Author Stant Litore is celebrating the release of his latest work, I Will Hold My Death Close. Another entry in his highly successful Zombie Bible Series. The book is available in eBook and Audio version, published through 47North. Litore shared a one-word review of the book with pride, in which the reviewer simply said “weird.” The series brings zombies into bizarre retellings of biblical stories. Litore answered a number of questions, a baker’s dozen to be precise, below is what unfolded with the purveyor of the undead.
1. With the release of I Will Hold My Death Close, where does this take the Zombie Bible Series?
Somewhere deeply personal and intimate—to a first-person narrative of a very young woman whose father has sworn an oath to sacrifice. This story has a tighter scope: you spend all of it right there in the wilderness with that young woman, so close you can hear her breath and the beat of her heart, feel the panic as the dead lurch near, feel her fierce intent to survive—and on her own terms.
2. How do you determine where the history ends and the fictionalization steps into the manuscript?
The quick answer is, “Where the undead show up.”
The less quick answer is that I use the fantastic element to highlight and explore something I see in the history. I’m fascinated by ancient cultures and ancient languages. If I want to explore how the Romans treated their past and their dead, or how Hebrew religion shaped their response to strangers in their land—that’s when the walking dead stagger in. The series as a whole is about how we deal with our cultural, religious, and personal past (and how, if we leave it undealt with, it tends to wander from its unclosed tomb and devour us). The Zombie Bible takes that idea and makes it literal.
3. Where did you find inspiration for this installment of the series?
I’m a father of two girls. One of them faces significant medical difficulties, and I have fought for her. So ancient stories about fathers sacrificing their children disturb me profoundly. How do your traditions—your past—bring you to such a point? It horrifies me. But I decided to write this story from the daughter’s perspective, not the father’s. I wanted to know what was in her heart. My biggest inspiration for this story has been my wife and my own daughters, who teach me every day about the strength of women.
4. This marks the shortest entry in the series, how does brevity benefit this particular installment?
I Will Hold My Death Close is quick, immediate, personal, and urgent: it should be read at a gulp, breathlessly, desperately—that is how its heroine is living.
I write stories of all lengths, even within this one series. This is the shortest Zombie Bible story, at 40 pages. The longest has been a 400-page novel, but I am working now on one that is much longer, more like an epic fantasy “doorstopper,” the kind of novel that can serve both as a great bedside read over many nights or a handy weapon to clock a burglar with. I write the length that the story needs.
I Will Hold My Death Close needed to be a quick, desperate grappling with the heart.
5. What inspired you to create the Zombie Bible Series?
In early 2009, I happened to watch Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead one evening while I had been recently reading the Old Testament. Something just clicked. I thought, “What if instead of an invading army, this prophetess faced an invading swarm of the hungry dead?” And then I thought, “What would she think of that? There, in 1200 BC, how would she understand it? What would it mean to her people that the dead were rising hungry?” I kept asking myself these questions, and soon I was writing, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. The series combines three of my strongest interests—history, zombies, and religious studies. And because each story retells a biblical or ecclesiastical story—spanning continents and millennia—the amount of material and opportunity for fresh ideas is vast.
6. This series has been published by 47North, an imprint of Amazon. How did you end up with the speculative fiction imprint?
I published the first two Zombie Bible books in 2011 independently, and I submitted my debut novella, Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, to Dave Blum, who runs the Kindle Singles store—a retail storefront that functions much like a digital counterpart to the “Staff Picks” bookshelf at a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Blum, who has eclectic tastes, selects three titles each week to feature. They may be fiction or nonfiction, any genre, traditionally or self-published. He is just looking for unusual and unique ideas that are executed well. He featured mine in December 2011, and I sold 6,000 copies in a few weeks. Right before Christmas, Alex Carr at Amazon Publishing gave me a call. He’d noticed the sales, he’d read the book and loved it, and he wanted to acquire the series. He offered me a five-book contract, including reissuing the first two titles. I hadn’t intended to sign with a publisher—I’m an indie—but Alex made a good pitch, and Amazon Publishing offered some unique opportunities to raise the series’ visibility. After some research and negotiation, I agreed.
7. Amazon is a very divisive topic in the publishing world at the moment, how has your personal involvement been with 47North?
Overall, it has been positive. The editorial team is extremely high-quality and supportive, and obviously I’ve enjoyed being plugged more directly into Amazon’s retail engine. There are definite trade-offs: very limited paperback sales and limited marketing support, and a heavy reliance on Amazon’s retail algorithms to get books out there, which tends to work better for some kinds of books than for others. As a marketer, the narrowness of Amazon’s focus is often frustrating to me. On the other hand, I see high royalties, monthly payment, pretty detailed daily data on sales, and access to Amazon’s various promotions and programs, which means the potential for selling a lot of ebooks and making quite a bit while you do. The developmental editors 47North has connected me with are people who are legends in the industry, editors like Jeff Vandermeer and Juliet Ulman. At heart, I still prefer the indie route—and I have continued to release independent titles—but my relationship with 47North has definitely opened new doors.
8. Do you find it beneficial to voice your opinion in the business shifts in the industry or do you simply focus on the writing?
I don’t find it beneficial at all, though I’ve commented on several occasions. The problem is that the issues are so emotionally charged that it is very difficult to find someone discussing them dispassionately—or willing to hear you dispassionately.
The reality is that writers are underfoot in a series of battles over profit margins between massive, international corporate giants—as has been the case for decades, though the players change.
9. One very important aspect of your approach to writing is your Patreon account, how has that fueled your creativity and process?
My Patreon membership is new—I started it this summer—but it is already critical to my approach. Promising my patrons fresh material a few times a month keeps me on task. Seeing their support keeps me encouraged. And the early feedback from my patrons is deeply motivating.
It is also critical to my financial picture; royalties are an up-and-down thing, but patron support is recurring; it provides a stable base. In 2009, I began writing The Zombie Bible, but the reason I began publishing it in 2011 was the arrival of my youngest daughter Inara, who suffers from a severe seizure disorder and ensuing complications. That galvanized me to get my work out there—both to add income and to stay sane in the midst of a hurricane of hospital visits and long nights by Inara’s bedside. Her story and the story of my publishing have been interwoven from the beginning, and the royalties on my books have often kept us afloat and able to provide for her. Patreon is the turning of the tide: finally, through the support of my patron readers, I am able to both release more indie work and keep Inara’s health and wellness funded. It means the world to me.
10. How did you decide on each social media and marketing approach?
Through a combination of my background in content marketing, talking with many other writers, and aggressive brainstorming and testing—trial and error. In considering where to devote my time and resources, I’m very focused on return, and on the ratio between effort required and likely return. There are some tools out there that can show a return if done well (e.g., Thunderclap) but there is such a substantial amount of work involved in getting there that it just doesn’t make sense prioritizing them. I need to market my work effectively while securing most of my time for my family and my writing.
11. What has worked from a marketing perspective and what provided a “learning opportunity?”
Most of the things you can do – such as AdWords or Facebook ads or sponsored posts in newsletters (Bookbub being the glorious exception to this) – are not at all cost-effective or fruitful. Running an ad makes sense when you’re selling something with a high price, but for such low-price things as books, you usually aren’t going to break even, at all.
Besides the obvious (having a compelling website, blog, and social media presence), here’s what works:
- Build an active street team to market your work. These are your most dedicated readers, the ones who get the word out about promotions, deals, and new releases, and who champion your books aggressively. Word of mouth is what will sell your books. If you have fifty people instead of just one (you) to get word of mouth spreading, that’s powerful. And reward them. (In my case, Patreon forms the core of my street team – these are people I am in touch with each month, who actively support me, love my work, and want my fiction to succeed.)
- Send ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to your street team. Ask them for honest reviews. Reviews and ratings are what drive visibility at online retailers, especially Amazon. But for the love of all that’s holy, never buy a review. Just make sure your core readers have copies of your book! Get them excited about it as the publication date approaches.
- Go to a few conventions: big comic cons for the volume and selective smaller conventions that are very packed with bookworms. Don’t expect to sell much. You aren’t there to make thousands of dollars. You’re there to meet readers face-to-face. Many of my street team members, I’ve met at conventions. We have a more personal connection because we’ve met each other. These are among the people who are the most outspoken advocates for my fiction.
- Hold a Goodreads giveaway.
- Get into Bookbub. If they turn you down, keep trying. This is a good way to get a few thousand new readers quickly.
Most of all, be real. Seriously. Be there for your readers, spend time conversing with them, support other writers. Convey gratitude, not entitlement. Earn the goodwill of the people you’re connected with. Goodwill translates to open doors, word of mouth marketing, more people hearing about your stories and people feeling more connected with and invested in your stories. It is a cliché that in marketing you are selling “yourself,” but this is especially true of writers. You’re a storyteller. You sing for your supper. And what you sing (your stories) is often deeply personal, and readers get personal and passionate about it. So people care about who you are and how you relate to them. The quickest way to lose readers is to be an ass (unless you’re an entertaining ass, I suppose). The best way to charge up your word of mouth marketing is to be a warm, decent, and entertaining human being, one that others are drawn to.
Talk about the things that matter to you—not just your books, but the causes that are important to you, the outlook on life that is important to you: not just what you write but why. Be genuine and passionate about it. Readers to whom those same things matter, readers who believe in the things that you believe in, are moved by the things that move you, will recognize you as one of them, perhaps as a spokesperson even, and they will be more connected with your work.
12. What can the world expect next from you?
Fierce and desperate and gripping stories. Dante’s Heart comes out this October (it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon); when Dante sleeps, creatures burst from him bent on murder, and he must pursue them across the world.
I’m also adding new installments in the Ansible Stories; in each of these, explorers in our future transfer their minds to alien bodies on alien worlds. Besides encountering the beauty and loneliness of places across the universe, they are up against the most chilling and unique predatory species you have ever read about.
Longer-term, I am working on an epic-length novel, By a Slender Thread, which will take The Zombie Bible back to ancient Rome, where one woman will lead thousands of refugees from the smoldering and zombie-infested ruins of that city.
13. Where can people connect with you?