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Is Western Fiction Dead?

Updated on October 21, 2017
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Rachel Del Grosso is the Managing Editor at Wolfpack Publishing where she oversees and coordinates all editorial activities.

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If you were to walk into a bookstore today—granted you still have one in your city—chances are you won’t find much in the way of western fiction. While it’s true that western novels aren’t flying off bookstore shelves, the same cannot be said for digital shelves.

Just ask Mike Bray of Wolfpack Publishing. Bray and L.J. Martin opened Wolfpack Publishing in 2013 by signing a number of western authors and their back lists. By December of 2016 Wolfpack had sold 2 million eBooks and they are on track to sell over 1 million eBooks this year alone.

You may not have much luck finding a paperback copy of your favorite western at a brick-and-mortar store, but one look on Amazon and you’ll see there are still plenty of people reading and loving western fiction. As of today, an Amazon #1 western bestselling title will sell in upwards of 1,250 ebooks per day.

So you tell me: does that sound like western fiction is dead?

What is even more intriguing is that, while the genre is dominated by older authors with thirty or forty years of writing under their belts, there are fresh, new authors trying to break into the genre every day. Take Lane R Warenski for example; his new Grizzly Killer series has done very well. An eclectic reader of many genres and authors, he found himself always coming back to western fiction.

“I’ve always preferred reading to TV, and have read virtually all genre’s and authors from Louis L’More and Zane Grey to John Grisham, James Rollins, Lee Child, etc. But I always go back to western fiction. Growing up in Utah I was exposed very early on to hunting, fishing, and camping and I developed a strong love of the outdoors. When a friend asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book, western fiction is the only genre that even entered my mind.”

When asked how he feels about competing against veteran western writers, he had one word: honored. “It still seems surreal that my books have had the success they have had. To see my books alongside the great writers that I have been reading for years is humbling and a great honor.”

One of the veteran writers Warenski finds himself competing with is Robert Vaughan, who has written over 500 books, many in the western genre. Vaughan’s love for westerns began at the age of ten, when his father bought the entire Zane Grey western series. “One summer, I read the entire series. To the passer by it may have looked like a young boy, lying in the shade of the breezeway, but they just didn't look close enough. I was actually on horseback in the Tonto Basin, with the ragged Mazatzals to the west, Four Peaks, to the south, and far to the east, the Serra Ancas. Years later, I spent time in Arizona, camping in the desert, and hiking through the very places Zane Grey had written about.”

Vaughan had some thoughts about the Western genre as it is today.

“I would say that the Western is making a comeback—except that it never really went away. Like the banked coals in a campfire, it needed very little to spring back to life. I read many of the new, young Western writers, and very much enjoy their work. They are following the trail blazed by Zane Grey, Louis L'amour, Elmer Kelton, Jory Sherman, Frank Roderous, Chet Cunningham and others. This has given me a sense of comfort that this great American genre has not only survived, but is flourishing.”

Still not convinced that western fiction is alive and well?

By definition, a western takes place in the American Old West between the mid 1800’s and late 1900’s. If you follow the genre at all, you may recognize the names Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and William Johnstone, who, among others, had a hand in popularizing the genre. These writers helped to shape the western genre as we now know it and inspired many of the genre’s new writers to put pen to paper.

While the western genre seemed to have enjoyed its Golden Age in the 1930s and 1940s, it’s obvious that there are still readers out there willing to devour western novels. Not only that, but western short stories, which have recently grown in popularity. The consensus seems to be: give us a hero that’s a cowboy, an untamed environment and justice to be fought for, and the readers will come.

Just don’t expect to find much in your neighborhood Barnes and Noble; you’ll have much better luck online.

© 2017 Rachel Del Grosso

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