April Moon Books is a small press publishing house based in Ontario, Canada and run by author, editor and illustrator Neil Baker. Since beginning publication in 2014, April Moon Books have issued The Dark Rites of Cthulhu edited by Brian M. Sammons, Short Sharp Shocks Volume 1: AMOK; Black Star, Black Sun by Rich Hawkins; Short Sharp Shocks Volume 2: Stomping Ground and Flesh Like Smoke. Neil Baker has had stories published in World War Cthulhu; Atomic Age Cthulhu; Occult Detective Monster Hunter: A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests Volume 2 and the forthcoming Return of the Old Ones. Neil also edits the Short Sharp Shocks series of books from April Moon Books.
For our readers who are perhaps unaware of you and April Moon Books can you provide some background information? You are an author, editor, artist and now a publisher. What made you want to dive headlong into the world of publishing?
The creation of April Moon Books is probably the natural culmination of everything that has shaped me since childhood. In a nutshell, I grew up in England watching all the good stuff; Pertwee/Baker era Dr. Who, Gerry Anderson shows, Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Horrors - you get the picture. I was a prolific writer as a kid, quite an accomplished fibber too, so story-telling has always been a part of my life and career choices. Everything I've done since has had an artistic angle to it; from assisting dinosaur construction for museums, to graphic design, to becoming a primary art teacher and then enjoying a brief spell as an award-winning filmmaker and animator. Lurking in the background of all of these choices was the need to tell a story, and it was only a few years ago that I fully embraced it. On a whim I decided to submit a couple of short stories to some advertised anthologies, and they were both accepted. However, I wasn't impressed with the publisher's apparent lack of care over the formatting and editing, and that bothered me enough to want to risk it all in a publishing house of my own - the goal being to create high quality books from a micro-press while treating the authors with the respect they deserve.
Creating a publishing imprint from scratch must have been quite a challenge. What have been the positive and negative aspects of this process?
I knew going into this venture that it was going to be a long haul, and I'm not wrong. In fact, I estimate it will be quite a while before I start to turn a profit, so it is no surprise that the most negative aspect is the amount of initial capital needed to get going. According to other publishers, April Moon Books has performed quite respectably in its first year - however, marketing, promotional materials and mailing isn't cheap. You can only get so far with a bunch of Facebook and Twitter posts...On the positive side, I'm doing what I love - getting stories out there. My professional network has expanded enormously, 100% for the better, and I'm now working with some amazing people, plus I get to remain creative which is the most important aspect for me.
In the short time that April Moon Books has been in existence you have released a wide range of different books, from anthologies to novellas and themed collections. How do you decide what to publish and release?
It's a wholly unoriginal mantra, but I only publish what I would want to read. The anthology format was always going to be the primary model for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love short stories. I previously alluded to Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, but for me, the master of the short form was Fredric Brown - Nightmares and Geezenstacks is possibly my favourite collection. It's certainly the book I dip into most for inspiration. Secondly, to be brutally honest, I am running a micro-publishing company with limited funds - working with so many authors (60+ so far) extends my reach on the internet which is vital for sales in these early days. Ultimately though, if a story is well-written, pulpy, ghastly, funny or any combination thereof, and meets my theme requirements, it has a good chance of getting into my books.
As well as being a publisher, you have also written short stories, edited the Short Sharp Shocks series of books and done illustrations. Which of these is the most satisfying for you and why?
As a creative-type I am, of course, riddled with crippling self-doubt, which comes with the territory. For that reason, even though I love the opportunity to illustrate the stories, and tweak the meat on the bones through editing, it is the overwhelming joy of acceptance, when somebody likes something I have written, that gives me the most satisfaction. There's my little slice of immortality, right there.
April Moon Books is about to release its second collaboration with Editor Brian M Sammons, “Flesh Like Smoke”. You have previously worked together on "The Dark Rites of Cthulhu". How did you end up working with him on both of these books?
When I first announced the launch of April Moon Books on social media, Brian pounced like a cheetah on a lame gazelle. He immediately messaged me with his idea for 'Dark Rites' and I put my 'Short Sharp Shocks' idea on hold to run with his concept. I knew that this would be the best possible launch title due to Brian's contact with authors that already had solid followings, and who I knew would be able to deliver great quality stories. The Dark Rites of Cthulhu garnered some great reviews and sold quite well for a first publication, and a follow-up seemed inevitable, but Brian had a shape-shifting itch to scratch and, being a huge fan of the genre, I green-lit his new anthology proposal straight away. Dark Rites of Cthulhu 2 would have to wait.
What awaits readers tempted to read Flesh Like Smoke?
Other than the fact that the book is crammed full of astonishing new stories from some of the most exciting authors out there today, I think readers will be impressed with the range of genres that are tackled. The stories are unique in their settings and themes and Brian has deftly balanced the horror and humor so that dipping into the book results in a refreshing surprise with each new tale. Plus, shape-shifters! What's not to love?
Werewolves, shape shifting and transformation are staple themes in speculative fiction. What is it about this theme that writers and the public find so fascinating?
Good question! From a simplified point of view, most horror stems from humanity's base fears; the unknown, the abject, the other and, most crucially, the human condition. I believe that we live in constant struggle with our inner beasts; our anger, fear and primal desires. Thankfully, most of us are able to keep these impulses sealed up, either through fear of divine retribution, or simply being a rational and decent person. However, I think it would be safe to say that we all harbor dark thoughts now and then, and this is why it is gloriously cathartic to experience these animalistic outbursts through characters in fiction, whether it is through watching Bruce Banner give in and Hulk out when he gets mad, or seeing hapless mortals taken over by the most primitive of urges who then go on a sexually-charged throat ripping spree under the full moon. Like any good horror, we can experience these events in the safe confines of a book or screen and also like any good narrative, these tales are tinged with tragedy. More often than not, the power to shape shift is a curse, not a blessing (although it could be debated that this paradigm has shifted in recent years) and, as humans, we have always enjoyed a bit of tragedy in our stories. We certainly have our fair share of tragic characters in Flesh Like Smoke.
In a previous answer you mentioned the advantages and disadvantages of setting up and running a small publishing house. The publishing world has substantially altered over the past decade or so with the advent of social media and crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo and the rise of the e-book. What impact have these mediums had on the market for speculative fiction especially from the perspective of a small independent publisher such as April Moon Books?
Quite frankly, without the tools available from sites such as Createspace, Lulu, Smashwords, Gumroad et al, indie publishers such as myself would not have the ability to get books into the hands of their intended audience without getting heavily into debt from the outset. The freedom that Print on Demand offers me means that I am not paying $600+ upfront to get a couple of hundred books that will sit in my basement while I try to figure out how to mail them to customers. This is money that that can be funnelled into author compensation and marketing. Don't get me wrong though - I would love at some point to be able to get a run of April Moon books professionally printed and bound, and I may well have to do so with my intended James Bond novellas project, but right now, Amazon's PoD system works extremely well, with decent analytical tools built in. As for crowdfunding - if a project has merit, it will get funded, and there's nothing wrong with that. Anything that reduces the personal financial risk for a publisher is worthwhile. We're not martyrs; we're just folks who have a strange desire to get awesome stories into the hands of as many people as possible.
I understand the concerns of those who decry the advent of self-publishing, and we are still in the early days of an efficient marketing and review system for promotional purposes, but I don't believe the flood of books will destroy literature any more than the rise of karaoke destroyed the music industry. Yes, there is some dross out there, but these days I think the discerning reader has learned to go against old wisdom and can now judge a book by its cover.
You previously mentioned all the cultural influences that have had a hand in shaping April Moon Books philosophy and output. One would assume that as both a respected editor and publisher you have been exposed to a wide variety of writers and styles when compiling April Moon Books' publications. In your opinion, which writers should our audience keep their eyes open for and why?
You've brought up what is probably the greatest aspect to my publishing endeavours - that being the opportunity to discover new and exciting storytellers, whether they are just starting out or seasoned writers. It has been a constant delight to not just read and publish their stories, but to also add them to my social circle, which is that much richer now for it. A quick bit of mental calculation suggests that in my first year of business, I have read around three hundred and fifty submissions, not counting the thirty two stories already chosen by Brian in his edited anthologies. That's a lot of stories; some amazing, some terrible, all interesting.
Getting back to the original question, there are many established authors who appear in my books that I admire hugely, but when it comes to writers who might not be on your radar yet, I would point to Rob. E. Boley whose 'Scary Tales' books are fantastic - I can't praise his take on the Snow White tale enough, and I always enjoy reading Amy Braun's stories - she has a great author voice and is extremely prolific. Then there are other authors who are becoming April Moon staples; Pete Mesling, Kerry GS Lipp, DJ Tyrer, Patrick Loveland - all excellent writers who I suspect have some big tricks up their sleeves. I was really happy to publish Rich Hawkins' novella, Black Star, Black Sun, as I have a feeling he is going to be huge in the future - that novella is my nest egg, ha.
It's really hard to single out any authors from the roster that Brian brings to the table, but if you twist my arm, I'll admit that I love Willie Meikle's books - he spins the sort of yarns that I adore, and I really enjoy Christine Morgan's writing. She's pretty unique.
In an earlier answer you mentioned a James Bond project as one of your prospective publishing projects. Alongside that what's next for you as a writer and also what is on the horizon for April Moon Books?
I'm really not writing as much as I want to - publishing these books and holding down the (paying) day job seem to get in the way. That said, I was really happy when Atomic Age Cthulhu finally appeared this year, as I am very proud of my story, Little Curly, in that book. I also have a story appearing in an Emby Press anthology due out fairly soon, and I am also nestled among a maddeningly talented bunch in the upcoming 'Return of the Old Ones' from Dark Regions - probably in 2016. Otherwise, I am putting the finishing touches on my first children's book - A Picnic at the Mountains of Madness, illustrated by a wonderful artist called Maya Sugihara. I am also plotting the first in a series of novellas which may end up as an erotic, futuristic version of Game of Thrones. It's called Amber Reigns, and if you get the joke, then you probably know where I'm going with that one.
As for future books, I am just finishing the formatting on Short Sharp Shocks vol. 3 - Ill-considered Expeditions which will be out in August, followed by Short Sharp Shocks vol. 4 - Spawn of the Ripper, my Hammer horror homage, which will appear this Halloween. Between those two I hope to have the children's book out, then later in the year I will be calling for subs for the next Short Sharp Shocks anthology, called The Stars At My Door - a sci-fi theme. Of course, the whole Bond Unknown project will be running concurrently to all of this! I also have a couple of projects lined up for 2016 already - all very exciting!
Any closing thoughts? Advice for aspiring writers? Sage pearls of wisdom?
This one I can keep brief. Don't feel like a failure if you didn't write anything today. Go out and do something. Live life - it's where all the stories are hiding any way. Also, adhere to the submission guidelines, and no double spacing after periods. Do all this, and we can be friends.
For more on April Moon Books’ publication , visit their website at April Moon Books
interviewed by George Anderson