I have mentioned Monster Librarian on this blog before. This resource is the only one out there that focuses on horror in the library for all ages. (I focus on adult with a little YA.)
After doing a guest post for their Monster Movie Month celebration back in June, I asked Kirtsten Kowalewski, one of the Monster Librarian editors to write a piece for 31 Days of Horror on the current trends in the genre. Below is her guest post.
By Kirsten Kowalewski
Many of the trends in horror fiction right now reflect trends in publishing and reading in general. Anyone who follows books at all, or has been to the bookstore recently, will note an overwhelming number of YA titles devoted to the supernatural, as well as dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. So results of a recent study by Bowker Market Research, that show that 55% of YA books (targeted at ages 12-17) are purchased by adults reflect a notable trend not just in general but for the horror genre. The trend towards adults reading YA books is now so strong that popular writers of adult horror, such as Jonathan Maberry are now writing YA titles, and publishers of adult horror are now starting YA imprints--ChiZine Publications recently announced that it will introduce a new imprint, ChiTeen, in 2014.
Something to remember as you consider these numbers is that teens also read a lot of adult fiction. In her book Shelf Discovery, Lizzie Skurnick touches on this, as she recalls reading adult books like Jaws and raiding her parents’ bookshelves , in addition to reading contemporary YA fiction (and as Becky noted in this blog post, as teens are new to the genre, introducing them to these more mature titles is a great way to circulate your backlist). Many, many people start reading Stephen King and other adult horror novels as teens. What young adults read isn’t necessarily fiction targeted at young adults, any more than what adults read is targeted to them.
At MonsterLibrarian.com, we’ve reviewed books with monsters in them that fall all along the spectrum, and the most popular searches for book lists are for YA vampire books and paranormal romances. These are so popular that we started a blog, Reading Bites, just for this audience. However, there seems to be agreement between horror readers and librarians that the vampire novel, for the most part, has lost its bite; as one middle school librarian noted to me recently, middle school girls aren’t scared by a vampire who will take them to the prom. As vampires bleed into the genres of romance and mystery, hardcore horror readers, who prefer their monsters to be monstrous, have started to turn away from this subgenre. Make sure you know what a reader wants when he or she asks for a vampire book.
The trend in YA fiction towards dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, influenced by The Hunger Games, also seems to frequently take on a romantic angle, and often portrays the main characters as catalysts for societal change. Post-apocalyptic fiction seems to be mainly reflected in adult horror in the subgenre of zombie fiction, where the focus is usually on the survivors of a post-apocalyptic event doing their best to survive a zombie invasion. Lovers of this subgenre are sometimes content to read the same kind of story over and over—they like the fast-paced action and gore and aren’t necessarily interested in character development—but in recent years there have been some fresh takes on a genre that, while popular, was starting to get a bit stale (you can see what I mean by checking out our list of zombie titles). Mad science is also taking off in interesting directions, with plague viruses, technology gone mad, genetic manipulation, and man-made monsters showing up with frequency in both YA and adult fiction. One of the scariest books I’ve read in the past twelve months was Kenneth Oppell’s This Dark Endeavor (reviewed here), a prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic horror story Frankenstein. Both Oppell’s short novel and Shelley’s original appeared together in the same ebook. Now that’s a hook! The Frankenstein story takes a totally different turn in Neal Shusterman’s UnWholly, due out later this month. And these days many zombie books start with some kind of virus or plague, with the search for a cure a significant storyline.
Another trend in publishing and reading that is affecting horror fiction is the popularity of ebooks and self-publishing. At the time that we started MonsterLibrarian.com, horror fiction had more or less lost its home in mainstream publishing and migrated to small presses that often specialized in printing collector’s editions—beautiful, but expensive, and not easily available to the average consumer. Some of them, like Cemetery Dance and Bad Moon Books have done very well, but many times books from small presses are only available by direct order, which makes them hard to find.
As ebooks and self-publishing have exploded, horror fiction of all kinds has become much more readily available. Short pieces that weren’t exactly what a publisher was looking for, or were by unknown authors, could be (and are) presented in ebook format, and find an audience. This is great for horror readers who are loyal to a subgenre that isn’t being promoted in mainstream publishing , like werewolf fiction. There is a strong minority of readers who love werewolf horror (enough that we hosted a Werewolf Month for several years), but there are few current werewolf horror books (here’s our list of werewolf titles). A search for “werewolf horror” on Amazon.com brings up over 1,000 titles, mostly self-published ebooks. It’s hard to know what the quality of a self-published book will be before you read it, but many ebooks are very low-priced. Some authors are now publishing serials, with an attempt to hook an audience with episodes of a continuing story. Authors whose rights have reverted to them can introduce their books to a new audience. Small presses sell books in ebook format as well as collector’s editions, making those available to a wider audience. And current mainstream authors (like Stephen King) are finding a demand for shorter pieces . The ways that ebooks are changing publishing in general and horror in particular are many, and it’s very exciting. Unfortunately for libraries and their readers, most of these won’t be easily available through a service like Overdrive. The conundrum of how libraries can help horror readers connect more easily with ebooks doesn’t seem like one that can be solved easily.
A final trend that I see affecting the way people experience horror fiction is the way it is sweeping the media. Television shows like The Walking Dead (originally based on a series of graphic novels) have made zombies more mainstream. Movies such as Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods draw in reluctant viewers (see what blogger Barbara Vey wrote here). Apps allow you to take the experience along with you. The brand-new book Horrible Hauntings by Shirin Yim Bridges uses augmented reality technology to extend the reading experience; ghosts leap out at the reader when you point your cell phone camera at the pictures! Horror is such a visual genre that the way other media are giving readers to experience it is nothing short of amazing.
Getting the horror reader in the door can be a challenge. But the real challenge is this: with so much horror outside mainstream publishing, once you get the reader in the door, how are you going to manage to give them what they’re looking for?
Kirsten Kowalewski has worked as a children’s librarian and school librarian and is now editor for MonsterLibrarian.com, a review website dedicated to helping librarians with readers advisory and collection development in the horror genre, and to help horror readers find another good book to read. In addition to cajoling reviewers and editing and writing reviews, she also runs the blog Musings of the Monster Librarian, which you should definitely visit. Kirsten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.