So You Want to be a Horror Author?

So you want to be a horror author? I get messages all the time from new authors asking me for advice, tips, help, and so forth. It’s a tough world out there for any author. When I first published The Hand of God back in 2012, the market was already strict. Now it’s harder than ever before, and it’s only going to get more difficult.

On that note, here are some writing tips from Yours Truly:

When I say that it’s harder than ever before, I don’t mean the writing part. Writing is the easy part. Every time I’m at a show, someone comes up to me to tell me they are writing a book and have been at it for ten, fifteen, twenty years but can’t seem to finish it, but then they ask: should they self-publish? my advice? How about you finish the damn book first. The book is your product. Without a product, you have nothing to sell so fussing over how and where you should publish it is moot. Write your book.

Once you have the book finished, you’re still not done. You need a good cover. If you’re new, I highly suggest getting a good cover designer. You can get covers made for $50-1000. Maybe you already know some graphic design and you can design your own. Don’t believe the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The truth is EVERYONE judges a book by its cover. The cover is your packaging. If you have a shitty cover, no one will give your book a second look. Invest in a good cover.

The next thing is editing. This is probably the most difficult because people are Grammar Nazis. You have any typo or the slightest thing out of place, and you will get bad reviews over editing. I’ve gotten 1-star reviews over indents and comma placement. You will, too. It happens. Hiring an editor doesn’t guarantee it will be edited correctly. Some of my worst reviews came on books where I’d paid for an editor. But it certainly can’t hurt.

Now we have some things that can help us become better writers. There is a free program called Grammarly. There is a more detailed paid version, too, but I just use the free version. This will find most things like typos, extra spaces, wrong word usage (their/there) and, of course, comma placement. From there, I send it to my editor. It took me years to find my current editor and I’m lucky to have her. Even she has one more person proofread it after she goes over it. Since I’ve been using her, my editing complaints have dropped off significantly. It will never be perfect. Some people go into a book just LOOKING for errors and they will find them. I’ve found typos in Stephen King bestsellers. It happens. But you want to minimize it as much as possible and this is probably the biggest headache for most authors.

Now, you’ve got an awesome cover and your book is edited, what do you do from there? For some, they want to find a traditional publisher. I can’t help you there. I self-publish. To be honest, I don’t trust most publishers, but that is another story for another time.

No, this article isn’t a guide on self-publishing. If you wish to self-publish, you can do it directly through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program or you can go through a distributor like Pronoun. Both routes have their pros and cons and I highly suggest you look up both to see which works best for you.

I’m not going to get into all kinds of self-publishing details because the market changes FAST. When I first started, Kindle Unlimited didn’t exist. You could post on your Facebook fan page and hope people saw it. Now we have Kindle Unlimited and Facebook hides your posts unless you buy ads. So, everything has changed. Even Kindle Unlimited has undergone several changes since its inception.

Amazon itself has gone through a lot of changes in its policies, algorithms and so forth. No matter how you publish, these are all things you need to stay on top of and adapt to quickly. You could wake up one day and find out everything has just turned on a dime and you need to adjust.

This is the biggest thing about being an author. I’ve been on the Amazon bestseller lists. Two years ago, I hit the top 100 horror authors list and was on it for several months in a row. The highest I got was #35. I was pretty proud of myself.

Hacked reached the top 10 in Amazon’s horror category and put me at #35 in horror authors

Here’s the shocker – all that means is that sales of my books spiked on a given day while a bunch of others bottomed out. It doesn’t mean I sold hundreds of thousands of books. For one thing, the term “bestseller” has almost become meaningless. Every author everywhere lists themselves as a best seller.

The most common practice for a long time was to list your horror book under Christian Young Adult Romance and when your book sells five copies, you’re now a #1 best seller in that category. Sure it looks neat, but Amazon started cracking down on manipulating genres and categories like that. Mainly after a bunch of erotica authors were doing it and people thought they were buying young adult Christian books and getting erotica instead.

Still, the point I’m making is that you can make a bestseller list and not make a pile of money. I know a lot of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors who still struggle to make their car payments. This brings us to the crux of the article.

How bad do you want to do this? What are your goals? If fame and fortune are it, forget it. There is money to be made, although I do know some folks who are banking it. I will tell you, they write to market and the market is NOT horror. The horror market goes up and down (and I mean real Horror, not Urban Fantasy). The big genres that make money are the various romance genres. Contemporary romance and paranormal romance. If you want to make big money as an indie author, then go that route. I don’t do it because I have to write what I love. If I’m going to write something I hate, I may as well go back to a day job.

When thinking about becoming a horror author, remember that there are all kinds of subgenres. There is money you can make, but you are going to WORK. And once again, things will change, and you need to be ready. What are your revenue streams? If you don’t know what that means, that’s a place to start. This is why you see so many authors who also do editing and cover design. Their book sales alone don’t pay the bills.

Not to mention, once you do start making money as a horror author, it may not be steady. It may come rolling in one month, then the next month you’re digging in the couch cushions for gas money. I’m not trying to discourage anyone; I just feel there are so many sharks out there selling so many bags of literary snake oil to authors, promising them wealth and success if you just pay them for this course or that workshop or hire them for their services. But the truth is, there are no guarantees.

I do pretty well, but I’ve been at this for awhile and I’ve been able to adapt. I’m not rich… not even close. Some months, it’s a struggle, but bills are paid and there is food on the table. So why don’t I share what I did to get here? Because what worked for me may not, and probably won’t, work for you. You have to try and fail until you find that formula that works for YOU. I see so many new authors trying to ride coattails or copycat others. It’s just not going to work.

There’s nothing wrong with trying something another author has done. Even I’ve done that. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But there are a lot of authors who want the shortcut, and they are willing to pay for it. If I was a less scrupulous person, I could offer some super spectacular workshop for $500.00 a piece that would guarantee you’ll be an Amazon best seller. I would also be full of shit, but I’d have your money.

Yet, I see new authors shelling out money for these scams all the time. Then when it does turn out, in fact, to be a scam, the pitchforks come out on Facebook and the feuds start. Of course, while you’re feuding, guess what you’re not doing. You’re not writing.

So, if you want to be a horror author, I sadly don’t have any great secrets or magic formulas for you. It takes a lot of work, patience, probably some self-loathing and questioning of your own abilities as well as a string of stubbornness. You may see a few flashes of success, only to watch it fade away before you even had a chance to enjoy it. The best thing you can do is keep writing, keep learning and keep adapting. Don’t give your money to the sharks, BE the shark. You may not be rich, but you’ll be doing what you love. That is something you can’t put a price tag on.

About Tim Miller

Tim Miller is a horror author with over 40 books in print in the U.S. and Germany. He lives in Texas which provides him lots of scary locations and ideas to pass on to his readers. His trusty sidekick, a chihuahua named Sancho, sits by his side and supervises his writing activities.

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