Brains on Horror

-- Fran Friel
I've been haunting the online author chat circuit and picking the brains of some of the finest horror writers in the business. In the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure of chatting with the creator of the Repairman Jack series, F. Paul Wilson; Brian Keene, author of The Terminal and The Rising; and Douglas Clegg, whose Vampyricon series book one, The Priest of Blood, recently hit the New York Times bestseller list.

These authors have generously given their time to chat with fans and aspiring writers. Their candid and humorous rapport with the chatting audience is refreshing and inspiring. And for "young" authors just climbing the ladder submission by submission, their advice can be invaluable.

I've made a point of asking a few standard questions at each chat. I'll not quote their specific answers, not having permission to quote them directly, but I'll give you the cummulative nutshell version.

1. What do you do when you get stuck in your writing - writer's block?

The resounding answer to this queston was, "Write through it." Even if it's crap, just keep writing and the trouble will pass. And it doesn't matter if it's crap, you have to do revisions anyway.

2. What's your writing schedule like?

Now, I'm really curious about this one. Seems there are some strong opinions about this from many corners, suggesting that a writer will never succeed without a strick schedule of dutiful writing.

The answer from these very successful writers was very broad. Some had a strict schedule of early morning writing; some were dedicated to twelve hours plus per day; while others were shooting for a word count, ie one thousand words a day. What I gleaned from this variation was that it really doesn't matter - what works for the individual is what counts. And that's part of the process, finding our rhythm as writers. So drop the guilt, if you're not up at the crack of dawn typing away. Just do it when it's right for you, but the important thing is to do it!

3. When a "new" writer is ready to shop a manuscript, should they have an agent?

I was pretty surprised by this one. I hang out with a lot of literary fiction writers. Seems an absolute necessity for them to get an agent in order to get read by a publisher. BUT, it seems with the horror publishing world, it's not as crucial, at least not right away. Seems the agents can be much pickier about what they'll accept, compared to what the publishers will accept. So don't be afraid to shop without an agent. But a good agent can often negotiate a better contract. So use your instincts, but get it out there. Shop, baby. Shop!

4. What should "new" writers look out for when negotiating contracts?

First, getting good professional council was strongly suggested. Also consider the following - Don't give up foreign rights or media rights, as in films, plays, merchandise. Don't give first right of refusal to a publisher - that's giving them the first shot to accept your next project before you can show it to anyone else. I would imagine that could cramp your bargaining leverage. And make sure that if you're writing a series, that you retain the copyright to all of your characters and environments. Of course, these are just general recommendations. Seeking professional advice when negotiating your contract is your best chance of success. Remember that the editor is employed by the publisher, so their employer's needs will be at the top of the list - not yours.

One of the chat members mentioned the book, How to Be Your Own Literary Agent: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published. They didn't mention the author, but I looked it up and there are two books by the same name. The one by Richard Curtis, seems to be the one that was being suggested. It looks like a good source for educating yourself with the basics of contracts and negotiations.

5. Has being a horror writer created problems in your personal life or professional life?

The general consensus on this was that they had all taken some flack on the subject with family, neighbors or colleagues, some more than others, but ultimately once they became successful authors, people were willing to overlook the subject matter.

I am truly grateful for the time and wisdom these authors (and others like, Bob Freeman, James Newman) have offered. Their chats have provided a great deal of information and entertainment, but for writer's struggling on the path to publishing their first novel, or still working on their short stories, this kind of generous information can provide an important foothold along the way. Hopefully these little tidbits of conglomerated wisdom will be helpful in that process.

And from my experience, if you ever see the chance to join a live author chat, don't miss it! It's a free education, and a chance to meet some wonderful professionals who have crossed over into the realm of writing success. They're helping to bushwack the way for us, so take advantage of their very helpful footprints through the jungle.

Wickedly Yours,
Fran Friel