In the world of publishing and horror, 2015 was a year of as many highs as lows. This column is not a long one, so I’ll hit the highlights (and lowlights), then count on you to do further research on anything that may intrigue you.
In a ray of light around the world, sales of print books rose: in Great Britain, 2015 recorded the first rise in sales for the print market in seven years. In the United States, one of the major indicators of books sales, Nielsen Book Scan, put 2015 2.8% over 2014. That makes 2 consecutive years in which unit sales of print books have risen over the previous year in the US. As a book retailer, I noticed major upticks in sales in three different areas: nonfiction (which rose over 6% countrywide), vinyl LPs (mostly horror film soundtracks), and adult coloring books with fantasy themes.
At the same time, e-book sales began to plateau in 2014, and in 2015 e-books began to drop.
No horror fiction made the year’s top 10 in sales on any list (NY Times, Amazon, USA Today, etc.), with Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories playing in and out of the top 20, depending on which list you consult.
Print On Demand (POD) books and self-publishing venues began reaching out to the Spanish Language market, and 2016 should see a huge jump in that area.
The latest fad seemed to be that everyone who thinks they know a thing or two about horror started a podcast. Like anything, the cream rises to the top. This trend will need to be looked at in January of 2017.
Author Thomas Ligotti told Blumhouse about the state of horror podcasting:
I wish more contemporary horror stories were podcast. However, few of them are to my admittedly retro taste. But almost none of those are produced online. Nor are many fine stories of the modern era such as those of Ted Klein, early Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Payne Brennan and other golden age authors, and a great number of stories collected in the anthologies of S. T. Joshi, Richard Davis, and Stefan Dziemianowicz. “Best of” anthologies of stories written in the seventies and eighties are a gold mine of tales with a connection to the most distinguished era of horror, ghost, and gothic fiction. On the other hand, one podcast site read all the Bram Stoker nominees for short story in a given year, and none of them were even what I’d consider supernatural horror stories. My perception is definitely arguable, since my knowledge of horror podcasts is by no means comprehensive.
There was no breakout horror book or novel, despite the arrival of long-awaited entries by some of horror’s household names. It was the year of the midlist author, and that trend is expected to continue into this year. Like indie films, there were a number of creative discoveries from new names and little-known names in the field, printed by small press publishers. The small press continued to foster new authors and edgy books, as they are wont to do, but were struggling to survive at the same time.
In Spring of 2015, the Horror Writers Association announced the winners of the annual Bram Stoker Awards for 2014… and among the winners in the three main categories were:
Best Novel: Steve Rasnic Tem – Blood Kin (Solaris Books)
Best Anthology: Ellen Datlow – Fearful Symmetries (ChiZine Publications)
Best Nonfiction: Lucy A. Snyder – Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide (Post Mortem Press)
Notable losses of horror authors included George Clayton Johnson, who passed away at the age of 86; George was best known as a writer in the field of horror, particularly for his Twilight Zone scripts. Another major loss to the field was Tom Piccirilli, at the young age of 49. He was both a multiple Bram Stoker and International Thriller award winner.
Speaking of losses, the ugly head of censorship (sworn enemy of both horror and humor) reared up in January of 2015 with the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The satirical magazine lost several staff members to two gunmen who objected to the religious humor put forth in the “nothing is off limits” magazine.
The Hugo Awards were beset with troubles from special interest groups trying to fix the voting, while over at the World Fantasy Awards, horror icon H.P. Lovecraft lost out to political correctness over certain personal beliefs he held; as a result, the award will no longer feature the author’s likeness.
Author Cody Goodfellow responded to the controversy:
With HPL resoundingly axed as the face of the World Fantasy Award, the war over identity politics and inclusion has trickled down into the horror field. Long after the Internet has gone on to find other outrages, this change will be remembered as either the start of the genre rebranding itself as more progressive/inclusive, or the emergence of a division in the already small, incestuous field that leaves it as conflicted and repellent to outsiders as every other subculture in American life. Especially interesting how Lovecraft continues to gather steam as horror’s scapegoat, while Cthulhu continues to explode as the most readily embraceable horror icon since Godzilla…
In November, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar store; ironically, the online retail behemoth has now joined the league of businesses they have actively tried to undermine for years. Only time will tell how it may work out during 2016.
Looking toward the future, author Joe Hill (Horns) remains hopeful:
In horror and dark fantasy, the best work almost always ambushes you, catches you off guard. You don’t see it coming. So it’s hard to predict. That said, I think we’re all glad The X-Files is coming back for a limited run, and we’re hopeful they’ll find a way to meet people’s ridiculously overinflated expectations.