Interview with Jarod Barbee of Death’s Head Press!

Bargain Horror: Deaths Head press seems to have made quite a splash in a short amount of time. You have signed some big names like Wrath James White and Christine Morgan. How did the press come about and how did you manage to come so fast out of the gate? 

Death’s Head Press: This story is a long one, but I will paraphrase and whittle it down to the important bits.  Patrick and I became online friends through a couple of mutually shared interests.  One of them was writing, and reading quality works of dark fiction, namely extreme horror.  The other was a bit naughtier, and may or may not have been an active role in the BDSM Lifestyle.  I will never tell. 

We started talking, and we came up with the idea for an anthology based on biblical prophecy (explained in another question a bit further down).  We saw no path to getting it produced, and lamented on this fact for a good ten to twenty minutes.  We then had a eureka moment, and started toying with the idea of tossing our own hat into a ring that already looked like a WWE Battle Royale match.  I already had the name of the company in mind, and tossed it his way.  He dug it.  I told him to hold on a moment, and while he waited, I paid the cash, and Death’s Head Press LLC was born as a legitimate entity.  Neither of us had one fucking clue as to how to make this pipe dream into a viable press, but we pushed forward. 

I had been a fan and online friend of many of the authors in the horror game, but never spoke to them other than saying “hello, I love your work”.  We decided to use these connections and reach out to these authors about being in our little startup project.  Amazingly, almost 100% of them said absolutely yes.  We took our show on the road to the newly reinvigorated KillerCon in 2018, and solidified even more relationships.  The rest is a history that is still being written.  Stick around, and let us show you what we can do.

As to how we came out of the gate so quickly is an easy answer….we signed amazing talent, to an amazing project.  We stuck to the principles of treating people with respect and paying them a fair rate for their hard work.  Word got out that we indeed put the authors work and reputation ahead of any monetary gains, and other great authors responded in kind.  These are the principles that got us started, and they are the ones that will keep us going in the years to come.  Respect, fairness, and keep your word.  It is that simple.

BH: I know there are a few folks involved. Who does what at the company?

DHP: I am so glad you asked this question, because far too often, the people who really drive the machine, are not given the recognition they truly deserve. 

We have myself of course, and my main focus is acquiring talent, marketing, promotion, and making sure that everyone is being paid for their work in a timely manner.  We have Patrick C. Harrison III.  This guy is a machine.  The big gear.  He is in charge of accepting or rejecting the submissions we get, as well as formatting, and putting the books together.  He reads everything that comes down the pipeline, as well as continuing to write his own material.  I cannot express the amount of respect I have for him, as a friend and business partner. 

We have our Gore Whores, Petal K. Presley and Kitten D. Kadaver.  These ladies are not only the bones of the operation, but also our biggest fans and critics.  They take care of answering the emails, tracking costs, being sounding boards for all manner of filth, and they proofread from time to time.  Finally, we have our network of cover artists, editors, and promotional people.  Without these guys, it all comes to a grinding halt. 

Special shout out and recommendation for Mar Garcia who runs The Bold Mom.  This lady works tirelessly to keep our name on everyone’s minds.  If you are an author or publisher, she will get you noticed.  In short, I consider DHP to be a living thing.  The authors are the muscle, our Gore Whores are the bones, Patrick is the heart and brain, editors/artists/promoters are the veins, and I am merely the skin that holds it all in place.  Take away one, and we are dead.

BH: Your anthology And Hell Followed, has done very well. Tell us a bit about it and why you think it has been such a success?

DHP: Ahhh, “And Hell Followed”.  It is a very twisted collection of stories inspired by the Book of Revelation.  Seventeen amazing authors give us their take on what the end days might look like.  Some are written from a believer’s perspective, and some from the flip side. Some are as humorous as they are horrific, but they are all entertaining. 

We took a mix of old guard writers and blended them with a new batch of up and coming talent.  Jeff Strand, Wrath James White, Sisters of Slaughter and Christine Morgan held the fort for the established authors, while Wile E. Young, Chris Miller, and John Wayne Comunale pulled a flanking maneuver, so in effect, you are assaulted from all sides by great stories.  It remains our best seller to date. 

The reason for this success is also pretty simple, great stories in a themed anthology that has not yet been overdone.  It also goes back to our core principals of treating the authors with fairness and respect.  An author who feels like they are appreciated, in my opinion, will give you a very special piece of their souls.  This is how we achieved and maintain success with this book. It is not a perfect book, as some of the reviews point out, but we read and learn from all reviews.  We can, and will continue to improve with both reader, and author input. 

BH: Aside from the bigger names you’ve signed a few lesser known and first time authors. Do you want to talk about those folks a bit?

DHP: To say we have some of the best new talent out there, would be understating the facts.  We published Wile E. Young’s first full length novel, “Catfish in the Cradle”, and it is a masterpiece of modern southern gothic style.  He blends horror and fantasy into a tale that makes it impossible not to turn that next page.  He is one that is destined for great things, and we could not have been any more proud to have been given the opportunity to work with a great talent at the dawn of his career.

Then along comes Ms. Kenzie Jennings.  Wow is the only word that I can say to describe this lady and her talent for storytelling.  Her debut novel, “Reception”, takes common themes within the genre, and turns them completely on their heads.  Her character building and plots will impress even the most literary snobs amongst us.  She is also one to keep your eyes on in the future.  Be warned, we will fight to the death to keep them under the DHP umbrella. 

These are just two examples, but you also have Chris Miller, Mike Ennenbach, and many, many more.  We expect big things from all of them.

BH: What exciting books are coming down the pipeline?

DHP: Well, we have a couple of projects that are under wraps at the moment, but I can tell you that they are both mind blowing endeavors.  One is going to consist of a series of novellas from the rising stars mentioned in the last question, and another is an anthology paying tribute to a man whose unintentional influence on our genre is without question. 

More immediate, we just put a zombie collection from Christine Morgan, “Dawn of the Living-Impaired and Other Messed Up Zombie Stories”, on preorder for an August 1st release.  This book will have a live release party at this year’s KillerCon in Austin Texas.  We have an upcoming release from Robert Essig that is an unbelievably good read.  We also have a collection from Robert and Jack Bantry planned for later this year. 

Speaking of collections, we are excited to have one from Wesley Southard as well.  This dude has chops.  Sisters of Slaughter, Chandler Morrison, Richard Raven, and C. Derick Miller also have novels due out this year under the DHP label.  C. Derick Miller’s novel “Extinguished” is actually due out on the same day as Christine’s collection, August 1st.  It has been, and will continue to be a busy year for DHP.

BP: How do you stand out in the saturated book market? With all the small presses and self-publishers it is hard to demand attention.

DHP: Integrity, honesty, and the best fucking horror and dark fiction out there.  The best way to stand out in a crowd, is to not allow yourself to fall victim to a mob mentality.  This happens to so many in this community, and it is sad.

BH: Do you feel that being a Texas based publisher gives you a different point of view or significantly distinguishes you from the coastal presses? Does Texan culture and attitude impact your business model or your books?

DHP: I do think that coming from a very different environment, gives us a different viewpoint on how we operate.  I think we bring a bit of southern hospitality into our business dealings, and I think that is appealing to some.  I will stop short of saying a better viewpoint, because there are some great publishers on both the East and West coasts.  We want to bring the South coast into the fray, and give them something to talk about. 

As a Texan, you are raised to do everything big.  That I think is the biggest cultural/attitude element that we get from being a Texan.  Where it gets to be detrimental, is Texans are fiercely stubborn, and hard-headed….but we are learning.  It takes a village to be successful.  We don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to sail with the prevailing winds.  Who dares, wins.

BH: Let’s talk covers. You guys have some gorgeous art. How do you handle art direction and book design?

DHP: Another great question, but also with an easy answer.  We let the professionals do what they do.  We involve the author as much or as little as they want to be involved, and while we put forth our vision of what we want to see, we allow the artist to interpret it.  This usually works out to be the best cover for that particular book.  We have only had to reject one cover, but that was not for lack of talent, just a lack of us getting our vision across to the artist.

BH: Any tips for writers who would like to work with Death’s Head? What impresses you guys and what turns you off?

DHP: Write well thought out, and interesting stories.  Do your research, and please, just the basic editing.  Be open to constructive criticism.  Be humble.  Arrogance will get your manuscript moved straight into the “not in this fucking lifetime” pile.  What really impresses us is out of the box thinking.  Almost every idea has already been written, but it is up to you to take these same ideas, and make them your own. 

We notice a trend of people feeling entitled to be in certain publications, and we want to call bullshit on this notion.  We do not care if you are a man or a woman, black or white, gay or straight, trans or cis….just get us a good story, and we will publish it.  We are naturally diverse in our books, and cannot or will not be forced because of the current narratives going on in the community or world as a whole.  Let your work speak for you. 

Everything and everyone is on the same footing at DHP.  We give no preferential treatment to any group.  Our opinion is simple, you can’t make your voice heard by silencing another.  This is just another form of bullying, and makes you into exactly what you oppose.

BH: Let’s get a bit more personal. Favorite horror film and favorite horror novel?

DHP: My favorite horror film, at the moment, is Pandorum.  I love the mesh of sci-fi and horror done right.  Favorite novel would have to be a seven way tie between all of the books in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.  There were some real gems, but overall, I take them as one big book.  “The Girl Next Door” by Ketchum (RIP), is my favorite as a standalone novel.

BH: Do you have a favorite horror story in a medium beyond film or prose? A comic, video game, or concept album?

DHP: I am absolutely addicted to the Crossed graphic novels/comics.  I also dig pretty much any survival horror video game.

BH: What book or movie hooked you on horror?

DHP: Salem’s Lot…..that movie scared the ever-loving shit out of me as a kid.  I loved it in hindsight.

BH: If you could publish a new story from any dead writer who would you pick and why?

DHP: This is a tough question.  I would have to go with J.F Gonzalez.  He was a great writer, and a champion for humans around the world.  He could make you laugh, cry, and vomit all within the same paragraph.  That is a special talent.

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