Last month, the horror community came together for the Horror Writers Association's annual conference, StokerCon. The setting was Pittsburgh, the home of George Romero, master of the genre, which now hosts the Horror Studies Archive at the University of Pittsburgh.
It was three days of packed programming, and I walked away with a few key messages and current trends, as both a panelist and audience member.
Scares for All Ages
If you didn't already know, middle-grade and young-adult horror books are having a real moment. In the past few years, we've seen an increase in offerings for younger horror fans who can't get enough scary stories and haunting moments. The 2022 Bram Stoker Awards introduced a new award for middle-grade horror, showing that this is not a flash in the pan.
And there are increasingly more options for kids and teens for a good reason — they get excited about scary stories. Multiple librarians shared how their younger patrons, who may not be interested in other genres, perk up at the idea of something that might frighten them. It's not only fun and exciting to be scared and get through it, but it can also be a helpful tool for younger readers. Lora Senf, Bram Stoker nominated author of The Clackity, spoke about how horror allows children, especially anxious children, to experience fear and recognize that it's just a feeling.
As someone who began reading horror around middle school, that rang true. Horror is a safe way for kids and teens to experience fear and anxiety and see that it's okay. A story may scare you while you're reading, and that fear may even linger, but it won't hurt you. A kid can read a horror book and learn that they can get through a hard emotion, and that's so valuable for kids learning to process their feelings. So, don't be afraid to let kids and teens explore scary stories; you might create an avid reader!
On the Rise: Extreme and Erotic Horror
Extreme and erotic horror are subgenres we've seen more of in the last few years. Extreme horror shakes off limitations on gore, violence, or controversial topics. It pushes the boundaries and is fearless in crafting scenes that will stay with the reader. Erotic horror adds sensual and sexual content to horror, infusing the same elements found in erotic fiction into the horror realm. Both subgenres are on the rise and are well-loved by horror readers.
During Librarians' Day at StokerCon, the panel on the topic, "The Rising Popularity of Extreme and Erotic Horror," was standing room only. I wasn't able to squeeze my way in, but attendees heard authors CJ Leede, Brian Keene, Wesley Southard, Hailey Piper, Eric LaRocca, and Wrath James White — all leaders in the field — discuss the appeal and importance of these subgenres. While embracing these stories may be scary to some, it's all part of ensuring your readers have options that meet their needs.
Stoker Awards History
The 2022 Stoker Awards ceremony was one for the history books. Cynthia Pelayo became the first Puerto Rican Bram Stoker Award winner for her poetry collection, Crime Scene, which won for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection. Then, when it came time to announce the winner of Superior Achievement in a Novel, Gabino Iglesias became the second Puerto Rican author to win for his novel, The Devil Takes You Home. As a lifelong horror fan and Puerto Rican, I was especially thrilled to be present for both moments. Crime Scene and The Devil Takes You Home are outstanding works, and I was happy to see them honored.
In his acceptance speech, Gabino Iglesias pointed out that this year's ballot had a more diverse group of nominees than it historically has. He also mentioned that this angers some people, which I've witnessed as a reader and librarian. But ultimately, the increased representation of traditionally underrepresented groups makes horror richer. A genre only becomes stronger when it has more varied voices writing stories, which is evident in the current horror renaissance.
Another message StokerCon drove home is that horror is not just for October. Horror fans want to read it year-round and want to avoid being relegated to one season of the year. And libraries should ensure they meet the needs of their patrons who want to read the genre because they are dedicated readers who deeply appreciate having options at their libraries.
Consider working in horror-related programming and readers' advisory throughout the year. Try featuring fun horror displays throughout the year (Summer Scares, Chilling Reads, Witchy Horror, Haunted Places). Incorporate horror titles into your book clubs, maybe starting with gothic fiction if you're not sure of your readers' comfort levels, and or put a scary twist on the holiday season.
NoveList can inspire ways to highlight your horror collection. Use NoveList appeals, themes, and recommended reads lists for easy display ideas like Gruesome Horror, Creepy Reads, Monster Mayhem, Small-Town Horror, or Must-Read Horror. To help you get familiar with or stay up to date with horror, browse our genre guides for kids, teens, and adults.
The Horror Writers Association's Summer Scares Programming Guide is another great resource for inspiration on featuring horror outside the "scary" season. NoveList is a Summer Scares partner, and the guide features three picks for each age group (adult, teen, middle grade), read-alikes, discussion questions, and programming ideas. Best of all, you can download a PDF of the guide for free!
Any way you can show that you recognize your horror-loving patrons and make sure they have options goes a long way toward gaining your library support from a passionate group of readers.