Is Mass Market Horror Fiction Dead?

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 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.

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10 Responses to “ Is Mass Market Horror Fiction Dead? ”

  1. Horror fictions big problem is a lack of new big name best selling authors. It’s sort of gone back to what it was in 30s. being largely the preserve of a very specific kind of fan. Us 80’s kids grew up on a steady stream of Stephen King, Dean R Koontz and Clive barker – James Herbert if you are a Brit. We didn’t have specifically targeted “young adult fiction” and we were of course gory little maggots. So we sort adopted horror and science fiction as our thing. I suspect that the next horror fiction boom will happen when the twilight girls and the small boys reading harry potter decide they want something a bit harder.
    Let’s not forget that our beloved slasher movies and things like Frightnight were mostly hated by serious horror and fantasy fiction fans.

  2. The whole Kindle thing depresses me. I mean, I’m on my computer all the time and love it, but I also like laying in bed with a book. A real book. Not some weird computer device. But I know that’s just me. I do think horror novels and other genres will find a way to flourish, and of course, I’ll be the girl at the used bookstore in the horror section!

  3. oh yeah. I forgot to mention, I think the kindle thing is a bit misleading. It’s just not the way people read. I’m on the computer all the time, but I can’t read page after page of computer text. There’s too many other distractions. There’s also that nerd thing of ownership and taste making a statement. You can watch any film on-line, but I still buy DVDs and tapes. A wall of books and films and posters makes an instant statement.

  4. Great article.

    It’s all very sad, but all very true. The rise of e-books over the past few years has been insane. I’m a small=press horror author and when my first novel came out 3 years ago, I hadn’t even heard of the Amazon Kindle. There wasn’t even a mention of it in my contract. Thankfully, all of my books are available in digital format so that I can stay with the game.

    It’s a huge disappointment, though, because when I first signed with my publisher, I saw it as a starting point. I knew my books wouldn’t be mass produced (and still aren’t), but I figured it would be considered a stepping stone. To have my voice heard through the small presses and then, maybe 5-10 years down the line, have a few Leisure reprints. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now. But, who knows? Another genre publisher of mass markets might take its place within the next couple of years, but as of now, things are pretty bleak. Ask any experienced author who knows the business and they’ll tell you: avoid the larger presses for the time being, as it’s next to impossible to sign with them. Right now, if you’re a new voice, the only way to get your name out there is through small/indie presses and self-pubs.

    Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to spread the word about my own books, so please support the little guy and check out my Amazon Author Page. Thanks!

  5. Love the blog post Thomas, could you perhaps email me? contact[at]indiehorror[dot]org. Would love to run something by you about guest blogging.

  6. I had the same problem when I started Horror Yearbook. I was shocked to learn a lot of horror fans don’t read horror novels. I tried my best to get people excited about horror books but it was like talking to a wall and I gave up.

    The biggest problem is they’re not easily available. While I read lots of horror novels, I’m not a die-hard collector, and don’t put in a lot of effort in to discovering the latest authors or books. The small horror press seems like its own exclusive club, that releases expensive collector editions and short runs. I can’t afford to collect books, and hunting down new material wasn’t an option. A lot of great “mid-level” horror writers were never heard of because no one got the word out. I have caught a lot of slack for things I have said about the small horror press, but they failed to reach me, a horror fan who does read horror.

    They act like people like me don’t exist, and that there are only two types of horror fans; Ones that watch horror movies, and ones that collect expensive hardcover books. The small horror press is too busy patting each other on the asses instead of bridging the gap.

    Sucks to hear about Leisure Books, and it sucks not to be able to find horror books in major book stores and specialty shops.

    What about Medallion Press?

  7. Glenn: James Herbert? Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a long time. I read The Dark first and was hooked. I tried to find everything he ever wrote but his books vanished from US shelves years ago. Is he still writing or has he retired? One reason why the market crashed back in the 1980s is because publishers invested so much money in finding the new King, Koontz, or Barker. When the publisher’s pet projects tanked they delcared horror dead.

    Amanda: Horror sections in used book stores are a great place to relax and spend way too much money. When ever I go on a trip I make sure to check out all of the used book stores in the area.

    Brandon: I also think a major publisher will fill the void one day. All it will take is someone writing a mega-crossover hit like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, or The Amityville Horror.

    Wil: I’m starting to find a few Medallion Press titles at the local discount stores. Hope that doesn’t mean they’re gone too. I don’t understand why the small press folks produce those $50 autographed leather-bound editions that sell 75 copies. Leisure gave me a chance to purchase Jack Ketchum’s work without breaking the bank.

    Matthew: Sent you an email a couple of days ago. Hope to hear from you soon.

  8. I have been fortunate enough to interview most of these midlist authors on my show. They are all wonderfully talented, probably the best authors out there. I will miss Leisure. I can point you folks toward Deadite Press who have picked up a lot of the Leisure authors. Also, Don D’Auria has taken over the horror line at Samhain Publishing and is going to do two books a month starting soon, just as he did at Leisure. And that’s in ebook and print, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

  9. Oh and the Kindle, for now, is the best place to keep up with authors like Jeff Strand, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, and Wrath James White(Lee and White are also publishing through Deadite Press). The authors are releasing books themselves on the Kindle.

  10. I kind of think that books aren’t going to fall as easily as music has to digital oblivion. I think that alot of the e-reader hype is just a part of the larger hype of the proliferation of these high tech portable devices that make up the buy it or else current trend. These devices aren’t new. I remember seeing ads for kindle-like devices in the late 90s, and those crashed and burned. In a more serious light, I don’t see books becoming obsolete because they are essentially technilogically sound. They don’t require electricity or upgrades, and they are cheap in comparison and will last a lifetime with little or no maintenance. Also, most all of the people I know that read regularly fully admit to having no interest in owning an e-reader, and the one or two people I’ve actually run across that want one are definitely trend-whores. The gag is that they want to be cool and hip, but reading isn’t cool to most people and they think they want to carry around something that looks the mutant offspring of a 1989 gameboy and a fucking etch-a-sketch.

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