Horror Writers Association Announces New Rocky Wood Memorial Scholarship

Yesterday, the Horror Writers Association (HWA) announced a new scholarship in honor of Rocky Wood, the organization’s late president, who passed away on December 1st as a result of complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

From the HWA’s press release:

The new scholarship, which joins the existing Horror Writers Association and Mary Shelley Scholarships, will focus on non-fiction. Rocky Wood, a two-time recipient of the Bram Stoker Award®, was best known for his extensive work involving the writings of Stephen King. The scholarship was proposed by HWA Treasurer Leslie Klinger, who will also oversee its implementation.

You can read the rest of the press release here, which also details who will be succeeding Wood for the rest of his term.

That’s all the information I’ve heard about the scholarship so far. I assume they’re still hammering out all the details. But I think the scholarship is a grand idea, not just to commemorate Wood, who was probably the most effective and forward-thinking president the HWA has had in quite some time, but also because of its focus on non-fiction, which I feel doesn’t get as much attention as fiction by the organization’s members. (The Outstanding Non-Fiction category of the Bram Stoker Awards is routinely filled with works by other HWA members, despite the hundreds if not thousands of eligible non-fiction books published every year, which to me is an indication that the membership doesn’t read much non-fiction in general.) The scholarship may not change how the award too often goes to another HWA member, but it just might raise non-fiction’s visibility among the membership, which can only be a good thing.

HWA Votes to Allow Self-Published Works to Qualify for Active Membership

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the Horror Writers Association, or HWA, on my blog. I left the organization years ago, disillusioned with how inward-looking and self-congratulatory it had become, especially when it came to the Bram Stoker Awards, which were increasingly starting to look like an award specifically for the honoring of HWA members. (Even after becoming a partially juried award, some of the results have made me wonder if this isn’t still the case.) I also left disillusioned from all the bad advice the HWA’s members were being given, despite myself and a small handful others frequently trying to counteract it.

Members were often told they didn’t need agents. There was a provincial resistance to the idea of opening our doors to writers of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, the two cousins of horror that are actually publishing robustly. Announcements of publishing deals with big, mainstream houses were few and far between, but when they occasionally happened they were all but ignored in favor of the announcement of yet another deal with the micropress du jour. Message board threads offering tips on how to actually make it in publishing were quickly subsumed by much longer threads about the latest horror movies. Any publisher, no matter how terrible or scummy or lacking in business sense, was celebrated so long as they published HWA members. No one wanted to criticize terrible publishers for their bad practices because they were worried it would affect their own chances of being published, which is itself a tortured bit of logic. I mean, why would you want to be published by a bad publisher in the first place? It became apparent to me that the HWA was not an organization for writers who were serious about their careers. It was, instead, a place where its members could stand in a circle and pat each other on the back.

I’ll admit, I’m sounding a bit harsh. I may still have a few raw feelings about the HWA, mostly because I wanted — and needed — it to be more than it was. Although, like many ex-members, my career only took off once I actually left the HWA, which I suppose speaks to the level of writing and publishing advice the HWA doles out. I also walked away from the HWA with the distinct and unshakeable feeling that its members don’t read much except books by other members.

Which brings me to this. A friend pointed me toward this announcement from yesterday:

I’m very pleased to say that the HWA Referendum that I help write with fellow members A.J. Klein and Michaelbrent Collings on including self-published work for membership qualification for both Active and Associate members has passed with a 78% to 28% margin in favor, with 2% abstaining from the vote.

Self-publishers who have generated $2000 in earnings within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Active (voting) status. Those who have earned $200 within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Associate status. More details can be found at http://horror.org/joining-the-hwa/ (please note the criteria have not yet been updated).

Let me be the first to welcome the HWA to the 21st century!

As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, self-publishing isn’t necessarily the terrible business decision it used to be. The problem with the old self-publishing model was twofold. First, if you went with one of the publish-on-demand companies, they charged fees so high that authors were unlikely to ever recoup it from book sales. Second,  the books received no distribution, which further hobbled their sales potential and the ability to bring a wider audience to the author. More often than not, these self-publishing companies were nothing more than a scam to separate the gullible and the starry-eyed from their money. Snake oil for the literary set.

With e-book self-publishing, both those problems are fixed. For the most part, you can now self-publish for little or no money, and distribution is no problem because all the major online retailers carry e-books. Some self-published e-book authors have even been quite successful, and at a rate that appears to be higher than the number of successful self-publishers from the print days.

On the other hand, there has been very little change in quality of self-published books. Anyone can shit out a book with incomprehensible prose and tortured plots, upload it to Amazon and B&N, and call themselves a published author. And in the current paradigm, they would not be wrong to call themselves that. This is something of a slap in the face to those of us who actually put effort into our craft, those of us who work hard and pay our dues in the trenches of rejection and the classrooms of trial-and-error to earn the title of published author.

And that’s my problem with this new rule. Essentially, it changes the threshold for becoming an Active member — which also means a voting member — to nothing more than the ability to reach the end of a project and figure out how to upload it properly. Granted, they’ve added a sales requirement, which is at least a threshold of some kind, but even that is fraught with problems. The old requirement was about ensuring members were learning how to write well enough to ostensibly launch a writing career. This new requirement eliminates the writing element altogether in favor of how well they can sell a book online. Many self-publishers are already shameless and annoying self-promoters, clogging our social media and email with entreaties to read their latest work. This will only make it worse. Also in question is the fact that there’s no way of knowing if that money is coming from actual readers or, say, the authors themselves. The potential exists for people to buy their way into Active membership.

So yeah, mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that self-published e-books are here to stay. In fact, I think we’re going to see more and more established authors turn to self-publishing e-books. It may even wind up being the publishing paradigm of the future. I don’t know. Right now, though, it’s not. Right now, for many new writers, it’s a shortcut. Learning to deal with rejection is such a huge part of being a writer, and just uploading anything you write to the Kindle store eliminates that important lesson. Because these authors aren’t learning to handle rejection properly, we’re seeing more and more of them writing angry responses to bad reviews online and generally acting like jackasses in public. Learning to handle rejection eliminates that sense of entitlement. Avoiding rejection breeds it.

Combining authors who have an unchecked sense of entitlement with authors who can essentially buy their way into Active membership, and thus vote into existence more bylaws that favor them, could very well result in a membership base that is completely uninterested in learning how to write or how to deal with agents and publishers. This will likely drive away any remaining members who want to learn how to write well enough to be traditionally published and have lasting careers. The HWA runs the risk of becoming an organization concerned almost exclusively with how to better sell your self-published e-books.

I’ve long said one of the major problems with the HWA is that it focuses way too much on the H and not nearly enough on the W. This new qualification rule won’t change that. My concern is that it will make it even worse.

 

Erinn Kemper Wins First HWA Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship

The following press release from the Horror Writers Association (HWA) is about something I think is pretty cool. In fact, I’m tempted to call it the coolest thing the HWA has done in a long time. If I had one suggestion, though, I’d recommend opening the scholarship up to promising female writers outside the HWA, too. Then, if the winner turns out to not be a member of the HWA already, they could be awarded the scholarship as well as one year’s free membership.

——

Starting from 2014 the Horror Writers Association (HWA) has instituted the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship, open to female writers who are members of the HWA. The Scholarship is designed to address the unseen, but real, barriers limiting the amount of horror fiction being published by women.

The first Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship has been awarded to Erinn Kemper, a Canadian writer who resides in Costa Rica. Erinn Kemper (E. L. Kemper) grew up in an isolated mill town in coastal British Columbia, Canada. From there she moved to the city to study Philosophy at the University of Victoria. Over the years she’s worked as an eye glasses repair person, a fish farmer, a cabinet maker, a parks department laborer, a book store clerk, a home nurse, a teacher—and lived in a camper, in Japan and on a forty foot wooden sailboat. She now lives in a small town in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea where she plans to write her first novel from her hammock.

Erinn has sold stories to Cemetery Dance Magazine and [Nameless] Digest and appears in various anthologies including A Darke Phantastique and Chiral Mad 2. Visit her website at erinnkemper.com for updates and sloth sightings.

Erinn said, “I am honored and thrilled to be chosen to receive The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. I appreciate the opportunity to take some writing courses for the first time and to challenge myself to dig deeper and darker. It’s a wonderful thing that the HWA supports writers and invests in the future of the genre through mentoring and now with these scholarships! When it’s my turn I can’t wait to give back by offering my support as a mentor.”

HWA President Rocky Wood said, “We are proud to be the first genre writers’ organisation to present a scholarship specifically targeted to support the development of female authors.”

About the HWA

The Horror Writers Association is a worldwide organization promoting dark literature and its creators. It has over 1200 members who write, edit and publish professionally in fiction, nonfiction, videogames, films, comics, and other media. For more information about the HWA visit www.horror.org. Media inquiries to president@horror.org.

Perseverance for Writers

I was invited to talk to the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers yesterday. The topic was perseverance for writers. I had a great time. I always do with the GSSW. The talk went well, and there was an epic Q&A session afterward, covering everything from my thoughts on genre to query letters to cover art to my favorite Godzilla movie. (For the record, it’s Destroy All Monsters, but I also really like Final Wars.) I have the GSSW’s permission to reprint the text of my talk here on my blog, which I’m happy to do because every writer struggles with sticking with it at times. I hope this can be of some help. If you like it, feel free to link to it. Here’s what I said:

——

Before we get started, I want to thank Gary Frank for inviting me to come here and speak with you guys. I want to thank Jenn Persson for coordinating it, and Neil Morris for picking up my wife Alexa and me at the train station this morning. We’re city folk and don’t own a car.

So, some of you know me and some of you don’t. For those who don’t, my name is Nicholas Kaufmann. I’m a writer from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve had six books published so far, and another one on the way. My work has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, a Shirley Jackson Award, and an International Thriller Writers Award. The last time I was here was in 2008 and you guys were still called the Garden State Horror Writers. I liked that name, obviously, because I love horror, but I like the new name even better: Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. I think speculative fiction is a much broader tent, and I’m of the opinion that it’s always a good thing to be inclusive. That’s how organizations grow and thrive and remain relevant.

I’m reminded of the time I tried to convince the HWA, the Horror Writers Association, to open their doors to urban fantasy and paranormal romance writers, since those were — and still are — very successful subgenres, and they have so much in common with horror. I could only see an upside to drawing them into the fold. It would have meant an infusion of new blood for the organization, new viewpoints and contacts and members with important information to share about writing and publishing books that sell. But the idea was met with stubborn refusal and a cry of “But that’s not real horror!” As if there’s such a thing as fake horror. But it was clear no one in the organization was interested in evolving or growing or changing. And now, I worry that the HWA, to which I no longer belong, has become little more than a small, inward-looking circle-jerk where members only read each other’s books and give each other awards every year.

But I digress. Which I often do when I get started on the HWA. Anyway, the last time I was here was in 2008, and back then I talked about blogging. This time, I’m going to talk about something different. This time, I’m going to talk about the one thing every writer needs in their life: perseverance.

Because let’s face it, being a writer can really suck. I don’t know any other profession, outside of maybe acting, where the sheer volume of rejections is considered part of the job. The money, frankly, is awful, unless you’re a national bestseller or have a big enough backlist that you can live off the royalties it generates. You spend a lot of time alone, typing on your computer in a self-imposed solitary confinement where sometimes it feels as though the only people you talk to all day are the folks on your Twitter feed. And then there’s the problem of just finding the damn time to write. Most of you in this room probably also have a fulltime job on top of being a writer. You have to, because, as I mentioned, the money sucks, and maybe you’ve got car payments to make and kids to feed and a mortgage breathing down your neck.

With all this weighing on writers, I am never, ever surprised when I hear someone say they don’t write anymore. I certainly don’t judge them for it. Lord knows there were plenty of times when I considered quitting myself. When money is tight and magazines act like you should be grateful they’re paying one cent a word, it’s enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel. But I never did. I never quit. Not even during the tough times, when it seemed like everyone was rejecting everything I wrote. I did what I had to do to get by. I took odd jobs to keep the money coming in, but I never stopped writing. I never stopped trying to become a better writer. I never stopped trying to find better and better publishers for my work.

And now I have a novel coming out next week from St. Martin’s Press: Dying Is My Business. My seventh book, but my first to be published by a major publisher. It’s a dream come true for me. I’m beyond thrilled. But it never would have happened if I hadn’t kept at it. If I hadn’t persevered.

Perseverance isn’t a gene. It’s not something some people have and some people don’t. It’s not something you’re born with or can buy. It’s something you have to do. It’s a drive that comes from inside. More often than not, it means sacrifice. It means seemingly endless frustration. It means making a commitment to writing. This commitment may take different forms for different writers. For some, it may be something as drastic as quitting your day job and taking the plunge into fulltime writing with only your savings as a safety net. For others, it may be something as small as not playing Grand Theft Auto V until after you’ve reached your day’s writing goal. Everyone is different and everyone’s needs are different. But what I’d like to do is share some tips on how to stick with it, especially during those times when writing feels like an angry bronco trying to buck you off its back. Keep in mind, these are things that work for me. Your mileage may vary. But if you’re having trouble persevering through all the distractions and disappointments, I think these can help.

1) Make time for writing. Every day, if you can. Even if it’s just half an hour a day, 30 minutes before dinner or wedged between putting your kids to bed and decompressing in front of The Daily Show, do it. The most common reason I hear for giving up on being a writer is lack of time. My ex-financial advisor emailed me on Wednesday to say hello, and he ended with this. This is a direct quote: “Trying to do a little writing on the side, but it can be hard to find the time and energy sometimes, especially after a long day of work!” Well, here’s the thing. You don’t find time for something you truly want to do, you make time for it. I mean, we make time every day for other things, don’t we? We make a few minutes here and there to do the dishes or scoop the cat litter. If you can make time to sit down and watch that episode of Sleepy Hollow on your DVR, you can make time to work on your novel. I assure you, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day, that’s enough forward progress that your novel will get finished eventually. And it’ll still get finished a lot faster than if you only poke at it one Saturday a month.

2) Believe in yourself. I spent two long, grueling years writing Dying Is My Business, and rewriting it and rewriting it again until I was satisfied. I worked hard. Sometimes I felt like I was going nuts. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning because I couldn’t see the end of it, just chapter after chapter moving toward what I hoped would eventually be the end. But the hardest thing of all was not knowing if all that work would pay off. I didn’t have an agent at the time. I certainly didn’t have a publisher waiting for the novel. It was written on spec, with no guarantee that I wasn’t wasting two years of my life when I could have been earning money instead with a “normal” job. Luckily, I have a very patient and gainfully employed wife who refused to let me quit, even when the doubts were punching me in the face day after day. So I stuck with it, and the gamble paid off. The novel landed me a great agent, and he, in turn, got me a deal with a great publisher. If I had given up, I never would have seen my dream come true. Which brings me to number 3…

3) Have a patient spouse. Actually, what I mean here is, if you have a partner, it’s important that they be supportive. That they believe in you as much as you do. Or more, even. That kind of moral support is invaluable. Because there will be days when you tell your partner the writing was awful and you feel like a fraud and maybe you should just go into HVAC repair instead because at least they make a decent living and have a retirement plan. So much relies on what your partner says in response to that. SO. MUCH. If your partner says, “But, honey, that’s what you said when you were writing your last book, too, and it turned out great,” then you’re good. If your partner says, “Oh, thank God, you’re finally going to get a real job like an adult,” then it’s going to be really, really hard to stick with writing. Really hard. Also, it sounds like you’re in a terrible relationship and may want to rethink some of your life choices.

4) You don’t have to go it alone. I’ve been part of a writing group in New York City for ten years now. I put it together myself with friends whose writing I admire and whose opinions I respect. Not only have they been an invaluable help in strengthening my writing — and I’m convinced Dying Is My Business never would have been good enough to publish without their help — but they also act as moral support and inspiration. Whenever one of them has a publishing success story, I feel inspired. I feel like if they can do it, I can, too. Whenever I have some good news to share, they’re genuinely happy for me. They took me out to dinner when I signed the contract with St. Martin’s. And whenever things don’t go well, we commiserate together, or offer each other advice, or just lend a sympathetic ear. Writing is a lonely enough job as it is. We need all the emotional safety nets we can get. A good writing group can offer that. It can also keep your writing progress moving forward, especially if there are deadlines. My writing group meets every two weeks, usually. When it’s your turn to share something for critique and it’s due in a couple of weeks, that tends to keep you writing. Because your writing group is eager to see your story or your next chapter, and you don’t want to let them down, right? So you write and you write until it’s time to turn it in. These kinds of deadlines can be an enormous help to a writer. There are social benefits to writing groups, too. Every writer needs a first reader, someone who can catch all the logic holes and typos and bad dialogue the author can rarely see for themselves. All a writing group is, really, is getting all your first readers together in the same place, talking about your writing, and then going out for dinner afterward. It’s win-win! And when you hang out with other writers, especially other writers you like, you’ll find you’re not nearly as tempted to throw in the towel as you thought.

So those are my four big tips for how to persevere as a writer. Make time to do what you love, believe in yourself, surround yourself with supportive people, and hang out with those who love doing the same thing you do. Come to think of it, that also sounds like the recipe for a really nice life. Imagine that. The things that keep you writing are the same things that keep you happy.

——

My thanks again to the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers for inviting me to speak. I’m told there will be a recording on the Web sometime soon. When it’s up, I’ll be sure to link to it. In the meantime, the debate continues: Destroy All Monsters or Final Wars?

 

 

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