For those who might have noticed the strange and mysterious “disappearance” of Horror titles currently missing from American bookshelves…Might there be cause for worry?
Even in big box stores that formerly carried at least The Best Of series of Horror anthologies (edited respectively by Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, and Stephen Jones), there appears to be a growing availability desert.
Sure, they can be ordered online. But what has happened to carrying at least those titles in major bookstores (titles, by the way, which always sold copies)? Where are our new authors? Our old, established authors? Why are we constantly seeing reconfigurations of the same authors and stories? What are they doing to our genre?
For many, there is the sensation that the future is bleak. Has the genre fallen on hard times, or are we being gaslighted into oblivion? Are Horror fans still out there, and what can we do as writers to try to bring things back to better sales plateaus?
The truth is that Horror as a genre is reinventing itself. And that means the real question is not are fans and new writers out there, but will you be part of the Renaissance?
Masks of the Internet
One issue we are dealing with in our genre is the problem of the Internet. That’s right – problem.
Today’s internet control of Literature is like going into your local library and finding everything dumped on the floor. The only thing anyone tells you is that it is in the heap…somewhere.
While too many people are proud to say this type of availability puts everyone for the first time on equal footing, it also makes a mess that is overwhelming to navigate. Expecting the average reader to have the patience to sort through all of the possible titles and an army of unknown names as authors or editors is just too much. Never mind the issue of quality in Craft as well as production.
We need the kind of categorization that came with the thousands of years of development shaped by libraries, the kind of reviews that come from average folks that used to be employed by newspapers to rate or recommend new publications, the kind of analytical criticisms that come from actual Literary Critics, and the word of your local bookseller who knows what is selling and what is not.
All of these are being erased by Amazon and its shoppers. So for those still “using” the knowledge provided by libraries and brick and mortar stores to make online purchases, get ready. Your secret weapons are being eliminated. Prices are going up, selection is going down, and nobody knows or cares what you know or spend precious money on.
So go ahead. Wave your phone in my face and tell me how my job is soon to be extinct because my company won’t price match. I can’t wait when you get to pay new, higher prices because Amazon has you over the barrel…
The examples of what is to come are already out there.
It is far too easy to make books look totally awesome that are absolute crap.
Here is a for-instance: I recently bought a not-so-cheap Print-on-Demand book about navigating the “basics” of one of the Adobe suite programs….But instead of an introduction to that program, it was a hundred-page recitation of what you find on the box…system requirements, et al…
Talk about nerve. And if this kind of thing happens enough times, readers will stop buying books off the Internet. Justifiably. They will stop trusting us as writers.
So what can we do? How do we find Horror and keep our genre going in these hard times?
For one thing, we need to keep up with our editors.
It really doesn’t matter if you like an editor’s choices and/or selections of authors or stories. What matters is that these are “considered” The Best….
As a reader, you need to see what that is to see if you agree or disagree with the assessment. And if you disagree, you need to support other, different authors. If you agree, you need to look up those authors’ other works and give them a whirl. As a writer, you need to know what has been done, what strikes you as overdone, and what inspires you to do something completely different.
You cannot know if you are a rebel if you don’t know the norm…
Know the norm. Know the editors. Know their styles. And either get with their program or write your own. But read them. Read them regularly… They aren’t who they are for no reason…
The other thing you can do is to try other publications, other anthologies, other editors. They are out there, although in increasingly smaller, more irregularly published numbers. They do have a habit of disappearing frequently, of reinventing, of staggered publication schedules. But if you do not purchase them, they cannot survive.
And try the offerings of small, independent publishers.
Horror is still more of a red-haired stepchild than its own powerful genre for many publishers, and all of that bruhaha about this being a Golden Age of Horror really does pertain mostly to film. As for print and Horror fiction in general, there is evidence of trying to stuff Horror into other genres like Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Thrillers. Mention of Horror tends to be an afterthought, not the leading marketing angle.
And the sad thing is this is all the doing of publishers trying to rebrand our genre as everything else, as though to hide its wolfish nature amongst the sheep is a good thing…
We have writers – many of them from that Golden Decade of the 1980s and the Real Golden Age of the 1950s – whose works are still out there being read often because they are being recycled... But it would appear that the general consensus is that we are not at this time writing very compelling Horror fiction. And some of those “older” writers used to be proud Horror writers…until something ugly happened and they were sidelined by publishers who shied away from midlist sales figures and potentially controversial prose if not controversial writers. And then until something uglier happened and someone started bleeding off our writers claiming they wrote other types of fiction instead of a “purer” kind of Horror.
You didn’t know there was classism in our genre? Well, there is in fact…
But the good news is that along with the sweeping (and often detrimental changes) the internet has brought to our genre the opportunity for coup.
You see it is the fans of Horror who decide what Horror is and will become.
Fans decide with their wallets.
When I see more pulp, more comics, more graphic novels selling in our genre than the Best Of anthologies, I see revelation.
When I see classic authors outselling everyone but Stephen King, I see revelation.
When I see Stephen King carrying our modern genre, I see revelation.
The revelation is: you can lead a horse to water or a pulp fan to Literature, but you cannot make him or her drink.
And if a fan does not understand Literature, chances are, there is no incentive to drink more than once.
In other words, we as a genre – our Establishment – is doing a piss poor job of marketing the reinvention of Horror. We are not exclusively Literary, nor should we be. We have to love the whole child. And what better source of inspiration is there but pulp? Graphic Art? Fine Art? Comics? Summer blockbusters?
That is what is selling…
Horror is a fun genre as well as a heavy one. One end feeds off of the other.
Our Renaissance cannot exclude our pulp roots, or demand an explanationless manifestation of Literature because we are not (yet) robots.
Our Renaissance is destined to be a marriage of the two. Opposites attract. Sparks make fire.
We are as writers being presented with one “acceptable” track of creation, and that is in itself stifling.
If we want to “see publication” then we must conform to demand.
How ugly is that?
As a fan, if you want to know where your genre is, it is out here – with you – in the cold, wet rain. Writers are writing in rebellion. But we have few places to go to show you, unless we want to “give it away” and we cannot afford that.
We are seeking markets. Making markets. Trying to decide how we can navigate the world between the hammer-strokes of Amazon.
Your genre is reinventing itself, therefore it is being forced to hide its unpalatable gyrations, its shape-changing behind internet masks – lest it bring shame to the Establishment.
But it is out there. Graphic novels, comics, pulp… its audience is loyal. It sticks together and whispers about new plots, new characters, new writers, new artists….Not so much general Horror fiction.
But in their loyalty to King, we see their preferences…the need for accessibility in fiction. As writers we are trying to get there. We are writing stories nobody wants to pay for, but may in fact be good Horror. We support King, read King, and will always have a special place in our creative hearts for his work. He (in all likelihood) inspired multiple generations to become writers if not lifelong Horror fans.
Yet we need more.
We need variety to keep on growing. We can’t all write pulp, or Literature, or Kinglike books.
But we can be inspired by them, and that is how genres grow.
The Way Forward is Dark
One of the reasons we are having trouble selling our Horror fiction (besides the obvious obliteration of markets and reduction of publishers and editors) is that we are all not looking in the right place OR for the right things.
Like it or not, this is the era of attempted Literary Horror…and not because editors and Critics want it, but because the world we live in right now is presenting us with Horrors the likes of which only George Orwell, Isaac Asimov and Harry Harrison imagined.
From this decade we will either see the rise of some of the greatest Literature of our modern times, or the end of it. Because all of us are being affected down to the molecules of our day-to-day lives. We cannot escape or ignore truths any more than Dickens or Dostoevsky. And the fear, the fury, the moral outrage is coursing through our creative veins, coloring our monsters and our plots, dragging us into dystopian scenarios, making real the rest of the world in ways the rest of the world has only dreamed of.
Every day we are waking up in a universe created by Bosch.
Every day, the garden of earthly delights becomes less and less attainable… replaced by the promise of man’s inhumanity to man.
Climbing up out of that hellish, all-encompassing vision is difficult. For artists and writers who are prone to so much psychic noise and psychological sound waves, the experience can be overwhelming….suffocating….and sometimes liberating…
Literature and Fine Art is born of this angst, this disgust and this Horror.
This means that a lot of writers are either writing about Potteresque young wizards or drowning in creative milieus of powerful emotion, struggling to get it down on the page and tucked neatly into story.
But they are OUT there…struggling to the surface for air. Keep looking for them; they are looking for you…
The transformation from trying to figure out what editors want and whether a story is one story or a trilogy has evaporated into how to bring the Horror to the foreground, how to make Horror scary again when Real Life seems to outpace anything we can imagine.
This is a creative challenge.
And like our fanbase in the genre, we are struggling to navigate each day, pay the bills, digest each new oppressive threat by politics that seem hellbent on creating dictatorship by promising various, construed bases changes won’t adversely affect them but only those they do not like….all while pushing plots and experimenting with characters and scenarios that often feel as surreal as Science Fiction or Fantasy because real life is mimicking it.
It is a tall order. But one I assure you your genre writers are up to…And I have seen the evidence personally. Right now what we are lacking most is that over-the-edge push…the one thing that horrifies absolutely the way a King novel horrifies, because the Horror is real… It is because we are struggling to learn the Craft we are not being taught while creating what we hope are sound concepts executed the way we want…
It takes work. Practice. Mastery.
It takes Renaissance.
And we cannot let ourselves go numb and mute. We have to say exactly what we mean. We have to not-care what others will think. We have to be willing to write outside of the Establishment’s dictates or preferences, and understand getting found in a confusing mass of titles is going to be a challenge unlike few others.
It’s going to take raw determination by our writers.
It’s going to take blind faith.
And as a writer I feel it coming.
As a bookseller I still see fans looking for new Horror.
This tells me it isn’t over – our genre is far from done.
In fact, I believe it tells me we are just getting started. And once we find a way to get it out there – as a genre – as a collective….then I think we will see new sales. New fans. New writers.
Whether we are The Best or not.
Some of us are content to place our immortality in the hands of our readers. Because that is where it belongs. Out there. In the dark.