Enjoy the Apocalypse: A conversation with Jacob Kier of Permuted/Swarm Press


As the man behind Permuted Press, Jacob Kier has had an enormous influence in the horror community. He has single-handedly nurtured a niche fan base for post-apocalyptic and zombie-themed horror fiction into a thriving and loyal market. He has now branched out into science fiction and fantasy with a new imprint called “Swarm Press,” and I have no doubt at all that he will be equally successful in this latest endeavor.

I’ve known Jacob for some time now, and in a number of different capacities: first as a fan, then as a reviewer, and most recently in my role as a publicist working to promote several Swarm/Permuted titles. In all cases, I have come to know him as a passionate advocate for speculative literature, never afraid to take chances, and always willing to poke into the darkest corners of the world to find it.

He completed the following interview with me today.

How you did you get started in publishing?

I’ve always been a book lover and fascinated with authors, writing, and the industry as a whole. In 2004 I learned of print on demand (POD) technology for printing books. Around the same time I read Simon Clark’s brilliant zombie-ish novel Blood Crazy and Brian Keene’s The Rising and thought–as I know now rather naively–“Hey, it seems really easy to publish a book using POD, how cool would it be to publish a zombie anthology?!” Then I set up a website, put out the submission call, and here we are 20-some books later.

What does “permuted” mean, anyway?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines permute as “to change the order or arrangement of; especially : to arrange in all possible ways.” I wanted to do something new and different with the things Permuted published, and I’ve always loved fiction that puts a new spin on old themes, so the name seemed appropriate.

What kinds of books do you choose for Permuted?

I generally choose books or anthologies that line up with my personal interests. I love zombies and apocalyptic works, so in general we focus on those. I’m also a big fan of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos–which is arguably apocalyptic–so we’re working a two volume genre-blending mythos anthology titled Cthulhu Unbound. I also like works that put a new twist on a popular theme or subject, like Jason S. Hornsby’s surreal, nihilistic zombie novel Every Sigh, The End.

Who are some of your top authors? What are their newest books?

Permtued’s most popular title overall is J.L. Bourne’s journal-style zombie novel Day by Day Armageddon. Z.A. Recht’s Morningstar trilolgy–Plague of the Dead and Thunder and Ashes are available now–mixes both fast and slow movie zombies and is also extremely popular. And Bram Stoker Award winner Kim Paffenroth’s thoughtful zombie novel Dying to Live has done very well.

What is it about the post-apocalyptic genre that most intrigues you?

Beyond the horror inherent in the apocalypse itself, I enjoy seeing the creativity in humanity’s struggle to survive in a unique situation. Whether it’s hiding in a mall, busting out a stairway to isolate the upper floors in a skyscraper, or sailing out to sea on an abandoned cruise ship, I love seeing the author use their characters to come up with inventive solutions to post-apocalyptic challenges.

Zombies are pretty hot right now, but do you worry that they’ll fall off of the cultural radar, and if so will that weaken Permuted?

I think zombies have become one of the staples of the horror genre and won’t ever fall completely off the radar. When the time comes that the living dead do become less popular, I think Permuted’s focus on the apocalyptic niche in general–and the fact that we’re becoming known for it–will keep us stabilized.

I heard that the movie rights for one of your books was optioned recently. This true?

Writer/director Don Coscarelli optioned David Wong’s John Dies at the End for film. Coscarelli compared his feelings for John Dies at the End to those for his previous cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep.

I understand that you’re based in a small Arkansas town. Do you get much trouble from authors and other people in the industry because you’re not located in a major metropolitan area?

We receive some surprised reactions to our location sometimes, but no trouble. I think most people realize that we’re living in the internet age and location is becoming less important for the publishing business. As long as Permuted has internet access we can operate from anywhere!

Is Permuted your full-time job, or do you do something else?

I think I spend nearly full time hours on Permuted, but I do have a separate full time job to support my family and me.

Do you work with anyone else there?

I work with literally dozens of freelance editors and artists who make all of this possible.

Tell me about Swarm Press. How does it differ from Permuted?

Swarm is our more general imprint that will publish works in many genres including science fiction, fantasy, and non-apocalyptic horror. The first big push under Swarm has been superhero-type fiction including Matthew Wayne Selznick’s Brave Men Run, Mur Lafferty’s Playing For Keeps, and Van Allen Plexico’s Sentinels series.

Why did you branch out into Swarm?

I wanted to keep Permuted focused on the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic niche, but still be able to explore other areas.

Who are some of your top authors right now, and their most recent titles?

Swarm is in its early stages with just 4 titles out–5 as of August 25th with Playing For Keeps–so the playing field there is still fairly level. Our current top seller is Matthew Wayne Selznick’s modern superhero drama Brave Men Run–think Heroes and you’re in the ballpark.

Why “Swarm,” anyway? What does the word mean to you?

I was looking for a name that had the sense of a collective or group of genres. I went through several options and finally settled on “Swarm” for the symbolism of many coming together.

What are your plans for the future, for both Swarm and Permuted?

Swarm and Permuted will continue to produce some of the best independent fiction out there!

Do you have any advice for someone looking to bring a book to Swarm or Permuted?

Beyond the general professionalism any author ought to bring to the table, I’m always interested in new and unique ideas. It’s great–though not required–if an author has already built up a fan base and/or has some solid ideas on how to promote the work and him or herself.

What about someone looking to start their own press? Any useful lessons?

Learn all you can about the business of publishing before you start your own press. Too often well-intentioned folks–including me when I started Permuted–jump into small publishing without a clear picture of what to expect.


  1. says

    I wonder if anyone besides me has this problem: I went through a well-known POD company to publish my first collection of short stories. I think the book looks too thin, like, prospective buyers might wonder if they’re going to get their money’s worth (the price is set by the POD company). I made sure my next book contained more pages, but the publisher jacked up the price another dollar.

    I would really like to combine my first two books into one solid, substantial volume, but God knows what the publisher would charge then!

    Should I find another publisher or what?

  2. says

    Bill– POD is always too expensive. The company’s charge by page count as far as I can tell.

    Personally though I never worry about page count when I buy a book. I will pay 15 bucks for a 100 page book gladly if it is something that I am interested in. On the other hand, there are lots of 600pg paperbacks for 15 that I just don’t go for.

    I dunno. I guess it depends on if your writing is more likely to appeal to the guy who goes into Safeway amd buys a giant lemon puy for 1.99 or some fellow with a French sounding name who lays down 40 or 50 Euros for a bottle of something you can’t pronounce.

  3. says

    The thickness of a book is determined as much by paper stock as by page count. So thicker paper can bulk out a slim volume. Good quality paper costs more, of course. What I’ve seen of POD productions they tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach and use lower grade materials, including thinner paper stock. Thinner paper also has greater show-through which can be a problem if you’re using photos or other graphics.

    The books I design for Savoy vary in size, shape and materials; we try to match the materials to the book. That means a bigger cost at the print end. As with many things, you gets what you pays for.

  4. says

    I ask this question sincerely: Are any of these Permuted Press titles any good — as in well-written, concerned with character and smart plots? There seem to be a lot of well-intentioned, small horror publishers. For Average Joe Reader, sifting through them for the quality stuff can be frustrating and overwhelming.

  5. says

    Interesting post. I’ve been wondering about POD and which services people would recommend. I’m not completely taken with a certain of the leading name, if only because their bestseller list is so weird (and not in a good way) – far beyond even the sickest flights of the most cynical SF-writer’s imagination, or maybe I’m being too critical as that’s the whole point – POD is what people will buy, so I guess I shoudn’t complain. Still, I’d welcome any suggestions.