For both filmmakers and authors, the horror genre offers ambitious novices one of their best chances at connecting with a built-in audience, since literate fans of monsters, zombies, serial killers, gore and ghosts often do their online shopping based on content, not authorial reputation.
That provides you, the aspiring heir to the throne of Stephen King, an opportunity to prove yourself to complete strangers, though keep in mind, discerning connoisseurs will spot a dilettante a mile away. So know your stuff before you plunge into this macabre marketplace.
Most horror writers choose that field not just because it’s lucrative, but because they’re also fans. This gives them a leg up, since for one thing, they’re probably already aware of what’s out there, what’s popular, what isn’t, and what subject is being overly saturated (do we really need more teenage vampires or any kind of zombies?).
Ironically, horror movies are experiencing somewhat of a dry spell, possibly due to overwhelming competition on the nightly news. The last several Halloween seasons saw few if any new releases, though film festivals of fan favorites and cult classics made the usual rounds of repertory theaters – the few that are left, anyway.
This year is seeing an uptick in major new horror film releases, including Eli Roth’s cannibalistic throwback The Green Inferno, Guillermo del Toro’s supernatural saga Crimson Peak, and a blockbuster adaptation of R.L. Stine’s popular Goosebumps series of Y.A. novels, starring Jack Black, possibly inspiring a new film franchise like its literary brethren Twilight, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
Meanwhile, horror is enjoying unprecedented success on television, with hit shows like The Walking Dead, The Strain, and American Horror Story regularly winning ratings wars.
Keep the horror alive
Now you see the connection: series. If you’re serious about competing in this frightful field, creating an alternate universe that can result in sequels and spin-offs is possibly your best way of making money as well as a name for yourself. Readers love getting hooked on characters they adore, and will follow their exploits endlessly, as long as your imagination remains inventive and intriguing.
This is true not only in horror, but also romance, science fiction, and especially crime, where detectives going as far back as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, right up to the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Sue Grafton’s “Alphabet” mystery series featuring female sleuth Kinsey Millhone, enjoy repeat business, spanning generations, because their characters are so credible, relatable, and best of all: bankable. (I even have my own: Vic Valentine.)
Author Joe Clifford recently wrote a successful crime novel called Lamentation, without ever planning on revisiting either the main protagonist, Jay Porter, or his rural world. However, his publisher, Oceanview, was so impressed with it that they immediately commissioned two sequels, the first of which, December Boys, is due this December.
You take opportunities where they come, but first, you have to start making them for yourself. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
Which brings us back to horror and the shrewd, savvy exploitation of the Halloween season, or any time of year, really. Because every season is "the killing season" when it comes to popular series. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, featuring the recurring character Lestat de Lioncourt, are just one famous example.
A polite introduction (if not an "interview") is required before establishing a long lasting, lucrative relationship, and as always, first impressions count.
Invite yourself in
You could easily (after busting through that writer’s block) write and publish a Kindle collection of scary short stories, or a nightmarish novelette, since as your own publisher, there is no page limit, time limit, or any other restrictive requirements to consider.
Naturally you don’t want to just throw anything out there with your name on it, or even a pseudonym that could become potentially lucrative. As I’ve discussed before, only present your best work to the public.
Keep it short and simple. You could, for instance, write a first person account of a night in the life of a serial killer, since, as Showtime's Dexter series proved, even a serial killer can be made somewhat sympathetic. Or maybe a werewolf. Or a vampire. Or even the Frankenstein monster, since he's still in the public domain (hence all the movies about him.) It wouldn’t have to be epic. Just an intimate portrait of one conflicted monster’s suffering and desires. Publish and promote it for .99 a pop (eBook only), see what happens.
If the character clicks with audiences, meaning the book attracts positive responses, if not instant bestseller status, you may want to develop it into a fleshed-out novel (so to speak). And then another…
After all, it's never never too early to start planning for next Halloween.
What are some of your favorite horror authors, novels, or series, and why?