Horror Writers Association

Nuts & Bolts: Running a Small Press, with Publisher Robert Ottone


Nuts & Bolts: Running a Small Press, with Publisher Robert Ottone

By Tom Joyce

In addition to being a publisher, Robert Ottone is a novelist, short-story writer, and Bram Stoker Award nominee. But when it comes to running Spooky House Press, he thinks of himself primarily as a fan—a designation that motivated him to start his small press in the first place and guides all of his business decisions.   

In this month’s edition of “Nuts & Bolts”, Robert gives some perspective into where small presses like his fit into the publishing landscape, and what that can mean for aspiring authors.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Spooky House Press and how it got started?

A: I started Spooky House Press originally to have a publisher to back my own work. I didn’t want to just launch into self-publishing without having a label or “brand” behind it. Thankfully, it’s since mutated into a tiny press focused on publishing work that I legitimately love and feel deserves more eyes.

Q: How would you define a “small press,” and where does it fit in the publishing landscape?

A: I think a small press is one that isn’t backed financially by any of the “big boys.” A press that is predominantly operated by a small team of people who are passionate about the work, but passionate about the landscape in a grander capacity. I think the smaller presses are where the exciting work is being done. Stuff that will push boundaries. Make people uneasy. That’s what we want to do with Spooky House Press, we want to publish stuff that larger presses might be uneasy about putting out there.

Q: What are the advantages to authors of going with a small press, as opposed to other publishing options?

A: I can only speak to what I like to offer authors. I like my authors to be involved at every step of the process. I like clear, identifiable goals and check-ins. I like the author to feel heard and empowered in going with us to publish their work. I know, personally, I like paying royalties right away. I don’t like wasting time. I don’t like keeping my authors’ money locked up in any capacity. I don’t like my money locked up. I can’t imagine they’d like theirs held up for whatever reason.

Q: What are the drawbacks to being a smaller publisher, and how do you get around them?

A: Money and time. I’m comfortable, but I can’t afford to pour every free dollar I have into Spooky House Press. I wish I could, but I live in New York, and my taxes are astronomical. That said, we’ve been in the black since the release of Michael Jess Alexander’s Boarded Windows, Dead Leaves, and we haven’t looked back. Each book supports the next book.

I also have a real job. Writing is not my primary source of income, as much as I may wish it was. Then again, maybe not; I might fall out of love with it if that’s the case. I don’t know. But having more time is something I’d like in order to push the press further, to spend more time working with authors, etc.

Q: If someone’s interested in starting a small press of their own, how do they get started?

A: Be ready for a variety of fees that may crop up. I know, here in New York, the state wanted as much money as they could get up front. To get started, get yourself a good lawyer and accountant. Be ready to dedicate whatever free time you have to reading submissions. Writing contracts, etc. Find yourself a good formatter, a good editor, have a stable of cover artists that you can rely on regularly. Teach yourself some basic graphic design stuff through Canva. You’re gonna be wearing a lot of hats.

Q: How do you find authors, and what qualities do you look for in their writing?

A: My goal is solely to publish authors I’m a fan of. If that comes from an open submission period or through social media contact, that’s great. I endeavor to publish fun, talented writing that forces a legitimate emotional response in me. I can get that from the first ten thousand words. I go all over the place. Literary. Commercial. Everything. I want to publish it all and I want people to know that no matter what, during our open sub periods, you should submit because I’m very open to what you’ve got.

Q: What’s your role as publisher when it comes to dealing with the authors and their work?

A: I try to keep everyone looped into every decision along the way. Perhaps annoyingly so. It’s not meant to be over-managing, but more transparent. I like people knowing the steps. Knowing what I’m doing. If I don’t talk to my authors, I don’t feel like I’m doing my job. I hate being kept in the dark by publishers, and that’s been sorta the standard in my experience, so I wouldn’t want to do that with people trusting me with their work.

Q: What advice do you give your authors about publicizing their books?

A: I would hope that you’d consider doing a podcast interview. I know it’s hard and you’re all introverts and all that nonsense, but get your voice ready and get on the microphone. Do it while the opportunity is there. Take advantage of every single opportunity afforded to you. Because one day, those opportunities will be gone.

Q: Do you have any projects in the works that you’d like HWA members to know about?

A: My novel, The Vile Thing We Created is out right now from Hydra Publications. I hope everyone checks it out! Be on the lookout for Curse of the Cobb Man from Weird House Press, coming in the future!

Q: Where can people learn more about you and about Spooky House Press?

A: You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter: @RobertOttone. You can join our mailing list: www.spookyhousepress.com.


Tom Joyce is an affiliate member of the HWA and beginning writer trying to learn all he can about the craft and business of writing horror from people more knowledgeable than himself. Feel free to join him on this quest with “Nuts & Bolts,” a monthly series of interviews and features dealing with the practical aspects of writing. And if you have any suggestions for good interview subjects, please feel free to get in touch with him at TomJHWA@gmail.com.

Learn more about “Nuts & Bolts” here: https://horror.org/about-nuts-bolts-practical-advice-for-horror-writers/

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