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Panel of Experts: Do you feel it is better for a book or story to be classified as horror or mystery or literature?

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Question: Do you feel it is better for a book or story to be classified as horror or mystery or literature?

Yes! This feature marks the return of’s popular Panel of Experts series!

Part of the study of library science is figuring out how to categorize books to make them findable and comparable. Book classification can really impact which readers are likely to find the book a writer may have spent years crafting and perfecting. Sometimes a theme will definitely appeal to horror fans and people who read horror know to look in the horror section of their favorite bookstore, either online or in-person. Sometimes a story straddles themes of horror, suspense, mystery, or other varieties of stories, so how to pick a category? Some of the most popular horror writers (or at least who most people would consider popular horror writers) prefer to have their work classified as literature, because they believe they might reach a broader audience or be more likely to be reviewed in supposed serious venues. Some movie producers just might pay more for options on mystery/suspense versus horror. Some writers worry that editors will expect their work to be more formulaic if they are put in any category at all. Some writers just chafe under labels. Our experts weigh in on how they feel about literary classification.

Mystery/Suspense is definitely more marketable than Horror. But who really gives a shit? The goal is to connect with an audience and whatever it takes is okay with me.

Adam Pepper, writer

I don’t think there’s a better or worse, but horror still hasn’t redeemed its abysmal reputation in publishing.

Alexandra Sokoloff, writer

I always really struggle with classification because I don’t like to be boxed in and some of my favorite writers produced really genre-busting and cross-genre work.

Amelia G, writer

I don’t care about labels. I only care about the story. I think back cover copy is vital to selling a book.

Angeline Hawkes, writer

I’m not sure. For the purposes of bookstores, it might be better to have the horror or mystery classification to help potential readers find work they might enjoy.

Ann Schwader, writer

I’ve never been ashamed to write horror, but I do think a book being labeled as horror diminishes its chances of getting publicity.

Anthony Izzo, writer

As much as people fight against classification, I think genre tags have a use. When I go to a bookstore, real or virtual, and I want to buy a mystery novel, I head over to the mystery section and browse the shelves. It’s more tightly focused than if I had to wander through the entire fiction section looking for a crime novel from among everything else. True, that means that I don’t accidentally stumble across something different, but that’s not a big deal to me. I have other ways of finding out about those sorts of books. The biggest issue, though, is when a writer produces something that defies easy classification. Something that blends genres or evades them. That gives publisher’s fits and may lead to a rejection even though it’s a perfectly good book.

Bev Vincent, writer


Bob Johnson, writer

In the short term, either of the genre classifications. In the longer term, literature.

Catherine Mintz, writer

I feel it is better for my book or story to be bought and read. Horror gets a bad rap, however, while literature sails off into the sunset. Mystery also gets a pass.

Connie Corcoran Wilson, writer

All three if it fits the bill.

Corrine De Winter, writer


Del Howison, writer

If you want it to sell well I suppose Mystery is the best of the three. It is unfortunate but Horror is not usually a large section in bookshops.

Derek Gunn, writer

I think it’s okay to classify a book as horror or whatever, but in book stores and libraries I think all fiction no matter what genre should be shelved together. Kafka next to King. Austen next to Asimov. Heinlein next to Hemingway. Find your favorites, but be open minded to all.”

G. O. Clark, writer

I believe a book should be classified as exactly what it is, not what it should be or what the marketing department at the publishing house would like it to have been.

Gabrielle Faust, writer

Sales-wise, seems to me Mystery or Suspense sells the best, with literary probably second, and horror the unwanted guest in the party.

Gene Stewart, writer

Literature. But people being what they are, the reality is horror and mystery is what people look for and they don’t want to mix their vegetables, much less meat and vegetables, so everything must be kept separate and apart or else how will anyone get to read only what they’re looking for (in other words, only what meets their conservative requirements).

Gerard Houarner, writer

‘Better’ from what perspective? Is it ‘better’ for a book to sell more but disappoint the readers? I think it’s probably best for a horror novel to be branded as such and literature likewise. The problem is when people read horror and belittle it for not being ‘literary’ (whatever that means). I note that no one seems to get much mileage from arguing that Anne Tyler would benefit from throwing a few serial killers into her books.

Greg Stolze, writer

Speaking as an ex-librarian, some books are very difficult to categorise, which is often the problem in bookshops etc. Cross over books are some of the most difficult and the classic remain the same in that they can deal with all subjects, but are ‘classic’.

Helen McCabe, writer

Good writing is good writing and shouldn’t be classified at all, except as good.

Jameson Currier, writer

Re my own stories: I’m happy with a horror designation.

Jean Graham, writer

Hard to say. It seems once an author has broken a major list, say the NYT bestseller list for instance, his books tend to be lifted out of genre and moved to the literature side of the bookselling aisle.

Jeanne C. Stein, writer

I don’t know – I can only think of it from a marketing perspective, as nothing I write, to me, fits into any particular category; it’s always a combination of a lot of different genres, influences, and approaches. Genre designations are all about what section of the bookstore it goes into, and that limits what a lot of people are willing to read. It’s too bad; all those kids who loved Harry Potter books should really read The Count of Monte Cristo, but where are they going to hear about that?

Jemiah Jefferson, writer

For me, it doesn’t matter. For sales, mystery probably would work best out of those choices.

J. G. Faherty, writer

A great book, one that is so well written and timeless in any genre, I would consider literature.

Jill Bauman, dark artist

I hate classifying anything generally, but I’m rational and understand it makes things easier for the sake of chroniclers and sales folks. I’d say Horror and Mystery can mix all the want—but who decides if something is literary? I certainly don’t. If a book entertains you and makes you think its literature, genre shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

J. R. Parks, writer

A larger number of people will read something if it’s labeled literature, but horror fans are voracious and very loyal. I suppose it’s best to decide what your goal for a work is. Then again, you might not have much choice in its label. Scribner labeled Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues as humor. While I find many of the stories very funny, if someone was looking for laughs, this wasn’t the book for them (as people have noted in some online reviews). I fought the humor label, but the publisher made the final decision.

Loren Rhoads, writer

Better in terms of sales? Better for the writer or for the publisher?

Lisa Mannetti, writer

It certainly doesn’t matter to me.

Lisa Morton, writer

For me, it really doesn’t matter. I read a book based on the back matter—if it pulls my attention—or based on my prior enjoyment of that author’s work. Mainstream seems fond of the term thriller these days. I think some readers will be turned off by the label horror, just because horror fiction has gotten somewhat lumped in with bad horror films. But horror offers a great deal more variety than that.

Louise Bohmer, writer

I know that I head straight for the horror section in a bookstore. I am their market and that’s an argument for keeping the horror label. Finding new readers who don’t understand that horror is more than Jason and Freddy, might find something new in a mystery or lit section. Equal arguments for both, but I don’t work in a bookstore so I can’t tell you what really works.

Marcy Italiano, writer

In terms of sales, I suspect a book is better off being classified in any specific genre rather than as “literature.” Audiences of horror, mystery, romance, SF, fantasy, etc., know where to look for their preferred reading material. If a book is shelved with general fiction or literature, potential readers are less likely to find it unless the author is fortunate enough to get high-profile reviews.

Margaret L. Carter, writer

I think it’s a shame there’s a need to classify any story, but I know it helps to know what type of story you’re picking up. For my own taste, I read across lots of genres, so don’t mind which. But I guess in commercial terms, mystery would sell more than horror – regardless of what the story actually was. Labels do just that – sometimes for better, sometimes not.

Marie O’Regan, writer

When I go to a bookstore, I look first in the horror and SF sections – I don’t know why some people consider horror so disreputable… Bookstores where everything is just under fiction bore me, but some books do cross several lines and are harder to classify.

Mark Onspaugh, writer

I think every writer would be happier if their work was viewed as literature, but in the Horror genre, there aren’t more than two living writers who have even fought to earn that distinction. Stephen King and somebody to be named later.

Matt Kennedy, writer

I hate labels to tell you the truth. But it has to be done.

M. F. Korn, writer

Unfortunately, I still see negative reactions from people to the word “horror”. If you took the same book and put it on two shelves – Mystery and Horror – I’d guess the mystery shelf would sell the same book more.

Michael J. Hultquist, writer

Doesn’t matter for the enjoyment of reading. It’s only the marketing and sales that needs to badge it.

Mick Sims, writer

I prefer a mixed classification. It broadens the reader base. But if I had to pick just one, I’d say Mystery – purely because there are more mystery readers than horror readers, whether we like it or not.

“Literature” is a whole different ball of belly button lint.

M. R. Sellars, writer

I’d prefer all books to be just books on a shelf but classification is what publishers and bookstores want and presumably readers, or at least that’s the publishing industry’s justification for all the categories.

Nancy Kilpatrick, writer

Sometimes, when I’m feeling really staunch, I think everything should just be classified as Fiction and leave it at that. However, many readers enjoy having separate sections defined by genre to help them find what they want. I’m not sure it matters in the end, though I’ve heard people say that horror novels sell better from the Fiction/Literature section than they do from a dedicated Horror section, probably because fewer readers go to the Horror section.

Nicholas Kaufmann, writer

Most of my horror novels have been classified as mainstream fiction, and I don’t think it has hurt me. I really don’t think a category is as important as being able to find the book in a bookstore.

Owl Goingback, writer

Regrettably the term horror now carries negative stigma- so I now apparently write dark fantasy, suspense, mysteries etc.

P. S. Gifford, writer

I think it depends what kind of audience you’re trying to reach. For example the same people who really liked the Arrowhead books, which are marketed as SF, have read Gemini and although they liked it, preferred the post-apocalyptic stuff – and the same works in reverse. You might end up with several sets of readers, and although there will be a fair amount of crossover, those who read and like everything you do, there will be others who want to stick to just the one type of fiction you produce. So, I would imagine who you’re aiming a book at dictates whether or not it’s a good idea to call it ‘horror’ or ‘mystery’ or whatever.

Paul Kane, writer

I feel it is often far better to be labeled “Fiction,” for the purposes of shelving in brick and mortar book stores. But that’s a double edged sword when the bulk of your readership goes directly to the horror section (and if they don’t have one…the Science Fiction and Fantasy sections). But I don’t get my panties in a twist about labels unless it’s really, really off base.

Rain Graves, writer

While classifying a story as one thing or another can be helpful, I think it ultimately causes more harm than good. Because of classification, many, many great novels, films, and TV shows have gone undiscovered by a broader audience, which is really unfortunate.

Richard Dean Starr, writer

Classification is really something I think better left to bookstores or publishers. As I said above, I tend to fly in the face of genre convention. The story is paramount for me.

Rick Reed, writer

Better? I think it tends to depend on the book. I wouldn’t call my horror novel Downland anything except horror, to do otherwise would create a false reader expectation.

Ryan M. Williams, writer

Whichever makes it sell better, and find its audience. Cross genre stuff can be tough. It’s often better, but doesn’t fit into an appropriate marketing peg.

Sarah Langan, writer

No. I think it’s best for a book or story to be classified as good. Literature is fine. Literature usually means ‘good.’

Shade Rupe, writer

Classifications can pigeonhole books, because some books like my novel The Kult are a mix of different genres such as horror, thriller, mystery and crime. I’m not one for labels, but I guess they help people find the sort of material that they’re into.

Shaun Jeffrey, writer

Labels are useful enough; I mean, they certainly help narrow down your search if you’re looking for something scary. It’s unfortunate that the horror label has been essentially a trap, as far as retailers go. You don’t see horror sections anymore, and some writers applaud that, under the conviction that horror shouldn’t be “ghetto-ized.” There’s something to that, of course. For a long while, particularly during the horror glut of the late 80s/early 90s, if you wanted to read some real crap, just go to the horror section. Conversely, I miss having the scary stuff piled together because I could always find something appealing among it all.

Stephen Mark Rainey, writer

If it’s predominantly horror call it horror, if it’s mostly a mystery call it that.

Steve Calvert, writer

If its good, word of mouth will move it regardless of the heading. As someone said, “Talent will out.”

Steve Burt, writer

I don’t like classifications. Is Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” horror, inspirational, just a holiday story, or literature? The best stories will transcend any tags. Classifications are just so booksellers can put books with similar elements together to help customers find them.

Steve E. Wedel, writer

I think books or stories should be called what they are, descriptively. Pretty much, only reviewers and critics who read widely and have a lot of interests are able to do that, because marketing categories are so narrow lately. I think “horror” and “mystery” are different art forms that cross over a lot, as with science fiction, heroic fantasy, urban fantasy — each genre has its different expectations, its different tools, and its geniuses.

I tend to like books that incorporate elements of more than one genre. I think a lot of readers like crossover work. However, the label horror seems to have been marketing poison for books since at least the 1990s.

Thomas S. Roche, writer

In bookstores, it would be easier to find in specific sections. However, it may all be moot if bookstores go the way of the dinosaur.

W. D. Gagliani, writer

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