(Apologies in advance for any typos. I started writing this at 3:30am. It is now 6am. This is the first thing I’ve written in a week, other than a few Tweets and FB posts from my phone, and I’m doing so surrounded by unpacked boxes, and using a shipping crate as a desk for my laptop).
Don D’Auria is probably the top editor in the horror genre. In his 30+ year career, he was responsible for resuscitating mass-market horror from its mid-Nineties grave; getting Richard Laymon back into print in the United States; helping start the careers of then young authors such as myself, J.F. Gonzalez, Mary Sangiovanni, and Sephera Giron; and making sure the work of such veterans as Ed Gorman, Ramsey Campbell, and Hugh Cave saw new audiences. He’s worked with everyone from Bentley Little and Jack Ketchum to new authors like Jonathan Janz and Adam Cesare. When Dorchester imploded, Don found work at Samhain Publishing.
On Monday, Samhain’s PR department requested their authors write testimonials about Don and post them to social media via the hashtag #Samhain10.
On Tuesday morning — not even twenty-four hours later — they unceremoniously fired Don. To say this came as a shock to him is an understatement. To say that the authors who were asked to write testimonials felt blindsided and used is an even bigger understatement.
On Tuesday afternoon, my phone began dinging incessantly as people began to text me. There were roughly two dozen such texts, all a variation of the same theme — “Did you hear about Don? What the hell is going on?” As stated previously, I am in the midst of moving. When these texts started, I was on the back of a U-haul, struggling to lift a bookshelf by myself, and had no access to the internet other than my phone.
I called one of the authors back — Jonathan Janz (who has since stated in public that he contacted me, so I’m not “outing” him here). I asked him if Don was okay, and I asked him if the authors were okay, and what we could do for both.
Since I’m transitioning between homes, I went to my ex-wife’s house, where I have a spare computer and internet access, and I spent some time talking to other Samhain authors, all of whom were absolutely furious. Some stated they were done with the company, that they would not work with them again.
Later Tuesday afternoon, Samhain’s owner, Christina Brashear, perhaps seeing the uproar from her authors, released the following public statement, reprinted here in its entirety:
Samhain Horror Changes
As many of you know, Don D’Auria has departed Samhain Publishing, and we wish him great success in his career. His departure was one of several difficult choices we’ve made recently regarding overhead and editorial support, as we adjust to the evolving marketplace.
While we remain dedicated to making a success of our Horror line and to supporting our Horror authors, due to the slow build of a paying audience we must work more diligently to engage readers. A social media presence is an absolute must because marketing has become about a conversation, and not just about blasting people with ads. Throughout our other lines, Samhain’s editorial staff is not only well-versed in curating content and helping it shine through their polishing efforts, but they are social-media savvy and understand how to promote their authors’ works. We look forward to bringing this kind of support to our Horror line as well.
In addition to preparing existing contracted books for publication and reviewing submissions, we have the following efforts underway:
Samhain will once again be sponsoring the HWA / Stoker Awards as we have for these past four years.
We have begun planning for the perennially successful HorrorHound Cincy.
We have submitted numerous works for the annual Bram Stoker awards, and look forward with great excitement to those results.
We will be submitting works for the Shirley Jackson awards within the next two weeks.
Our promotional efforts are changing as well. You spoke, we listened and then confirmed your suggestions and ideas through our own testing. Over the past six to twelve months we’ve been monitoring the advertisements we’ve bought and have come to the conclusion that banner ads simply aren’t selling books. As we pull back from traditional advertising, however, we’ve begun focusing our marketing dollars on the channels that have proven to work. We’ve already seen improvement.
In addition, we’ve begun developing a second Horror newsletter where the authors can contribute and engage, more so than the standard new releases e-blast which is announcement only. Content equates to discoverability. Discovery leads to engagement. Engagement brings about conversions—which for authors, means book sales.
We’re proud of our many horror authors and look forward to continuing to bring great stories to readers, as we’ve done for the past 6 years since launching the line. All authors with existing contracted books will be reassigned to new editors, based on where you are in the publishing process. Look to receive an email on this subject later this week.
In closing, we’re very sad to have to see Don move on, but we’re dedicated to Samhain Horror and to making it a success. As always, we welcome your feedback, suggestions, ideas and comments, and we sincerely appreciate your work and the stories that you have to share.
Christina Brashear | Samhain Publishing
If Brashear’s intent was to calm authors, her announcement had quite the opposite effect. The TL;DR version — Don was fired because he’s not on Twitter or Facebook. This is an absolute insult not only to writers and editors, but to horror fans, as well. To imply that the job of an editor is nothing more than a social media marketer is not simply tone deaf — it displays the staggering incompetence of a publisher who knows nothing about how the products it sells to consumers are actually made. An editor’s job is to read manuscripts, acquire them for publication, help smooth and polish the finished novel, and work with their stable of authors on follow-up books. Their job does not involve Tweeting or Facebooking. That’s the job of marketing departments, sales departments, PR departments (which Samhain has), and the authors themselves. Don’s firing sets a dangerous precedent for our industry — at a time when editors are already stretched thin and overworked, do they now have to fear losing their jobs if they are unable to wear yet another hat; a hat that is ill-fitting at best? You don’t ask a telemarketer to do a soldier’s job. You don’t ask a fireman to do a schoolteacher’s job. And you don’t ask an editor to do a marketer’s job. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve known or worked with many remarkable editors in my 20-years in this business. Let me name four of them to illustrate a point — Ellen Datlow, Melissa Ann Singer, Paul Goblirsch, Larry Roberts. Ellen and Melissa are active on social media. Paul and Larry are not. All four of them are capable, professional editors that any author would be lucky to work with. But take a look at Ellen and Melissa’s social media accounts. They’re not spending all day selling and marketing books. You know why? BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THEIR JOB.
On Tuesday evening, after talking with Samhain authors who wanted to support Don and make their anger with the publisher known, but without costing themselves or their stablemates sales, I suggested online that instead of #Samhain10, a #SamhainBlackout take place. I suggested that since Samhain considered social media branding more important than competent editors, I would unFollow them on Twitter, unLike them on Facebook, and unsubscribe to their email newsletters. That’s all I suggested. At no point did I suggest boycotting them financially or boycotting their authors. Indeed, I stated I was against such action.
It was my hope, and the hope of some other Samhain authors who will remain nameless, that the social media blackout would attract attention, and start a conversation about the publisher’s treatment of Don, and their stated methods of marketing books (which I’ll get to later in this Blog entry, and which many of their authors find just as infuriating as their treatment of Don).
Later Tuesday evening, we recorded a new episode of The Horror Show with Brian Keene, in which we covered all of the events up to that point. We also got an exclusive, direct quote from Don himself. That episode will air tonight at 7pm and also features a remembrance of TM Wright, reviews of Crimson Peak and Ash vs. Evil Dead, and a fascinating interview with author Robert Ford, who comes from a 25 year marketing and PR background, and shares his thoughts on Samhain, as well.
Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, a small group of trolls with an agenda that basically amounts to “Brian Keene is an asshole because he was mean to us one time when we were being idiots on a message board” hijacked the conversation, implying that I had “called for a boycott”, and that “dozens of my fanboys were already boycotting” and that “I was doing this for attention”. After reading through Tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on message boards, it became apparent that it was these individuals who implied a boycott was taking place. And as for the “dozens of fanboys”? It was one — Kyle Lybeck, who, as an editor for Thunderstorm Books and a promising young writer, hardly qualifies as a fanboy. Further, Kyle specifically stated that his decision to not purchase books from Samhain had NOTHING to do with me or the suggested social media blackout.
Unfortunately, in hijacking the conversation, these individuals, in my opinion and the opinion of several other Samhain authors I’ve spoken with, showed a disgusting amount of disrespect to Don, and to the authors they supposedly profess to care about. But by yesterday evening, when it became clear to most people with more than two brain cells that nobody was calling for a boycott, and the only people running around shouting it were a small group of pinheads, the conversation got back on track.
So let’s focus on that. I’ve already discussed above how Samhain’s firing of Don because of his perceived lack of “social media savvy” sets a dangerous precedent. But what of their other statement — that Don is somehow responsible for weak sales of their horror line?
It could be argued that, as editor, Don is responsible for acquiring books that will sell. But here’s the thing — he was doing exactly that. The lackluster sales had nothing to do with the quality of Samhain’s authors or Don’s selections. They had everything to do with how Samhain markets and sells books. Here are some free suggestions to anyone at Samhain who might be reading this:
1. Tweets and Facebook posts announcing new books are nice, but your authors should already be doing that (at least the ones who understand how this business works in 2015). You should also consider that constant-reader Fred Fiddlestick might not see your Tweet or Facebook post. In fact, if you have 500 followers, only about 50-100 of them are going to see your social media posting. But you know what they will see? Advertisements.
2. I must assume your company has a media buyer, or contracts out to a freelance media buyer. Run print ads in Rue Morgue, Fangoria, Entertainment Weekly, Bleeding Cool, The Fortean Times, Cemetery Dance. Buy banner ads on high-traffic websites like Dread Central, The Outhousers, IGN, The Mary Sue, and The Gingernuts of Horror. Buy radio advertising on Coast to Coast, Ground Zero, or Project iRadio (disclaimer: The Horror Show with Brian Keene is part of the Project iRadio network). You spent money to advertise your romance novels on an electronic billboard in Times Square. Spend the same amount and do the same for your horror line.
3. A presence at Horrorhound Cincinnati is a great idea. But why stay confined to that one regional convention? I understand you’re based in Cincinnati, but your readers — and more importantly your POTENTIAL readers — are spread out across the country. They’re not going to come find you. You have to go to them. That means attending SDCC, NYCC, WHC, Scares That Care, Walker Stalker, and all the other big cons (second disclaimer: I am affiliated with the Scares That Care charity). If it’s not cost effective for the company to have a presence there, then at the very least send your authors.
4. You state that in an effort to reach more readers, you’re going to sponsor the Bram Stoker Awards and submit works for the Shirley Jackson Awards. This is silly. I’m not bashing on either award. Both serve their place. I have two Stoker Awards myself, and some of my oldest friends oversee the Shirley Jackson Awards. Both are fine institutions. But the vast majority of readers DO NOT GIVE A SHIT about these awards. These are primarily industry awards, primarily paid attention to by those of us in the industry. If you want to reach other writers, this is a great way to do that. If you want to reach readers — they’re not at these awards ceremonies. Fred Fiddlestick works 5 days a week at the foundry. On weekends, he likes to read a horror novel. He’s not taking vacation to go attend the Bram Stoker Awards banquet. He’s taking it at the beach with his family, where he’ll read yet another horror novel.
5. Bookstore presence. Don D’Auria cultivated a line of books and a stable of authors for you that rivaled what he built for Dorchester. Dorchester’s sales were solid. Yours are not. Dorchester’s books had a presence in bookstores. Yours do not. Yes, this is the digital age, and people can download books to their Kindle and Nook, but there are also a vast number of readers who prefer to shop at physical bookstores. I know. I talk to them every single day. You want sales? Work out a deal with the chain buyers and get your books on the shelves.
Those are five free ones. Any more, and I have to charge you a consulting fee.
There’s one more thing I’d like to address. Stop and consider the authors impacted by this decision for a moment. J.G. Faherty, for example. I’ve been at this for twenty years. I think J.G. has been at it for almost as long. Landing at Samhain was a BIG deal for him, and (in my opinion) a long overdue profile boost. As he said yesterday, “I’d like to do a blackout, but as one of their authors I feel it necessary to stay connected in order to get all possible info as this mess unfolds. I am 100% behind Don – he’s the only reason I worked with them in the first place – but I don’t want to miss anything important.”
Or consider another writer, Glenn Rolfe, also with Samhain. Glenn shared his concerns about a social media blackout with me yesterday. In regards to unfollowing Samhain on social media, he wrote, “If that’s where they plan on focusing selling our titles, then that’s notifications that our followers will no longer receive. I get the hard push back against the company. They are way out of line with this decision, but it is a business decision for better or worse. My fear with this #SHBlackout stuff is that it is going to be misunderstood by people and become a complete boycott. I know that’s not your intention, but people perceive things differently. And then perception becomes reality. That’s my concern. I have already seen people put up the “I’m no longer purchasing from Samhain” posts. You have one of the biggest voices in our world. It’s easy for people to read it the wrong way and go off the deep end.”
Now, as stated above, the vast majority of the boycott talk was started by a tiny group of individuals with their own personal agenda. But putting that aside, Glenn brings up a great point and a valid concern. Yes, ignoring Samhain on social media does potentially mean that readers won’t be aware of an author’s books — but I would put it to Glenn that an author shouldn’t be relying on their publisher to sell books anyway. Yes, ideally, that’s how it works, but publishers produce multiple books each month, and especially at the bigger mass-market houses, only a few select titles get any sort of promotion at all. The rest are dumped on consumers and bookstores and have to sink or swim on their own. It’s always been that way and — just like the equally antiquated returns system of distribution — I don’t see it changing. That’s why it is so vitally important that you do two things with your career (and this is the same advice I gave Jonathan Janz last summer):
1. You have to be your own promoter. There’s just no way around it these days. And that doesn’t mean spamming people and social media and message boards with ads for your latest book or Blog entry. Yes, when you have something new, of course you should announce it. But more importantly, you just need to stay engaged with your readers — be they five or five hundred or five thousand or fifty thousand. Say thank you when they say something nice about your book. Say thank you and I hope you enjoy the next one more when they tell you they didn’t like your book. (Block them if they’re an abusive idiot, of course). Maybe share a bit about your creative process. Tell them your Top Ten favorite horror movies. Stay engaged. Let them know you’re a real person, and not a house name like William W. Johnstone or VC Andrews. Don’t rely on your publisher to do it for you, because you will always, always, always end up disappointed. As one young lady said on Twitter yesterday, she buys a lot of books from Baen and Tor, but she doesn’t follow them on social media. She follows the authors. I’m betting she does that because the authors are real people, rather than corporations.
2. Diversify. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Never sell all your books to just one publisher. Never sign an exclusivity contract (unless you’re working in comics, in which case, sign the hell out of that exclusivity contract because you’ll get things like health care and retirement with it). If you have a novel coming out from Samhain, great. Sell another novel to another publisher. Approach a small press about doing limited editions of your backlist. Diversify your publishers and you’ll diversify your income. But more importantly, you’ll have a safety net for when bad things happen. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my career was staying with only two publishers (one mass market and one small press) for a period of years early in my career — because when the financial crisis hit, and both those publishers went down, I was suddenly broke. Bad things happen. I absolutely love working with Deadite Press, and yes, I do a LOT of books with them. But I also do a lot of books with Thunderstorm, and Apex, and Cemetery Dance (and next year Macmillan). Why? Because as awesome as Deadite are, they could go down tomorrow. So could Thunderstorm or Apex or Cemetery Dance. Macmillan could get bought out tomorrow and decide they aren’t going to publish my horror-industrial espionage-monster-thriller novel. The only constant in publishing is change, Glenn. You have to be ready for it to happen at a moment’s notice, and have your safety net in place.
But yes, Glenn, your concerns are valid, and I’m sorry for responding here rather than on FB, but this is the first thing I’ve written in a week, and I’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do, and I’d like to sleep at some point, and I’m betting your concerns are shared by others, so I thought this was the best way to address it. In short, I hear you, and I feel you, so let me say it one more time for anyone who may have misunderstood:
In response to Samhain’s firing of Don D’Auria and their stated intent to focus instead on building their social media brand, I have unfollowed them on Twitter, un-Liked them on Facebook, and unsubscribed to their email newsletters. Let there be no doubt, I stand with Don D’Auria, and I stand with the concept that publishing houses need editors — not ad reps acting as editors.
This is NOT a call to boycott their authors or stop buying their books. I am merely saying that since social media is apparently more important to them than competent editors, I will not engage with them on social media. I don’t follow the publisher. I do follow their authors (and I buy those author’s books, of course).
You’re all adults. You can decide what you want to do. And it’s all good, whatever you decide. We can still be friends.
But yeah, if somebody tells you I’m instilling a boycott or inciting my fanboys (which is an offensive term by the way) to boycott, send them the link to this Blog and invite them to kiss my ass. Because for twenty years, that ass has busted itself for the betterment of authors and this genre. And I’ll continue to do so because that’s what the writers who came before us did for us. And one day soon, when it’s your turn, I hope y’all will do the same.
We’re all in this together — except for the nitwits.