I was asked by a reader to define literary horror. She had seen the term used on a few agency Web sites and was asking what makes something literary horror as opposed to just horror. I’ll be honest with you, we weren’t quite sure what the answer to this was. Since we don’t represent a lot of horror we certainly aren’t experts in that area, but after a little research here’s what we came up with. . . .
The most obvious definition is that the writing has to be very literate and beautiful, a general explanation whenever the word “literary” is used. Authors that came up when talking literary horror are Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Piccirilli, or Kafka (and keep in mind I’ve never read any of these). I think, though, that ultimately agents are using this term to try and weed out authors who submit books that only contain slashers, and other gruesome events. They are alerting authors to the fact that they are looking for an amazingly written book first, horror second. In other words, blood and guts don’t make horror, it’s an emotional reaction that’s created by the author.
I hope that helps.