A WRITER’S JOURNEY: Part 13
Making the Internet a Writer’s Power Tool
An interview with Douglas Clegg
I think sometimes the world goes crazy. Winds itself up and lets go. People are like that too. You get enough people wound tight in the same place and… it spins out of control. Douglas Clegg is a writer who has capitalized on that concept in his Harrow books. Harrow is a house constructed from the magic of the past, mish-mashed together to unlock the secrets of an unseen world of ghosts and horrors beyond imagination. It was these books that brought his name to my attention and hooked me without regret. Harrow has spread across multiple novels, novellas and short stories and I’ve tried to read them all. The most recent Harrow related tale came in the form of Isis, which chronicled the earliest encounters with the supernatural of Isis Claviger, the psychic brought in to investigate the monstrosity known as Harrow. Other Harrow tales include The Necromancer, Nightmare House, Mischief, The Infinite, and The Abandoned. On average he publishes a book a year and has been doing so for the past 20 years, which has brought him a great deal of success, earning him the Bram Stoker Award, International Horror Guild Award and the Shocker Award.
A few of his other books include, The Vampyricon Series, The Attraction, Naomi, Goat Dance, The Halloween Man and the recently released Neverland. He’s one of the most reliable writers in horror today for quality and output. Douglas Clegg also happens to be a major leader in using the Internet to its full potential when it comes to promoting and distributing horror fiction. He’s been kind enough to join us today on A Writer’s Journey and maybe he might share with us some of the secrets he’s learned on the road to becoming the writer he is today.
With great honor I present, Mr. Douglas Clegg.
BL: First off I want to say thank you for allowing me to interview you for A Writer’s Journey. Over the last four years since discovering your work through Nightmare House, I have watched you change from an innovator of online fiction to becoming a powerhouse of using the Internet to promote and distribute your works. Your website has increased its features available to fans to astounding levels. I know that may sound like over-the-top praise, except, I think anyone watching the metamorphosis of www.douglasclegg.com would agree with me and be in an equal amount of awe. At a time when few writers use their website to full potential, what has inspired you to make yours what it is: an interactive fan treasure trove of goodies?
DC: I love people who read books, whether mine or others’ fiction. I love writing. I always have.
The website allows me to communicate directly with readers — through my e-mail newsletter — and to convey aspects of my life and writing to readers who might be interested. It’s my home on the web, basically, so I have fun with it — and I hope readers do, as well.
On the other hand, the beauty and functionality of my website is a direct result of the team at www.DeenaWarnerDesign.com who made it look so good and work so well.
BL: Naomi originally was launched in 1999 as the Internet’s first publisher-sponsored e-serial, which was later released in both hardcover and paperback versions. Finding a publisher to sponsor an e-serial is no easy task and following that up with hardcover and paperback sales of the same book seems next to impossible since few publishing houses would be willing to take a risk on a book that is already available in digital format. How were you able to convince publishers to take the risk? Was the popularity of the e-serial a determining factor in the later print sales? Did the online availability of the novel hurt print sales?
DC: It wasn’t that difficult to get my then-publisher interested — it was Dorchester Publishing, and at the time they jumped at the chance. This was back in 1999, and a few people in publishing told me they were fascinated by this experiment. But Dorchester backed it and asked for no rights in return, which was generous and remarkable.
The online availability helped both the hardcover and paperback editions, of course. E-books were in their infancy then, at least in terms of New York publishing houses. Nobody really knew where anything might be headed. I had nothing to lose — it was more important for me to find readers on the Internet than to worry about the sale of the book later on.
That e-mail serial changed my career — but at the time a lot of people told me it might end it.
Still, I did it because it was a challenge — and I like challenges.
BL: Your accomplishments to date have been numerous and if anything you seem to downplay a majority of it. What has helped you in your life to keep humble about your success and stay grounded in the work?
DC: Reality will ground you every time. My work involves waking up, facing a blank page, and writing. This can be both wonderful and tragic — at the same time. I know I’m fortunate to do this for a living, and I enjoy it when it’s going well. But it doesn’t always go well, and I accept that, too.
The one thing I don’t do is fool myself into believing that the world owes me anything. It doesn’t. I face the reality of what it means to be a writer, and that is: simply to write. And write. And write.
Years ago, when I sent off my first novel and was expressing a bit of discouragement about the odds of that book selling, a friend’s father said, “I’ve always believed that when you have a talent, you owe it to the world to develop it and see it through no matter what.”
Those words have stayed with me. They were magical in terms of how my attitude changed. When the book sold, I felt as if that man — a respected surgeon — had given me a huge gift.
BL: Cemetery Dance has been a large supporter of your work. How did this relationship come to be? What have been some of the benefits of working with a small press?
DC: My relationship with Cemetery Dance Publishing began with a shock to my ego. I had a book or two out, and I wrote a short horror story. I sent it to Cemetery Dance and the publisher — some guy named Rich Chizmar — wrote back that it wasn’t for him.
Then, he bought the next story I sent. After that we got to know each other, and several years later I was lucky enough to get a book out of the gate with them — my first sale to the limited edition press. That was my novel You Come When I Call You, which also came out in paperback at the same time.
Since then, we’ve done a lot of books together and his film business with Johnathon Schaech, Chesapeake Films, also optioned my novel, The Hour Before Dark for Hollywood.
Anyone who reads Cemetery Dance editions knows that they produce beautiful books — the kinds of hardcovers that both writers and readers love. I’ve worked here and there with some other presses in this area, but my relationship with Cemetery Dance is strong — I trust Rich Chizmar, I’ve had nothing but great experiences with him and his staff, and frankly, they have treated me and my fiction well.
They also publish a lot of King and Koontz and other writers whose work I admire, so I feel honored to have books in their line-up.
BL: It can’t be easy getting multiple publishers bidding on a book that comes out free in an e-mail to a mailing list. How did you manage to make this happen? What techniques did you use to draw readers to the mailing list?
DC: Regarding publishers — they approached me. They were enthusiastic. The hardcover publisher of Naomi was Subterranean Press, and Bill Schafer is another smart publisher. He did a beautiful job with Naomi‘s hardcover edition — this was roughly about ten years ago.
Then, Cemetery Dance brought out my second e-serial in hardcover, called Nightmare House. Down the road, Cemetery Dance ended up outbidding other publishers on eBay when I had some fun and put the limited edition rights to my novel The Abandoned up for auction.
Regarding drawing readers to my newsletter, a lot of people arrived who’d heard about the serial novel from other sources — newspapers and magazine and online write-ups — and then some of my constant readers arrived, as well. I run contests, offer some freebies now and then, and do what I can to encourage people to subscribe to my newsletter at http://DouglasClegg.com
BL: Book trailers are becoming a common marketing tool, but it’s not often that an addictive game comes along to promote a book, especially with such amazing artwork. Who came up with the game idea? Was it something you had a hands-on approach with or was it left up to the game designers, Difference Games? Be honest, how many times have you played the Isis and Neverland games?
DC: First, book trailers are great tools to help get a conversation going about a book — and a lot of online bookstores love carrying them on their sites. Sheila English and www.COSProductions.com has done all of mine and if I have my way, they’ll keep doing them.
The game came about because one of the Internet geniuses — Matt Schwartz, who runs www.Shocklines.com — came to me with the idea of doing a game.
He put me in touch with the game developer — Adam Schroeder at www.DifferenceGames.com. Then, the publisher for Isis — Vanguard Press — jumped at the opportunity. The rest is history.
What was distinct about the Isis game — besides the beautiful illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne — was that unlike other book promotion games, the Isis game wasn’t going to exist only on a publisher or author’s website, but instead went to hundreds of online casual game sites. In the first month, nearly 2 million people had played it.
Then, the Neverland game came next, and again hundreds of thousands of people played it — it’s nearly at a million players now.
I’ve played the Isis game about twenty times, and the Neverland game about the same number.
There’s going to be a new game coming up, too, but I don’t want to announce what it is just yet.
BL: How influential do you think your website has been in exposure and sales of your books?
DC: I look at www.DouglasClegg.com as a place where readers can come over and find out more about the books, and we can communicate. It’s a fairly active community, and crosses over to my Scribd, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube areas, too.
I’ll say it again: I love getting to know people who read fiction. I’ve loved readers since I was a kid, and I’m happy to know them. Readers allow me the time to write. I can’t thank them enough.
BL: Recently, you tried taking time off from the Internet to see if it would impact your production/life. It seems a rather odd experiment for a writer who has used the powers of the Internet during so much of their writing career. If there was no Internet, how do you think you would have done things differently when you were getting your writing off of the ground?
DC: Well, there was no Internet to speak of when I began. My first novel came out in 1989, and I didn’t get on the Internet until the mid-1990s. I had about five novels out from publishers in New York before I ever got online, and it took me a number of years to even understand how the Internet would be helpful to a writer.
But I figured it out quickly, and then people like Matt Schwartz — who at the time launched a big horror fiction-lovers website called www.Horrornet.com — and writers like M.J. Rose, publishers like Angela and Richard Hoy at www.Booklocker.com, and writers and thinkers like Seth Godin with his unstoppable e-book, Unleashing the Ideavirus and Michael Cader whose Publishers Lunch revolutionized communication and community in publishing — all of them happened to be there, trying different things.
These were the early days of e-books and the Internet. A lot of creative people were experimenting online. Tons of e-book-only writers appeared and they, too, tried various ways of getting books out in e-book form. It was exciting, and a kind of golden age in retrospect. There was nothing about books and the Internet that didn’t seem new and untested at the time.
BL: You put together a free “20 Tips for Writers” that received a large amount of readers. It offered a humorous take on the traditional tips. What inspired you to write this? By the way, my third and fourth books began during NaNoWriMo.
DC: What inspired 20 Tips for Writers, truth be told, was Tip #10. I won’t say which one that is — the reader will have to look it up at www.Scribd.com
But basically, I thought of all the things I do that I want to believe help me write (none of which really do), as well as the b.s. I’ve heard some writers spout over the years, and also some of my worst impulses as a writer.
And I put it all in the book. As the book’s cover suggests, it’s mostly true.
Certainly, coffee is a writer’s best friend.
BL: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey? Any advice you would like to pass onto fledgling writers regarding the process of writing and the business of publishing? Pitfalls to avoid?
DC: The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that if it’s not becoming more difficult with each book, then I’m doing it wrong. I have more to learn with my 25th book than I did with my first — or my 24th.
My advice? If you don’t love being alone a lot of the time and you don’t love revising your writing, staring at walls and being hypercritical of what you’ve produced — don’t get into this line of work. If you want your hand held by anyone, don’t go into this business.
And those are the things I love. Sure, there’s plenty of joy, too, and believe me, I’d rather spend my life as I currently do than in any other way. I wake up when I want, I read, watch movies, then spend most of the day writing. And despite the fact that most people in this business can seem overly-cautious and often cheerily negative, I still love the business of publishing.
Regarding avoiding pitfalls, that’s impossible. I get approached by a lot of well-meaning aspiring writers who want more than anything to sell a novel to a big New York publishing house — but they only want to do it if there’s a shortcut.
I don’t know the shortcuts. If you’re a celebrity or a close relative of one, or if your husband or wife or eldest child is a publisher or major agent, then perhaps you can trim a little of the rind off and get to the warm flesh of the business.
But I’d still rather take the long way around. If there were shortcuts, everybody would take them all the time. There are none.
It’s a matter of writing a novel or story that people will want to read and perhaps even be affected by in some way. It’s about digging deep, finding what you love, what you hate, what you believe…and writing stories.
BL: Now comes the part of the interview I enjoy quite a bit (because I’m a greedy bastard who is always looking for more to read). Toot your own horn time. What new writing projects have you got lined up? I see that Cemetery Dance has a serialized novella in its pages. Are you expanding on Harrow more in the future? Spill the beans, Mr. Clegg.
DC: The serialized novella is called The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities. Since the serialization, I’ve revised it quite a bit. This seems odd, but I felt it could use a bit of expansion even after it was serialized.
I’ve slowly been working on a big novel called The Language of Wolves that may not see the light of day for a bit. It’s set on the coast of Maine, in a magnificent summer place, and deals with madness, murder, love and brotherhood. It may be the most ambitious novel I’ve ever undertaken.
My novelette, Mr. Darkness, should be out by winter from Cemetery Dance Publications. This story — short as it is — has gone through so many permutations that I might as well have written a long novel in three parts. Yet, Mr. Darkness should see the light of day soon.
I’ve spent a few years primarily reading and studying drama and various aspects of world literature — just revisiting and rediscovering. Other projects should be surfacing over the next twelve months or so.
BL: Thank you very much for taking the time to join me on the journey. It’s always a pleasure finding out more about your work.
DC: Thanks for the great interview, Brandon.
Visit Douglas Clegg’s Website www.douglasclegg.com and sign up for his newsletter for exclusing goodies. Or follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/douglasclegg
Want to play the Neverland game? http://douglasclegg.com/Neverland/
Reviews of Douglas Clegg’s Neverland, Nightmare House, The Infinite, Mischief, & The Abandoned up at Spine Busters http://www.spinebusters.wordpress.com