Interview: Lindy Ryan and Max Gold of the HWA Publisher's Council
In my opinion, the indie publishing scene for horror fiction is like the Wild West.
There are a few industry standards everyone seems to agree on, but for the most part each publisher is out there doing their own thing. This is my perception from the outside, looking in (although, I recently announced my own horror imprint, so I'm inside the scene now). As a reader/reviewer active on Twitter for the last four years, I have seen authors subtweet about shady business practices like non payment, ghosting, and lack of promotion, as well as interpersonal drama ranging from pet peeves to seriously questionable behavior.
Sometimes, the subtweets get so specific a publisher ultimately gets called out, a dust up occurs, and then depending on the professionalism of those involved, there is either the appearance of resolution or we just never hear from that publisher again. Recently, a few indie publishers have shut their doors due to some pretty nasty situations on social media. This has led me and a few others to openly express concerns about a few things:
How can the community of authors better protect themselves?
How can we make navigating the waters of indie publishing easier and safer?
Is there a better way to handle sticky situations between publishers and authors/consumers as they arise?
Shouldn't there be some kind of regulation or accreditation facilitated by an organization in order to contextualize good business practices and establish a basic standard?
Maybe authors should form a union?
Maybe publishers should pay membership to some kind of association with a board of directors?
Can we all agree on a baseline for pro-rates and what to do when authors don't get their paychecks?
Protocol. Accountability. Procedure. SEVERANCE!! (just kidding).
All of these questions were being discussed in real time, openly on Twitter, and someone mentioned that the HWA (Horror Writers Association) was forming a Publisher's Council. There was an announcement about it in an HWA newsletter. I decided to reach out to the two individuals mentioned as being involved in the council's leadership, Max Gold and Lindy Ryan.
Since the HWA Publisher's Council has not even had their first official meeting (which is scheduled for sometime after StokerCon), there's not a lot of information out there, but I did get a little, and I'd like to share some of the important details from our emails.
Good Morning Lindy & Max
I was wondering if I could interview you both and get a better understanding of this publisher’s council? I’m not even sure what questions to ask because I don’t know enough about it, so maybe we could start with just a few questions and keep rolling from there? I think it would be good for the community to hear what’s going on, and if this council will be able to meet some of the needs/concerns that have been expressed in the last couple of months.
Can we start with an explanation of what this HWA Publisher council’s mission is right now, in its current stage?
What are some of the immediate goals?
Then based on your answers, we can continue? Thanks so much for your time.
From Max Gold:
Good morning Sadie,
Currently, with StokerCon the Publisher's Council has not met. We plan to meet after the convention.
As a sanctioned initiative by the HWA we are taking a careful approach in ensuring the council's long term success. The mission is to create resources for writers, editors, and other horror industry professionals while at the same time helping authors understand the perils and obstacles of the publishing industry.
This might involve creating non-legal resources that can be hosted on the HWA's website for example, accessible to HWA members. We have discussed other options, but I'm afraid until the council meets as a whole we cannot really comment.
I've attached the initial press release which also documents the current council members.
Let me know if this helps. Happy to answer any more questions!
The Press Release:
JANUARY 25, 2022 – In an effort to build stronger relationships between the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and horror publishers, editors, and industry professionals, the HWA announced the launch of the first ever HWA Publishers Council. This council will be comprised of an elected cohort of individuals who represent a diverse spectrum of genres and outlets across the publishing industry—from traditional small and mid-size presses, niche publishers, and indie micro-presses to magazines and other horror publishing industry professionals.
The inaugural council will be overseen by HWA President John Palisano, and co-chaired by HWA Board of Trustees Treasurer Maxwell Gold and Black Spot Books Founder and President Lindy Ryan. Seated on the inaugural council are Jennifer Barnes (Raw Dog Screaming Press), Michael Bailey (Written Backwards), Don D’Auria (Flame Tree Press), Kevin Lucia (Cemetery Dance), Wendy Wagner (Nightmare Magazine), Romie Stott (Strange Horizons), and Jonathan Maberry (Weird Tales). Cohort members will serve one year.
Says co-chair Maxwell Gold, “My hope is that with the Publishers Council, the Horror Writers Association will be able to create not only resources for writers, but also more transparent understanding and education into how publishing works.”
“As a publisher, it’s our prerogative to engage with members of the horror community in a meaningful way,” adds co-chair Lindy Ryan. “Building a sustainable, equitable, and inclusive future in horror means we must open the barriers of communication between publishers, editors, authors, and other members of the horror community-at-large. That’s exactly what the HWA Publishers Council is primed to do.”
The inaugural cohort will begin quarterly meetings in May 2022, following the annual StokerCon convention.
Lindy Ryan added:
I think Max has provided most of the basic information we have at this point, but I’m happy to fill in any blanks or answer any further questions. Right now, the PubCouncil is still very much in its infancy. One of the things on our to-do list is to put together a survey so we can reach out to the community-at-large and understand the issues most pressing facing our community. We hope to use that data to inform how we proceed with our initial goals for the council.
Thank you both for the important information you have shared.
Do you think, based on what you have outlined here in the press release, this council is a step in the right direction toward making independent publishing safer and more regulated for authors, or do you feel that some additional services outside the HWA would be needed to step into that role?
From Max Gold:
I cannot speak on behalf of independent publishing, but what I can say, speaking as an officer and representative of the HWA, is that I believe the council is a step towards creating a more inclusive and transparent community for publishers and writers. It is my hope that through this collaboration with publishers, editors, and industry professionals the HWA can bring valuable resources to all HWA members.
Perhaps Lindy might be able to speak more to the world of independent publishing.
Thank you for shedding some light on this initiative!
From Lindy Ryan:
Speaking not as a writer or editor, but as an independent publisher, I also want to add that the “independent” publishing landscape is as broad and diverse as the voices within, considering the definition of indie applies to everything that is not Big 5—from large mid-size presses, specialty/niche publishers, small presses and multimedia corporations with traditional distribution, to micro-presses, bootstrap indies, and self-publishers (and we’ve tried to represent all of these perspectives on the council). Thus, standardizing horror publishing is probably an impossible feat, however setting standards for how publishers conduct business and engage with the community (including readers, reviewers, authors, editors, etc.) should not be. Predatory practices, unethical behavior, hate speech, and other issues we’ve seen rise of late should be addressed, and those conversations need to pave the way to sustaining a healthy, inclusive, and equitable horror publishing landscape.
While the Pub Council can’t solve these problems, what we are hoping it CAN do is provide a forum for open discussion that results in resources HWA members can utilize to be empowered to navigate the industry and ensure their voices and stories are heard.
Lindy & Max,
I can’t thank you enough for your willingness to answer my questions, take time out of your busy schedules to do that, and for being transparent with me. I’m basically sharing a majority of our back and forth correspondence as part of the interview as I believe it will really help shed light on some of the current concerns in indie publishing and that there are people out there striving to make changes. Thank you for all the work you are doing and for all the work you will be doing to address these issues. If there is any way I can help, in the future, as someone now a part of the indie publishing scene, please let me know. Is there anything people (readers, reviewers, consumers, publishers, editors, etc.) can do right now to help see to this council’s success?
Thanks again for your time.
From Lindy Ryan:
Once we get our initial survey put together, the biggest call to action we’ll need is for everyone to chime in. Contributing their thoughts, experiences, and expectations to that living document will help ensure that the council is actively working on the issues most pressing to the larger horror community. There are a lot of things the council could work on, but we want to make sure that we are listening to the community and letting those needs drive our focus and priorities so that we truly are providing value.
The Publishers Council is a small cohort of representative individuals, not the sum of the whole. We’re not gatekeepers or decision-makers, but advocates. This is not an ivory tower initiative, it’s the first steps in what we hope to become a sustainable forum for change, helmed by the HWA, but for the community. We want to be transparent and have an active dialogue with the community, so engagement is critical. That said, it’s hard to imagine a context in which we’d ever say publishing is “perfect,” but the ability to enact change and drive a sustainable and equitable future means that we have to come together as a community united. We have to remember that the goal is to empower and uplift our community, not descend into internal squabbling.
Well this is our call to action.
Contribute concerns, thoughts, ideas, experiences, and expectations.
Start thinking about solutions for current issues you'd like to see addressed.
Be patient with the process.
Be available to help if you feel that you can add value.
Here's a link to the official press release on the HWA website.
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