Thursday, April 23, 2015

Road Trip 2: The Search for Paperbacks

First, an update on my self-publishing venture. I finally finished the clean-up edits and got all the chapters together into one big file. Now I need to read over the Smashwords style guide again before I actually do anything. Then it’s dive into the deep end of the formatting pool. I don’t know how long this will take me, but I’ve reached the point where there’s no turning back. More on this venture to come.

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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.


Savanna Kougar said...

To find out more useful info about what's selling, why not check the online sellers, like Amazon... could be that marketplace is still strong as far as paranormal romance... seems to me new titles abound, and that could be part of the problem. There's a whole lot to choose from, and a whole lot of niche genres out there.

On the Indie loop I have noticed anyone saying there are lesser sales of paranormal romance. I will say, I believe erotic paranormal romance, which covers an immense amount of groud including fantasy, is selling.

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, as far as formatting, you need to use times roman 12 for ebooks, and strip your original formatting out.

Pat C. said...

I'm reporting my personal experience. I, the casual reader browsing a chain store's book department, couldn't find a book on the stands that was available there last year. What other conclusion could I jump to? The Casual Reader isn't going to check Amazon's sales, or hop in the car and drive around the way I did. They're going to shrug and buy something else. Or nothing. Nocturne isn't offered in B&N or WalMart any more, and it used to be. You can't buy what isn't there. Eventually sales will drop to the point it'll only be available online, or not at all. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The good news is, the guys in the comic store told me the Books A Million in Park City will be reopening in the fall. They lost their space to another store that was expanding. They're holding off a return until they can get a similar-sized space. Until then, the only large bookstore in Lancaster County remains B&N. If people can't find what they want on the shelves, they'll go online. Maybe they're doing that now.

My search was for Nocturne single paperbacks. I couldn't find any. Obviously Nocturnes (not necessarily all paranormals) weren't selling well enough for B&N and WalMart to keep them stocked, which is why I can't find them any more. I wish somebody from another state would report in. I'm not going to drive down to New Jersey just to check out a theory. Not until it's warm enough to hit the beach, at least.

I was planning on Times Roman 12 pt. anyway; that's my default font. The file right now is in Calibri, which doesn't use smart quotes. If I turn off the "smart quotes" feature before I switch fonts, that should save me a lot of trouble.

Pat C. said...

One last question: should I mark the book as "Adult" when I upload to Smashwords? It's pretty tame by romance standards, but there's still sex, swearing and nudity.

Savanna Kougar said...

I would assume Adult because of language and sex.

Yep, turn off "smart quotes".

I'm not certain how well Nocturne is doing anyway... whether on book shelves or online. My only point was that readers were possibly going online a lot more rather than purchasing at the vendors you mentioned, except for the big bookstores. That's all.

Recently there was info on the Indie loop about Createspace versus Ingram Spark, as far as print. Seems like the big stores won't stock Createsspace books, not because of quality, but they will order them for customers. However, in some instances they will stock Print books by Ingram Spark, which is more expensive to use.