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.