The Dragon’s Lair: Tips & Tricks with Vince Liaguno
Greetings from the Dragon’s Lair! I’m very excited to present this mini-series of tips-and-tricks from seasoned publishing professionals for the benefit of members and non-members alike. A little background before we dive into the good stuff! My hope and vision for not only this blog, but these resource columns is to give authors, editors, and publishing professionals who are new to the world of publishing or even seasoned professionals, some resources to look through and reference.
We have a fantastic line-up of editors and publishers for our Tips and Tricks Series. I’m pleased to introduce Vince Liaguno!
Vince A. Liaguno is the Bram Stoker Award®-winning editor of Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (Dark Scribe Press 2008), an anthology of queer horror fiction, which he co-edited with Chad Helder; Butcher Knives & Body Counts (Dark Scribe Press, 2011), a collection of essays on the formula, frights, and fun of the slasher film; and the second volume in the Unspeakable Horror series, subtitled Abominations of Desire (Evil Jester Press, 2017). Most recently, he edited Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology (William Morrow, 2022) with Rena Mason. His debut novel, 2006’s The Literary Six, was a tribute to the slasher films of the 80’s and won an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Horror and was named a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards in the Gay/Lesbian Fiction category.
He currently resides in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, where he is a licensed nursing home administrator by day and a writer, anthologist, and pop culture enthusiast by night. He is a member (and former Secretary) of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC).
Author website: www.VinceLiaguno.com
1.) As an editor / publisher – what are some common mistakes you see authors make when they sign their first contract?
Many first-time authors don’t have a firm grasp on the various rights being asked for in an agreement. First rights, reprint rights, second serial rights, archival rights, anthology rights, First World English and translation rights. Are the rights you’re selling exclusive or non-exclusive—or perhaps exclusive for a defined period of time? It’s tricky, and there are nuances. It’s imperative that writers understand this important aspect of the business. It’s exciting to land that first acceptance or an acceptance in a coveted publication or anthology—but don’t get so excited that you sign the agreement before you actually read and understand the rights you’re relinquishing. The social media post can wait.
2.) What resources do you think would benefit authors as they attempt to jump these obstacles?
Membership in a professional writer’s association like HWA or ITW or SFWA. The latter actually has a Contracts Committee, whose purpose is to develop and maintain a repository of sample contracts and contract-related information for its members. A good place to start is with their Intro to Publishing Contracts page, where you’ll find a link to a 34-page document by Sean P. Fodera and C. E. Petit that provides an overview to publishing contracts. Link: https://www.sfwa.org/member-links/committees/contracts-committee/intro-to-publishing-contracts/
While the Internet is an accessible and free source of information, I’d caution against outdated or blatantly incorrect information. Any information about contracts and rights that comes out of a professional organization like the ones mentioned above is going to be fully vetted, often coming from the professionals. If a seasoned professional who’s sold to both the major houses and small presses alike gives out some advice on a message board or in an association newsletter, take it, bookmark it, and save it. Avoid the guy who’s sold one or two short stories and thinks he’s a contract specialist.
That all said, if you’re fortunate enough to have an agent, ask them to explain exactly what rights you’re handing over and the implications of doing so.
3.) What advice would you give new editors or publishers as they enter the business world of publishing? Also, what challenges did you face when you entered the publishing world and how did you overcome it?
How long do we have? I have the unique perspective of being both a successful editor and a failed publisher. In 2007, I launched my own publishing company called Dark Scribe Press—went all in with the LLC and its own taxpayer identification number, opened a bank account to keep the business money from comingling with my own, professional website, logos…the whole nine yards. I understood the mechanics of launching a publishing outfit, but I didn’t understand the realities of things like distribution channels or the stigmas against small presses at the time. I poured my own money into anthologies—always paying the pro-rates of the time—and two authors’ short story collections, and I managed to publish five titles in total. But I found myself behind the learning curve I so desperately needed to round. I sold few copies of the books I’d spent a fortune to have produced beautifully and professionally and they languished in my basement for years—in fact, I just discarded boxes and boxes of these books before my big move from New York to Michigan. The press quietly shuttered in 2012. It was an expensive but valuable lesson in the business of publishing. No regrets for the attempt, but I certainly wish I would have had the good judgement to shadow a small press for a year before launching my own. That would be my advice for anyone even considering launching their own small press—hands-on research with someone who’s been successful at it for a number of years. Find a mentor, be a good mentee.
Thankfully, I’ve been far more successful as an editor—or anthologist, to be more precise. Honestly, I didn’t encounter any challenges other than trying to establish myself. Fortunately, I was Secretary of the HWA at the time of my first anthology, so I had decent enough connections from networking within the organization to get reputable writers like Lee Thomas and Sarah Langan and Kealan Patrick Burke to take a chance with me on my first attempt at an anthology. The rest, as I often say, is a matter of bibliography.
So, in terms of advice for those budding editors out there, I’d say networking and connections are key, especially in the beginning. For those who want to edit anthologies, understand that anthologies are harder sells than novels, especially to the majors. They simply don’t sell in the numbers that novels do. You’ve got to have some name authors attached before you pitch your anthology. Don’t be afraid to draw in writers from genre-adjacent fields either. Rena Mason and I just edited an HWA anthology for William Morrow called Other Terrors, and one of the names we floated between us was S.A. Cosby, who’d just come off widespread success with his first two crime novels. Having just read Razorblade Tears, I knew this was a writer who understood otherness from multiple perspectives. We invited him, he accepted, and he knocked it out of the park with a killer horror story. So, think outside the genre box!
I’d also say to read widely in the format—keep lists of those contributors whose stories you enjoy. And don’t be afraid of the slush pile. There are gems waiting to be plucked and polished and, I will tell you, there is nothing more rewarding as an editor than giving a writer his or her or their first professional sale.
4.) A follow up, what resources did you wish you had as a new editor or publisher?
Interesting question. Honestly, I think all the resources I needed were there; I just lacked, perhaps, some of the required due diligence to wade through it all. So, I guess I would say that I wished I’d encountered more people critical of my efforts? More naysayers? Eh, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. Sometimes there is no better teacher than failure.