Monday, January 5, 2009

Horror Is (Un)Dead

A lot of the news, rumor and gossip on the internet in the last few weeks have concerned the death of horror fiction. The economy has tanked, big retailers like Borders and Barnes & Noble are rumored to be in trouble, small press publishers are struggling, and it is harder for authors to find paying markets. I don’t doubt that all of this is true, but I don’t think it is time to panic just yet. There are negative portents, but no need to jump out of the window.

The first problem I have with the Horror Is Dead (HID) proposition is that the horror genre exists in some sort of a binary universe, in which it is either deceased or alive and well. To my untrained eye, it seems to be more of a sine curve, rising and falling in cycles. The horror fiction field is certainly worse off than it was five years ago, but it is certainly better off than it was fifteen years ago. Five years ago it was a lot worse than twenty years ago, and so on. Here’s the universal rule: Things are never as bad as they seem at their worst, and they are never as good as they are at their best.

There is always a market for horror stories. Spooky tales have been around since pre-written language storytellers, and they will be around when all our reading is done through a chip implanted in our brain. It’s hard to imagine someone won’t figure out how to use the desire to read horror to make a buck.

One of the biggest concerns is the health of the small press that has become the backbone of the horror publishing market. Imprints are closing their doors, going dormant, or trying to re-tool, which is undeniable. But at least part of this can be laid at the feet of the contraction of the “collector” market.

Like beanie babies, baseball cards and comic books before it, there was a surge (a much smaller surge) of sales tied to people buying horror with an eye toward using it as an investment. Purchase a limited edition, signed, re-marked, numbered or lettered book for a slightly inflated price, and watch it earn money as it sits sealed in mylar in your closet. I can’t count the number of times someone has said/written “my book collection is my 401(k)”. Not that real 401(k)s are doing that great, but I hope the people who invested this way don’t end up living under a bridge. The rush to purchaser books for their theoretical re-sale value was a fad, and all fad bubbles burst.

What you see today is a secondary market where the works of a few popular authors (Brian Keene and few others) still command high prices, but for most authors, you can purchase them on ebay or through Amazon at significantly lower than cover prices. I purchased a year’s subscription from the leading small press, Cemetery Dance. I love them to death (their ability to meet deadlines notwithstanding), but it amuses me that they refer to me and other subscribers as “collectors” in messages. This despite one of the selections from the club selling on ebay at under $10, with a $30 cover price. It would be nice if they would think of me as someone who loves well-written books published in a quality edition instead. Another rule: Books are for reading, not for sealing in a vault.

It’s hard for writers trying to make it today, but it’s always been hard. I doubt there has been a time since the end of the 80s boom when there has been ten horror authors who were making a good living off nothing but horror fiction. I hate that this is true, but it is the way the world is. If you are an author whose ambition is to be published in a bound-in-human-skin-limited-to-five-copies-$1250 edition, you’re probably out of luck. Unfortunately, if your ambition is to get rich writing books about werewolves, the odds are against you, too. But if your desire is to have your work read by an audience that appreciates it, I still believe you can make it, with talent and determination.

The preceding is, of course, just my opinion, and given my track record, no one will be able to remember what a vampire is in five years.

1 comment:

ty_schwamberger said...

Very nice & so true.

Ty Schwamberger
Author of Night School