Sunday, May 1, 2011

Whither horror?

Where is the demand for the horror genre market on a scale of 1 to 10 today, and why hasn't there been another horror author to even come close to achieving the staggering heights of Stephen King in the 1980s?

I'd say horror is about 1 or 2 and likely to stay there. And it was there when Stephen King was at his horror peak too. Stephen King is Stephen King - he's an extraordinary storyteller with an equally extraordinary work ethic. Regardless of the genre he chose, he was probably going to be wildly successful. He wrote horror stories because they were the stories that came to him, and some of them become movies that were 'scary' more than pure 'horror', and thus he entered the mainstream in a massive way. This is a wildly generalised summary of a long, rich career.

My own theory about why horror isn't more popular is this: chicks don't dig it. And when chicks* don't dig a book genre - either to read themselves or to buy as a gift - it's very, very hard to get it consistently on any bestseller lists. Most women I know - including me - would not voluntarily read a horror novel or watch a horror film. Alien is probably as horrific as they'll go, and even then it's a 'space film' so we can convince ourselves that it could never happen on earth, ergo, it's not as horrific as it could be. We'll watch/read crime stories that come close to being horror, but we're mainly not interested in horrific - really nightmare-creating - stories. The women I know who read voraciously (and some of the men) will not go anywhere near a horror story. Of course there are exceptions to this. There are lots of women who've read Stephen King. But he's Stephen King. He's a genre unto himself.

The comments section is there for anyone who wants to seriously go to town on my theory.

*Culturally ironic use only.


Louise Curtis said...

I definitely agree with the theory (unfortunately for horror writers). I'll happily watch/read romance (there's a reason it's the biggest seller of books), action, thriller, mystery, children's films, scifi, fantasy, young adult films - even, sometimes, documentaries. But I won't watch horror - and I've only watched about four MA movies in my life.

I have never read a horror book - and I probably never will. But I suspect I've hit every other genre at least once. My genre of choice is YA fantasy.

Louise Curtis (a 30-year old female)

Julia B said...

My personal problem with reading horror is that too often it crosses the border into torture pr0n - like the Saw movies - and women do not fare well in those situations.

In fact my introduction to horror was reading It as a 12 year old. I got to the part where the main female character is being beaten with a belt by her partner and put it down.

I also think that horror, like science fiction and fantasy, is a bit of a fringe genre. I read SF and a bit of fantasy, but I don't expect them to make the NYT bestsellers list next to "general" fiction because the reader first has to be interested in the genre, and THEN be interested in the plot which substantially reduces your chances of making a sale. Literary and general fiction only has to sell you on the plot.

Louise Curtis said...

I was thinking about this, and realised after watching "Doctor Who" (both parts of the new season) that I do watch some horror - I watch Joss Whedon horror and Stephen Moffat horror. It still makes me cringe, but I watch it - because I think of those writers as fantasy/scifi writers who happen to like horror elements. (If I didn't love their writing so much, I'd still switch off - but the "safer" label helps a LOT.)

Maybe you can market yourself that way (as fantasy or as scifi)? If you have enough of a mainstream specfic bent, anyway.

Good luck in whatever you write.

Louise Curtis

Guido Henkel said...

While I may not entirely disagree with this article, it doesn't really tell us anything. Guys don't like chick lit, and yet it is highly successful. Adults don't like YA books, and yet, they sell in boatloads.

Any and every genre is limited to a certain audience and horror may be limited to mostly male demographics -- though even that is truly debatable as there are very many shades of horror, many of which DO appeal to women -- but that's hardly the reason why one is more commercially successful than others.

Bron said...

I disagree that adults don't like YA. I think a lot of adults do read at least some YA, because we've all been there. An adult can relate to a story about teen angst better than a teenager can relate to a story about a forty-something going through a divorce.

And I think the reason chick lit can be successful without male readers whereas Agent Sydney is suggesting horror can't be successful without female readers is because females tend to read more fiction. If you're only appealing to males, you're going to automatically have a smaller audience.

It would be interesting to see what happened if someone wrote a horror novel directed at females. Stephen King's first novel starred teenage girls, maybe that helped him on the road to success? (I agree he's a great storyteller and would have broken out at some point, but in the context of this discussion I thought it was an interesting point to note).

Guido Henkel said...


Of course you disagree. That was the whole point of my post. It was such a glaring generalization that it was wrong. The same is true with the original theory that horror doesn't sell because chicks don't dig it.

While there may be a bit of truth to these generalizations, they are incorrect and misleading as a whole. I am sorry that it did not come through in my original post that I was being sarcastic in the opening.

Nel said...

Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. This was superb! Thanks for sharing!

Ms_MotorbikeNut said...

Sorry to say I have to disagree with you As a lady I can't get enough of horror. Even my oldest daughter (nearly 24 years old) loves horror.

Also the lovely writer Tara Moss loves her horror books from what she told First Tuesday Book Club on Australian Broadcasting Commission tv late last year.

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