Who Are the Best Horror Authors of All Time?

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Katie McLain

Contributing Editor

Katie's parents never told her "no" when she asked for a book, which was the start of most of her problems. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Lake Forest College and is working towards a master's degree in library science at U of I. She works full time at a public library reference desk in northern IL, specializing in readers’ advisory and general book enthusiasm, and she has a deep-rooted love of all things disturbing, twisted, and terrifying. (She takes enormous pleasure in creeping out her coworkers.) When she's not spending every waking hour at the library, she's at home watching Cubs baseball with her cats and her cardigan collection, and when she's not at home, she's spending too much money on concert tickets. Her hobbies include debating the finer points of Harry Potter canon, hitting people upside the head who haven’t read The Martian, and convincing her boyfriend that she can, in fact, fit more books onto her shelves. Twitter: @kt_librarylady

As readers, we want the best. The best books, the best authors, the best-sellers. I’m a fan of horror novels, and I’ve read my share of classic & modern horror, so I decided to do a little research (150% totally statistically valid research*) on who readers consider to be the best horror authors.

To do this research, I googled “best horror authors” to see what resources would come up—in other words, if I was a hypothetical horror fan googling for reading recommendations, what would I find? I picked five different resources to use: the list of names suggested by Google at the top of the search results, a Goodreads list for the “Best Horror Novels,” and three random booklists that appeared on the first page of my search terms. I tried to avoid lists with limiters (eg. “10 of the Best Horror Novels of 2017,” “Top 20 Female Horror Authors,” etc.) because they weren’t giving me a picture of who readers thought were the best horror authors in general.

I created a spreadsheet where I listed the authors from each site, and I indicated which resource(s) included them on the original list. For the Goodreads list, I included the first 20 unique authors on the list. And once I had finished this, I narrowed my list down to the authors who were included in 3 or more of the original resources.

Here is the list of the 14 authors who made it onto this weird hybrid list of the best horror authors, along with the number of resources that had listed that particular author:

  1. Stephen King (5)
  2. Dean Koontz (5)
  3. Clive Barker (4)
  4. Peter Straub (4)
  5. Bram Stoker (4)
  6. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (4)
  7. Anne Rice (4)
  8. Ramsey Campbell (3)
  9. H.P. Lovecraft (3)
  10. Edgar Allan Poe (3)
  11. Shirley Jackson (3)
  • Richard Matheson (3)
  • Ray Bradbury (3)
  • William Peter Blatty (3)

    Now, these are all classic, well-respected horror authors who wrote groundbreaking novels or who took the genre in new and unexpected directions. I’m not going to discount the fact that they were (or continue to be) immensely influential on the state of horror fiction today. (Although I will argue over whether Anne Rice’s novels should truly be considered “horror fiction,” because a vampire does not a horror novel make, but that’s a topic for another post.)

    But I am going to point out that the majority of the authors on this list are male, and every person on this list is white, which tells you a lot about the types of horror fiction and the horror authors that get promoted, read, and remembered. These authors listed above only make up a tiny portion of the horror fiction world, and if we only go by these lists purporting to give us “The Best Horror Authors of All Time,” we’re limiting our reading experiences and ignoring the work of some really fantastic authors.

    I say we need to shake these lists up a little, so here are five people I would like to see added to the “Best Horror Author” lists:

    1. Tananarive Due

    Her socially-conscious horror novels blend elements of the supernatural, African mythology, and racial politics into seriously ominous and creepy stories.

    Start with: The Good House

    2. Stephen Graham Jones

    A Native American horror author whose stories make us think about what it means to be an “other,” or from society’s perspective, a “monster.”

    Start with: The Ones That Got Away

    3. Lauren Beukes

    How do you feel about time-traveling serial killers in historic Chicago? What about a supernatural creature that fuses humans and animals together in the dilapidated wreckage of Detroit? Lauren Beukes’s stories are convoluted, gory, and absolutely terrifying.

    Start with: Broken Monsters

    4. Victor LaValle

    Victor LaValle’s novels and characters are strange, surreal, and idiosyncratic, and his almost-formal style of writing makes the reading experience just as strange.

    Start with: The Ballad of Black Tom

    5. Helen Oyeyemi

    Even though Helen Oyeyemi’s writing more closely falls in line with magical realism, she writes dark fables that are just as scary as they are surreal. Start with: White Is For Witching

    *Not actually statistically-valid research

    Want more “best-of” horror lists? Check out our compilation of 50 of the Best Horror Novels or 50 Must-Read Contemporary Horror Novels.

    What other diverse authors would you want to see on a “Best Horror Authors” list?