The Horror...

(A Genre Writer Turns 50)

KC Redding-Gonzalez

KC Redding-Gonzalez
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
October 28
A writer of Horror fiction and certified cat wrangler, KC has a BA degree in English/Professional and Technical Writing from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She writes this blog in her book-infested garret to exorcise the evil spirits of co-workers past, talk to real (visible) people, and avoid cleaning the layers of dust which five years of undergraduate study allowed to collect on twelve bookcases, three cats and one very patient husband.

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MAY 17, 2012 2:40PM

It's All About the Money: The Shrinking Horror Niche

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The parade of mourners is long, the mood dark. Everywhere you look, technologists proclaim victory against the war on the printed word.  They point to falling print sales and blame young people for their technological prowess and alleged short attention spans. They paint older folk as relics of a dying, unenlightened age, making fun of our reluctance to text or post Google-map links to the best early bird specials. They even cite rising illiteracy and poor school scores as evidence that we have somehow “outgrown” print and “no longer read.”

They wish.

Chant it, sing it, post it on Facebook… It doesn’t make it so.

People are reading. In fact, more people are reading now and buying books than ever before.  According to an online British article by The Guardian’s Lloyd Shepherd titled, “The Death of Books Has Been Greatly Exaggerated” (, there was a 42% increase in book sales over the last ten years (in Britain, and no I don’t know how many emails were hacked to get the figures). What led to the ongoing suffering of writers and publishers on both sides of the pond despite those stellar numbers was the control of pricing those books – and everyone was ok with the standard until technology arrived.  Even in Britain, “Publishers are no longer paying advances to authors, or if they are these advances are a fraction of what they were.”

The answer to why is worse than simply “e-books;” it is what e-culture is doing to the arts; it is the proverbial bull in the china shop. Advocates of technology are quick to give away products of the humanities, to minimize the effort and dedication it takes to make culture more than a series of haphazard “fads.” This is cheapening our entire cultural heritage and insulting those who labor in the creative sector.

For writers and publishing, e-books represent a shift in cultural thinking: that everybody elses’ everything else should be free. It starts with one thing (in this case, e-books) and cascades downhill from there.  A cheaper book becomes impossible to produce and publishing momentum impossible to maintain, the publishing model which evolved over centuries of human endeavor cannot be sustained: authors can’t be paid enough to write as a career; publishers can’t retain the “top talent” (so trumpeted by Wall Street but making significantly less than bankers) to ensure that what is published is done so to meet professional and literary standards. Envelopes cannot be pushed, chances cannot be taken, or new authors or new story ideas gambled upon…Creativity is stifled from all sides.

But if things look bleak now with “just” this rampant discounting, it stands to get so much more damaging. Says Shepherd, “What’s worse, [even] these e-books will collapse in value, because that is what today’s younger consumers want, as demonstrated by the online shift in free news…And all the time the relentless combination of pirating, retail competition and the demands of younger consumers means that the price of every piece of content – a song, a film, a book – trends toward zero.”

So first off, about those young consumers: just because they want access doesn’t mean they are thieves and don’t care if J.K. Rowling misses an occasional meal.  But they are young: they have cash and big eyes for everything they want just like their over-indulging parents flirting with the one percent. It’s human nature: if you can get it for pennies, why not? The solution is simple: don’t offer it for pennies. If they want it, let them ask for higher allowances, or get a job like the people who made whatever it is they want. Give them boundaries, and let them be kids.

Secondly, if they don’t read anymore, please explain the rush to “free” online news and the tender embrace of the e-book it is claimed they are driving. Maybe it is the neat pictures that can be cut-and-pasted without permission since their reading scores are so reportedly abysmal… But I personally think this is another load of…mythology. I don’t see “more” people – young or old – reading news online. I see less people reading news... And caring less about it, which disturbs me more. When news media had reporters in every city covering every conceivable thing, we were more aware of that “global community” technology keeps promoting. Now I’m more aware of Jessica Simpson’s choice of baby diaper that what is happening in the Middle East…Where our troops are…Where your SUV’s oil comes from…

Thirdly, somebody steals from you only as long as you let them. The music industry was the first to fight back, and I for one applaud them. If it is the shrinking price of e-books that is costing jobs and opportunities in publishing, then maybe it is time for publishing to find out how badly they would be missed if nothing is sold through Amazon.

The argument that the market couldn’t bear the cost increase is ludicrous. Look at the number of consumers flocking to natural food stores willing to pay four times the cost for the chance to eat “organic.” How many of us pay more for make-up not tested on animals, or to recycle our products, or to ensure farm animals are treated humanely? People pay for what they think is worth it. People who don’t want to pay the cost of what it takes to bring a book from a writer’s imagination to a finely edited, polished product that can entertain, inspire, teach, or comfort are just not worth courting. Yet they are the first to complain that there is nothing good at the theater, no real quality fiction making it to the shelves…or cyberspace.  Quality doesn’t come cheap. And if you think it is tough just fixing dinner after a “40-hour”workweek that typically includes overtime and a long commute or under-time and a second job, try squeezing a novel out of that tiny unnamed orifice.

Book sales are up because people like to read. But nobody likes to be robbed. Every time a book is bought at discount, the author gets deuced out of earned royalties and some writer somewhere doesn’t get published. The more consumers gleefully scout books at brick-and-mortar stores and buy online, the less new books are finding publishers. There’s a tipping point somewhere in there. But five cents for a pile of poo is still a pile of poo. With consumers complaining about the popularity of bad singers getting astronomical hits on You-Tube, the result of this “free is better” mentality should be obvious. For everyone who cringes at bad singing, bad writing, bad art… “listen up” as they say in the South: once again, you get what you pay for.

Furthermore, if prices continue to plummet, once the established authors’ remainders are sold off, and the warehouses are emptied, your selection choices are going to shrink. Check the Horror Aisle in your last remaining bookstore if you don’t believe me. In fact, check any aisle. You are likely to find – even now – only established and top-selling authors carrying their genres. For anyone who ever “discovered” second tier authors who usually only suffer from second tier marketing or genre deficiencies – this is devastating news and you know the true loss this implies. Not everyone likes Stephen King. Some prefer Bentley Little. What will you do if publishers start to pick one over the other for cost reasons? What if you want to know what new writers are out there? What old writers were underground classics?

Tanith Lee where are you? Caitlan Kiernan? Ambrose Bierce?

Is all that worth the cheaper price of a book?

Let’s be clear: I am not anti-technology; I’m a dinosaur and this is not my first meteor shower. I see the benefits from being able to control marketing and an author profile, in being able to deliver the goods from innovative grass-roots to a hungry public that might find indie styles appealing. However there is a reason traditional publishing is an entity to worry over: it remains the measuring stick of literary quality in most cases. It means people educated in the business of writing and fluent in the history of literature have opened those hallowed gates and the author has become one with the cosmos and literary tradition. Some semblance of that dedication to standards has to survive this technological revolution or we might as well go back to painting mammoths on cave walls for entertainment.

I suppose that was too saccharine for some. But as a struggling novice writer I know whereof I speak. Traditional publishing is the Holy Grail for a writer…not the nearly extinct writer’s advance, not the book-signings, the author tours, or raised eyebrows of awe when you get introduced to crowds. It is the professional recognition that you have met the industry’s expectations and the proximity to the dream of someday entering the literary canon. It means technique met imagination and the marriage was good. It meant all those revisions were a part of expertise and artistic decision – not just guessing in the dark, not some revenge fantasy of flaunting one’s intellectual wiles at the 20-year high school reunion. Real writers don’t write because of money. But real writers have bills. And so do publishers who publish them.

Horror as a genre is being swallowed up by other genres, cross-marketed, and downsized. It is no coincidence that this is happening at the same time that e-books and Amazon are putting the screws to publishers. And if it hasn’t happened to other genres yet, it will: just look at Westerns…that is your reading future: three shelves in your local bookstore, four or five authors deemed worthy, and used copies of great novels found only in retrospective collections. Thank heavens, you say, they are safe online in e-books. Don’t count on it: wills and estates will catch up…there is legacy involved here you know, and cemetery upkeep. Maybe you can wait 75 years past the author’s death to get your free e-book, but I for one prefer to pay my $29.95 right now, and know my investment paid for the sequel.

So quit blaming young folks who are preternaturally tech savvy, old folks who like their news folded on the kitchen table, and publishers who “don’t get it.” We all get it: it’s about the money. And as usual, those who are making most of it don’t want to share. 


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KC: This was simply outstanding, and so worthy of the EP and front-page exposure! You call yourself a struggling writer, but I don't think that word describes you at all. This was smart and informative, and captures the zeitgeist of technology, media and communication. Things are changing so rapidly that it's hard to know where we fall these days. R.
Thank you for the kind words...(Too bad I feel inclined to say, "please throw bills, coins hurt.")

Maybe if we all think about the "publishing crisis" and stop waiting for it to miraculously to "get better" more of us could actually make a living doing what we do best...
Okay, Ms. Redding-Gonzales, you can disprove what you wrote about the "reading" public very easily. Get two hand counters, the kind of things you click to count items. Stand by a snack bar in a modestly busy mall (hard to find now, true) which has a menu listing the items for sale.

When someone reads the menu, click your right hand. When someone comes up and asks "What do you have?" or "How much does it cost?" click your left hand.

You will find that less than ten percent of the American public knows how to read, and more important, bothers to read.

This is why magazines are dying, bookstores are dying, why authors are not paid anything for writing anything anywhere, and why everything you said is wrong. Americans don't know how to read, and many who do know, don't bother.
There are two unmentioned problems. E-books are a hell of a lot cheaper to produce and transmit than the standard book with all the necessities of producing a solid object and storing and selling quantities of it. It is an obsolete clumsy technology with severe limitations that e-books can elaborate and extend. Publishers are vendors of objects, not knowledge as such, and that is no longer technologically necessary. Insofar as the public is concerned, the storage space alone is a frightful nuisance. What is needed is a totally new system of properly rewarding editors and creators of knowledge and almost nothing in that area is being even considered, not to speak of any accomplishments.

The second major problem is the control of knowledge. There are already instances where literature in e-books has been withdrawn by censors of various kinds so that they cease to exist. At least a solid book can be safely retained and passed around at no cost. Public libraries ensure that even the poorest people can read a good book and do research without payment of some sort of royalty. I have read that some greedy publishers even want libraries to pay fees for having sessions of reading stories to kids. The voracious greed of capitalism is strangling all sorts of necessary public services. A solid book does not easily disappear in the way an e-book can be made to vanish entirely. This permanence must be retained.

These are fundamental problems and they must be solved to the satisfaction and financial reward of creators of knowledge and entertainment and the necessities of dissemination of creative works. The old systems are completely obsolete.
Jan sand is usuall right, cuz he is so old and slippery as hell…
I gotta go my research to keep up with him.

He sez:

“. What is needed is a totally new system of properly rewarding editors and creators of knowledge and almost nothing in that area is being even considered, not to speak of any accomplishments.”

Ya don’t gotta be like 200 yrs old to know this.. on he goes..
“The second major problem is the control of knowledge
This permanence must be retained. “

Only way
to retain permanence is to
Bring MEMES home , old boy. All the old ones, that u belevved in once..wherein:
“ fundamental problems and .. must be solved to the satisfaction
and financial reward of creators of knowledge and entertainment and the necessities of dissemination of creative works. The old systems are completely obsolete.”

You old man are kinda thhe NEW old young souls such as me, for one, ha.

Dispute that shit , old boy………

Arg to you…

you so old, yer cells are from, like, 90 yrs ago?

replenished every 7yrs.too bad old scold. ay!
Publishers have never paid most writers enough to maintain even a subsistence income, long before the advent of ebooks. Most writers receive a $5,000 advance, minus a literary agent's 15 percent commission. The $4,250 is paid in three installments by the publisher. Is $1,417 a year a living wage? If your book earns out the advance against royalties, you began earning a 10% royalty on each book sold. The average book sells 500 copies, so most authors will never receive more than their advance.

"However there is a reason traditional publishing is an entity to worry over: it remains the measuring stick of literary quality in most cases."

LOL! You are kidding, aren't you? A look at publishers' list and the bestseller list will dispel any notion that publishers create literary culture. Ghost written novels by Snooki and Kim Kardashian, I could go on forever. Look at the phenomena of Fifty Shades of Gray. It's utter trash, has no lierary merit, but it sold so many copies as a self-published book that Vintage acquired the trilogy for a seven figure advance.

"Traditional publishing is the Holy Grail for a writer…not the nearly extinct writer’s advance, not the book-signings, the author tours, or raised eyebrows of awe when you get introduced to crowds. It is the professional recognition that you have met the industry’s expectations and the proximity to the dream of someday entering the literary canon."

I don't want to be cruel, but you don't know what you're talking about. I've been traditionally published. I got a big thrill out of holding my book in my hands when I received my author's copies. It lasted a couple of days. Wow! I've entered the same literary canon that encompasses celebrity dreck and s&m sex novels and the Twilight series and so on.

You're a sucker for propaganda issuing forth from traditional publishers. They don't like inexpensive ebooks because they'd rather sell you an overpriced hardcover, and when they issue the Kindle edition, which requires almost no additional expense, they give the author 25% and keep the lion's share.

Traditional publisher's hate ebooks because authors self-publishing at Amazon keep 70% of every ebook sold that is priced $2.99 or above.

All your arguments have been addressed and refuted by author Joe Konrath, one of the many writers who have done spectacularly well self-publishing. You should go read his blog.
Thanks to everyone for the comments... I think each one is important and has value. I do want to clarify, however, that I do believe people read because I see them doing so all of the time, and I see the "new generation" of readers at my university (which has an atypically high cross-section of the population in age and is not too bad in diversity). I also did not say that tradtional publishing is a guarantee of good literature or means inevitable admission to the literary canon: it does mean standards were met for eligibility (which does not require absolute public adoration of is a criteria set by literary critics -- who are not reviewers but highly educated and credentialed themselves in the field of literature). Don't be so bold as to take this out of context; we all know that Snookie-esque writings are not the same... there are some deals made only God and the Devil understand. As for self-publishing, I feel that its future is certainly promising in this environment and will continue to gain traction. But its past is shrouded in poor shows of respect which may or may not be justified. I repeat what I have said elsewhere in other posts that many early Horror writers (including Lovecraft) were self-published, and he is now considered the Father of Modern Horror (to some dispute) and he is now clearly in the literary canon. But the bottom line is that classical literature has criteria. Snookie-lit doesn't meet it, and neither do those who don't seek to meet them. Publishing tries to reach all tastes and pocketbooks. The future is wide open; but I for one respect the house that traditional publishing built, even if it continually disappoints as it struggles to grab traction in an upside-down world. And I already said that money isn't the object, nor fame for many...but bills have to be paid, so yes, a new model that accommodates the publishers, editors, writers, and vendors has to be found. And regardless, we are all in this stew together, so we might as well play nice and support each other as the details get worked out.
I really like your POV here. I guess money rules and that is the whole nine yards. You know one thing is also a new factor in the evolution of us humans. We have become archeologists in our own time. The brains of the youth are nothing like the brains of us who grew up on Reading and writing. Where will it go? I am betting the night of the living dead somewhere along the way.
Lovecraft never self-published. His work was published primarily in the magazine Weird Tales, when he deigned to have one of his manuscripts typed and submitted it. You are really badly misinformed.
I apologize in advance for the length of this rebuttal:

If being an English major at the University of Colorado has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to never make unsupported statements. While there may be some argument as to whether the UAPA-type organizations constitute indie presses, I offer the supported statement that members paid dues to operate the organization and therefore might be legally considered co-owners of their organization’s specific publication, The United Amateur; additionally Lovecraft published two separate magazines on his own as supported below. Note that Weird Tales did not begin publication until 1923. So for those who find my statement that H.P. Lovecraft was self-published, I offer these references and statements of support:

From Donald Tyson

His credentials: Canadian author of the Lovecraft biography The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft, endorsed by S.T. Joshi for its “sound biographical knowledge.” Also author of the Necronomicon series based on Lovecraft’s work and “more than a dozen books on Western esoteric traditions. Biographical Source:

Quoted Source: (The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft, Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications,c2010, ISBN 9780738722849):

“At age 8-9 (1899) begins publishing a small periodical titled The Scientific Gazette for family and friends first using carbon copies, then using the hectograph process. Continues this for seven years as a weekly practice” (244);
“At age 24-25 (1915) His first article for The United Amateur, official literary organ of the UAPA is published in January; also begins to publish his own amateur journal The Conservative – 13 issues published between 1915-23….” (249);
“The United Amateur Press Association (UAPA) …did not refer to newspaper reporting, but to the small printing press…the UAPA was composed of amateur writers who published their own little magazines out of their private funds and circulated them among their friends and family” (61) “Lovecraft joined the group on April 6, 1914” (62).
“Members of the UAPA paid a yearly fee…each member was encouraged to publish his or her own periodical, and to write poems, stories, and articles for the periodicals of other members. Copies of the periodicals were exchanged among members by mail…(62)
From S.T. Joshi

His credentials: Brown University, graduate degree Princeton University; preeminent and leading authority on H.P. Lovecraft, editor of the EOD Amateur Press Association, and journals Lovecraft Studies, Studies in Weird Fiction, Studies in the Fantastic, Weird Fiction Review, Lovecraft Annual. Current co-editor of Dead Reckonings and other journals as published by Hippocampus Press. Biographical Source:

Quoted Source: (The Scriptorium,

“…on the other hand, we have his many juvenile treatises on chemistry and astronomy, as well as his amateur periodicals The Scientific Gazette (1899-1909) and the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903-1909)….” (2)
Edward F. Daas of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA) urged…Lovecraft…to join the order, and Lovecraft promptly did so…The UAPA (and its rival the National Amateru Press Association, which Lovecraft later joined) was a group of amateur writers who wrote and published their own journals – some of them very crude, others quite distinguished…Lovecraft…edited thirteen issues of his own paper The Conservative…” (3)
From Paula Guran

Her credentials: (Senior editor of Prime Books, former editor Juno fantasy imprint, writer/publisher of Dark Echo newsletter for horror fans, winner of Bram Stoker Awards for Nonfiction from the Horror Writers Association (1998 and 1999) as well as an International Horror Guild Award (1999) and a World Fantasy nomination (1997). She began producing the horror portion of the pioneering professional Web publication OMNI Online in 1996 and became the Literature Editor of Universal Studios' HorrorOnline in October 1998. Mentor and editor for The Spook, former fiction editor, and too much more to list here, I refer you to the biographical source:

Quoted Source: New Cthulhu: the Recent Weird, editor, Prime Books, c2011, ISBN 9781607012894:

“Lovecraft was saved from his life of solitude when he became involved in amateur writing and publishing... his story The Alchemist (written in 1908 when he was 18) was published in The United Amateur in 1916…

I hope that puts my position in perspective...
Trash novels have sold in another form ,the dime store paper back, starting 'way back before you and I were even born. I figure today's dime store novel is the ebook from source or sources less principled than, say, Chronicle or Penguin, etc.
I predict there wil be a backlash soon, much as you called for. After all, if the music industry chose to get with it, publishing can only look as if it's cheapening itself by not following suit.
Nice article.
I'm confused by what you are saying. Are you mostly concerned that the horror genre is being diluted? Although I've been traditionally published, I often feel strangled creatively by the traditional publishing systems. It seems flat wrong to have to wait a year for an exclusive look these days, which many traditional publishers, even in journals, not full manuscripts still request. Years go by in silence this way. Life is too short and culture is moving too fast. I too want literary acknowledgement and acclaim, but I think we are living in a much different time now than when copyright was created in the U.S., which was really relatively recently. When Poe and Hawthorne were writing, there were 2 million people in their entire New England market: now, that's like one or two major American cities, and the American market alone is 312 million. There are just too many of us, doing too many creative things, for them to be able to find us and filter us and process us like cookies or Fords on a production line, which is how they have to do it to make a J.K. Rowling. Anyhow, I had to read this three times and think about it a lot to make some kind of response, which is good and I applaud you for making me think, but I see all these issues from very different viewpoints. I do support you as a fellow writer and to write and distribute what you long as you are making some semblance of reaching for the truth as you see it, and not aiming primarily to make money. That should be the main mark of quality. And that's the thing that will make people want to read it. If a publisher buys it and promotes it is sort of icing on the cake. I am more and more thinking it is more honest just to do it all yourself, and quit waiting for the approval of an broken and unjust system.
Although clearly, I need to pay for a professional editor, because I'm constantly doing things like writing "an broken." So that's what I'm thinking. How do you make yourself a professional/quality/literary gatekeeper in and through your own work, in whatever media, print or digital, whomever buys and sells?
Thank you. Much here to reflect upon on a subject dear to me.

I would add one perspective: I was a horror junky starting in the mid-seventies, when the genre really took off. It rose, then fell - some years back Barnes and Noble quietly removed it from their shelves as a genre (perhaps they should have done so with an evil cackle.)

The genre of horror fell because too many authors were published, and most of them could not write. I kept buying new writer's books and again and again finding I couldn't finish them.

Stephen King lasted because he's (mostly) good. Why Dean Koontz survived is anyone's guess - not because I read him any more. Some of the better guys like Robert McGammon, Whitely Strieber and Clive Barker abandoned the genre.

Fortunately, horror has recently crawled part way out of its grave - bits of it show up in writers of the new genre of thrillers - like Michael Marshall and John Connolly.
I see that the genre itself is shrinking -- publishing less full-length novels and opting for short story anthologies, publishing less new authors along with the second-stringers. For better or worse, traditional publishers seem to be clinging to the few who made big money in the past, while some authors have been "re-categorized" or voluntarily changed genres...With the added burden of changing cost structures and technology (such as the whole e-book situation), even less money is available for growing the genre or marketing the genre. Opportunities are shrinking and new authors who are happy to write horror are shut out, further diminishing the genre. Bad writing has been occurring in other genres as well, but horror became synonymous with the trite and the visceral, driving away both authors and audience by the 1980's. I am saying that publishers first have to make money to share money with authors (should they be so inclined), and that reducing authors and titles does nothing to reinvigorate the genre as a whole. While horror has had a long creative "dry spell" I believe in the genre itself, the talents of both some new and many established authors, and a readership that remembers flashes of brilliance. I believe it has hope of salvation --but like all of publishing, not if people want and get everything for free or near to it. I'll say it again: you get what you pay for.