Horror Fiction: Art, Entertainment, or Business?

A writer creates a piece of horror fiction. To stand a chance of getting it out there, there must be some sort of potential readership. And for it to end up in readers’ hands, it must be published.

These three very different but essential components bring us to the question: Is horror fiction art, entertainment, or business?

The Cambridge dictionary says art can be “the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings,” “an activity through which people express particular ideas,” or in most cases, a combination of the two (in varying proportions).

On the other hand, the verb “entertain” is defined as: “keeping a group of people interested or enjoying themselves.”

And this is where the primary drivers of art and entertainment diverge. While art is mostly about the self-expression of its creator, entertainment focuses on how it lands for the admirer.

To put a finer point on it, the underlying goal of art isn’t the enjoyment of others but the process of creation itself, though of course people must like it for it to sell. Entertainment, on the other hand, seeks first to please the consumer, while often containing artistic elements.

Art can be unappealing to an audience and still serve its function. But entertainment needs to be accessible and appreciated to have much value.

Personally, I think nearly all horror fiction is both art and entertainment. Some books and stories lean one direction or another, naturally, but that’s really up to interpretation. For instance, what might at first seem like a silly teen slasher story could surprise you by delving deep into some societal truths.

And this is one of the main reasons why I write, edit, and publish horror. It’s a genre that employs a sleight of hand where you’re expecting one thing—ghosts, werewolves, vampires—so you never see the other coming. Indeed, my favorite books are made up of the nutritious body of art with a tasty sugar coating of entertainment.

Now, this discussion of art and entertainment is all well and good. But we’d be fooling ourselves if we ignored the fact that horror fiction is also a business. And this, ultimately, decides which books get out into the world, which ones you don’t see, and which are never even written.

This is why a manuscript must typically have likeable characters, an easy-to-follow plot, and simple themes so it reaches as wide a readership as possible. Why it has to contain the right politics and/or ideology or none at all so it doesn’t turn off too many people. And why it must be able to make it through the various algorithms for anyone to see it.

The art can be there—it almost always is—but it must be subordinate to the entertainment value. Because if a book is a tremendous piece of art but doesn’t sell well, a publisher will lose money. And any publisher that keeps putting out art that doesn’t make money will have to close up shop sooner or later.

My take is that pure art rarely appeals to enough people for it to make money. Pure entertainment doesn’t allow the creator cathartic self-expression and contributes little to the public discourse. And pure business makes the whole thing a drag.

As a writer, editor, and publisher, I’m still experimenting to find the right balance. What proportions are right for you?

Subscribe to monthly issues of Josh’s Worst Nightmare and let Josh Schlossberg, author of MALINAE, be your guide through the dark landscape of biological horror fiction.

2 thoughts on “Horror Fiction: Art, Entertainment, or Business?

  1. As an avid reader, but also a “starving artist”, my required proportions regarding horror fiction are heavy on the entertainment course with the art a nice side dish, when it is apparent. Creativity is an art in itself, so all authors, painters, musicians, etc., produce art, whether it is shared or for personal gratification.

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