I was born Jeffrey Alan Rice on a crisp autumn morning in Maryland. The last of the leaves were turning, though the mountains were still verdant with evergreens. Blue crabs scuttled through the foliage, gathering acorns for the long winter ahead.
Skip ahead 31 years. I got laid off because of a contract lost due to government budget cuts. It was a few months before I could find work, returning to writing freelance articles for livestrong.com. As a fiction writer, and a somewhat early adopter of the e-reader, I’d been hearing about the changing world of self-publishing, and with a lot of free time to learn new skills, I decided to give it a shot. I had some previously published stories I could put out as a collection, a novella I figured no one would want because it’s a novella, and a play script I figured on similarly.
Though I’ve never hidden my name (it appears a couple of times on this blog and in the front matter of all of my books), I chose to self-publish under a pseudonym for several reasons. One was that I’d published hundreds of articles for livestrong.com under my own name, and I thought it would overshadow my fiction web presence. Since I wrote through Demand Studios, and they got laid low late last year by a change in Google’s algorithms that marked their content as worthless content-farm garbage, I needn’t have worried. Well, about the name thing. Monetarily, though, that changed Demand Studios to end most of their work and I was suddenly competing with literally hundreds of other health and fitness writers who’d had all the work they wanted for months, and then one day had none.
There were other reasons for using a pseudonym. I wanted to teach creative writing, and I thought that if I were going to write in fiction genres dramatically different enough to warrant using separate names, my real name should go to publications that would go good on the CV. I had over a hundred submissions out to literary journals at the time. After those and another hundred all came back as rejections, I’ve since decided to not concern myself with that so much right now. It’s not where I’m going to see success at the moment. A handwritten rejection from The Missouri Review really hit that home: “I’d be surprised if TMR ever publishes a zombie story, but yours was certainly interesting enough.”
There was fear, too. I’d been working towards a writing career for a decade at that point, and during that decade, self-publishing was a huge taboo. I don’t know if I’d use a pseudonym now, as there currently isn’t a break anyplace in the spectrum of my work between horror and literary. There’s no brightline divider, and I suspect there never will be. But one benefit of beginning with a pseudonym is that I will ditch the name if I ever need to, if I bomb in BookScan or something. I don’t have to worry about a bad book or two ruining my career, even if BookScan continues to have a big impact on a writer’s sophomore+ contracts.
For the past year, my writing-related community has really grown. I’ve met a lot of awesome people. Some only publish traditionally, some only self-publish, but most do a bit of each. The “hybrid” author, I’ve heard us called. One thing I’ve learned is that every writer’s situation, strategy and goals are different, and that it’s better to learn about the new environment and plan the best strategy going forward than pre-judge and spend time lamenting and looking backward. Yeah, a deluge of $0.99 novels makes it hard on the rest of us, but any energy spent fretting about it is wasted. I’m way more likely to get worked up about aesthetics than business, anyway. We’re all just trying to get by.
After so much rejection, one of my goals was to get a publisher to notice me. Instead of waiting, I’d act. I needed to feel like I was moving forward. And along the way I gained peers and readers whom I can thank for what will hopefully turn out to be the next big phase of my career. Because enough of them started talking about my books and including them in their best of 2011 lists to get the attention of basically my dream publisher, horror juggernaut DarkFuse.
When I got a message from the editor of their novel imprint, my heart started pounding, but I told myself that it wasn’t going to turn out, that things never turn out, that it’s all hard work, and it’s all about the work and that there’s no reward, because I was terrified of how low I’d sink if I let myself get too hopeful. So many times I’d watch my stories get set aside from the slush at lit journals, and it just hurt worse when they got rejected.
But I didn't get rejected, and they'll be putting out my novel The Hoard in November.
Some people talk about the industry having changed so much that they’d never do anything but self-publish, but a horror writer would have to be crazy not to seriously consider a deal from DarkFuse / Delirium. Besides the experience and the clout, their terms are set to address the issues of the modern publishing landscape. Unlike the dinosaurs, instead of trying to not notice the approaching asteroid, they’re evolving. For instance, they got big into e-books years before the boom. They weren’t caught off-guard and scrambling, or worse, attempting to sabotage their e-sales to wring the last juice from an old model.
So if this book does well, I hope to publish a lot more with the various imprints of Shane Staley’s company, for sure. In that case, I won’t be self-publishing much long horror anymore. But I’m still an Abominable Gentleman, and hope to torment humanity with short fiction alongside my evil fellows for a long time to come. There could be other collaborations. And it’s likely that I’ll be putting out the third Vampires of the Plains book myself.
And if I decide to take the plunge into a really unrelated genre, I might make up a new name and see if I can’t do it all over again.
To the regulars: since I made a general announcement about my deal, I thought there might be some people I know who are new to the site, so I figured I’d recap.