Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Horror isn't a dirty word

Over the last week or so, I’ve been on the agent and publisher hunt again. And once again, it’s a depressing experience. Horror, it seems, is a dirty word. It’s something to be whispered, to be sniggered at or maybe (if you’re lucky) seen as a bit of a joke. I’ve lost track of the amount of agencies and publishers I’ve looked at who specify no horror in their submission guidelines. Fantasy and SF are sometimes OK, but horror is a definite no-no.

A regular piece of advice given over at AW regarding submissions is to start at the top and work your way down. Good, solid advice for the most part. The problem here is where do you start when a lot of the names at the top aren’t interested in your genre? You work your way down to the smaller presses and the hit another problem. The smaller presses might have the passion and interest in the genre, but they obviously lack the impact of the big boys. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but let’s be honest here: I want to make a living out of this or at least make enough to notice it. Being read and appreciated would be great; being successful would be pretty sweet, too.

Horror goes in cycles. It doesn’t die, but based on what I’ve been reading from certain publishers, it appears to be resting at the moment. I think it’s been put to bed by sexy vampires and ass kickin vampire hunters. Stuff like that is obviously popular with plenty of readers, but so is real horror. I’m talking horror that stays with you, that upsets you, that takes you into the dark and, if you’re lucky, brings you back out. It seems at the moment, the publishing world has forgotten that.

Depressing as it is, this seems to sum up the issue…


  1. I understand where you are coming from, Luke. Horror does seem to be a dirty word within a lot of publishing houses and literary agencies. I've been searching myself, after completing my third novel, and it is amazing how many specifically say they won't look at horror. There is surely a market being negleced here? I feel the only way to get your work out there is to take your work to the smaller publishers, or to ride it out and see if a new wave of interest arises after the death of sexy vampires (can't come too soon!)

  2. I suppose it comes down to sales. If horror isn't selling, they're not going to be keen on publishing new books. But then that's a circular argument - if new horror isn't being published as much as other areas, how's it supposed to sell?

    I've got a few feelers out with certain markets but as you know, it's a slow process.

  3. Just in case it sounds like I'm being paranoid, take a look at this from four years ago...

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry at a particular quote. Can you guess which one?

  4. Thanks for that link, Luke. I spotted the bit you're on about. I opted for the crying.

  5. Good post and link, Luke. I think horror will always sell, regardless. Many writers, not part of the original 70's generation, make a living as mid-list writers. I think making it as big as the 70s guys did is out of the question at the moment but I think the key lies in horror publishers working more closely with film makers as used to be done. If books and movies were linked it would make for better movies and more sales for books. All this is wishful thinking, but horror will always sell, it's just a matter of getting books in front of people.

  6. Interesting point about the link between books and films. You've now got me thinking of my dream cast.

    I'm with you on the small chance of making it as big as the writers who got going in the 70s. That doesn't really bother me. At the moment, I'd be happy with making a living out of it, not being super rich and successful.