Samhain Horror, headed up by editor Don D’Auria, kicks off its new line tomorrow. We thought it was the perfect time to talk with D’Auria about starting up a new horror line, why he chose to lead the line with Ramsey Campbell, and what readers can look forward to down the road.
Hellnotes: Let’s get the negative out of the way first. What happened at Dorchester?
D’Auria: Well, it’s kind of a long story, but in a nutshell I think Dorchester was hurt badly when ebooks ate away at the mass market. They’d seen sales drop for more than a year as the accounts simply ordered fewer and fewer copies of all of the titles, in all genres. The chains, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, were moving away from mass market, and one of the largest mass market wholesalers, Anderson News, went out of business all together. And it’s primarily been mass market that took the brunt of the hit from ebooks. Trade paper and hardcover sales dropped, but not nearly as badly, while ebook sales were shooting up. Other houses, who published trade paper and hardcovers, were able to weather the blow more easily, but Dorchester sold only mass market, so there was no other format to help them out. They had gotten into ebooks only recently and weren’t positioned yet to make a lot of money from them. So with fewer books being shipped, and high returns coming back, Dorchester found themselves in bad shape financially. They tried to pay as many authors as they could, but the money simply wasn’t coming in. They dramatically cut the staff, including myself. When I left I think there were only six people left on the staff. They’d cut the editorial department down to one editor, sales down to two people, production to one, etc. With mass market sales dried up, Dorchester’s gone over now to trade paper and ebooks. I hope they can make a go of it. I really enjoyed most of the time I spent there, and I’m very grateful for what they let me do with the horror line. I wish then the best of luck.
Hellnotes: And after you left Dorchester, did Samhain approach you?
D’Auria: I got a call from Cristina Brashear, the owner and publisher of Samhain. Partly because Samhain has been doing trade paper and ebooks from their start six years ago, and doing them very well, the company has only benefitted from the recent changes in the industry. They’re doing so well, in fact, that Cris wanted to expand and start a new line. She saw that there was a void in the market with Dorchester’s horror line in difficulty, and she thought horror would be the perfect new line to launch. I’d been speaking to a couple other houses, but Cris’s philosophy and attitude really won me over. I knew she was taking the new line very seriously and was determined to make it work. I was also impressed by how well Samhain was already positioned in the ebook and trade markets.
Hellnotes: Where do you begin when you’re asked to start a new horror line?
D’Auria: The first thing I did was meet with Cris and some of the staff to discuss our plans, to make sure we had similar ideas in mind. We hashed out all the behind-the-scenes details, things like the number of titles I’d do each month, marketing strategies, promotion, and the general philosophy of the line. Once we determined we were all on the same page and had the plan worked out in our minds, then we were ready to announce the line to the public. At that point the most important thing for me to do was find the right authors for the launch season. The response was immediate and very gratifying. I’m happy to say we have a great bunch of authors on our list, some familiar names and some incredible newcomers.
Hellnotes: I think it’s great that you’re kicking off Samhain Horror with several classic Ramsey Campbell books and even a new one. Why Campbell?
D’Auria: I’ve always been a huge fan of Ramsey’s. For decades he’s consistently been one of the very best writers in the genre. I was thrilled to be able to acquire two of his books for Dorchester before I left, and I’m even happier to continue our relationship here at Samhain. The new title is The Seven Days of Cain, which has all the elements of classic Ramsey; that slow build, the beautiful style and that very dark creepiness he does so well. Plus we’re able to bring out four of his older books that haven’t been available for years, four titles that I think are among his very best: Ancient Images, The Hungry Moon, Obsession and Dark Companions.
Hellnotes: Tell us something that will surprise us about the new line.
D’Auria: There are probably a few things that may surprise folks. One is that, unlike the Dorchester line, Samhain gives me much more flexibility in terms of length. For example, now I’m able to consider novellas, something I always regretted not being able to acquire at Dorchester. We can do things as short as 12,000 words and as long as 125,000. I’m also able to take more chances in terms of content. As long as the book can legitimately fit in a horror line, I can be more open to strange ideas, and there are lots of those in horror. It’s very liberating. Some people may also be surprised that I’m continuing to look at first-time authors, though this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of the old Dorchester line. I’ve always felt that we need to introduce fresh talent into the genre, in addition to publishing recognizable names. So even in October, Samhain’s launch month, we have some great new writers, in addition to more familiar people like Ramsey, Ronald Malfi and W. D. Gagliani.
Hellnotes: After years of little movement, the ebook market is suddenly exploding. What do you see for the future of hardcovers and paperbacks?
D’Auria: I think trade paperback and hardcovers will be around for the foreseeable future, though I’m not sure how well mass market paperbacks will do. I’ve already heard statistics that say ebooks account for 50% of all fiction book sales, and possibly higher for genre fiction. But things like illustrated books, art books, cookbooks and the like lend themselves more to a print format. Time will tell just how far the ebook revolution will go.
Hellnotes: Will Samhain Horror be emphasizing ebook editions over print editions?
D’Auria: Our plans are to do both ebook and trade editions of anything over 50,000 words. Anything under 50,000 words will be ebook only. We do expect ebooks to outsell the trade paper editions, not because we’ll emphasize trade any less but simply because that’s how the market is these days. When Samhain started, our trade paper editions far outsold ebooks, but over the past couple years, with bookstores closing and popularity of e-readers growing, we’ve seen the sales of the e-editions skyrocket. It doesn’t mean we love the trade paper any less or don’t push it, but given the choice between the two formats, readers are choosing ebooks nowadays.
Hellnotes: Has the zombie trend reached its peak?
D’Auria: I think so. I can’t see where else it can go. Zombies are already in movies, books, TV, comics, and pretty much all other aspects of pop culture. There are zombie romances. Now, this doesn’t mean that zombies are “over” and have to be avoided in horror fiction, just that they’ve become so omnipresent that writers need to come up with a new twist to distinguish their zombie novel from all the others. I’m currently looking at two zombie novels for Samhain, but they’re different takes on zombies. As long as a writer can bring something new to the characters, it can still be interesting. Like vampires, werewolves and ghosts, zombies will always be popular subjects for horror fiction. You just need to separate your zombie or vampire from the ones readers have seen before.
Hellnotes: What do think about mash-ups?
D’Auria: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a very clever, original and funny idea. But after a while, as more and more mash-ups were published, I think the joke got a little stale. Of course, the danger with using horror figures in humor is that it diminishes the monsters to a degree. I think Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a terrific movie, but it virtually ended Universal’s horror franchise. Even though the monsters themselves were played straight in the movie, no one could take them too seriously anymore once they chased Lou Costello through a castle. We’re running the same risk with the mash-ups. That’s why we need new takes on zombies and other mashed-up monsters to make them scary again and reclaim them for horror.
Hellnotes: We all bring personal likes and dislikes to the work we do. What are your personal horror tastes?
D’Auria: My tastes in horror are very broad. I like almost all kinds, from ghost stories to slashers and everything in between. For someone in my position I think that’s a real plus. If I only liked subtle, psychological horror, for example, I couldn’t acquire extreme, over-the-top gore, or vice versa. I like to think, because I like so many different types of horror I’m able to publish a wider spectrum of it at Samhain. I really don’t want Samhain pigeonholed as only doing a small section of horror. I like books all across the genre, and I think other horror readers do too.
Hellnotes: What does being a good editor require today that it didn’t ten years ago?
D’Auria: In terms of the content of the books, not much has changed. What made a book great ten years ago will still make it great today. But nowadays an editor needs to be familiar with a very different marketplace and with new technologies and ways of publishing and marketing books. The Internet and ebooks have changed the way publishing works, and an editor needs to be able to adapt to that.
Hellnotes: Do you see any new horror trends developing?
D’Auria: I think we’re entering a more experimental era, a period where publishers are willing to try new things, things that maybe wouldn’t have worked in the days when mass market books had to be aimed at as broad a readership as possible. With the advent of ebooks, it’s easier to reach different readers who are willing to try something they haven’t seen before. It’s very exciting, really. New ideas and new writers can only help keep the genre alive and growing.
Hellnotes: Is Samhain Horror open for submissions, and if so, what are you looking for?
D’Auria: Samhain Horror is definitely open for submissions. I’m very actively looking for new authors. It’s very important to me to not rely on the same names, but to find new talent as well. I’m also very open to authors who’ve published horror at other houses in the past, but who are looking for a new home. Folks should check out our website to see our guidelines. I’m not looking for any one specific thing right now, as long as it’s horror and fits our word length, 12,000 to 125,000 words. The important things to me are the voice, the writing and the story being told. Samhain’s motto is “It’s all about the story,” and I agree completely.
Hellnotes: Any advice for writers?
D’Auria: Two very important things: One, you have to submit your work somewhere if you want it to be published. No publisher can come to you; you have to take a chance and go to them. And two, don’t be discouraged. Even if many publishers reject your work for whatever reason, you have to keep trying. What isn’t right for one editor might be perfect for another. Probably every editor in the business has bought something that someone else has turned down. You have to have faith in your work and keep at it.
Hellnotes: Any teasers for readers?
D’Auria: There are some very exciting things coming from Samhain Horror. We have a few names that should be very familiar to readers of the old Dorchester horror line, and of course some writers from other places too. And some authors you’ve never had a chance to read until now. That’s the mix I want, some old, some new, but all great.
Want to see what their new line is all about? Check it out: Samhain Horror