Horror Fiction: The Incredible Shrinking Industry
Normally, posts on here are concerned with facts, however, every now and again, I will post some thoughts. I recently stumbled across an article discussing this topic. Horror is one of those fiction genres hardest hit in recent years with poor sales and shrinking markets.
The piece confirmed what I’ve suspected for a long time. I’ve been writing horror as long as I’ve been writing, and it was once an innovative and original niche. Believe it or not, Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, just to name a few, all are linked to horror. Charles Dickens, Nathanial Hawthorne, Mark Twain all tried their hand at dabbling in the literary supernatural.
Around 10 years ago, I began to really notice the horror publishing industry was no longer innovative or original. As a matter of fact, if one book gained popularity, a hundred would appear that were eerily similar, in content and in character. Every zombie novel was much like the next. Every vampire book fell along the same lines.
Horror went from an all-inclusive genre, with fans of all ages, to one considered to be exclusively college-aged, male-oriented. Most of the authors getting published seemed to mimic Stephen King’s writing style. Certainly, King was an original author in his day, but in the past two decades, the originality has became somewhat stagnant. For example, exactly how many stories/movies can you do about authors in New England, who are unbelievably successful, and who encounter vengeful spirits, without becoming repetitive? This opposed to his early career, where you might have The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, Christine, or IT. They were nothing like one another.
Personally, I deemed it the “good ol’ boy system,” because most horror writers, who garnered any attention, seemed to be middle-aged white men. They often personally knew other middle-aged white men who have gotten somewhere in publishing. Their work was not original or particularly interesting, but for some reason, they had multiple books published with the same “ho-hum” results. The artistic merit was nil, everything was too graphic from the first few pages on, so not even the parts we were supposed to be horrified over, draws any reaction at all. Seldom ever did the “gatekeepers,” allow a heroine through their doors, despite the fact that the ratio of fiction readers today tends to favor a female majority. Likewise, the assumption that a female heroine somehow made the story “chick lit,” suggested Neanderthals controlled the industry.
The same hero was in every novel, a white male (sometimes middle-aged), who was typically supposed to be considered “average,” and often just a cardboard cut out of a Stephen King character. Not just in physical feature, but in every way. The dialogue was the same, the habits were the same, and we can go on.
Politics also played a key role in causing the deterioration. Far too many writers (Stephen King included) attempted to use their fiction as a vehicle to sway the reader politically. This is a HUGE no-no. Your character is not you, so not every hero will have your politics and not every villain will oppose your personal politics. Most excellent novels have no political content, at all, and they’re far more readable. Authors depend on readers and you will not win any new fans by insulting large groups of potential fans. Most readers do not pick up a fiction novel so they can see how fictional characters deal with the evening news. You can’t stereotype the public, via your character, and not lose more than you gain. Most importantly, you lose your readers’ respect.
It remains disheartening to see the inevitable approach within such a traditional genre. Major publishers have dwindling interest in horror and horror fans are often jaded as to what they can expect from the “big boys.” This is a prime example of what happens when an industry shoots itself in the proverbial foot.
Instead of growing over the decades, the horror fiction industry splintered. If a novel was intelligent, it was suddenly, “literary horror.” If it was fast-paced, it became a, “supernatural thriller.” These minor divisions, rather than help the industry grow, merely sent readers elsewhere. It was almost as if the publishing leaders were so unsure of the work, they wanted to quickly push attention elsewhere. It also had a hand in turning horror from a literary pursuit to a B-grade pursuit. A critic once told Stephen King his work was the literary equivalent of a, “Big Mac Meal.” There was nothing at all wrong with that, that was his style, and he had every right to use it. It became “wrong ” when countless authors tried to follow his style too closely, and they mutated the entire genre into an overall, “Big Mac Meal.” Of course, that would never have happened were it not for the publishing professionals who approved it.
Meanwhile, the popularity of international horror has exploded. This is particularly true among movie fans. In America, there are numerous groups following Asian or European horror because the American variation has became such a disappointment.
However, horror readers take heart. The indie author circuit is growing in creeps and bounds, so the original fiction you crave is readily available. The old empire may be crumbling, but a new surge of writers and readers is rapidly approaching.