Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gender, Demographics and other BIG Words

To one of the many Anonymi (or is it Anonymouses?):

Q:But it would be useful to have a breakdown by gender and other demographics along with sales figures.

A: You bet tracking sales this way would be useful. As far as gender and other demographics, there have been studies done on these as well as how long a potential bookstore customer spends with a book before buying it or putting it back on the shelf. This information, most of which can be found on the Web, comes from studies done by universities and marketing people. On a side note, if you have loads of money, you can subscribe to a service called Nielsen Bookscan, which provides sales figures only. I’ve had some editors share sales numbers contained there with me and found them not to be too accurate, though, as NB doesn’t seem to track sales made to libraries, for one thing or self-published books, books from certain major department stores, etc.

Q: As a follow up question, are the readers of Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, John Grisham, Stephen King, and Jeffrey Archer then predominantly women? Or are they the exception that proves the rule?

A: No, these readers are predominantly men, and it takes only a few established authors in these areas to write enough to satisfy the dwindling male audience. No one said that men never read fiction, but that they prefer non-fiction to fiction or the ratio of women to men who read fiction is greater. When you speak of Tom Clancy, et al, you are speaking of established authors with very large audiences and in these there are probably women. Consider that many authors, such as Clancy, began their careers years ago when the whole publishing dynamic was much different. For instance, men used to read more fiction than women. Men read action magazines and action adventure and western novels, as well as horror, science fiction, etc. There was also a huge mid-list market years ago that is not there anymore. Things have changed. The mid-list is long dead.

I’d venture to say that writers like Clancy and Cussler would have an even harder time getting published today than they originally did. One big factor to take into consideration is that fiction, as a whole, is a shrinking, not a growing, dynamic market. This means that there are already enough established authors to fill editor’s lists without searching for new blood. Markets do open up, such as Chick-lit did a few years ago; however, these markets are quickly filled with authors who will continue to write in these areas. If you are not one of the authors who shakes out of the crowd early on, then that market fills up around and without you.

One place that can tell you quite a bit about categories that are selling is to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace. The cost is $20 per month for this online service. It doesn’t give sales numbers, but it does give the subscriber an idea of what is selling and what is not.


DanStrohschein said...

Why is the fiction market shrinking? Are we as a human species no longer interested in entertaining stories?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Dan: To answer your question, I Googled using the question, "Are Fiction Markets Shrinking?" a moment ago and what came up was an essay in the New York Times by Rachel Donadio entitled, "Truth Is Stranger Then Fiction." One part of this article reads: ''We're in a dark cultural moment. I think people seem to feel more comfortable with nonfiction,'' said Adrienne Miller, a novelist and the literary editor of Esquire. ''The tragic theme here is that literary fiction has very limited cultural currency now. Fewer and fewer people seem to believe fiction is still essential for our emotional and intellectual survival.''

The complete essay can be found at: pagewanted=1&ei=5070&en=303060376a9396dd&ex=1158120000

I'm sure much more can be found on this subject by digging around in Google using different statements and questions concerning this problem.

As for myself, as a literary agent, I'm seeing this shrinkage occur one genre at a time. For instance, during the life of our agency (about eight years), I've seen the mystery genre go from booming to practically nothing as far as major markets are concerned. Also, as I mentioned before, the midlist, which contained the bulk of fiction in the 1950's and 1960's is now gone, replaced mainly by genre fiction.
The biggest danger that I see is that young people are not reading, so when those who now read fiction are gone, who will replace them?

DanStrohschein said...

I have noticed this in my favorite genre, the horror genre, as well. I also agree with the comment about young people. We have so much to compete with, nowadays - Video games, 700 TV channels, The internet - It's difficult for a book that requires some level of concentration to compete with things that require none. But it is our job as writers to find a way to market our books properly against that competition. Frank Beddor just released "The Looking Glass Wars", a superb novel, and along with it, he released a soundtrack. It was well done, and an interesting marketing ploy. I am looking forward to seeing how well it does for him.

My personal view is that, in order to combat this, writers must find ways to market themselves better. Writers can't just be writers like they could 20 years ago. Now we must be sales and marketing people as well. We need to find ways to co-exist with our competition, and maybe even USE the competition to help us. Successes such as Harry Potter and Dan Brown show that there is still a huge fiction market out there, if we know or have the key to unlock it properly. That key is harder to find now, but it is possible.