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DOUG CLEGG:
Twenty-first Century Boy

January 2000 By Paula Guran

For better or worse, Douglas Clegg might be seen as something of a human microcosm of the challenges authors as a whole -- and horror writers in particular -- have faced in the last decade or so. He's been hot himself, survived the perils of horror being not so hot, switched gears when needed, found a new way to market his own work via the Internet, combined both specialty press and New York publishing to continue as a viable author and -- as an online editor for Barnesandnoble.com -- is influencing book buyers on the Web to discover books that he himself loves.

Doug Clegg Horror, as a market niche, was still doing well in 1989 when Clegg came out of nowhere with his first novel, GOAT DANCE, which was both popular and critically acclaimed. He confirmed the old and probably-no-longer-true adage: Good books will sell even if the writer is a neophyte. His publisher, Pocket, rewarded the young author well for three more books -- BREEDER, NEVERLAND, and DARK OF THE EYE and he attained a measure of both financial and critical success.

By 1993, horror's niche was getting smaller and writers were beginning to find it difficult to make sales. Clegg, however, enjoyed a comfortable six figure annual income. He changed publishers (to Dell) with THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, which came out in 1995. By then, horror had plummeted far from its peak of popularity in the eighties -- but Clegg's sales still almost eclipsed the print run. In publishing, however, even successful sales don't guarantee anything. Dell dropped most of its horror line and Clegg was soon left without a publisher.

He sold his next novel, BAD KARMA, to Kensington/Zebra under the pseudonym "Andrew Harper." (Proving yet another old adage which is probably no longer true: Good books will eventually sell somehow.) They printed it in hardcover, then paperback, and got over 100,000 copies in the stores where it sold well. But Kensington never even looked at its sequel, RED ANGEL. The editor who had gotten Clegg into hardcover had left. (RED ANGEL remains, so far, unpublished.)

cover Clegg wound up publishing through Dorchester's Leisure imprint, a fairly small -- and not prestigious -- New York publisher that, however, had a commitment to a horror line. His novel THE HALLOWEEN MAN was published in 1998 and a collection, THE NIGHTMARE CHRONICLES, came out last fall. Two new novels, YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU and MISCHIEF, will be out this year.

Meanwhile, Cemetery Dance Publications, a premiere specialty press, is bringing out the autographed limited and lettered editions of YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU any day as well as a novella, "Purity."

Clegg also recently completed one of the first legitimately accepted email novel serializations -- NAOMI -- and then sold it to print format. (Leisure will be publishing it spring 2001.) He is starting a new e-serialized novel, NIGHTMARE HOUSE, in a few months. (There's an excerpt already on his Web site at www.douglasclegg.com.)

He appears to be one of the few individuals to have crossed the gaps between what is being seen as "old style" authoring -- decent wages, multiple book contracts, publisher commitment; a "transitional" situation in the publishing climate where the subterfuge of a pseudonym is sometimes needed to get into print and even with proven sales success no long term commitment; and what may be an auctorial "now and future" where a combination of publishing through specialty press and mass market houses is not unusual -- and innovative useof electronic publication , "sponsorship," and lots of author-based promotion may be required to thrive.

The author himself has, of course, seen all of this in much more personal terms: "I've had to fight my own personal demons in order to keep believing in my writing through a lot of this (my own critical voice and the basic silence of writing fiction), and I have to admit, I sort of enjoy the struggle. But, every step of the way in this career, I've had wonderful editors, even when they had battles of their own to fight in-house on my behalf."

cover "Nothing makes me happier than to see THE HALLOWEEN MAN on online bestseller lists of 1999, especially given that THE HALLOWEEN MAN came out in '98, or to see THE NIGHTMARE CHRONICLES occupying a lot of floor space in the bookstores this past fall -- because I remember all the discouragement that sort of floated my way in this decade. I had family members who thought I was foolish to keep writing horror, and I had writing colleagues who jumped ship from horror, or who broke down from it, or felt they needed to move beyond it, or pronounce it dead. But me, I'm crazy -- I believe that horror is the truest expression of the human voice -- well, horror and love, what exists among mankind -- and that in writing horror, I'm pulling the veil back a little bit. I'm saying, in what I hope is an entertaining way, 'Look, see what you're afraid of? It's not a monster, it's not a demon, it's knowledge that terrifies us. Knowledge of any number of things, and here in this novel, I'm exploring a bit of it. Knowledge of who we are, where we're going, what fate has in store. We're afraid of what we already know is down the road. Now, let's face it through the imagination.'"

cover The publishing Industry , he admits, is something else. "They play by their rules and they're pretty good people in general. But they ain't us. I know how to write fiction. I go with it -- I don't let anything stop me from writing the novels and stories I want. If I want to write a novel, and I don't feel like sending it out into the publishing world, then yep, I'll just get it out in one form or another to people who want to read it."

With Leisure, however, he's felt the same sort of publisher commitment that he received from Pocket from 1989 through 1994. He feels Don D'Auria (horror editor at Leisure) and others there have "turned the tide for mass market horror fiction, and they certainly have helped tremendously to turn the tide of my writing career. I owe them a lot."

cover "I've become sort of adopted at Leisure," he continues, "Since I live close enough to their offices to drop in and bother them, they've become my second family. I have never before felt so close to a publishing company. The people there make that company, and the trinity that I see most often are Don D'Auria, Brooke Borneman and Tim DeYoung. But the whole group there is amazing -- a lot of young talent and seasoned pros. They'll have YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU in mass market in April 2000, and then MISCHIEF sometime in the fall of 2000. The last book I have under contract with them at this point is the paperback of my email novel, NAOMI, which should come out in March or April of 2001."

He feels Cemetery Dance been good to him "mainly because [CD publisher] Rich Chizmar is a powerhouse of a publisher." Clegg wants to work more with the small press, for several reasons, primarily because "it's hard to walk away from such beautiful editions of the books."

Clegg's garnered considerable print and pixels for his e-serialization of NAOMI. "NAOMI was a novel I'd wanted to get started on since about 1992 or 1993. I thought about it, it developed mostly in my head; then last spring, a friend who was working as a publicist said to me, 'You need to put something in email. Like some short stories or something.'"

"I thought this would be fun, but then, you know, my opinion of short stories is that they can be as difficult to write individually as a novel. And to write a short story a week, which she was suggesting, seemed like more work than writing a novel. So I went with the idea of doing a novel instead. Leisure very kindly sponsored it , which meant cash that I then turned over to my friend the publicist. who handled dropping notes up on message boards on the web about the upcoming project and also worked on the initial Web site. I bought about four or five ads from that money also, and word just spread."

Starting last May, Clegg emailed new chapters of NAOMI weekly to subscribers to a mail list for free. Eventually about 4000 people took advantage of his offer.

The author was "as shocked as anyone when Publisher's Weekly, BusinessWeek, etc., did pieces on NAOMI. But it was fun, the novel was a blast to write even if I had headaches on some Saturday mornings as I did what I could to grease the story through my tight-ass brain."

Besides the benefits of getting the novel bought for publication by Leisure, NAOMI probably increased international exposure to his name and fiction "in a way that no publisher plunking down a $100,000 marketing budget could've. It was sort of a BLAIR WITCH experience -- no money down, and yet word got out. That was great. I'm learning fast in this business (it has only taken me a decade...) that to wait for a publisher to do something is like waiting for a zit to pop. Sometimes, you have to just get in there and give it a good squeeze. Now, having said that, I also discovered that if the novelist does something first, a publisher will support those efforts in a big way. And this visibility led, no doubt, to a greater increase in the numbers of my books to the stores."

All this was great and it would probably have been enough -- if he were an actual marketing guru. "But truth is," he admits, "I really got out of it the best thing, better than, yes, even cold hard cash: I got in touch with readers, and they got in touch with me. And I gave them a free novel. Free. Free as the friggin' wind."

Clegg thinks the "New World" of e-publishing is "a frontier that still needs to be burnt, roped in, tied up and settled. And luckily for writers, right now the Internet is still text-driven. Someday, I think, it'll be like TV, for both good and ill. Right now, it's like a crazy static of the mind."

A new email novel, NIGHTMARE HOUSE, will begin e-publication July 30 on the DouglasClegg list at onelist.com. The serial will run about twelve weeks and each installment will contain between 8 and 12 pages of the novel within the body of a weekly email. He calls it "my riff on M.R. James, Machen, Blackwood, Lovecraft, all those writers I really love and sort of miss even though I wasn't around when they were writing. I just wish I could've hung out with them and heard

them bitch about writing for a living." And -- in what is probably another first -- a small bidding war took place for NIGHTMARE HOUSE: three companies vied for sponsorship. The final winner was Cemetery Dance Publications. Clegg received a "comfortable five-figure fee" for CD's sponsorship of the mail list for the duration of the serial novel.

Clegg is also starting another Web fiction project. This one on his douglasclegg.com site -- WICKEDNESS: FAERIE TALES FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM. He'll be twisting traditional tales in his own "warped, dark and with luck, disturbing, way" and posting one each month. The project begins this month.

In addition to being a full-time writer, Clegg also edits the Horror and Writer's Workshop subject areas for Barnesandnoble.com. "I basically read books I want, talk about books I want, meet writers and publishers I'm interested in finding out more about, and write about it. And I get paid for it! It's a lot of fun, and I get to rediscover the genre of horror and suspense all over again. It's a dream job for someone who likes to write, read, and sleep horror. Best part -- I get to shine the light on books I love. Being an editor here has been the opposite of a conflict of interests -- after all, who would you want suggesting horror novels to you, someone who didn't care about horror fiction, or someone who has pretty much devoted his adult life to it?"

Did he think back in 1987 before he sold GOAT DANCE that he would be where he was ten years later?

"In 1987 I thought I'd be someone who was completely unemployable who just dreamed his life away. (Wait, I'm still that person!) I had, up until selling that first novel, a miserable existence in work -- I just didn't love what I was doing. Now, bear in mind, my dad, for the last 20 years of his working life, told me that he didn't enjoy what he did for a living, but he had to do it. Admittedly, he enjoyed his retirement a good deal. But I really thought, at age 28, that my novel, GOAT DANCE, was just something to be put in a drawer and be forgotten, and life would be this sort of gray cloud of jobs I didn't love while I did what I could to maintain my love for life.

"Then, everything turned around, on a dime. I mean, nobody sells a novel the way GOAT DANCE sold. It was rejected by Zebra and Leisure. But this one editor at this one little mass market house (which no longer exists) walked it over to Pocket, and from there, my editor Linda Marrow turned my life around in about three minutes. No agent; no contacts; and suddenly, it all changed. In the wink of an eye.

"Linda taught me one of the most important lessons about writing for a living: showing up is half the battle. Do the work. Write the book. Don't just come up with ideas and partials and outlines -- write the book and keep writing.

cover "When GOAT DANCE came out in 1989, I already was making my living completely as a novelist (with a little freelance on the side.) Since then, life just got better. I'd call it luck, but there's really too much bullshit in these careers to call it that. Even in the bad times -- meaning, when Dell bought one book from me (THE CHILDREN'S HOUR) and then killed their horror line about four months later -- I was still happy, because I was living as I had always envisioned. The bad parts of life are always about paying the bills, so I was never happy about that. But I was happy to have a roof over my head, a great partner, and the ability to create and invent."

And where will he be in 2007? "I'll be writing fiction, at some kind of keyboard, and communicating with people who care about books. I don't know where books will be in 2007 -- they may be 50% Web-published for all I know. But I know I'll be writing fiction. Will I hit the New York Times list by then? You bet -- before then! Everyone in America who likes a good story will be reading Clegg novels. Hey," Clegg concludes, "if you've got to aim, aim high."

Official Doug Clegg Web Site


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