Is the End Near?

on September 11, 2008

Books that came in my last Amazon shipment:

THE KEEPSAKE by Tess Gerritsen
FORGOTTEN by Mariah Stewart (third copy–this one for a friend!)
THE GARDEN OF EVIL by David Hewson (I bought this book for the cover, but I’ve also heard good things about the author so thought I’d read one of his books.)

MYTHS is more research for my Deadly Sins series. I have a whole shelf of paranormal, supernatural and mythology books. Most are related to demons, exorcisms, and ancient religions. One I’m really intrigued by, but have only skimmed so far, is LILITH’S CAVE, Jewish stories of the supernatural and demons.

But also in the mail with my Amazon boxes was my copy of Romance Sells (Fall 2008), the catalog of upcoming romance releases that RWA members can buy into real cheap and it’s sent to about 6,000 booksellers and librarians.

I flipped through it (okay, first I went to the Romantic Suspense section to see my ad for PLAYING DEAD, then I flipped through the whole magazine.)

Caveat: Romance Sells isn’t ALL romance releases, only those RWA published authors who choose to advertise. So it’s not really a scientific analysis of what’s coming out over the next couple months, but I do think it is indicative of the changing trends.

So there’s roughly 176 books advertised. They’re all coming out pretty much in September-December. Here’s the breakdown by genre:

Anthologies: 6 (mostly erotic romance)
Contemporary Series: 9 (Harlequin)
Contemporary Single Title: 27
Historical: 42
Inspirational: 1
Paranormal: 61
Romantic Suspense: 17
Women’s Fiction/YA: 8

That’s right. 61 paranormals, or nearly 35% of the total books. Compare this to the Fall 2005 issue of Romance Sells where paranormal made up less than 15% of listed books. I also have the Fall 2007 issue to compare–and paranormal was 29%.

In Fall 2005, Romantic Suspense was 16% of the pages; now? Just under 10%.

Ironically, I don’t think this is because romantic suspense sales have fallen in any way; in fact, all the indicators from the booksellers, Levy and Walmart is that romantic suspense is still the second largest chunk of romance sales (the first is historical, which has commanded a 35-40% share of romance sales fairly consistently over the years.) But paranormal has the largest GROWTH of all sub-genres, and that’s evident in the number of books issued every month that fall under the paranormal romance (or urban fantasy) category.

In publishing, trends are sometimes easy to spot and sometimes elusive. It’s hard to react immediately to a hot trend because it usually takes a year or more to see a book on the shelf from the sale. That’s why I always tell people they should write what they love, regardless of what’s selling today. Your passion for the story will sell the story, not whether it captures a trend.

However, publishers also want to make money, so often they’ll buy more of a hot-selling genre when it crosses their desk. When the market or genre is tight, they tend to be pickier; when the market or genre is growing, they’ll jump on it and get more books out to feed the reader’s literary cravings.

This rise in paranormal has me a bit concerned about my own upcoming paranormal series. Why? Because all trends peak. All trends fall. And my series isn’t a traditional paranormal, so it’s not going to fit into the traditional paranormal mold.

Hmm, as I think about it, maybe “traditional” isn’t the right word. Paranormal feeds a readership that wants world building and the unknown; people or creatures with powers greater than us mere humans. There is nothing unusual about this; mythology is full of heroes and villains of god-like proportions. The current paranormal offerings are largely a blend of ancient mythology with modern settings and culture, and a hint of the future. The villains of the past are now redeemable and become anti-heroes, and heroes, of today. There are many dystopian and utopian themes in paranormal as a genre–similar to science fiction and fantasy as well. Whereas contemporaries focus on the here and now in a world we all know and living in, paranormals can take the world and tweak it–or completely turn it upside down. Anything goes.

This is almost drug-like in the response paranormal readers have for their favorite series and author. The new world, the characters who aren’t fully human but are like us anyway, the sensory details and the possibilities of other worlds, different futures, unique beings. Very alluring.

My series is nothing like that. It’s contemporary, set in the real-world, and the rules for my world are already established by the myths that have gone before me. Hence, my continuing fascination with books like MYTHS FROM MESOPOTAMIA and new discovery LILITH’S CAVE.

And my demons are very, very bad. Evil. Unredeemable.

So I hope my series is different . . . but at the same time, if the paranormal market grows stagnant–or there’s a backlash against the overwhelming number of titles–that may not even matter.

One of those things, I know, that is completely beyond my control. But something to think about.

So what do you think about the paranormal trend? Why it’s hot? Why it’s going to continue to be hot . . . or not? I’m interested. Very, very interested.

And because we should never forget, please take a moment of silence or prayer and remember those who died seven years ago.