It all starts in the summer of 1988.
Richard Chizmar, in his final year at the University of Maryland's College of Journalism, sits down one afternoon and composes a page of "Writer's Guidelines" for his new horror magazine, Cemetery Dance. Chizmar is a long-time fan of the genre and is looking to publish a modest, underground magazine — no more than twice a year — featuring the type of dark fiction he personally favors...horror blended with a strong dose of mystery and suspense and wonder. The kind you used to see on television on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, the kind you could find deep in most bookstore's Horror sections, but usually far, far away from the Bestseller Lists...
Named after one of Chizmar's own published short stories, Cemetery Dance quickly makes a name for itself in the horror field. Even before the first issue is published, in fact.
"We were pretty serious from the very beginning," Chizmar remembers. "We did a lot of advance advertising and publicity, in magazines like Twilight Zone and The Horror Show, a lot of horror-related newsletters, and practically anywhere else we could afford an ad. And it really paid off; by the time the first issue was published, people knew exactly what Cemetery Dance was."
The Premiere Issue hits the stands in December 1988. A haunting, black-and-white cover drawn by Chizmar's college roommate, forty-eight poorly-designed pages of horror and suspense. But it's a nice mix — short stories, interviews, news, reviews. Familiar names like Bentley Little, David Silva, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Barry Hoffman. 1,000 copies printed and about half sold. It's not a bad start. A nice hobby, Chizmar thinks...
Six months later, Issue #2 hits the stands. Another black-and-white cover. 60 pages this time. Packed with plenty of good horror. The reviews are good. A few more copies are printed of this issue and a handful sell to the comics distributors.
Then it's December 1989 and Issue #3 arrives with a two-color cover and contributions from some of the more popular authors in the genre — Richard Christian Matheson, David Schow, and Ray Garton. The interior page design is sharper now, cleaner, produced on a high-quality laser printer. And something else... Cemetery Dance is slowly but surely developing an audience... a genuine readership. People are liking what they see and asking for more...
So, beginning with issue #4, Chizmar announces a more ambitious publication schedule — four issues per year now. He figures: why not? He's recently graduated from college and has turned his full-time attention to the magazine and his own fiction writing. So, he thinks, this is a good time to try this. Plus the two best magazines in the genre — Twilight Zone and The Horror Show — have recently closed shop, leaving a gaping hole in the reading diets of most horror addicts.
By issue #5, Cemetery Dance is operating at near full speed. Slick, full-color covers, each issue at least 100 pages, paid advertising, distribution into the bookstore chains as well as the comic shops. And better content all the time. More and more people are paying attention to the magazine...
Each issue now features a cross-section of fiction, articles, interviews, news and reviews.
A short time later, Stephen King sends in an original, never-before-published short story entitled "Chattery Teeth". Says he would love to see it in the pages of Cemetery Dance! The story appears in issue #14 and even more new readers discover the magazine.
The years pass. New issues keep coming... And coming... And the rest is history...
So what about all the books? Where did they come from?
Well, from the same place Cemetery Dance magazine did, of course...
The book imprint makes an auspicious debut in 1992 — around the time of Cemetery Dance issue #12 — with the publication of an amazing short story collection entitled Prisoners and Other Stories by long-time Cemetery Dancefavorite Ed Gorman. The collection (much like the magazine) features all types of dark fiction — crime, suspense, mystery, horror. It's all there. Prisoners also features a great Afterword by Dean Koontz, and receives wonderful reviews. And, even better, it sells...
"The book imprint came about for pretty much the same reason the magazine did four years earlier," Chizmar explains. "I saw an opportunity to put some of my favorite authors in hardcover and the temptation was too much to resist. I didn't know much at all about specialty book publishing at the time, but I knew some of the folks who were doing it and asked a lot of questions and did my homework. Plus I knew we had an active readership thru the magazine, an audience who was hungry for more quality work. Cemetery Dance, the magazine, was a built-in customer base for us and a huge advantage. These folks already knew us and trusted us — and they supported us from the very beginning."
During the first couple years, Cemetery Dance publishes two to three hardcovers a year. They start slow... just like they did with the magazine. They're learning the distribution system, marketing strategy, which authors will sell to which markets, how to actually design the type of books they want to publish.
"Trust me, it was a lot of work. The book business couldn't be any more different than the magazine industry. We were really flying by the seat of our pants," Chizmar adds.
As the first few years pass, they gain more experience and also more confidence. Soon they're publishing an average of a half-dozen hardcover titles annually. They eventually hire a firm to design their dust jackets, they start receiving reviews and notices in the larger trade publications such as Publishers Weekly and Booklist, selling to the library markets. And more and more book collectors are searching for each new title from Cemetery Dance Publications.
Shortly after, best-selling author Dean Koontz puts them on the specialty publishing map, asking them to produce a limited edition of his short story collection, Strange Highways. The book is a major success, and is the first of four Koontz limited editions to be published by Cemetery Dance over the years.
Before you know it, Cemetery Dance has published more than two dozen hardcover titles. They have a backlist! All types of fiction, of course. From all types of writers. One year they publish a book from a best-selling author, and the next year, a first novel from a new but talented writer. Both books sell out almost instantly.
It isn't very long before Cemetery Dance Publications is publishing more than 10 titles per year. And then 20 titles.
Their list of authors is a "Who's-Who" of the genre — Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, William Peter Blatty, and dozens of others of the biggest names in horror and suspense.
Print runs increase. Some folks in the industry don't even consider them a specialty press anymore.
In 2002, Brian James Freeman and Kelly Laymon are hired full-time — the first two "non family" employees.
That fall, Cemetery Dance moves into new offices in Forest Hill, Maryland, and in 2007 they remodel the warehouse because they're already outgrowing it, sometimes publishing as many as 30 books in a single year.
The projects are getting even bigger and more exciting, too, including two volumes by Stephen King called The Secretary of Dreams, his first-ever graphic short story collections.
In 2009, Cemetery Dance magazine is redesigned and revamped with a brand new look. Special issues devoted to Peter Straub and William Peter Blatty launch the new look and feel. These issues are met with universal acclaim from readers, reviewers, distributors, and booksellers.
On March 29, 2010, Cemetery Dance surprises the world by announcing the World's First Edition of Blockade Billy by Stephen King. Their hardcover, complete with a Limited Edition baseball card, arrives in stores just weeks after the world learns the book even exists.
In the summer of 2010, they again surprise the publishing industry by announcing a special edition of The Passage by Justin Cronin, which is easily the most talked about horror novel of the last decade. Both of the signed editions sell out within four hours of the official announcement.
In October 2010, Cemetery Dance surprised the collecting community yet again when they announced Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, a surprise Limited Edition that was already at the printer and would be published in December.
In May of 2011, Cemetery Dance announced more good news for Stephen King fans: It: The 25th Anniversary Special Limited Edition.
Cemetery Dance Publications has been around for twenty-seven years, publishing more than 300 hardcover titles and more than 70 issues of the magazine...with hundreds more to come!