Is The Horror Revival Skipping the Book Market?

Yes, I’m a horror author so let’s get that out there right away. What that means is I’m particularly biased when it comes to the subject of horror fiction and its place in popular culture.

While the last few years have seen various increases in what some would consider horror, or let’s call it genre fiction for now, there may be a corner of the mainstream that’s surprisingly lacking in this area.

Sure, Netflix has quite a few popular hits with series like Stranger Things (which isn’t quite horror but dives into that realm), Black Mirror (sci-fi psychological horror), and a slew of independent horror films that people either love or laugh at. And yes, in over the last few years films like Get Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring franchise, and the remake of Stephen King’s IT has all renewed an interests in genre fiction beyond the formulaic hack-n-slash or torture porn seen in prior eras.

On place this resurgence isn’t hitting is, amazingly enough, in horror novels. Searching through’s list of Top 100 horror books and ebooks you’ll notice quite a few titles but there’s more than meets the eye here.

Joe Hill
Author Joe Hill

Firstly, unless you’re Stephen King or his son Joe Hill there aren’t too many other authors selling a large number of books. You do have indie mavericks like Willow Rose who have managed to carve out a good spot for herself on sheer volume of titles alone but then there’s the rest of us (yes, I include myself here now that I have two published works out) who haven’t quite caught on yet.

One might think because genre fiction is so en vogue now that the book market would be raking in the cash. Not so much. Of course the question is why.

There’s no one thing really. On Amazon and other online ebook retailers there are a flood of indie authors in the genre like myself. However, unlike other genres, the horror indie author community hasn’t quite gotten on board with the standards the other genres have. We don’t really have a standard book cover style that is guaranteed to sell, the covers are all over the place. Some are great, some look like they were done by a third-grader with crayon. The content is another story.

I’ve read quite a few reviews of even the top selling books from readers saying that the stories are all the same. The trend is towards ghosts stories, haunted houses, and of course the zombie apocalypse. There are a few gems out there that do something fresh (I read quite a few reviews if you couldn’t tell) but there seems to be a general been-there-done-that attitude.

We have left the age of the New Weird and entered an era that I can’t really describe. Horror fiction was known for being innovative and for a time was a top selling genre. Mavericks like Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Ramsey Campbell gave us fresh takes and fresh ideas in the past. While Campbell and Koontz continue to put out books Barker has all but disappeared and many other authors have gone silent as well. My latest trip to the bookstore came with no trip to the horror section because there was no horror section.

Even on Amazon if you look in the top 100 there are quite a few books under “horror” that aren’t horror books at all. They’re not genre fiction either. They’re slightly paranormal and use the tag to get a top 100 ranking in a field that is woefully understocked.

Of course, I aim to do my part over the next few years to add something to the genre. My greatest desire, even more than having a successful bestseller or recognition (which anyone who pays attention can tell I really don’t want), is to give readers a new experience. If readers say they’ve gotten something that wasn’t the same old stuff they’ve read and they thoroughly enjoyed what I wrote then that’s the best compliment I can get as an author.

While I enjoy this new revival in genre fiction for pop culture, I’m hoping it touches the book industry sooner than later.

Why Are So Many Indie Author Gurus Talking About Originality Lately?

I talk quite often about originality and the unfortunate way that word is almost treated with contempt in certain indie publishing circles.

Over the last couple of months I have also seen quite a number of prominent indie publishing gurus write articles and record videos about the subject, mostly in terms again of treating it as a pejorative.

“Don’t worry about being original!”

“It’s not that important”

“It’s not copying, it’s paying homage to …”

Now, while these statements all grade on my last nerve they aren’t entirely without truth behind them. If we really want to look at what is original there is a case to be made that no story created today is original. In fact, I’d consider it an impossibility. Just about every variation of mythos has already been created centuries before the printing press. In the digital age where there’s a Democracy of Publishing aka Self Publishing it goes without saying that you’ll see themes and myths repeated.

That part I don’t disagree with at all. However, that’s not what the issue is with most of the people I see playing defense on the whole originality issue.

Original Myths vs. Original Stories

A myth, or even a trope, are at the core of storytelling. Girls meets boy, stranger comes to town, the hidden world undiscovered: all of these themes and a few others are the basis of every single story you’ll ever read, watch, or play. Unless someone discovers a new aspect of reality we’re likely to not have a new myth emerge in our lifetime.

There’s a difference between that and original stories. Telling a story is how we achieve something fresh (which is more important and often confused with originality) in modern fiction. You can take a theme or a myth and tell your own personal story using it as a template. For instance, if your story is about an affair between a wife and a circus clown, you have a unique story based on a tried-and-true myth.

Where there seems to be an issue, and it’s appearing more and more in customer reviews on Amazon for books lately, is when a story is basically following the same story beats and using very similar characters (only slightly altered) as popular books, movies, comics, or even video games.

Defending that with the “nothing is original” excuse is transparent and annoying.

It’s Not Everybody

Edward Cullen from TwilightBy no means are most of the prominent indie authors doing this however. Many are creating their own versions and variations of established myths and tropes. They write to a particular genre but the story they’re telling doesn’t feel like you’ve read it before. Nor are they using characters (the Hermione Granger character type is so overused now it’s giving me a headache) that have been established in other series or novels and just inserting them in their own story.

There’s a big difference between The Bad Boy trope and blatantly taking Edward Cullen from Twilight, changing his name to Jorge, having his skin sparkle, and basically go through the same plot points. Some of this stuff borders on parody while others come extremely close to plagiarism.

Write Your Own Stuff

I’m not going to say whether or not someone is or isn’t a true writer or an artist. Being a talented artist and being an original artist aren’t divorced from one another. The fine art world has a history of talented painters doing recreations of other artist’s work.

However, trying to deflect an obvious lack of creativity by saying “nothing is original so it’s no big deal” is lazy and damages the reputation of the indie author community as a whole. A book cover is different. That’s marketing and not the creative. The content of your story is an entirely different thing.

I’ve already read Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Carrie, The Davinci Code, and countless other popular books. I’ve already seen Star Wars, Star Trek, Iron Man and so on. I’ve played Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, and plenty of other games. I don’t want to re-read it in a book I went on a limb to download or, even worse, paid for. Give me the story that you came up with and not some cobbled together rip off of something that’s already been sold and told a thousand times over.

How To Craft A World

How to craft a world

Writing isn’t easy. World building is even harder.

It’s been nearly a year since I made the decision to go the self publishing route and one of the main reasons why I wanted to do so was the ability to control your own creative. The only person making decisions on what I will and won’t write is myself. That is such a liberating and freeing experience.

However, that also comes with my large imagination.

Since I can remember I’ve always been a fan of large stories with many characters and various plotlines running throughout the entire story. From Lord of the Rings to Imajica to Star Wars to The Dark Tower series, epics have always intrigued me. They also require an extensive amount of world building and if the creator of such a tale does not have all of her or his ducks in a row, so to speak, it can wind up being a muddled mess.

Use What You Know

When crafting the world of The Dea (the fictional universe that was introduced in The Brothers Locke and will continue in the Dorian Delmontez series) I had a hard time knowing where to start. I knew the world in which all of these characters and stories would exist had to be massive but it had to make sense within its own confines.

How do you get such a massive undertaking mapped out.

oil paintingsWell, I used what I knew, which was painting and outlines. Now, outlines are more common with authors. Some even construct outlines that are over 5,000 words in length. I prefer to use bullet points and continue from there.

But that wasn’t enough. I needed something tangible, something that I could point to and go back to when I hit a dry spot in the story or want to know where to go next. So, I turned to oil painting, a hobby that has come and gone from my life multiple times.

Using what I knew – a brush, canvas, and paint – I was able to start creating over three dozen landscapes, portraits, and scenes that to this day I reference when thinking about and writing future stories in that fictional world.

Of course, if you’re not an illustrator or a painter this may not be the technique for you. However, it does illustrate that using something outside of the realm of pen-to-paper (or keyboard-to-screen as it is now) can be just as helpful, and sometimes more helpful, than banging your head against the desk looking at a blank piece of paper wondering “what do I do?”.

There are many other techniques that can be used from building family trees to writing entire histories and backstories to your various characters to chronicling a fictional historical document about places and landmarks within your world. In the long run, it can take the guessing out of the process of writing when you can pull up a picture or a chart or a graph and know where everything fits.

The main thing is to have fun and let your imagination lead the way. Don’t confine it, let it sprout and grow in any way possible beyond just writing the story. The world will grow with whatever mechanism you use to define it.

Just Do It!

Just Do It!

Just Do It!

No, it’s not the Nike slogan (or whatever shoe that was), but it IS an answer to what so many keep asking:

How do I start writing?

I always answers with “just do it”. I know that’s been used over and over again, but honestly that is what works best for me and many others.

Sit down and just start writing whatever. It doesn’t have to be good. There’s this tendency to think that we have to write everything perfect the first time. Not at all. That’s what editing is for!

Write. Even if it’s just a description of the scene you want to flesh out later, write that down and come back to it later.

You’ll find so much more freedom and energy when you just put pen to paper or fingers to keys.

A Journey Into Writing Episodic Fiction (Part 2)

Writing a novel or even a short story has a certain structure to it. There is always a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Episodic fiction is a different animal altogether. Some may think it’s writing chapters and dividing them up into “episodes”, which can be true for some.

dominoesWhat I found when writing The Brothers Locke is that you’re trying to advance the story as a whole while providing clues and hints as to where it’s going. This is much different from writing chapters which can be whole scenes in themselves. Episodes in literature are very much like episodes in television.

What conflict am I introducing?
What resolution can I present in the short amount of pages I’m writing?
How does this advance a particular character or theme?

That’s a lot to do in under 60 pages but it is possible.

The one word that kept coming into my mind when writing the series was “discipline”. While it was sometimes tempting to elaborate excessively in parts of the story, I had to keep in mind the point of this style of fiction is for a quick read.

It has to move fast, it can’t be too self indulgent.

Another major concern is how many episodes are you going to write. The Brothers Locke average around 30-45 pages per episode, so eight episodes in itself is a full length novel. I first thought it would be thirteen episodes but I soon found out by episode 4 that it would require a lot of stretching of the narrative to get to thirteen, so I decided on eight which was extremely helpful in getting the story where it needed to go.

Of course this is all based on your writing style. What works for me might not work for you. However, if you find yourself having some of the same issues I did when writing your first episodic literary series, some of these tips might be helpful.

The next blog post on this journey is about how to format these episodes for the eBook format.

The Brothers Locke is an 8-episode eBook series coming January 1st 2017.

A Journey Into Writing Episodic Fiction (Part 1)

The first novel for my Young Adult Fiction epic series Dorian Delmontez was written about two years ago. At some point in the last twelve months I got the bright idea:

I should introduce people to the world and the series by writing a short episodic fiction prequel involving supporting characters from the main storyline.

Yes, essentially I added another few months of work before I actually release the Dorian Delmontez books. But, there were a few benefits to it.

Kid reading Kindle

One in particular is realizing that there is a decent sized audience for short, episodic fiction especially in the eBook universe.

The very first thing I did was check out if any short stories or episodic short series sold on Amazon. Lindsay Buroker had a few listed on her blog.

There are a few others that seem to do well in sales:

Matchmakers 2.0
The Corbin Brothers
The Sanctuary Series

Kindle handles eBook series (or Serials as they’re sometimes called) much like TV shows. Each book or chapter is handled as an episode and you have the option of releasing them all at one time – ala Netflix – or release the series over a number of weeks, months – ala traditional television which is weekly.

While I have still yet to consider which format is best, I am leaning towards the weekly release schedule.

Netflix has made “binge” consumption of entertainment a new thing but in respect to eBooks, where it does take time for some readers to get through episodes, getting the next release might be a more exciting avenue to go down.

Readers could download book one and then each week when a new episode is released they will be notified, which helps to reinforce the brand and the name of your work in their mind.

The next blog post I’ll talk about how I structured my upcoming eBook series as the flow of such stories is different than traditional novels or short stories.

The Brothers Locke – an 8 episode Young Adult Fantasy series is available January 1, 2017.