How to get published with Smart Rhino Publications
Riley Banks speaks with Weldon Burge, Founder/Executive Editor of Smart Rhino Publications on how aspiring horror authors can break into the genre.
How long have you worked in publishing and how did you come to choose it as a career?
I’ve been a freelance writer for more than 30 years, a full-time editor for 20, and a Web content developer for about eight years. I started Smart Rhino Publications with our debut horror anthology, Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, in February, 2012. We now have four books on the market, with many more planned in the coming years.
Tell us a little about your company and what your role is there?
Smart Rhino is a young publishing firm based in Delaware, with a current leaning toward (but not limited to) horror and suspense fiction. Our goal is to provide a venue for new as well as veteran writers, with the ultimate goal of entertaining and informing our readers. I’m the founder of the company (with my wife Cindy) and the Executive Editor,
Tell us a little about some of your recent books.
Zippered Flesh, our first anthology, included stories by Graham Masterton, Scott Nicholson, Michael Laimo, Lisa Mannetti, L.L. Soares, Michael Louis Calvillo, John Shirley, and 13 other horror writers. We recently released the sequel, Zippered Flesh 2, with 22 stories by familiar as well as upcoming horror/suspense writers. We also, last year, released a thriller/suspense anthology titled Uncommon Assassins, which focuses on the theme of unusual hit men, hired killers, vigilantes, and executioners.
How many first-time authors have you published?
We had the pleasure of publishing Doug Blakeslee’s first published story, “Madame,” in Uncommon Assassins, as well as A.P. Sessler’s second published story, “The Perfect Size,” in Zippered Flesh 2.
What goes into deciding whether to publish a book or not?
It’s really very simple—I want to publish books that, as a reader, I’d be willing to purchase myself.
What is the submission process for your company?
We typically start the submission process by inviting a select group of writers, and then open for submissions from the public. New projects are announced on the Smart Rhino web site (www.smartrhino.com), as well as on the Smart Rhino Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/#!/bokor8634) and LinkedIn page (http://www.linkedin.com/company/smart-rhino-publications?trk=hb_tab_compy_id_2881666).
How can writers improve their chances of being published?
For our anthologies, I’m looking for (1) adherence to the stated theme of the anthology, (2) a unique story with a clear voice, and (3) a clean manuscript with correct grammar and spelling. In general, writers need to understand the competition they face, and they should send their best work.
A lot of my followers are authors – many who have self-published books. What are your thoughts on self-published authors?
Publishing is in a period of transition, and savvy self-published authors have more opportunity for success now than ever before. But, it’s not a get-rich-quick venture. The key is to be professional in every aspect of the business—writing a good book, having it properly edited and proofread, and learning how to market your own work. Don’t rush a book to market; make sure you put the best book you can possibly produce out there!
What can traditional publishing offer authors that they cannot do themselves?
Wider distribution and potentially greater sales. But even that is changing in the current publishing arena.
What advice do you give to your authors on how to build their author platform?
It’s imperative today to have an online presence. Besides having an author web site, you should be active in social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+). Connect with writers’ groups in your area, and make yourself available for book signings, library events, and whatever other venues can put you in front of the public. For self-published writers in particular, strong word-of-mouth is pure gold!
What are your thoughts on ebooks? Do you think they will ever overtake paper books or do you think there is still room in the market for both?
There is definitely a market for both. Smart Rhino books sell about 10 times as many ebooks as paperbacks, but there are still many people who want a book to place on a shelf or simply to hold in their hands. I suspect ebooks will eventually replace mass-market paperback books. But there will always be a market for wonderfully designed hardbacks, especially limited-edition, signed books that collectors would cherish.
Where do you see the publishing industry being in ten years time?
I wouldn’t be surprised if books become more interactive in the future. The web generation, which has grown up using the internet and smart phones, will expect nothing less. The future of publishing is exciting!
Apart from the books that you read for work, which authors do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I’m fairly eclectic when it comes to reading material, but if you checked out my bookshelves you’d see many books by Elmore Leonard, Larry Block, Joe Lansdale, Stephen King, Graham Masterton, Robert McCammon, and Harlan Ellison. Also many anthologies and short story collections in various genres.
Where can people purchase your books?
All of the Smart Rhino books are available in paperback and for the Kindle via Amazon.
Describe the marketing process a new book undergoes.
We first attempt to create online buzz for a new book, starting with posting the cover on Facebook and on the Smart Rhino web site. As a book is in production, we often post updates and mention the writers involved. When the book is released, review copies are sent out to the appropriate magazines, blogs, and web sites. Our writers also blog and post about the book. If you consider that our latest book, Zippered Flesh 2, includes 23 writers, it’s easy to see how the marketing can take off just from the writers alone!
When thinking about cover art for a book, what is the most important advice you could give aspiring authors – particularly those who will self-publish?
An eye-catching cover is a must! Although it’s not always easy to find, a cover that captures the theme or essence of the book is essential. And I like covers that make people do a double-take—I want to hear “Wow!” So far, our covers for Smart Rhino books have been superb, thanks to the gifted illustrators (Shelley Bergen, Dan Verkys, and Nanette O’Neill) and cover designers (Scott Medina and Amy York).
What are some mistakes you see authors continually make with their submissions?
Sloppy writing—a story with numerous grammatical errors and spelling mistakes—is a common reason for rejecting a story. Don’t make it easy for an editor to reject your work; make it impossible for him/her to put it down. Another problem I frequently see is clichéd writing, especially in horror. If it sounds too familiar, it probably is. Strive to be unique and you’re more likely to find acceptance.
What is your favourite thing about being a publisher?
I love working with other writers, and being a publisher gives me the opportunity to provide a means of highlighting their work. There are so many talented writers out there who, for many reasons, may never find success with traditional publishers. As an independent publisher, I can at least get their work out to the public and market their writing as best I can.
What is your least favourite thing about being a publisher?
The costs. When I started Smart Rhino Publications, I was determined to pay the writers, despite my minuscule budget, and produce the best books possible with my limited funds. It truly was a labor of love, and all of my costs were out-of-pocket for the first book. I was lucky that the profits from the first Zippered Flesh helped defray the costs of the second book, Uncommon Assassins. I’m hoping continued success will fund all following projects.
If you were a superhero, what would your super power be?
Captain Pacifist. My super power would be to repel any violence, to turn any assault around to affect the attacker. Throw a punch at my face and you’d be the one with the bloody nose. If you shoot at me, the bullets would be redirected back toward you. Even Superman couldn’t harm me!
That’s a tough one. My favorite Stephen King book was Salem’s Lot, and I truly loved Robert McCammon’s Boys Life. I’ve read Clarke’s Childhood’s End several times. I could probably list a hundred books that have influenced my life. I can’t say I have a favorite.
Favourite TV show or movie.
I still love the old “Outer Limits” shows, which so creeped me out and gave me nightmares as a kid. The recent iterations of the show didn’t do much for me. I think the B&W version in the early ‘60s just had that perfect sense of dread, so filled with shadows and odd camera angles, you always felt off-kilter. There really has not been a show like that since.
If you could bring a fictional character to life, who would it be and what would you do with them?
Steve Carella in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels always intrigued me. I love police procedurals, and Carella would be fun to have coffee with, just talking about police work.
You are having a dinner party and can invite four guests. They can be from any time (current or past), be fictional characters or real. Who do you invite and why?
Great question! An evening with Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker would probably be quite an event. Imagine the conversation! It would be a crash course in horror writing!
Do you have a question for Weldon?