As book publishers struggle to succeed in this economy, horror writers have to find alternatives to large publishing houses that, according to some authors, are accepting less material from niche genres. These writers are turning to small presses, where they might not receive a large advance but will get hands-on help from editors.
Richard Chizmar, founder and publisher of Cemetery Dance Publications, a small press in Maryland that is trying to fill the horror void left by the large publishers, said that despite tough economic times, Cemetery Dance still has a dedicated readership.
"No major New York publisher has a line dedicated to horror, so those writers are going to niche publishers," Chizmar said. "I don't think it is a reach to say that as the New York publishing scene tightens its belts, we continue to have a bigger audience, because horror readers have to come somewhere."
For young horror writer Daniel Pyle, who lives in Springfield, Mo., small presses have been a saving grace for his work.
"I started by sending my novel ('Dismember') out to almost 100 literary agents," Pyle said. "Most of them didn't get back to me, or they sent a form letter. At that point I started sending it out to smaller presses, where I would get a response within a day. I think soon smaller presses are going to be the only option for young horror writers."
Jeffory Jacobson, a horror writer and Columbia College Chicago professor, agreed that niche writers, even those once signed by established publishing houses, might soon only have smaller presses on which to rely.
"Authors today don't have a lot of choices, because the big publishers aren't willing to take a chance on unknown authors, or even authors with proven track records," Jacobson said.
Mort Castle, a horror writer, anthology editor and professor at Columbia College Chicago, agreed that larger publishers are not picking up many horror writers, but said the small presses are directing their work to people who appreciate it.
"Among those reading small-press horror, you will find some really serious-minded people who are aficionados looking for new, good writers," Castle said. "The best thing about small press is that it understands that just because you have 500 readers instead of 30,000, it doesn't mean you're a failure."
One of the advantages of working with small presses, Jacobson said, is that horror writers find themselves receiving more personal attention and often get to experiment with their writing.
"I was much happier to go with a smaller press," Jacobson said. "You will not make even close to as much money, but they are great to work with. They listened to my ideas and worked with me to put the best book together. They really understood what I was trying to achieve."
Experimental writing can include adding elements of other genres such as science fiction or romance.
Castle said this phenomenon also has made its way into other parts of the literary world.
"I have no problem classifying Michael Chabon as a really good horror writer and Stephen King as a really good literary writer," Castle said. "Crossing genres is helping writers get a wider audience, and it's giving them a broader sense of permission. They are no longer locked into so-called horror conventions."
Sarah Langan, a Brooklyn, N.Y., author and three-time Bram Stoker horror writing award winner, believes writers can elevate the horror genre by adding parts of other literary styles, but cautions them not to forget the mission of horror writing.
"Ideally a piece that is really good should transcend the genre," Langan said. "It is much easier to fall into a piece becoming sanitized, though, if writers are just adding things from other genres to get a larger audience.
"Good horror writing bridges the cultural disconnect between people, because all of our fears are the same and we all want to do the right thing," she said. "I'm a traditional horror fan because I see those works as tending to be about bridging differences between people and the world."
We asked the authors and editors quoted in this story what their favorite scary short stories are. For the full list, visit chicago