Thursday, April 23, 2015
Road Trip 2: The Search for Paperbacks
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I don’t know how many writers are reading this, or how you go about doing market research, but here’s a tale of some impromptu research my car and I did over the past two weeks. I burned up a lot of gas and learned a few troubling facts about my chosen market. To wit:
It all started last year, when I went to the local KMart and discovered Harlequin Nocturne (their paranormal line) was now being packaged as doubles, one thick book containing two novels by the same or two different authors. No more single titles? Huh. Okay. I don’t buy that many anyway. There was a time I’d considered subbing to the Nocturne line, but I couldn’t write a book that was long enough, or dark enough. That twisted humor of mine kept sneaking in. However, I read a few to get the idea of what they wanted, and found some authors I enjoyed reading, even if I was never able to join them. So now they’re doubles? Okay, no big deal.
Recently, however, I went on the Harlequin site and discovered single Nocturne titles are still being published. Not just as ebooks, either. In paperback. You can order them on the Harlequin site or from Amazon, where I went to double-check. On top of that, one my favorite writers had a new book out. Why can’t I get it from the bookstore shelves?
Because nobody’s carrying the single title Nocturnes any more, that’s why. I know. I looked. This is that story.
A bit of background first. I live in Lancaster County, PA, which has a large Amish and Mennonite population and is about as hardline religiously conservative as any Southern state you can name. Paranormal romance, erotic or vanilla, is not too welcome here. (No one seems to mind 50 Shades of Grey crowding the store shelves within easy reach of the kiddies, but that’s different. That one earns Big Bucks.) If Nocturnes were difficult to find in my area, I never considered that surprising. The surprises started when I roamed afield to the neighboring counties (Berks, Lebanon and York), and none of them were pleasant.
Just to be safe, I started my search outside Lancaster County. Berks has a Kmart, a WalMart, and a Barnes & Noble, just like us. The KMart only carried Nocturne doubles. The WalMart carries Harlequins, but not the Nocturne line. The Berks Barnes & Noble was also Nocturne-free. Lancaster’s B&N dropped Nocturne from its shelves a while ago. I didn’t realize until then the drop might be chain-wide. The Target didn't carry Harlequins at all.
The next day I tried my other neighboring county, Lebanon. The KMart only had doubles. I skipped the Lebanon WalMart because it was off my planned route. My target was an indie bookstore in one of Lebanon’s malls. It was there last year. It isn’t now. The Sprint store that replaced it wasn’t helpful, so I moved on.
My next stop was a news store two towns down the road. This one carried a large selection of books and magazines, once upon a time. Not any more. The shelf space devoted to reading has been shrinking as the gift-shop aspect takes over. They still carry books, but not Harlequins of any kind, let alone Nocturne. By next year I doubt if they’ll even carry books, beyond the ubiquitous best-sellers.
On to the next county, York. York has a Books A Million in what used to be a Borders. Lancaster used to have a Books A Million in the Park City Mall, but it’s closed now. The mall which at one time housed three bookstores now has none that I’m aware of. My favorite news store still exists, but it too is transitioning into a gift shop. They only carry used books anyway.
Over in York I found the Books A Million not exactly doing a brisk business. On the other hand, it was a weekday. Books A Million carried Nocturne, but only the doubles, not singles. If I were to sell a manuscript to Nocturne tomorrow, the only place I could buy my own book would be off the Internet, unless I want to wait for it to be included in a double. That assumes the line’s even still going in the year or two it takes a printed book to get to market. Doesn’t sound too encouraging, does it?
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So here’s my takeaway from three days of road-tripping. Make of it what you will.
The market for paranormal romance may be waning, at least as far as Harlequin is concerned. Paranormals from other publishers are still out there, but are they from new writers or only from established, best-selling authors? That was something I forgot to check. I know that fewer venues are even offering Nocturnes now, which leads to fewer sales, which leads to eventual cancellation. You can’t buy something if you can’t find it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Bookstores themselves appear to be on the wane. Two good-sized stores that were operating last year are gone now. The shutting of the Books A Million at Park City means Barnes & Noble is now the only major bookstore in all of Lancaster County. B&N, as previously noted, stopped carrying Nocturnes some time ago, as did WalMart. Stores want to stock what sells.
If you’re looking for good news, here’s a tidbit: B&N and BAM both had a lot of shelf space devoted to Young Adult novels. Paranormal’s getting sparse there, too. Oversaturation thanks to Twilight. The big deal now appears to be Fantasy With Powers, or Game of Thrones/X-Men mashups. I’m reading yet another one right now. I might have a few words to say on that subject next week.
Oh, and Books A Million, whose bread and butter stems from books, does not carry any writers’ magazines. Wonder what that’s supposed to indicate?
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My debut self-published novel? It’s a paranormal romance. Not even erotic. There’s a lot of shape-shifting but very little sex. Am I shooting myself in the foot? Dunno. I know M/M’s still big. I may start easing over into M/M contemporary. I’m also going to think more seriously about those YA ideas I have percolating. Mine are more SF flavored, contemporary with powers. I haven’t seen too many of those yet. Maybe I can kick off a trend.