Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guest post by James Dorr: The Marketing Game

Guest post by James Dorr

I’ve just come back from World Horror Convention as I write this, where an editor who had published me some years back happened to mention that he still had slots open in his latest anthology -- one that had been supposed to have been closed months before.  I made a point to say hello and chat a bit later and, now that I’m home, looked up the old guidelines on the computer and went through the stories I have on hand.  

I think I have one that may fit.  

And that’s how the game is played.  It may be a long shot, yes, but he’s liked my work in the past and now he’s been reminded of this.  The anthology pays a professional rate, so I’d be a fool if I didn’t try.

So that’s part of it, to be on the lookout for opportunities to submit work and to be ready to jump when you find them.  I belong to a number of online groups, for instance, on Facebook and elsewhere that sometimes, along with the rest of the gossip, give marketing tips.  I also check lists like from time to time and, even though it costs money as of this year, I’m still getting Duotrope, but on the assumption it will earn its cost back on sales I‘ll make as a result of its listings.  And of course I also keep in touch with other editors’ and publishers’ websites who’ve used my work, checking to see if they have new guidelines for upcoming anthology projects as well as check back with magazines in terms of theme issues.   This includes, if I’m at a convention, looking these people up in the dealers room if only to ask how things are going, but at the same time giving them a face to connect my name to, as well as underscoring that I care -- sort of what businesspeople call networking.  It’s not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt, nor does keeping a fairly high profile, getting on panels when I can, giving readings, etc.

To give an example, a year or two ago I sent some stories to a semipro publisher, Dark Moon Books, for a couple of flash fiction anthologies they’d announced guidelines for.  These were accepted and, at last year’s World Horror Con, I went to their table to pick up a contributor’s copy of one that was just out.  While there, I talked with the publisher about various matters, and also met one of their assistants, Max Booth III, who  it happened was editing an alternative history anthology for them called ZOMBIE JESUS AND OTHER TRUE STORIES which, as it also happened, I had sent a story to about a month before.  As a result, when it came time for him to decide on the stories he’d use, he remembered my name and seeing it in the stack, as he said himself later, “quickly read it and knew right away I wanted it.  The story was, in fact, the first story I accepted for the anthology.”

So, okay, if it was a good story he would have accepted it anyway, but there’s more to it.  When he was later promoting the book, among other things running interviews with some of the authors, I emailed him to let him know I was available too and otherwise worked to cooperate with him.  Then, last fall, he set up his own publishing company, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, and, liking what he’d seen of my work thus far (in this case including some other anthologies we’d both had work in), he sent me an email asking if I’d consider doing a book with him   

The result:  in May this year my latest collection THE TEARS OF ISIS was published, timed by mutual agreement to be available a month preceding this year’s World Horror Convention in New Orleans (thus bringing us back to where this column began ) -- seventeen stories and an opening poem of dark fantasy and horror, with maybe some mystery and other things thrown in, about art and artists, and vampires and ghouls. . . , well, Max having given me a free hand, mostly stories published before that have been favorites of mine for various reasons but also chosen with an eye to a coherent whole, along with at least one that’s never been seen before.  And also tales about rats and dragons, and UFOs, and insects, and sleeping beauties and Medusa and Isis. . . .    

So not everyone’s going to publish a book, at least not right away, but we are in a sense members of a family, we writers and publishers and editors.  And when the time comes, it never hurts to have made connections.  But there are other aspects to submitting as well.  I already mentioned reading guidelines, usually obtainable on a publisher’s website.  These may vary in information quality, but if an editor states a preference -- or lists taboos -- adhering to the editor’s wants as closely as possible, or at least explaining in a cover letter why you might be bending a rule if you have a good reason to, will leave a good impression for future submissions even if this particular one fails.  And if an editor says, even though rejecting this story, to please send another, take him or her up on it if you can.  

That’s the big rule for successful marketing:  perseverance.  For myself, I try to send something or other out on an average of three or four a week and, needless to say, when something comes back, the first thing I’ll do is look to see where else I can send it.  But also be polite, businesslike, and cooperative if an editor has suggestions or requests.  If an editor asks you to rewrite something, you don’t necessarily have to agree with everything asked, but if you don’t, give him or her a reason why or, better yet, suggest another way of changing it as a compromise.

Then one more thing, with the number of pieces I send out, it doesn’t mean that I’m that prolific -- just that I’ve been around a long time.  You’ll build up a stable of stories that, while still good, for one reason or another have not yet been published, so keep looking out for places to send them.  But also a lot of marketing I do these days is with reprints, especially in a soft economy where the number of higher paying markets may not be that great, and that’s another reason to read guidelines carefully.  Some markets will be for new stories only, but others are happy to look at older work that hasn’t been in print for a while.  From my point of view it’s still extra money for something I’ve already sold before as well as exposure to new readers.  So on the one hand, I’m not going to get rich on short stories and poems in any event, but if now and then I can make, say, an additional $10, that’s enough to buy a pizza.  Pizza is good.  But also, aggressively keeping my work in the marketplace can sometimes engender new opportunities, a case in point being THE TEARS OF ISIS.   

You can find out more about James Dorr in his WL interview and at:

THE TEARS OF ISIS: What do Medusa and the goddess Isis have in common?  Are both creatresses through destruction?  And why was Isis oftentimes depicted as weeping? 

Herewith are some answers as parts of a journey through art and creation, of sculpture and blood-drinking, crafting musical instruments from bone, revisiting legends of Cinderella and the Golden Fleece, of Sleeping Beauty and Dragons and Snow White -- some of these, of course, well disguised.  For is not art both the recasting of what is, as well as the invention of what is not?      

The Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney spoke of art as “making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature,” so here there be vampires, and ghouls, and insects perhaps from outer space as well as from this Earth, and visions of Saturn and life in the sea, and other wonders “such as never were in nature,” but, above all, Isis.  The Weeping Isis.  Isis with vulture wings, breasts bare and smeared with blood as in the earliest forms of her myth.   
And of course, as well, Medusa.  

The Tears of Isis is available at:

This is T.W. Fendley. Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens. Stop by my website at or on Twitter @twfendley.


  1. Hi, James,

    Your point about networking is significant. Being at the right place at the right time obviously matters. It keeps you in the mind of editors and publishers. I wish I was able to do more of it myself! Congrats on this new book.

  2. Jacqueline, thanks. And thanks, Teresa, for inviting me to submit this post. Right now as fellow Dreamspell authors we're in a sad time and I appreciate, in your announcement on the lldreamspell Digest, your highlighting what I said about "family" and making connections. These are things that can last a lifetime, even outside of the business of writing.

    1. I'm so glad you shared your marketing insights with us, James. Perseverance is always a key, isn't it?

      I, too, believe the connections we make and nurture are incredibly important to us on many levels. As you say, it's not all about the writing.

      Thanks again!

  3. Ah, yes, I recall reading an interview with you, James, and determining to read the Tears of Isis. Medusa and Isis have always fascinated me. As for Sleeping Beauty, I'm currently working on an theatrical adaptation of the fairy tale. So many ways to look at it: as nature, perhaps, spring awakened by the sun's kiss.
    Yes, I will definitely read Tears of Isis.

  4. Nancy thank you, I appreciate that! In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that much of my work tends toward dark fantasy/horror and some of the tales in The Tears of Isis are quite dark. If you like it though, please spread the word, and possibly even consider reviewing it, perhaps on Amazon.