Over the last thirty years the market for horror novels has exploded, dried up to almost nothing, found new life through the splatterpunk movement, died off again, and then made a comeback through Leisure Books’ line of mass market horror novels. Last September, Leisure shut down their paperback lines with all future publications coming out in electronic form. Now that the biggest horror publisher is out of the game horror writers are scrambling to find new outlets for their work. Horror fiction has suffered many set backs before but this time it looks like the genre is down for the count.
Leisure Books editor Don D’Auria balanced the horror line with books from new writers while also publishing controversial classics by old pros. Finding copies of Jack Ketchum’s Off Season uncut and Ray Garton’s Live Girls available for the first time in twenty plus years was a great thrill for someone who had only read about those infamous novels. Richard Laymon, who seemed all but forgotten during the 1990s, suddenly found new life when Leisure published a number of his novels. New guys like Brian Keene, John Everson, and Nate Kenyon brought excitement back to areas of the horror genre that had grown stale and mundane.
With the death of Borders Books and the closing of so many book stores across the US some communities are left with very limited access to new fiction. Chances are the local library isn’t going to carry the new Jack Ketchum slaughter-fest so horror fans are reduced to scrounging in Wal-Mart and K-Mart for their horror fiction fix. Without Leisure Books the horror selection at those stores is down to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. There’s plenty of touchy-feely vampire soap opera bullshit taking up shelf space but precious little else to interest fans looking for honest-to-goodness horror.
Edward Lee wrote an article for www.briankeene.com detailing the death of Leisure Books and the sudden evaporation of work for “mid-level” horror writers. It’s a pretty depressing read if your a fan of horror fiction. The one good bit of news is Leisure Books’ titles are available at Wal-Mart and close-out stores for about $2 a book. Grab them up while you can because they’re going fast. The display at my local Wal-Mart didn’t last a week. You can no longer order these titles from Barnes and Noble but they’ll be happy to put you in touch with used book dealers who do have them in stock.
I have no doubts horror fiction will survive this latest setback. Fanzines kept the spirit alive after the death of the splatterpunks and metaphysical horror movements in the 1990s. Somehow the horror genre always finds a way to come back from the dead. I do fear the days of finding the latest horror novel sensation at grungy corner markets, drug stores, or name brand chain stores is over. Right now mass market paperbacks are dying off due to innovations in technology and a terrible economy. Let me close with a big thank you to Don D’Auria for bringing terror back to the grocery aisles. And another big thank you to all the horror writers at Leisure Books who gave life to a new wave of nightmares. You guys made horror fiction exciting again.