by Logan Priess
Dagan Books is an independent publisher of themed speculative fiction short story anthologies started in 2010 by Carrie Cuinn, a fiction writer, former journalist and freelance writer, and recent adult-student college graduate. Dagan Books specializes in publishing the many varieties of “weird, wicked, lovely” stories that fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction, or as their website states:
“We are looking for speculative fiction, particularly science fiction (hard, soft, near-future, etc), magic realism, urban fantasy, and apocalypse fiction. We rarely like sword and sorcery type fantasy, aren’t interested in “slasher” type horror, don’t care for religious themes (which includes demons/the devil), and will not accept poetry of any kind.”
The press began its journey with the publication of an anthology inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, a short story collection titled Cthulurotica, in 2010. Timed perfectly with the returning Cthulu/Lovecraft craze of the late 00’s, and with an overarching focus on the sexual undertones of Lovecraft’s worlds, the anthology garnered a large amount of good press, including its selection as “book of the month” by the Vaginal Fantasy book club in September of this year. For an idea that was spawned of a conversation with Jaym Gates (editor of the Rigor Mortis anthology) about zombie erotica and “where to go next”, the critical response to Cthulurotica was beyond impressive, such as this review from Harry Markov at RiseReviews.com:
“I’ve never read an anthology so sure in its identity, with such a strong voice or as consistent in its theme. From concept to execution, I couldn’t find a fault within these pages. The covert art, the internal illustrations, the content, everything fits. Honestly, ‘Cthulhurotica’ is also the first book I’ve read to justify its existence and then give an intimate confession about its secrets.”
Dagan Books next broadened its speculative fiction horizons with its release of IN SITU, a collection that featured science fiction stories pertaining to xenoarchaeology (alien archaeology). As Carrie Cuinn enthusiastically described to Innsmouth Free Press:
“We have stories about finding alien artifacts on earth, on far-off planets, or out in space. There are stories about aliens coming to Earth and about humans travelling out into the Universe. No matter where the narrative takes you, each one comes back to the idea that real aliens – not blue humanoids that happen to have a culture exactly like one you’d find on Earth – will probably be so different from us that we can’t assume we know how to handle anything they’ve left behind.”
Since then, the press has ambitiously pressed on to collect stories for two more collections to be released in 2013, titled Fish (collected stories involving fish) and Bibliotheca Fantastica (featuring “tales of bibliophilic wonder, enchantment, terror, romance, mystery, and adventure”), as well as four novellas to be published over the course of the year. Of course, as is the case with many “work of love” projects, the press is not completely self-sustaining. The staff is headed by Carrie Cuinn, who acts as publisher, editor, head of acquisitions, and several other roles, while the rest of the editing and reading staff consists of a somewhat consistent stable of six volunteers and rotating “guest editors” who perform one off work on single anthologies. Cuinn herself recently noted how much of a struggle it is just to make the press run:
“However, when I started the company I was married, with a full-time job, and had the luxury of supporting Dagan Books myself. I was prepared for the typical new business scenario of ‘lose money in the beginning, get established, and then grow’. My circumstances changed, and I find myself a single parent with a much different life than I had before. While I still have the time to donate, I no longer have the income. I know that if we can get a few more titles out, the books themselves will begin to pay for future novels, anthologies, and collections. We just have to get there.”
In order to maintain the level of quality and integrity she has committed to providing in Dagan Books, Carrie Cuinn finally turned to technology, specifically a Kickstarter campaign, to get Fish, Bibliotheca Fantastica, and the four novellas for 2013 off the ground, a feat that only required $4000 and achieved its goal in August of 2012 with 135 backers.
Unique for this tiny independent publisher, however, is that even with the financial difficulties of running a press, Carrie Cuinn pays the authors she publishes. While the rate is not large, one cent per word upon publication, it is a crucial effort on Cuinn’s part to acknowledge the hard work writers have done to appear in her titles, as she noted in her interview with Innsmouth: “I wanted to make sure that, guaranteed, I could offer writers something in exchange for what I know is work. Writing is a real job and as a writer, I respect that.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Dagan Books is accruing a loyal stable of contributing authors, including Mae Empson, Paul Dixon, and Sarah Hendrix, that have appeared or will appear in Dagan Books anthologies.
Dagan’s books are available from their website as well as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble as $3.99 DRM-free e-books in EPUB and MOBI formats (and a new e-book designer, Elizabeth Campbell, was recently hired to take over this division) and can be found in print form from Amazon.com. Carrie Cuinn has stated that the press is striving to use a plethora of popular technologies to its advantage, as quoted in an interview with Duotrope: “We accept email submissions, maintain websites, have Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated both to Dagan Books proper and various individual titles, and use both PoD and traditional print services. While we would never give up the printed word, we find a great story reads just as well on an e-reader too.”
Other Writers featured in their anthologies have included Cody Goodfellow, Simon C. Larter, Ken Liu, Don Pizarro, Steven James Scearce, and K. V. Taylor, and the press is open to submissions from all writers in both short-story and novella formats, though submissions are only open sporadically throughout the year.