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So… Where are the Women of Literary Horror?

How long has it been since you’ve seen a new horror novel on the shelves of your local bookstore by a female author? What has happened to the best-selling female writers of dark fiction books from 20, 10 or even 5 years ago? Why aren’t there new hardback Anne Rice, Heather Graham Pozzessere or Laurell K. Hamilton books chewing up the charts? Where is the next generation of female horror writers and who is at fault — publishers, authors or the reading public?

We decided to pose that question to people in the field, and here was what we heard…

AMANDA NIEHAUS-HARD (author): Could it have something to do with the fact that a lot of women horror writers are publishing in the small press, and don’t have the distribution that bestseller status needs?

BLUMHOUSE.COM: Yes it could. So then the question becomes, “Why aren’t the major houses publishing female-written horror?”

EDDIE SCHNEIDER (literary agent): Perhaps for the same reason that women were kept out of history books for so long — not because they weren’t influential, but because they were overlooked. Or if someone is successful, they get called something other than a horror writer.

LISA LANE (author): I think a lot of it has to do with reader expectation, and for that reason, women in horror have a smaller chance of actually being read. Society is brand-driven, and “pretty and petite woman” (for example) brings about a different expectation than “brawny, crazy-looking guy.” While we all know logically that judging an author by appearance is ludicrous, I firmly believe the impact is still very real, and I believe it has a notable effect on women and the overall horror market.

BH: So are we saying that female writers are writing horror and being published by the major houses, but the publishers want to call it something else?

HEATHER GRAHAM POZZESSERE (New York Times Bestselling Author): Publishing always seems to go through trends; I have been labeled mystery, romance, horror, even sci-fi. I’ve noticed lately that they’ve settled on “novel.” But, to be fair, a publishers job is to publish, and that includes advertising and marketing, and I believe they are happy to call a book anything in order to get it out there the best way possible. I’m happy to be anything anyone wants me to be, since we live on the income. Then again, I delight in being asked into anthologies such as with a Lovecraft theme, or with Jonathan (Maberry) and THE X-FILES, because there is something so wonderful about a new challenge and shaking up the usual. Also, my Barnes and Noble has no horror section — sci-fi and fantasy, mystery, romance… and “fiction.”

SELENE MACLEOD (author): I think that horror as a genre has gotten much more sophisticated, but also much more split into sub-genres. Horror fans only have so many dollars to spread around, and after they’re done buying the latest Stephen King novel and then a few newer authors (Paul Tremblay and Sarah Pinborough both just got a little push after Stephen King tweeted about them), there’s only so much left. If women horror authors only make up 25% of those remaining crumbs, the numbers aren’t going to be that good.

CHARIE D. LA MARR (author): I have seen — and written — some very hardcore things. But I wonder… are people passing up our work because they think we aren’t as hardcore as our male counterparts? Just a thought. What do you men think? Do you take chances on female writers?

Crimson_Peak_novel

BH: Multi-award winning author Nancy Holder has written some of the strongest horror out there,but these past few years has been writing young adule and tie-in books. But lately she’s been making a return to horror.

NANCY HOLDER (New York Times Bestselling author): I absolutely loved writing the novelization of CRIMSON PEAK. I can’t tell you how deeply I connected to that Gothic world. I loved reading/rereading Guillermo del Toro’s influences. I started crying because I was so happy to be reading and writing adult horror, immersed again in my genre. I have loved working on my novelizations and BUFFY, because to me they are also in that speculative fiction vein, if not 100% horror, and I’ve been writing short horror fiction. When I’m ready, I’ll talk it over with my agent. Right now I have a YA contract to complete. My most recent one, THE RULES, will come out in paperback in June. It’s an homage to Wes Craven.

ANNIE NEUGEBAUER TILTON (author): I think a lot of it has to do with marketing, mainly genre labels. Anne Rice, VC Andrews, and Laurell K. Hamilton are bestselling horror authors who only occasionally get referred to as “horror authors.” Part of the problem is that horror, in general, is getting shelved in other places, but female authors more so. Some of it might be expectation on the author’s part (self-labeling as “gothic” or “dark fantasy” to avoid the label), some might be marketing on the publisher’s part (using whatever label/shelf sells the most books), and some might be on the part of readers driving the market (avoiding the polarizing word “horror” itself due to stigma, taste, or misconceptions).

As it turns out there are plenty of fine female horror writers working and publishing, but they tend to be relegated to the small press. I ask you to seek them out, read them, recommend them. As always I ask for your feedback on the Blumhouse Facebook page or at del@darkdel.com.

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