In autumn of 1996, I was a mass market paperback writer for Kensington Publishing under the Zebra Books horror line. My career was steady and building momentum, with eight novels published and two forthcoming on its midlist schedule. Then, without warning, the horror publishing industry imploded, and Zebra unceremoniously shut down its line.

After six years as a full-time author, I was suddenly unemployed. The reason for Zebra’s shutdown, as well as for that of many other publishers’ imprints, was an oversaturation of the horror genre. To feed the ravenous appetite of a loyal reading audience, mass market publishers had taken on inexperienced writers who were penning novels with inferior plotlines that lacked the spit and polish that established authors were accustomed to providing. In turn, readers got burned time and time again, and sales dropped. In desperation, publishers began to cut books and authors to sustain fiscal stability. Eventually, many canceled their horror fiction lines completely.

My agent’s advice upon calling me and giving me the bad news of Zebra Horror’s demise? “Write anything but horror.” So, I took that advice to heart and did just that. As weeks led into months, I tried my hand at several other genres. None of them panned out. Plain and simple, I was a horror writer and the niche I had worked so hard to establish myself in was gone. Frustration led to bitterness, then to apathy. Seeing no chance of regaining my success—and having bills to pay and a family to support—I simply quit. I completely abstained from writing and even reading horror fiction for 10 long years.

That decade of self-exile was rife with resignation and depression on my part. At age 36, coming from a blue-collar family and having no college education to speak of, I turned to the factories. I laced up my steel-toed boots and punched the clock from eight to four, sometimes six days a week. There were highs—raising a family, buying my first home, and enjoying the security of a 401(k) and health insurance. Even when the horror genre regained its footing, I shied away from the possibility of returning. In my mind, I’d had my shot and then lost it, never to retrieve the glory and satisfaction of publishing again. I kept my nose to the grindstone and clung to that weekly paycheck and sense of security.

Now, 26 years following the death of my mass market career, my viability as a saleable author has been resurrected.

During those years, everyone swore that the rise of the internet would herald the death of publishing—that easy access to cyber information would replace the need and desire for the printed word. Ironically, it turned out to be the catalyst that sparked a renewed interest in my work. Fans began to purchase my old Zebra novels on eBay and praise my work in online discussion forums. Many urged me to come back to the fold. After some soul-searching, I took the plunge and returned to the horror genre in summer 2006.

However, during the time I was gone, an entirely new generation of readers had appeared—a generation that hadn’t read my work and had no idea who I was. For several years, I worked to rebuild my popularity and appeal. Having regained all rights to my Zebra backlist, I signed on with Crossroad Press, a new publisher specializing in e-books and audiobooks, in 2010. My eight novels, plus two that hadn’t been published, were released, as well as a number of collections of short stories I had written for major magazines and anthologies.

I continued work with smaller, horror-oriented presses, which provided more author control and say-so over content and cover design—something I never had during my tenure with Kensington. Slowly, readers took notice, and my brand of Southern horror fiction became popular again. My readership expanded with the help of social media, and my sales followed suit. YouTube videos featuring reviews of my older books brought them back to readers’ consciousness, and those forgotten titles took on new life and thrived.

Now, 26 years following the death of my mass market career, my viability as a saleable author has been resurrected, with more projects in my creative queue than ever before. I granted myself a second chance and it paid off. Will I stay rooted in independent publishing or reach for the brass ring of the Big Five? At this point, that remains to be seen. I’m just thankful that I’m behind the keyboard and back in the game again.

Ronald Kelly’s memoir, Southern Fried and Horrified, was published this month by Stygian Sky Media.