When I started writing, almost exactly 25 years ago now, there was Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction. You knew where you were back then, with rigidly defined rules of doubt and uncertainty. Sure, there was some market fracturing – ghost story markets didn’t like to think of themselves as horror for example, but as a rule everybody knew where they were and writers knew where to try to fit their work, for the most part.
So I wrote – I wrote horror stories, fantasy stories and some science fiction and, for the most part, found homes for them in side-stapled A5 small press booklets that varied rather a lot in quality.
By the start of the new century that quality was improving markedly – markets became glossier, more assured, helped in no small means by the rise in sophistication of PCs, software and the WWW. And still I wrote, and I started selling to better paying markets, but I also started seeing something happen. With the rise of numbers of people online, and people actually talking to other people who shared their interests, markets started to fracture. We’d already had splatterpunk and slipstream but now we started to get steampunk, paranormal and urban fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal romance and all manner of other things that used to be classed as horror but were now something else.
This shift was also reflected in the bookstores in the UK – previously, if you wanted horror, you went to the horror shelf and found King, Koontz, Herbert, Rice, sometimes Campbell, often Laymon, and, if you were lucky, the newer UK guys like Clark, Laws and Gallagher. But slowly, that too changed. Even before vampires started to sparkle the field was fracturing, with slashers and serial killers muscling their way in. And the paranormal romance field was growing. Horror as such started to fade into the background as the fractures grew wider.
Back in the writers market itself, the fractures were growing huge and there were now a dizzying field of places to chose to place your work- and more predators to beware of, all too willing to fleece writers of rights, time and anything else they could get for free. As for myself, I started to spot not just a horizontal stratification into diverse markets, but a vertical one in the type of markets. Even as avenues for mass market paperbacks started to fade away, so Ebooks came along, and audiobooks, graphic novels, and quality high end limited edition hardcovers. Niche markets started to specialize in niche delivery methods – and I started to get openings for my own work that hadn’t been there before.
Which brings us to where we are now. Horror is a fractured market of die hard horror fans of the old school, gore fiends, steampunkers, urban fantasists, dark fantasists, old weird, new weird, just plain weird, pulp, literary and uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Some writers fit into one and prosper, Others, like me, peck away at a variety of them. Mostly, there are far more opportunities now, but they are harder to find. Finding them is also a lesson in just how far the fracturing has gone, for it only takes a few clicks of a mouse to find yourself in the steamy forests of Bigfoot or Dinosaur porn. Or both.
I’ve been lucky to find several niches in different markets, both horizontal and vertical. I’ve been placing pastiche collections of stories for the likes of CARNACKI, SHERLOCK HOLMES and PROFESSOR CHALLENGER in high end limited edition hardcovers for Dark Renaissance, I’ve been placing horror novels with specialist publishers like DarkFuse and supernatural novellas and short stories with Dark Regions, and I’ve been selling ebooks – rather a lot of ebooks – through several of the new small publishers who are taking full advantage of the digital revolution. All that, and I still often fall back on the old school submit and worry process, and have been getting sales to long established markets who have ridden the wave and survived, in the likes of NATURE Futures and several of the MAMMOTH BOOK OF… anthologies from Little Brown.
So here I am, twenty five years on, not quite a horror author any more and somewhat adrift for lack of a label. I can’t exactly say what I am apart from a writer. But as long as there are niche markets out there for me to exploit, I guess I’m happy with that.
Onward and upward.
To infinity and beyond.