Three Ways To Survive A Horror Publishing Drought

Well, since I’m focusing on the horror genre more than usual this month, I thought that I’d look at a rather dark period in the genre’s history – because it provides some interesting lessons about what to do when no-one seems to want to publish horror fiction.

Anyway, some context. Between the mid-1970s and the early-mid 1990s, horror fiction was apparently an incredibly popular genre. Numerous authors published horror novels and, from the sheer number of old horror novels I found in second-hand shops/charity shops during my teenage years in the ’00s, they were read a lot more widely than they are now.

But, at some point during the 1990s, horror fiction fell out of fashion in publishing. In fact, it’s only within the past decade that modern horror fiction actually seems to be gaining some vague level of popularity again. Even so, finding a dedicated “horror” shelf in bookshops today is more difficult than it used to be – even when horror fiction was at it’s least popular. At best, horror is often lumped in with sci-fi & fantasy these days.

But, despite this, authors from the heyday of horror fiction kept publishing new books when the genre was in decline. So, how did they survive?

1) Related genres: In 1980s Britain, two of the biggest names in horror fiction were Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson. Although there was apparently some antagonism/rivalry between the two authors during the 1980s, they both wrote splatterpunk horror novels during that decade. And, when horror fiction fell out of fashion, both of them dealt with this crisis in a vaguely similar way.

They looked through their own fiction for any other genres hidden in there and focused more on those genres.

For example, Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong “gritty realism” element to it. So, during the horror drought of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, he took this element and used it to write several grim, gritty, ultra-violent crime thrillers instead (eg: “Exit Wounds”, “Deadhead” etc..). Since this genre seems to be eternally popular, Hutson was still able to write stories that were similar in tone to his classic horror fiction at a time when many publishers avoided horror fiction.

On the other hand, Clive Barker’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong dark fantasy element to it. This meant that, when horror fell out of fashion, he was still able to write several novels that included his distinctive interpretation of the fantasy genre (in addition to a couple of general fiction novels) – even though it wasn’t until the 2000s that he was able to reintroduce more horror elements into his fiction (with novels like “Coldheart Canyon” and “Mister B. Gone”).

The lesson in all of this is that, if you write horror, then you’ve probably also got another genre hiding in your fiction too. So, if you find it difficult to publish horror fiction, then focus slightly more on that other genre.

2) Fame:
When I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s, one thing that I’d always see on the shockingly slender “horror” shelves in major bookshops were several Stephen King novels. At the time, this used to really annoy me (since I expected a wider variety of authors). But, in retrospect, this offers a really interesting lesson in how to survive a horror publishing drought.

In short, fame can be extremely useful during a horror drought. Yes, this is probably the most difficult way to survive a horror drought (since you also need a horror boom in order to get that fame in the first place) but it can work. I mean, thanks to numerous film adaptations, regular publications and being a household name, Stephen King was still able to put out new horror fiction during a time when publishers were apparently reluctant to even consider printing stuff in this genre.

Likewise, the next novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice) was first published in 1998. This is a gothic horror novel about vampires that was published at a time when horror fiction wasn’t a popular genre. How and why did this book get around this obstacle? At a guess, it’s probably due to both the famous 1994 film adaptation of Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and the fact that Rice is a very well-known author with a lot of fans. So, yes, fame can be useful during a horror drought.

3) Smaller presses and/or self-publishing: Although mainstream publishing’s interest in the horror genre can vary over time, there is always going to be an audience for it. As such, smaller presses can help to keep the horror genre alive during publishing droughts. Not to mention that, these days, self-publishing is much easier than it probably was during the 1990s/early-mid 2000s too.

For example, even though horror fiction was probably slightly more popular during the late 2000s, one of my enduring memories of that time period was seeing books from a slightly lesser-known publisher/imprint called Abaddon Books on the horror shelves of major bookshops.

Although this smaller press only really seemed to last a couple of years, they mostly published horror novels (with collections like the awesome zombie-themed “Tomes Of The Dead” collection) and it was really really cool to actually see new horror novels in bookshops back then.

So, yes, smaller presses and/or self-publishing can certainly be an option whenever the mainstream publishing industry loses interest in the horror genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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