Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Paranormals by the (Unscientific) Numbers

Jane’s Note: Someone more adept at gathering and collating information contacted me about doing a guest post on paranormal books from the perspective of what editors are buying. The numbers were interesting and I was glad to post the following:

Paranormal has been the hot genre for years now – readers (and publishers) can't seem to get enough of books with vampires, shifters, ghosts, and just about anything else that can be made sexy and heroic. But is the market cooling on the paranormal trend? Are we about to see the genre go bust? I took it upon myself to do a little market research and see what I uncovered. As we go forward, please consider this article an opinion piece, as this is not scientific by any means.

In my eyes, there are three aspects of the "paranormal' marketplace – you have paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and YA paranormals. I believe that these three markets feed off of each other and there is crossover between all three groups. If this was a Venn Diagram, their circles would be incestuous indeed.

A Bookscan subscription is  really expensive and while that would be optimal to track how well paranormal books are selling, I decided on a different route. Instead, we'll look at what has been bought over the past few years and reported to Publisher's Marketplace.

This is where things get even more unscientific. A few caveats: not every agent/editor reports to Publisher's Marketplace. The occasional book is misclassified or it's impossible to tell what the genre will be when reading the blurb. Also, some extremely tiny publishers are included in PM, simply because anyone with a subscription and a sale (however iffy) can report to them.

For the purposes of this article, we're going to go off of information reported to PM that is easily classifiable as one of our three genres: Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, or YA Paranormal. We're also excluding certain small publishers because I'm more interested in tracking what the "Big NY Houses' are buying. The following small presses were excluded:

Excluded from Statistics
Drollerie Press Bad Moon Books
Genesis Press Wheatland Press
Cats Curious Press Small Beer Press
Farrago Press Edge Press
Circles of Gold Highland Press
A Wee Dram Apex
Regency Royale Golden Gryphon Press
Norilana Books BeWrite Books

Nothing wrong with these particular publishers in general – I'm looking at the larger market in general.

Let's examine Paranormal Romance, first. I compiled a spreadsheet and tracked every easily-identifiable PNR sale for the past 3 years, and compared it to how many sales were classified as romance by PM.

PNR

Paranormal had a slight uptick from 2007 to 2008. I thought this was interesting, given that the economy took a nosedive at the end of 2008. The number of deals in 2008 compared to 2007 jumped as well (313 in 2007, and 383 in 2008). However, in 2009, even more romances were being bought-but PNR specifically took a bit of a hit – dropping 4% in 2009.

Opinion: It looks as if the best time to sell a paranormal was in 2008. In 2009, the trend appears to be receding slightly, though still strong. But romance is also doing better than ever (a sure thing in this economy, perhaps).

Now, let's take a look at Urban Fantasy:

I've heard both that Urban Fantasy is either Red Hot or Totally Flat, depending on who you talk to. The numbers look as if 2008 was the best time to sell an urban fantasy. The most interesting thing is the percentage of SFF/Fantasy novels sold in comparison to the rest of the genre. UF has been steadily climbing, percentage-wise.

Opinion: Given that there are a lot of sub-genres in SFF (steampunk, dystopian, epic fantasy, military SF), I'm guessing that if you want to be published on the SFF shelves, your odds are best on an urban fantasy.

Now let's take a look at Paranormal YA.

YA has been exploding in the last few years, and the numbers certainly seem to follow. The number of YA books bought keeps trending steadily upward, and the number of paranormals has also trended upward in the last year.

Opinion: I am totally not surprised by these results.

Given that all of this is hand-wavy scientific, I nevertheless thought this was interesting information. I took things one step further and asked both a well-known agent and an editor at a major NY publisher for their opinions on the state of the Paranormal market (such as it is).

Here are their answers:

Me: As an agent, do you find that it’s harder to sell paranormal romance currently than in the past few years? If so, why is that?

Well-Known Agent: No–the sales for it have been strong so houses are willing to keep acquiring.

Me: What do you think of the UF market overall? We’ve been hearing rumors of it being tight/flat for a while.

WKA: I have found this to be true, particularly with houses that publish UF as part of SFF rather than romance–as the trend has matured houses have found their successes and so a project has to fill a very specific niche and be executed at a higher level than ever before to convince the team it’s a smart acquisition.

Me: YA continues to grow – both in paranormal and overall titles. Do you think this is going to cut into the market/available slots for adult paranormal/UF or do you think the two do not intersect in any way?

WKA: Because of shelving, I don’t think it will. Different bookstore buyers, different publishers–even if there’s reader overlap, from a business standpoint I think they will stay distinct.

I asked the same questions to the Big Fancy NY Editor:

Me: As an editor, do you find that you are buying more or less paranormal romance currently than in the past few years? If so, why is that?

Big Fancy NY Editor: Overall, we’re buying a little less paranormal, but we’re publishing about the same if not more than 2 years ago.   I definitely think it’s harder to sell paranormal now than it was 2 years ago.

Me: What do you think of the UF market overall? We’ve been hearing rumors of it being tight/flat for a while.

BFNYE: Like paranormal, I think UF is flat–there’s a lot of choice in UF for readers to choose from, and many are exercising that right to choice rather than just buying everything in this area that’s published.

Me: YA continues to grow – both in paranormal and overall titles. Do you think this is going to cut into the market/available slots for adult paranormal/UF or do you think the two do not intersect in any way?

BFNYE: I don’t think acquisitions for YA paranormal really impact acquisitions on the adult side because although we’re hoping for crossover, we know YA is a completely different market, and YA has the advantage of having new readers every few years.   Hopefully the YA readers weaned on paranormal will continue to seek out paranormal in adult books, but there’s no guarantee since they’re also the readers most likely to suffer burn out.

Again, these results are completely unscientific, and this article is meant to engender conversation more than anything else. What do you think of paranormal trends, as readers? Is there a particular one of the three (paranormal/UF/YAUF) that you are tired of? Or is there always room for more?

Anonymous Numbers Geek

Guest Reviewer

19 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention Paranormals by the (Unscientific) Numbers | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    May 11, 2010 @ 04:09:40

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dearauthor. dearauthor said: New post: Paranormals by the (Unscientific) Numbers http://bit.ly/dz8k8M [...]

  2. Jane
    May 11, 2010 @ 08:25:31

    I don’t know why I am surprised that UF makes up nearly half of all submissions purchased in the SFF subgenre, but seeing the number is still surprising.

    Additionally, I am surprised that paranormals only make up about a quarter of overall romance sales given that the shelves seem bursting with PNR. Maybe we won’t see a shelving change for a few years.

    ReplyReply

  3. Shuzluva
    May 11, 2010 @ 09:26:48

    I don't know why I am surprised that UF makes up nearly half of all submissions purchased in the SFF subgenre, but seeing the number is still surprising.

    I agree. I feel like paranormals (versus UF and all of its subgenres) seem to be overloading the shelves from a visual standpoint. As far as the anecdotal responses from WKA and BFNYE, neither surprises me. I think there’s still a large readership for PNR overall.

    Regarding personal preference, I have certain PNR authors that I pick up at the drop of a hat, but at heart I am of the SFF subgenre variety (straight space opera, steampunk). These subgenres IMO, seem to be more difficult to find since I feel that there has been so much focus on paranormals. However, I admit that of that subgenre I am seriously picky. Lord of the Rings was fabulous, but I’ve got no desire to pick up George R. R. Martin or delve into any epic fantasy romance.

    ReplyReply

  4. XandraG
    May 11, 2010 @ 10:04:51

    It’d be interesting to puzzle out how this translates to reality on the shelves. Does the classification of “paranormal romance” encompass all romances with even a slight hint of paranormal-ness, or only ones with a definite pnr throughline? And are all the non-paranormal/UF books shelved in the same areas as the romance/SFF? Or are some of them finding their way to General Fiction or other areas? Publishers are publishing, but are booksellers buying? Are they showcasing? Are there more titles seeing sales, but fewer sales per title? Or is movement limited to the bestsellers/established series?

    The trend-geek in me loves this stuff.

    ReplyReply

  5. readerdiane
    May 11, 2010 @ 10:16:39

    I find that the paranormals are getting darker and that I am not enjoying them as much. It is making me switch my reading to more mystery & even back to historical.

    ReplyReply

  6. Monique
    May 11, 2010 @ 10:19:31

    I think this is a great topic for discussion. As someone who is generally heavy into both the fantasy and the romance genres, the past few years have been amazing for me. But, what I see now is a glut of this on shelves. As an adult (I think it’s harder to figure out on the YA side), I know I am tired of the paranormal romances. I really want my local bookstore to put something else on the shelves. A good historical would be nice, a good Regency would be even better because they don’t stock them at all.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the paranormal romances are more being pushed on us now. Though obviously they are being bought.

    On the YA side, I think the trend will continue to grow and flourish, mostly because there is a huge appetite for fantasy in the minds of young adults.

    ReplyReply

  7. katiebabs
    May 11, 2010 @ 10:22:25

    I can see Paranormal or Urban Fantasy YA to explode even more so in the next coming years.

    Great chart and interviews.

    ReplyReply

  8. Kalen Hughes
    May 11, 2010 @ 10:25:42

    @Jane:

    I am surprised that paranormals only make up about a quarter of overall romance sales given that the shelves seem bursting with PNR.

    I think the rate you’re seeing on Publisher's Marketplace may actually be high . . . everything I’ve seen and heard the past few years is that PNR is only about 8-10% of romance and that it’s flat or decreasing right now (of course this # may look artificially low because of category books; or it may look artfully high because you're including UF). A lot of agents don't report to PM at all (mine rarely does; usually only if you ask her to), or they only report their really big deals.

    ReplyReply

  9. Heather Massey
    May 11, 2010 @ 11:47:18

    I would love to see paranormal romance evolve into more than just vampires, werewolves, and demons. That umbrella refers also to SF and fantasy as well. These two subgenres are ripe for exploring further.

    Horror based paranormal is great, but it seems to me that it somehow became whittled down to just a few types of settings, heroes, and heroines. I’m hoping to see experimentation with a variety of characters and relationship dynamics in exotic settings.

    In particular, I’m hungry for more science fiction romance books and all of the types of stories possible with it (e.g., steampunk, military SF, space opera, near future, cyberpunk, superhuman, etc.).

    I’m curious to hear about what readers here are looking for in stories that they haven’t found yet in paranormal romance.

    ReplyReply

  10. Kim T
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:32:04

    I’m with Heather. I love paranormal and urban fantasy but am getting tired of the same vampire, werewolve or demon tropes. I’d like to see more futuristics and lots more psychic stories. It just seems that they are all “sounding” the same. And I’m totally over first person – I’ve gone back to third person and multiple view points.

    I’m curious, too, what do readers look for they haven’t found? Or, what would you like to see less of?

    ReplyReply

  11. Monique
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:33:12

    @Heather: Hmmm some authors that have delved into those subgenres with romance include Eve Silver (as Eve Kenin), Liz Maverick and Michelle Rowan. The old SHOMI line from Dorchester was great for this and I really enjoyed those books. I was sorry to see that discontinued.

    ReplyReply

  12. Megan
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:33:20

    One reason for the discrepancy between PNR on shelves and number of deals might simply be the number of books included in each deal (this study appears to count deals, not books). If every PNR sale is a 3-book deal and other genres are only a 1 or 2-book deal, that makes a big difference in what ends up in the bookstore.

    ReplyReply

  13. Leah Hultenschmidt
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:34:36

    Another thing to keep in mind is that what the agent reporting to PM might classify as UF could end up sold as Paranormal Romance by the publisher. Just another kink to throw into the works, but all in all, great work!

    ReplyReply

  14. Maili
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:51:58

    @Heather Massey:

    I'm curious to hear about what readers here are looking for in stories that they haven't found yet in paranormal romance.

    Ghosts. (Well, in context of horror.) There were some interesting ones in the past, but I haven’t seen any lately.

    I think the last ones I read were Linda Fallon’s ‘Shades’ trilogy, which features American Victorian-era “paranormal investigator” (read: ghost hunter) hero. I think Anne Stuart has some in a couple of her category romances and one single title (Shadows at Sunset?). Neither is horror, though.

    I’d love to see more horror/supernatural romances. I don’t think I’d even come across one. Not for ages, anyway. Some say it’s impossible, but I don’t see how. Authors manage to write Romantic Suspense and SF romance, so why not try horror/supernatural romance?

    ReplyReply

  15. Dishonor
    May 11, 2010 @ 16:54:07

    @Shuzluva: As a devoted SF/F fan with a rabid Lord of the Rings devotion complex, I can definitely sympathize. For me too, there are some Paranormal series that I will pick up because I remember liking earlier books (like Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunters series), but all in all, I still love my traditional high fantasy best. George R. R. Martin’s success has, I think, beaten back more conventional epic fantasy, and for me, that’s a bit of a tragedy.

    ReplyReply

  16. Evangeline
    May 11, 2010 @ 19:29:11

    I can’t get enough urban fantasy, even though much of what’s been published since its explosion in popularity has been largely derivative of the big names–but I have found a few gems. As for the paranormal glut, I certainly can’t tell the genre only makes up 8-10% of sales! When I walk past the romance and sf/f sections of a bookstore or a book department, all I see are dozens of covers where tattooed men and women stare at me in a variety of menacing stances and holding a variety of weapons.

    But then again, when I look at the historical romances sitting beside them, all I see are the same old Regencies and faux-Scottish historicals, with a smattering of Victorian historical romances, so really, would the reduction of paranormals on the market result in s vaster number of other romance sub-genres? And didn’t we say the same things five or six years ago when the market was glutted with Regency historicals (of the Julia Quinn or spy oeuvre)?

    ReplyReply

  17. Paranormals vs Genre : Tarleton Books | audacter et sincere
    May 11, 2010 @ 19:44:43

    [...] at Dear Author put together an interesting little study of paranormal romance/urban fantasy/paranormal YA on our [...]

  18. Heather Massey
    May 11, 2010 @ 19:47:32

    @Monique Thanks for the recs–I did know about Kenin et al (I have to chuckle because seeing as my blog is devoted to SFR, I’d *better* be familiar with books in the subgenre, LOL!). Fwiw, I recently finished TSUNAMI BLUE by Gayle Ann Williams, which would probably have been a Shomi title. Fun story.

    I'd love to see more horror/supernatural romances.

    Me, too, and I’d love to see ones with scary/disturbing content.

    And didn't we say the same things five or six years ago

    Makes me wonder what we’ll be saying five or six years from now, given the rise of ebooks.

    ReplyReply

  19. Kimber An
    May 11, 2010 @ 19:53:49

    I’m afraid to say what I think about this on a public forum. However, I will say one thing.

    The market is saturated with all the above and it seems to me readers are having a harder time finding the stories they’ll love because of it.

    It’s an Endless Parade of Sameness. How in heck do they pick out something new and interesting? Book reviewers like Dear Author are essential right now.

    This leads me to conclude that another *phenomena* is about to happen; you know, a Harry Potter kind of phenomena.

    Don’t know what. I’m just following the ebb and flow over the past decade or so.

    No. I don’t think it’s my story either. Mine are too far off the curve.

    But, something’s gonna blow soon, methinks.
    ;)

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply


+ 7 = 10

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: