Welcome to a new feature at The Ginger Nuts of Horror where each month (Or as near as I can manage!) I aim to acquaint you with a host of smaller publishers from around the world and give you a little insight into what goes into running a small press and perhaps a few exclusives on upcoming projects. First out of the blocks is Grey Matter Press. Grey Matter Press is a Chicago based publisher that officially launched in September of 2012. Specialising in dark fiction, they have published authors such as Jonathan Maberry, Ray Garton, William Meikle, John F.D. Taff and Stephen Graham Jones through a string of top quality anthologies. The team of Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson are really making a name for themselves as publishers of high quality dark fiction.
What follows is a series of questions I posed to Anthony Rivera - publisher, acquisitions editor with Grey Matter Press.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. To start with - some folks out there might not be familiar with the press. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Adrian, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and Ginger Nuts of Horror about our press. It’s an honor to participate in your new Press-Ups series. Thanks so much!
Grey Matter Press is headquartered in Chicago and we specialize in dark fiction, exploring themes that investigate the shady side of sinister street, you might say. While many folks may believe we only publish horror, we actually release titles from a whole range of genres -- science fiction, fantasy, crime, noir, thriller and mystery.
We launched this ship in September 2012 with the announcement of simultaneous calls for two anthologies. Those titles became Dark Visions and Splatterlands. During the call window we read so many great manuscripts that we added a volume two to the Dark Visions franchise. These three books, along with a fourth that became our first sci-fi horror mashup, Ominous Realities, were released in the last quarter of 2013. Since then, we’ve gone on to publish titles in a range of genres.
What are some of the titles that are currently available and what is your most recent release?
As of now, two years later, our product line includes a diverse and eclectic catalog, two of which are Bram Stoker Award nominees. By the end of this year we’ll have a full complement of novels, novellas, anthologies and single-author collections. A veritable cornucopia of fear, we like to say. ;)
Our most recent release is the anthology Savage Beasts, published in August 2015. Savage Beasts contains an incredible selection of short fiction that’s really been resonating with fans of dark fiction. The book has been well received, even catching the attention of mainstream entertainment outlets that include both Rue Morgue and Fangoria.
With Savage Beasts we wanted to investigate how authors were influenced by the music they love. Each of the contributors took that topline concept and ran with it, incorporating some aspect of musicality into their stories. And they did so in vastly different ways, examining the beauty, the darkness and the intricacies of lyricism while exploring an array of auditory concepts as they relate to the darker side of the human condition.
Where did the name Grey Matter Press come from and why did you decide to become involved with publishing?
I’ve spent my professional career working in the field of communications in one form or another. From journalism and publishing, to advertising and public relations, as well as interactive and marketing design.
I often tell this silly story about having written, edited and published my own “newspaper” when I was just a kid. While it didn’t have any circulation to speak of -- my family, friends and some very patient neighbours -- it was really where my desire to create was ignited. Shortly thereafter came fiction writing as creative expression, journalism and advertising degrees, and then working in marketing for several years until I eventually opened my own boutique MarCom agency.
After far too much time selling processed potato chips to people that shouldn’t eat them and luxury cars to folks who probably shouldn’t buy them, Grey Matter Press became a logical next step for me to re-connect with an original passion that I’d left behind in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. I now enjoy getting up in the morning and find life a whole helluva lot more interesting as I’m doing what I believe I was meant to do while also helping so many exceptional authors achieve their own dreams however I can.
Is this a full-time job? If not – how many hours per week do spend working on the press?
As anyone who’s ever worked in marketing for any length of time can tell you, one quickly realizes that the definition of what constitutes as a “full-time gig” is far different than what that might mean for a lot of other jobs. It wasn’t uncommon to work 50-60 hours a week or more. And to be honest, publishing, even at the small-press level, isn’t all that different. Day or night I’m usually working on something related to producing and selling our books. Those activities run the gamut from reading submissions, editing manuscripts, working on creative executions for cover art as well as brand management and product positioning for the company, our titles and our authors. While I’m not sure I can put a number on the hours I work in a week, it almost doesn’t matter as it once did in the PR/Advertising world, because it’s far more enjoyable. I suppose that goes back to the old cliché about doing what one loves and being more satisfied having done so.
Has publishing changed very much since you first started?
We’ve only had product in the marketplace for a little over two years. And even during that time, things have changed. An ever-increasing number of brick-and-mortar retailers are shuttering their doors, online retailers and subscription services have come and gone. Technology is forever changing. But I feel that every viable industry finds itself in a constant state of flux. Publishing and retailing is no different. There are always new challenges and the need to develop different approaches to accomplish the same things you did the day before. Adaptability is the key. This is very much so the case when it comes to publishing as well. Trends in consumer behaviour, the state of our economies and the advancement in technology influence what we do each day. At Grey Matter Press, we aim to stay ahead of those changes and adapt to stay ahead of the curve.
Horror or dark fiction is still frowned upon by many. From a fiction perspective; what do you think of its current state?
Honestly, I think that horror and dark fiction are experiencing a sort of cultural resurgence, whether people realize it or not. We see “dark” themes manifesting themselves in different ways throughout all of our popular entertainment. I suppose, on a very basic level, this goes back to the ages old battle between good and evil, light and dark. However modern dark fiction, or at least the type we choose to publish at Grey Matter Press, explores the many shades of grey in between. Which is actually, in my opinion, the place where each and every one of us lives.
No matter what we as humans might prefer to believe, none of our heroes are 100 percent good, and none of the bad guys are 100 percent evil. There are those folks who eschew horror or don’t consider it worth spending their time on. But in literature as in life there is light and dark, and a lot of those who claim to dislike “dark fiction” are reading material that could fall comfortably within that category if only they were to take a step back and look at the page more deeply.
What goals do you have with each of your releases?
First and foremost we want to produce fiction that resonates with our readers. We enjoy blurring the lines between commonly accepted genres. And, in doing so, we hope to introduce fans to themes and genres they might not have previously considered, or at least give them a new take on what they currently believe are their preferences.
How do you measure whether or not the book has been a success?
Obviously sales are important to both author and publisher. Arguably more crucial for the author is that the publisher has the capacity to sell their books. From a business standpoint, that’s likely one of the most important benchmarks in determining the success of a given title.
We’re in the business of producing and selling books in order for the authors to make money on their work. To that point, I feel we’ve got a pretty good track record when it comes to sales. As of today, more than half of our titles have remained on their respective bestseller lists for the vast majority of the time they’ve been in release. And many of these titles were published more than two years ago.
From an author perspective, I think that shows the demonstrable ability of Grey Matter Press to keep their titles in front of readers. From a reader perspective, I believe that proves the titles we’re publishing are a safe bet when it comes to their purchase decisions. I think if we’re able to continue to produce titles that readers actually want that’s the most important barometer of success for everyone involved.
I’m sure you are immensely happy of all of your releases, but, is there one in particular that you are the most proud of?
Wow. That’s kind of like asking which of your children you love most. ;)
At the risk of sounding like the parent put on the spot, I can find something about every book we’ve published to be proud. Obviously there are our two volumes that were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award – our very first release Dark Visions One and John F.D. Taff’s The End in All Beginnings. Those books will always hold a special place in my heart.
This spring we’ll be publishing John C. Foster’s Mister White. This is a book I’m particularly proud of and not simply because it marks the introduction of novels into the Grey Matter Press stable. But because it’s a fantastic dark thriller by an incredibly talented author. And I’m not just saying that as the publisher. I say that as a fan of great fiction. Mister White is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s a real barn-burner of a horror/adventure/espionage novel with very dark occult undertones – a masterful blend of what John does so brilliantly.
This summer we’re releasing Peeling Back the Skin, an anthology that references what I mentioned earlier about the light and the dark in us all. Peeling Back the Skin explores the concept of the monster that is man – the convict behind bars, the quiet neighbour next door and the person who stares at you from your bathroom mirror. I’m particularly proud of this book as it includes fiction by so many authors who’ve defined the genre. As both a fan and publisher, what’s not to enjoy when you get to work with some of the greatest talents penning modern fiction today -- Jonathan Maberry, Ray Garton, Graham Masterton, Yvonne Navarro, Tim Lebbon, James Lowder, Nancy Collins and so many more assembled into one volume. It’s an amazing anthology of star-studded talent.
What have been the highlights of your publishing career thus far?
Another hard question. We’ve had so many in our first two years, the first being the ability to have worked with so much outstanding creative talent. When we announced our initial calls back in 2012, no one had ever heard of Grey Matter Press. Yet, authors whom I’ve idolized for years were graciously willing to give us a shot. During the last 28 months I’ve been honestly humbled to have been able to publish fiction written by some of the biggest names in the business, while also discovering emerging talent, many of which I firmly believe will become tomorrow’s big names.
During our first two years we’ve been fortunate enough to have been nominated twice for the Bram Stoker Award. That is an immense honour for any publisher, much less one of the new kids on the block. And for those nominations I give all the credit to the talented authors who’ve allowed us to publish their work.
Our books have also been featured on a number of Year’s Best lists, including one recently from your own organization Ginger Nuts of Horror. I thank you, Jim McLeod and George Anderson for that.
Several of the short stories published in our anthologies have been named as honourable mentions by Ellen Datlow, an editor whose work I’ve respected all my life. And as an upstart publisher we’ve been recognized by major entertainment magazines and news outlets. We were also, surprisingly, nominated for twice for the This is Horror Award for Publisher of the Year and for Collection of the Year for Taff’s The End in All Beginnings. (Can I mention This is Horror on Ginger Nuts? Is there some sort of non-compete clause that precludes that. ;) )
To be honest, there are too many highlights to mention. They would, along with my own penchant for babbling, fill a volume.
What does Grey Matter Press look for in a manuscript?
This is a question I’m often asked. And, to be honest, it’s difficult to answer because what we might be looking for on one project will likely change for the next.
When I read a manuscript, whether it be a short story or a novel, I’m looking for something that moves me on a very basic level. That can be accomplished in a number of ways, and it’s really dependent upon the talent of the author to make that happen.
Much of what we look for is that same as what most publishers are looking for, I suspect. Creativity, effective characterization, a different take an existing trope. But the decisions of editors, just like readers, are decidedly arbitrary. And, to be honest, every manuscript we’ve accepted has resonated with us on a very gut level. They simply work. Do they work for every reader? Probably not, but that’s okay. There are many different readers looking for different things and looking for them for completely different reasons.
I firmly believe that everything we’ve ever published is a valid piece of literary work and each will resonate with different audiences in very different ways. That’s what we try to do. Create an enjoyable dark fiction reading experience for a diverse and varied audience.
Can you give us a little glimpse into what Grey Matter Press has in store for 2016?
This year is going to be our busiest yet. We’ve got a full schedule of books ready to go with an announcement coming soon. I’m looking at the next twelve months as an evolutionary period for Grey Matter Press, a time during which we will be releasing more titles than any year prior and diversifying into a number of new sub-genres.
Our releases begin arriving in early spring with John C. Foster’s dark thriller Mister White. We also have our first-ever reader-selected Best of Grey Matter Press anthology, Dread. Then, of course, there’s Peeling Back the Skin that I mentioned earlier.
We’ll also be publishing a great anthology of novellas, edited by John F.D. Taff and written by five very different genre authors, I Can Taste the Blood. This was Taff’s brainchild and features work by him as well the brilliant Josh Malerman, Erik T. Johnson, J. Daniel Stone and Joe Schwartz.
We’ll soon be sharing the news about two new novels, one of which is a unique twist on a dark urban fantasy, while the other is a disturbing tale of horror that fans of the extreme are going to enjoy. We’ll also be announcing a series of novellas that take a deliciously modern twist on gothic fiction.
As I said, it’s going to be an all-new Grey Matter Press for an all-new year. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And very, very scary. ;)
The life of a publisher is a busy one and I’m incredibly grateful for you answering these questions. We wish you all the best for 2016 and beyond…J
For more information on Grey Matter Press you can visit online at GreyMatterPress.com You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.