Friday, September 7, 2007

An un-scientific study of "what sells"

I enjoy looking at the bestseller lists not only to see who's doing what, but also what types of books are doing well. I grabbed some info on the USA Today bestselling romances for the entire month of August 2007, and did a quick and dirty analysis:

In the top 50

Almost Dead, Lisa Jackson (Zebra) -- Suspense

Ricochet, Sandra Brown (Pocket) -- Suspense

Dakota Born, Debbie Macomber (MIRA) -- Contemporary

The MacGregor Brides, Nora Roberts (Silhouette) -- Contemporary

Dockside, Susan Wiggs (MIRA) -- Contemporary

Tangled Up In You, Rachel Gibson (Avon) -- Contemporary

High Noon, Nora Roberts (Putnam) -- Suspense

The Devilish Pleasures of a Duke, Jillian Hunter (Ballantine) -- Historical

Into the Storm, Suzanne Brockmann (Ballantine) -- Suspense

Devil May Cry, Sherrilyn Kenyon (St. Martin's) -- Paranormal

Touch of Darkness, Christina Dodd (Signet) -- Paranormal

Tanner's Scheme, Lora Leigh (Berkley) -- Paranormal

Play Dirty, Sandra Brown (Simon & Schuster) -- Suspense

Force of Nature, Suzanne Brockmann (Ballantine) -- Suspense

To Scotland, With Love, Karen Hawkins (Pocket) -- Historical

Numbers 51-150

Never Deceive a Duke, Liz Carlyle (Pocket) -- Historical

Country Brides, Debbie Macomber (MIRA) -- Contemporary

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, Julia Quinn (Avon) -- Historical

The Perfect Bride, Brenda Joyce (HQN) -- Historical

Up Close and Dangerous, Linda Howard (Ballantine) -- Suspense

Twice the Temptation, Suzanne Enoch (Avon) -- Historical

Angels Fall, Nora Roberts (Jove) -- Suspense

Highlander Untamed, Monica McCarty (Ballantine) -- Historical

Mercy, Julie Garwood (Pocket) -- Suspense

The Pleasure Trap, Elizabeth Thornton (Bantam) -- Historical

Hidden Moon, Lori Handeland (St. Martin's) -- Paranormal

Immortals: The Awakening, Joy Nash (Leisure) -- Paranormal

Scent of Darkness, Christina Dodd (Signet) -- Paranormal

On the Prowl, Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, Sunny (Berkley) --
Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

(The subgenre labels are mine, so if I've erred, please correct me. Also, some of these books have been on USA Today for more than a month, so they might be 51-150 here, but were in the top 50 last month.)

Totals: 29 Titles

Contemporary: 5 (four in top 50)

Paranormal: 7 (three in top 50)

Historical: 8 (two in top 50)

Rom. Suspense (or Suspense): 10 (seven in top 50)

Based on the numbers alone, you might be tempted to say: "Rom. Sus. is rocking and rolling and paranormal is dying. I'm switching to rom. sus!"

But, look again--Most of the rom. sus. books on this list are by well-established authors: Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Suzanne Brockman, Nora Roberts. Lisa Jackson is a relative newcomer, and she's been publishing since 1998.

Next look at paranormals: Seven overall and only three in the top fifty, but almost all these authors are relative newcomers. (Christina Dodd is the exception, but she's a newcomer in the field.) This is Joy Nash's first contemp. paranormal (she's done two historicals). Lori Hadeland is relatively new, as is Patricia Briggs and others in her anthlogy. Likewise, Lora Leigh is relatively new, though she had an established audience in e-published erotic romance. ("Relatively" means began their careers within the last five years.)

What that tells me is that in paranormal an author does not already have to have a long, well-established career to make the bestseller lists. Readers are buying these books for the subject matter, not just the author. More new and relatively new authors who leapt quickly to bestsellerdom in paranormal are Angela Knight, Cheyenne McCray, Katie Macalister, Jacqueline Frank, and many others.

In suspense? I'm not seeing any newbies hitting hard. (Although Cheyenne McCray's first suspense, Chosen Prey, hit USA Today when it came out, and she reports that it sold very, very well. And like Lora Leigh, Cheyenne was well-established in e-published erotic romance before she moved to St. Martin's Press.)

From talking with other suspense authors who haven't hit the lists yet, I'm sensing that readers are following authors who are well-established rather than picking up a book simply because it's a rom. sus.

Turning to historicals, I see a good mix of well-established, relatively new, and new authors in the mix. That tells me that historicals are still holding their own even if they're not the hottest subgenre in town.

(I never listened to those who said that historicals were dead--I started publishing historical romance in 2002 and my historical sales have climbed a fairly steady slope. Of course, as soon as I wrote paranormals--bang, USA Today bestseller. Hmm.)

But historicals hold their own. They've been around a long, long time, while paranormal and rom. sus. have both boomed, busted, and boomed again.

The only weak spot I see in this list is contemporary (non-suspsense). These authors: Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Rachel Gibson, and Susan Wiggs have well-established careers, and it's no surprise their books hit. Rachel Gibson is the newest, publishing since about 1998. Now, these authors sell gobs of books, but I don't see contemporary single title as a place where newcomers can spring onto the scene as a bestseller. Like suspense, I suspect it's a subgenre where you need to bulid readers before you're a hit.

My conclusions?

Paranormal is where newcomers can make a splash. (Can they stay a splash? That remains to be seen.)

Historical is also a good inroad, and is a subgenre that's proved it can stay throughout market ups and downs. New authors can make a good start in historical.

Suspense and contemporary? I'd suggest authors start in category in these two subgenres and work their way up, or start in e-publishing and establish a strong following before breaking in with a NY publisher.

Again, these are just my thoughts while musing over lists, based on a snapshot of what hit in August 2007. Take with a grain of salt and form your own conclusions!


Gillian said...

Thanks SO much for sharing your insights about this list and what it might mean to all of us.

I would be able to compile the numbers, but I wouldn't have made the connection between the "newbie's" and the established writers.

Great job!

Jennifer Ashley said...

Hope it's helpful! I know so many authors now that I know who's brand new and who's established. And I'm nosy. :-) It's encouraging to me that new people are doing well, which means that the publishing industry is not the "closed world" a lot of people think it is. Not that it's *easy* to break in, but it's not impossible.

Colleen Thompson said...

I totally agree, Jenn, that watching where new writers make their mark is the best way to track a trend. But I look at each of those established rom. susp. writers and realize that most worked a lot of years to develop a big enough following to make it big. Slow and steady improvement often works out in the long haul. Or at least that's what I'm hoping. :)

Jennifer Ashley said...

I should add Allison Brennan to the short list of newcomers to the rom. suspense field who are really making a splash. She rose very fast.