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Horror novel sales boomed during year of real-world anxieties

Horror novel sales boomed during year of real-world anxieties

Horror fiction is having a moment, according to data showing 2023 was a record-breaking year for book sales in the genre.

Between 2022 and 2023, sales of horror and ghost stories rose by 54% in value to £7.7m – the biggest year for the genre since accurate records began, reported the Bookseller. In the first three months of 2024, sales were 34% higher in value than in the same period last year, according to book sales data company Nielsen BookScan.

Horror writers and publishers suggest that the boom is partly due to the political nature of the genre. “Horror is a genre that tends to ebb and flow with what’s going on in the world at large, holding up a dark funfair mirror to real world horrors,” said Jen Williams, whose novel The Hungry Dark is published next week. “Given we’re in a period of unsettling upheaval – wars, the pandemic, climate change – it’s interesting that horror is moving back into the spotlight and even reaching a larger audience.”

Horror is “intrinsically political”, said Joanna Lee, an editor at Atlantic Books. She added that in books such as Yeji Y Ham’s The Invisible Hotel, where horror is used to “confront what it is to live in the long shadow of an inescapable war”, the “wild, uneasy” elements of the genre “shine truth on a reality that’s difficult to otherwise convey.”

Suzie Dooré, editor-at-large at the Borough Press, said that while pundits often say that readers seek happier subjects in dark times, “this trend doesn’t bear that out – perhaps there’s an element of ‘Well, it could be worse, I could be under attack from vengeful spirits’?”

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There is a distinctively feminist element to many new horror books, a trend that is patent on TikTok and Instagram, said Sarah Stewart-Smith, campaigns director at Verve Books, which has published horror novels such as Anne Heltzel’s Just Like Mother. The genre has undergone a “metamorphosis”, departing from the “classic horror style” of writers such as Stephen King.

Stories about consent, motherhood and transgression are “exploding in popularity” said Stewart-Smith. Readers are captivated by stories about “the expression of female rage and what happens when something so long suppressed finally ruptures,” something which the horror genre facilitates “perfectly”.

Jane Flett, whose novel Freakslaw is published in June, agrees that the rise in horror is a reaction against the “many traumatic things we’ve experienced globally” in recent years. “There’s a perverse comfort in snuggling up against the darkness when everything is so fraught. But more specifically, for me queer horror offers a space where I get to play with both power and powerlessness. It’s incredibly cathartic to lean into those feelings willingly, in a world that’s often keen to take our agency away from us.”

Source: theguardian.com