by Robert Gray

The horror genre is notoriously treated like the illegitimate child of publishing world. That little bastard they chain up in the closet when the guests arrive. As a result, horror dwells underground, resurfacing every once in a while to infect the masses, only to retreat back into its lair once the torches and pitchforks come out.

Most authors agree that horror has gone back into hibernation. We had a nice run between 1997 and 2007, but with the advent of e-readers, a dysfunctional publishing industry, a struggling economy and an ever-declining number of readers, the horror industry is suffering in a way it never has before.

Fortunately, evil never dies. Horror will not go away, which is the good news. The bad news is that while the genre will live on, many of the tunnels that lead us to this particular beast have caved in, and the ones that are opening wider – POD and e-book self publishing – are completely unregulated. It’s slowly becoming the Wild West of publishing out there.

As a result, readers are going to rely even more heavily on Oprah’s next pick and the New York Times Best Sellers – because somewhere along the line the majority of the reading public decided these best sellers lists equate to the best books available, and the only ones worth reading. Great news for the larger publishing companies, who are more than happy to have a small stable of big names with a few backups waiting on the benches, but bad news for the rest of us.

There is no silver bullet to fix the current state of horror. It’s a mess right now. But there is one thing we can do collectively to help, and that is to Pay it Forward, something Brian Keene taught me by way of example at the Horrorfind Weekend Convention I attended earlier this month.

At the conference, Brian talked about when he first broke into the industry, sharing stories about how Jack Ketchum helped him with his first contract, and how writers like Laymon, Lee, Schow, Skipp, Gorman, Garton, Lansdale, Monteleone, Wilson, etc., have given advice at various times over the last decade as Keene built a career. It became obvious to me that his passion to help upcoming writers is fueled by the help he received.

His message was simple: When you become an established writer, remember those people that helped you along the way. Remember that first break you got, and use that energy to help new writers become the next generation’s established writers.

So here’s your assignment for today – blog, tweet, post, whatever you do to get the word out. Go forth and spread the message about that great horror novel or short story you read. Try to Pay it Forward whenever you can. I promise, the return will be much greater than the investment.

And for those of you feeling the backlash from the current state of the industry, remember that horror is at its best when underground, because we don’t breed cookie-cutter writers. When horror hits big, usually it’s the unoriginal rip-offs that take center stage, not the boundary-pushers. It is underground where the real work is done. We thrive in those dark places no one else wants to go.

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