Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of the Mainstream

My writing time yesterday was diminished by having to go to the FedEx place to send some documents to Hollywood. I felt so very Important and Glamorous to be filling out a FedEx label addressed to Universal Pictures. I kind of wished that someone else would be there reading over my shoulder to see that I was sending something to Universal Pictures. What's the point of being Important and Glamorous if nobody notices?

But now I'm back to the real world, where I need to be writing a book so I can get published again. And I have come to the somewhat disheartening conclusion that I will likely never be a bestselling author, at least, not until publishing trends change. This is not because I don't think I'm any good as a writer or that I don't write good books. It's more that I suspect I will remain the kind of author who's popular within a niche without having mass appeal.

I came to this conclusion based on my reading tastes, as I seem to be in the minority for most of the stuff I enjoy reading. I don't like most of the bestselling books, and I've found when I check Amazon reviews that the books I've read and think "Huh? This got published?" have a lot of glowing reader reviews, while books I love often have a very "Meh" response. I really am not the kind of person who automatically dismisses anything popular just because it's popular. In fact, I'll usually give things that are really popular a try, even if it's just as market research so I can get a sense of what people are reading and becoming obsessed with. If I don't like the stuff that sells well, it stands to reason that what I write won't be a smash hit.

But instead of going by a vague sense, I thought I'd get hard facts. I started with the USA Today bestseller list because it covers 150 slots, is based on actual sales instead of projected sales (like the New York Times list) and includes all genres and formats. I found nine books on that list that I thought I might be somewhat interested in checking out of the library, and only two of those were in the top 30. I found one book I might have been interested in buying (but after I read more about it, I moved it to the "might look for at the library" list). There were seven I'd read already, and all of those were more than a year old. I wrote down three titles in my "things I'd like to read" list. I did notice that very little science fiction and fantasy was on this list, other than YA titles.

On the Publisher's Weekly lists, there were three adult hardcovers I might look for at the library, one mass market whose hardcover I might look for at the library and two children's/teen fiction books I might look for at the library, all of which corresponded with titles I'd already noted on the USA Today list. There were none I'd consider buying. On their library "most borrowed" lists, there was one I might check out and one I'd read.

So I moved over to Locus, which tracks bestsellers in science fiction and fantasy, and I had zero interest in anything on their list, mostly because they were almost all vampire books (and about half the list was various editions of the Twilight series). I did find one book I might look for on the January new releases list, but it wasn't an "I must go to the store now!" level of interest.

To get deeper into genre, I went to Amazon, which has some branches of genre bestseller lists. On the fantasy/science fiction list, there was one book in the top 25 that I might read someday (it's a later book in a series, and I haven't caught up on that series yet -- it's a series I like, but can only handle in small doses in certain moods). There was one book on the next 25 that I might be interested in. I skimmed around on the "Wizards and Magic" and "Fairies and Elves" lists, but anything I found interesting I'd already read. However, the Amazon lists are somewhat skewed by the cheap or free Kindle books, so that books I've never heard of were top "sellers" because they were free downloads.

This coincides with my experience the last time I went to the bookstore with a coupon and a desire to spend money but ended up buying backlist titles. They just aren't publishing a lot right now that I like, which makes me wonder if they'll like what I write -- unless things are starting to shift behind the scenes and they're maybe starting to look for something different.

On the other hand, the response to the Enchanted, Inc. series has been overwhelmingly positive, and the first book is still selling steadily, five years after publication. People who read it seem to like it, so it's possible that it would have been a bestseller if more people had heard of it -- maybe a different cover so that it didn't look so much like chick lit and had more of a fantasy flavor, maybe if it had been shelved in fantasy, maybe if it had been in mass market format, maybe if it had been more widely available. Or maybe the people who would have liked it did find it, and if it had been more widely available, everyone else would have hated it.

Ah well, maybe my time will come. Things always do change. In the meantime, it looks like I'll be doing a lot of re-reading books from years ago.

1 comment:

The Davenports said...

I've actually been thinking of this lately, wondering why the genres and styles you speek of aren't more popluar. I have a couple book ideas in mind (I'm an aspiring author), but don't how far they'd go because they fall into that category. Why is it that in order to sell, a sci-fi/fantasy has to be a YA? Oh well. I'm still going to attempt it and hope someday that'll change. :)