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Publishing in 2013

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This weekend’s Aurealis Awards have gotten me thinking about publishing.

Take a look at my category, Horror Novel. There are four short-listed works. One of the books is published by Twelfth Planet Press, a boutique small press outfit. Two are by Xoum, a new digital-only publisher. My own publisher, Possible Press, is also a tiny shop. These are ostensibly the four best horror novels by Australian authors published in 2012, and none of them is from a major publisher. At most one of the books is properly distributed to bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Two of the books are not in print at all. Even three years ago, this would have been unthinkable. So what’s going on?

Maybe the awards judges are being wilfully obtuse. Maybe the big publishers are failing to choose works of literary merit. Maybe authors are turning away from the big publishers. Maybe the number of books being published–especially in the genres, especially in horror, especially in Australia–has diminished to the point where you have to look to the ‘independent’ publishers to get a representative sample of the state of the art.

I don’t have hard numbers but I think that this latter supposition is the most likely. You can call this ‘democratization’, but to me it feels more like a collapse.

This is phenomenon is not limited to the horror genre, of course–if you are the sort of person who even believes in genres–but I think that it is particularly salient for those of us in the darker corners of literature. My library does not have a horror section any more. Nor does my local bookstore. Those books are now shelved with SF/fantasy or with crime. Perhaps some few of them are on the new ‘paranormal’ section now. This new genre is populated mostly with books that engage with supernatural horror tropes–monsters–but generally with the darker themes tuned down and the romantic plot elements dialled up.

Does it even matter? Do we even need a ‘capital H horror’ genre in the book market? I don’t know. Is Bloody Waters really a capital H horror book? Not really. In my own work, I’m probably most at home under the big H, but you’ll usually find me blundering across genre boundaries. I write realist fiction, too. And autobiography, and historical fiction, and comedy (which of course has the distinction of being a ‘genre’ in exactly the same theoretical way that horror is.)

Well, yes and no. Yes, because it makes it harder for these books to find their audiences and to make money. No, because in this day and age there are fewer barriers to getting the work published. Good work can still be recognized no matter how small the publisher or how obscure the author.

Now go buy some books.

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