They are the ones that will support, and purchase, your work.
- SEEK OUT QUALITY COVER ART: Whether you are self-publishing, working with small presses, or the big boys, make sure the quality of art attached to your projects is good. I can’t tell you have many horrible, cliché, violent, misogynistic covers I’ve seen for books, anthologies, and magazines. Obviously, if you write splatterpunk, or extreme horror, that might be the case for what you’re doing. But there is still a way to do it well. Bad illustrations are bad no matter what the genre. No, you may not always have a say, but you can at least pre-screen the artists and presses. Working with people like Luke Spooner, Daniele Serra, and Glenn Chadbourne (who has done a lot of illustrations for Stephen King) only elevates my prose.
- WORK WITH THE TOP PUBLISHERS: Likewise, try to publish with the best in the industry. I know, it goes without saying, but as you develop, as you get better, and start to break through, don’t be so eager to publish with just ANYONE. Seek out those that are exclusive, that pay well (pro rates), have great artists (see #2), and a wide circulation. I don’t just work with Cemetery Dance (pro rates, circulation of 10,000) but also plenty of small presses. Crystal Lake and Written Backwards were relatively unknown a few years ago, but now they are winning Bram Stoker awards, and getting stories into The Best Horror of the Year anthologies.
- BE UNIQUE IN MANY WAYS: So not only do you need to work hard to write innovative, fresh, original fiction that avoids clichés, tropes, and expectation, but you need to be a part of projects that do the same. You can write an amazing story, but if you publish alongside other stories that are too obvious, in projects that have been done to death, your work will suffer. Choose wisely. You don’t have to submit to every contest, anthology, or magazine out there. Early in your career you need to try and find your voice—the genre/s you want to write, the POV, the tone. But as you develop, you will want to take more chances, push hard to innovate, and try to do something different within the various genres, as well as with the standard monsters, perspectives, settings, etc.
- ELEVATE YOUR PROSE: One of the things I took away from my MFA program was how literary authors approach their stories. If you can add that extra depth in emotion, intellect, thought, character, and plot then you can stand out in a crowd. There is nothing wrong with a standard, classic horror story. It’s like going to McDonald’s—who doesn’t enjoy a Big Mac now and then? And while I do enjoy hitting my favorite fast food haunts, I can’t say that diet is GOOD for me. So find a way to make the trip worth the price of admission. I just wrote two clown horror stories—and they were very different from each other. In “Clown Face,” (Grease Paint and 45s) I explored the idea of what might lurk beneath the standard clown outfit, taking away the makeup, going deeper, showing something monstrous. In “The Caged Bird Sings in a Darkness of Its Own Creation” (Shallow Creek) I really took some chances—four act story, with the second one shifting POV to a Creator, to give the origin story; starting off showing Krinkles as an old man alone in the woods, his hut filled with all kinds of horrifying items; then later moving to his past, giving you some of that familiar clown story from his youth and prime; and finishing in a much different location, with an ambiguous ending. Understand the tropes and expectations, and fulfill them, while striving to do something truly original, and personal.
- SHADES OF GRAY: If you write horror, look at all of the different types of stories and try to expand your palette, scope, and voice. There is classic horror, psychological horror, extreme horror, supernatural horror, quiet horror, gothic horror, etc. Show some range. You never know where a story might end up. I’ve seen stories in The Best Horror of the Year that were originally published in Cemetery Dance, Conjunctions, Tor, Black Static, Nightmare, F&SF, The Dark and a number of collections and anthologies. Horror (just naming this one genre, for example) comes in many forms, flavors, tones, and shapes. Play around with it, and see what happens.
- BLURBS: Whether you are editing an anthology or publishing a novel, seek out the blurbs of those authors that will help to establish, explain, and elevate your project. When I wrote Transubstantiate, my first novel, I sent out blurb requests to a number of my idols, and got rejected by most. Luckily Stephen Graham Jones and Craig Clevenger saw something in that book they liked. For my second novel, Disintegration, I went back to some of those authors, and most said yes—Irvine Welsh, Chuck Wendig, Brian Evenson, Benjamin Percy, Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, and Donald Ray Pollack. I mean, I was practically in tears when they sent in their kind words. They were all similar voices, and that not only helped sell books, but testified to the quality of my writing. It meant a lot to me.
- PSEUDONYM: If you are worried that your boss, your mother, your friends will frown on what you’re writing—whether it’s violent horror or erotic stories—maybe consider a pseudonym. I know a lot of authors who do this, and there is nothing wrong with it. It’ll allow you to market and promote without worrying about any pushback. Also, if you write (for example) in two very different genres, such as YA and horror, or cozies and erotica, then it also might make sense. Craig Davidson, for example, is also Nick Cutter.
Best of luck, and remember—it’s important to read widely, not just within your genre/s, but outside as well. You need to know what has worked in the past (classic examples) as well as what’s being published now (the current zeitgeist). You don’t want to repeat and regurgitate, and it’s hard to innovate if you don’t know what’s come before you.
Thanks so much to Richard Thomas for his sage advice. Please leave your questions and comments below and good luck to all you dark fiction writers out there.
Novel in a Year
Advanced Creative Writing
Contemporary Dark Fiction