Supply and Demand

on December 29, 2005

On several writing loops, the subject of trends has come up. Most of the conversations have taken a panicky tone, so they caught my attention.

For example:

* Romance suspense is dead
* The chick lit market is tight
* Paranormal is hot, hot, hot, but no more vampires
* All anyone wants is erotic romance

I’m not an expert when it comes to publishing, but I know a little bit about economics. I’m not panicking. And neither should most people.

Chick lit (which encompasses a wide range of female-focused stories that are defined more by tone and voice than subject matter) is following the path of romantic suspense. A few years ago, a couple chick-litty toned books did phenominally well and all the agents and editors were looking for chick lit. A bunch of books were quickly bought and soon brightly-colored covers dominated the trade table at my local Borders.

For a time, these books did very well which spurred even more sales because the demand was fierce, readers couldn’t get enough of these sassy, fun, ironic stories with heroines they related to. But as the supply increased, the books were scheduled further back on the publishing calendar–eighteen months and two years are not uncommon wait times from sale to print.

Now, chick lit isn’t being bought up in vast numbers. Some authors are finding it hard to make that second or third sale. People are calling the market “tight” or “falling.”

I would argue that while selling might be more difficult today than before, the market is not falling. It’s healthy and robust. The simple answer is that supply has met demand. For a brief time, there chick lit saturated the market–supply was greater than demand–so the market pulled back slightly. Now, publishers are looking at the numbers and the trends and determining that readers will purchase X number of chick lit books per month/year and they are adjusting their future purchases because of it. I have read many recent chick lit first sales. The market is not dead. But I’ll bet these new books have a twist, something a little different, and will be marketed slightly different than the chick lits of the recent past.

Good books will sell if they meet the right editor at the right time, no matter what the genre. This is the “luck” factor.

Romantic suspense went through the same growing pains as chick lit. In the mid-late 90s, readers couldn’t get enough romantic suspense. Some writers switched genres, some very successfully, some not. Editors and agents were grabbing up RS all over the place.

The market leveled out, supply met demand — readers had what they wanted.

I was told that romantic suspense was dead, tight, “impossible” for a new author to sell in. But the truth is, there were still all those RS readers out there–they never changed. They still love RS books, and new authors are still being published–just not in the numbers when the market was “hot.” They are being fit in because they offer a new voice, a different twist, or a really good story. And I’d argue that’s the same as historical romances. People still buy them, but the market was saturated for a time and needed to balance out. I just heard about a great, three-book historical sale. The market is balanced, not dead.

The same thing will happen to paranormal and erotic romances. At some point, the readers will have what they want and happily continue to buy their favorite authors, and occasionally pick up a new author. Two years from now, I’ll hear about all the paranormal and erotic authors who tell me that the market is “falling” and I’ll go through all this again.

I think the worst thing an author can do to herself is try to write something that isn’t her voice. When one market is hot, trying to write to that market. I’d argue that sometimes writers need to change with the times, but they can do so without giving up their voice. The blending of genres is quite successful and are usually the breakout novels, particularly for romance writers. Sometimes, it’s finding the right blend for your unique voice. So if I find that my RS sales over time are flat or falling, I won’t jump ship and write chick lit. I can’t. My voice doesn’t fit. But if the historical market is starting to rise, I might take my natural suspense voice and put it in a different time.

Supply and demand. It makes the world go round.