For Women in Horror Month we wanted to spotlight some of the women that are working in the Horror Fiction industry. The first Woman we would like to spotlight is the CEO of Sanitarium Publishing Caitlin Marceau. Toni talked to Caitlin CEO of Sanitarium Publishing about the publishing industry.
Can you give a little background to your literary journey to become CEO of Sanitarium Publishing?
My journey with Sanitarium has actually been a crazy, full-circle, ride.
I was first published in Sanitarium Magazine, back in 2014 when Barry Skelhorn still owned it, with a piece called “Stuck.” It was the first horror story I’d ever written, the first one I ever tried selling, and my first break in the genre. I lucked out, and managed to publish two additional stories and a poem with Sanitarium before joining the editorial team in 2015. Barry grew his staff to meet the demands of the publication, and I was one of the fortunate people he took a chance on.
Then, in late 2016, I left Sanitarium Magazine to work exclusively for a media company here in Montreal, and ended up working for their publishing division. At the time, Barry wasn’t sure about the future of the company and decided to put the publication on hiatus, but he wasn’t quite ready to leave Sanitarium just yet.
Then, in early 2018, he notified the Faculty (the name he’d lovingly given the editorial team) that he was looking to sell the publication. I took a chance and approached my good friend Ian Sputnik—who had expressed interest in purchasing Sanitarium Magazine the previous year—to see if he wanted to partner up and take over it with me. He did. By mid-February a small team of us acquired the assets to the company.
I’d always had a really strong vision for what I wanted the publication to be, and I knew that I wanted to grow Sanitarium from a magazine to a full-blown publishing house. I presented my team with a game plan and, thankfully, they liked it—and I—enough to give me the chance to lead the company.
I haven’t looked back since.
As a publisher what are you looking for in a story to publish? I would assume that you are looking for something unique or is there something else that you are looking for?
In general, we look for something unique, something that scares us (it’s horror, it needs to), and something that keeps us thinking about their story long after it’s done. I, personally, prioritize works that make some kind of political or social commentary through their use of horror, and I’m a huge fan of diverse works. There’s a problem with horror, where most of the stories feature white or hetero characters, and it’s great to see authors challenging that with their writing.
Should an author be signed with a literary agent prior to submission?
For us, no. Generally with anthology or magazine submissions it’s not necessary. At Sanitarium we have a mandate to promote and encourage new authors within the horror community, and we specifically use a blind submission system because we don’t want to be influenced by any big-name agencies or authors sending us their work.
The quality of the piece should stand on its own, not rely on the reputation of the writer.
Are there any criteria that an author should look for prior to submitting to a publisher?
Make sure the publisher is credible! Make sure there’s no submission fee, that there’s no “buy-in” to reserve your spot in a book, or any kind of editing fee. If there is, run! Run as far away from that submission call as possible. Always check reviews from the community about how they treat their authors, artists, and customers. You always want to be published by someone who values their writers and the work they do.
If you’ve done all that, then it’s important you make sure that your work is line with the content they’ve previously published. There’s nothing worse than getting an incredible piece that doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of the publication. Also be sure to check the publisher’s submission guidelines, and make sure your work is formatted appropriately and sent while their submission window is open.
How important is it to have the story edited professionally prior to submission?
Professionally edited? Not at all.
Edited in general for clarity, grammar, spelling, etc.? Very.
Your work doesn’t need to be looked at by a professional editor, but it does need to reflect your dedication to mastering your craft. Typos and mistakes happen, and sending a manuscript or short story with one isn’t the end of the world (at least not usually), but consistently misusing punctuation or switching between verb tenses is a problem. It shows us you don’t know what you’re doing, that you’re not trying to learn, and that you have a long way to go before you’re ready to be published.
How involved should an author be in the publishing process?
It really depends on who’s publishing your work. If you’re self-publishing your material, then obviously you’re going to want to be deeply involved in the process since you’re the one spearheading the project and likely paying for it.
However, if your work is being distributed by a publishing house, magazine, online editorial, etc., then you’re going to want to take a hands-off approach. If the editors need anything from you, they’ll be in contact. Asking for an update if there’s been prolonged radio silence is fine, but haranguing your editors for updates on work is a quick way to become unpopular with a publication.
I also encourage authors to avoid fighting with their editors concerning small changes. You’re always allowed to push back or debate an editorial decision you strongly disagree with (like someone changing the name of a character, or cutting out a scene you feel brings depth to your protagonist’s motivations), but arguing with an editor over something small—like a minor change in punctuation—isn’t worth the hassle.
For your publishing house what would be the top 10 things that an author can do to get an automatic no?
I don’t think we have ten things, but there are a few instances that we’ve issued authors auto-rejections. In no particular order, some things writers can do to ensure we won’t accept their work in Sanitarium Magazine include:
- Sending work outside our submission window, sending previously published material, or sending the wrong file type. It’s impossible to read your work if we can’t open it!
- Submitting fanfiction. Don’t get me wrong, fanfiction is great and we’re excited to see people so passionate about storytelling, but unfortunately Sanitarium Magazine doesn’t accept it at this time.
- Work that includes hate speech, or spreads hate. We absolutely, without question, will refuse work that’s racist/sexist/ableist/xenophobic/homophobic/transphobic/anti-Semitic/etc.
- Work that includes graphic depictions of child abuse, sexual assault, cruelty to animals, or graphic violence towards women and marginalized peoples.
Thankfully this hasn’t really been an issue with the submissions we’ve received, and we always encourage writers to check out our submission guidelines before sending us work. If you have questions about our guidelines, or if you’re not sure your work will fit with us, send us a message via Facebook!
We’re also all about encouraging new writers and fostering an open, supportive, and accepting horror community. We want writing to be accessible to everyone, so we strongly encourage new authors (and seasoned pros) to send us material during our open submission windows. We also accept blog posts, personal essays, and nonfiction work all year through the email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How important do you believe that social media is when an author gets published?
I hate to say it, but social media is pretty important. Readers are increasingly discovering new writers through social media (be it Facebook writing groups, their Twitter feed, or hashtags on Instagram), and it’s always a good idea to put yourself out there. A Tweet, or a status update can be all it takes for someone to check out your work, or order your latest book off Amazon.
With that being said, it’s also super important for authors to limit their time online. It can be easy to spend your day networking through social media, but if cuts into the time you’ve set aside to write or be creative, then it’s ultimately doing more harm than good.
It’s also really easy to get discouraged by social media. If you’re seeing other writers land publishing deals while you’re navigating a sea of rejections, it’s easy to feel like you’re not as good as other authors. As long as you avoid comparing yourself to your peers, making sure that Instagraming doesn’t take away from your writing time, and find a healthy balance between your work and internet distractions, then it can be a great tool for aspiring and established authors.
Is there any other advice that you can give to aspiring authors who are submitting to publishing houses?
Don’t let rejection letters get you down! Hell only knows how many I’ve gotten over the years.
It’s so easy to get a rejection and feel like your work isn’t good enough, that it’s not worth reading, or that you’re not a “real” author. But that’s NEVER the case!
It could be that your work just wasn’t a good fit for the publication. It could be that your piece needs more editing. It could be that they received too many submissions, and yours just didn’t make the cut. Whatever the case, don’t let a few noes stop you from pursuing something you’re passionate about. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep writing.
You, and the world, will be all the better for it.
About Caitlin Marceau
Caitlin Marceau is an author and professional editor living and working in Montreal. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, is a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction.
She’s been published for journalism, poetry, as well as creative non-fiction, and has spoken about horror literature at several Canadian conventions. Her workshop “Bikinis, Brains, and Boogeymen: How To Write Realistic Women In Horror,” was acclaimed by Yell Magazine, and her first co-authored collection, Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror, was released in June of 2017.
If she’s not covered in ink or wading through stacks of paper, you can find her ranting about issues in pop culture or nerding out over a good book.
The first edition of Sanitarium is available for purchase here.