What Publishers are Buying–And What They Aren’t

(And yes, there’s a giveaway today—read on!)

Urban fantasy and paranormal fiction has been the darling of publishing for the last few years, but a conversation with my agent earlier this week made me start wondering if the UF bubble has begun to deflate. As a writer of urban fantasy and paranormal romance this is Bad News. Of course, a writer never writes to the market but you can’t ignore it (especially if the number of adult authors flocking to ride the YA bandwagon is any indication).

So, like any self-respecting nerd looking for ways to procrastinate, I did a study of the genre fiction sales this past year, using data from Publisher’s Marketplace. I only looked at genre fiction, and discounted anthologies,Β  reprints of books by dead authors, and small limited-run editions such as those put out by Subterranean Press (however much I adore their books).

Here’s what I found in books sold between Dec. 15, 2009, and Dec. 15, 2010 (counting multiple-book deals as one sale):

Young Adult: 432
Romance/Women’s Fiction: 371
Mystery/Crime: 148
Inspirational: 145
Thrillers: 120
Urban Fantasy: 76
Science Fiction/Steampunk: 36
Horror: 13
Traditional Fantasy: 13

I’d have to do an analysis of the previous year to see trending, but overall throughout the year, there seemed to be a drop in urban fantasy while steampunk gave sci-fi a shot in the arm.

(The Young Adult numbers are mind-boggling to me. I’ve read some really good YA, but I’ve also read lots more that I just couldn’t identify with, being far-removed from the angst of teenhood.Β  When will that bubble burst, already? Surely saturation must be near at hand.)

Within Urban Fantasy, here’s the breakdown:
*Complex-worlds with multiple paranormal species: 24 sales (with NAL, Ace, Berkley, Prime and Night Shade most active)
*Angels/Demons: 18 sales (Tor, Pocket, Rock and Kensington most active)
*Werewolves/Shapeshifters: 11 sales (NAL most active)
*Witches/Wizards: 10 sales (Berkley and Pocket most active)
*Vampires: 7 sales (NAL most active)
*Ghosts: 6 sales (Tor most active)
*No zombies!

Most active publishers buying in Steampunk (Tor, HarperCollins Voyager and Ace)
Most active publishers buying Sci-Fi other than Steampunk (Tor, Baen, Daw, Roc and Del Rey)
Most active publishers buying traditional fantasy/romantic fantasy (Tor and Orbit)

What can we draw from all this? Probably not much, except that zombies might finally be dying, angels and demons are still hot, and vampires’ fangs are slipping. Complex worlds with those species are more seem to be doing best.

And now for the giveaway! To win a $15 Amazon e-giftcard for a book of your choice, just leave a comment!

72 thoughts on “What Publishers are Buying–And What They Aren’t

  1. I found that kinda surprising, but with all the teenage hype over movies these days, and honestly I don’t see adults buying as many books as they used to (economy and all), but they won’t deny their children happiness either so I can see the trend in teen novels soaring. But honestly I’m kinda over Zombie’s myself so bring on the Steampunk I say!

  2. Great. Post. Thank you. I too am wondering when the YA jag will end. I have no interest in teen angst written for adults. I lived through plenty of my own and don’t care to revisit. I’m so glad you decided to procrastinate and write this post. It’s very helpful.

  3. Very interesting and useful breakdown. My co-author and I are currently working through a paranormal police procedural, which we hope to sell as the first of a series (we have 7 books vaguely plotted).

    In these kinds of statistics, I wonder how many don’t-purchase-this decisions are based on what the market really wants, and how many are based on the fact that as writers flock to a genre/bandwagon, quality goes down ….

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!


  4. Very interesting. At least the vampires have slipped off. This gave me some insight about how to market my novel once I’m finish.

  5. I wonder how many of the YA’s are UF/PN…I mean, teams Edward and Jacob are still buying books.

    Also…this is what the publishers bought…what did the public buy? so, like, if there were only 12 adult PN’s bought by publishers, but they sold twenty bajillion copies each…

    I’m dizzy. But mark my words: Salt and Pepper Romance is going to be the next sub-genre.

  6. Interesting numbers. Zombies never die they just tend to rest every now and then waiting for a good time to rise and feed on the living again.

  7. Wow! Lots of great info here!!!

    Thanks for posting this Suzanne!!!

    I bet most of the YA was paranormal too. The kids are already in high school why would they want to read about it too? Add in some creatures and it’s a nice escape, right? πŸ™‚

    Thanks again for sharing this!


  8. I don’t see paranormal romance listed here. Where did you lump that in? YA? Romance? I’d like to see that broken out as a separate category.

  9. This is fascinating..but like others I’d love to see those YA figures broken down into sub-genres. It’s a very wide definition, and it includes a lot of paranormal/UF.

  10. I think that’s why I’ve been floundering. I want to write fantasy romance but there really isn’t a market. So I’ve tried other things but they aren’t what I want to write and so I never stick with them.

    I get the most excited about fantasy so next year…even if there isn’t a market, I’m going to be working on my fantasy stories.

  11. Huh. Not great news for me as a UF writer, but then again, I saw nothing in the stats about mythology-based worlds like mine (Egyptian pantheon) so I’m not about to panic yet! πŸ™‚

  12. Very interesting numbers, each house is specializing due to the demands of readers. 2,700 books are released daily into the mix besides these top publishers. I think Paranormal is very strong if there is an erotic romantic interest. Women want sex in their novels and great plots. I’m a little surprised about what I’m not seeing…where’s the faeries, I thought they had a niche. Oh well, I’m not going to write YA, I don’t remember all that angst, I’d need to take a Valium. No thanks, LOL.

  13. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    I plan to do a breakdown of YA to see how many of those are paranormals, but it’s such a huge chunk of data to go through I’m saving it for a separate post. It DOES include all genres, but my sense is that paranormal YAs are also giving way to more general-fiction YAs.

    I’ll also be dividing up urban fantasy and paranormal romance–I lumped them in one category. My guess is that PNR is still going strong as non-romantic UF is slipping. Stay tuned next week (when I’m off the day job) for more breakdowns!

  14. Oh, and I should add that the proliferation of small pub houses that aren’t necessarily included in the Publishers Marketplace data (Samhain, Ellora’s, etc) would really boost the paranormal romance numbers.

  15. I think one of the reasons that YA books are taking off is that with so many adult authors writting YA books a lot of adults are buying them. So they get a double audience.

    And I wonder what the breakdown would be if you incuded indie books.

  16. I’m surprised adult urban fantasy is as low as it is, but I’m not at all surprised YA is still leading the pack. I suspect urban fantasy is a bigger contributor to YA than it is to adult fiction.

    Excellent post. Thank you.

  17. Wow, thanks for the interesting breakdown! Can’t wait to see what your other post breakdowns will reveal. After my traditional fantasy romance series is done, I have several UF/PRN story-type ideas I plan on writing next.

  18. Hey Suzanne! Just my thoughts — in this economy, people are cutting back on the books they buy, however, while parents may not purchase books for themselves, they will certainly buy books for their teenagers to encourage good reading habits. I think that’s why YA is still going strong, especially with this economy — adults will still scrimp for themselves but spend for their kids. Not that I’ve done any scientific study on this, but I’ve just noticed it in the moms around me (and yes, myself!).

  19. Well, anonymous, according to some definitions of “YA” I’ve heard the target audience is as old as 21, and increasingly includes “edgy” content, so you may have some wiggle room about positioning a story for the YA market. Personally, I hate words like “edgy”.

    What is perhaps *most* discouraging about these figures is how thoroughly a fairly simplistic breakdown exhausts all the fantasy books published. Apparently, if a fantasy novel isn’t “traditional”, it is “urban”, and must contain paranormal species, angels/demons, werewolves, wizards, vampires, or ghosts.

    Really? That exhausts the possible scope of fantasy? I don’t think so.
    What if a fantasy book doesn’t fit in any of these pigeonholes? Can it be sold?

  20. And the trend is still dark? I read that also in your post. Love vamps, but angels kicking their butts, well that’s nice too! (As long as we loose the sparkle, the clouds and the choruses).

    Great information and I can’t wait for further breakdowns.

  21. Very interesting numbers. And thanks for the heads up on which houses are most active in each area. That is also helpful. To clarify though, someone like Lindsay Sands would fall under romance in this, not urban fantasy, right?

  22. I also want to see numbers on how many of those YA were paranormal vs. all the others! Might be a project for another day.

    As far as YA popularity, at least a third of YA book buyers are adults. I read a lot of YA myself, as do a lot of my friends. I think the crossover market has really boosted those numbers.

    Excellent post!

  23. Thanks for the very interesting breakdown. I was relieved to see that mystery/crime is near the top. Maybe there’s still a chance for me.


  24. Great insights. But it’s hard to predict what’s going to gain popularity. I never saw Twilight coming, and then vamps took over like mushrooms after the rain. So, just because YA is big right now, (I’m the one to ask, if I’m to judge by my niece, she’s proud of the fact that can barely read McDonald’s menue)sad but true, it doesn’t mean we should all scurry and start writing teenage things.

  25. Good points. I don’t think we write to the market because by the time our books are being submitted the market will have changed.

    I’ll post some further breakdowns next week on how the women’s fiction breaks down, for example, and how much of YA is paranormal, and break out paranormal romance vs urban fantasy.

  26. Great information, Suzanne!

    I read some YA (write a little) but I agree with not being into the angst. However, bring on the complex paranormal worlds with a great plot and lots of smexin’. Those I love to read and write!

  27. I’m 28, and most all I read is YA. I think the thing I like the most about it is the unnecessary sex scenes that a lot of adult books have.

  28. Wow, those YA vs. adult numbers are what I find depressing. I just can’t write YA unless those stories came to me – which they don’t. I can’t force myself into that genre.

  29. Amazing article on what publishers are buying and what they are not buying.

    I did wonder though what percentages of the YA overlapped the urban fantasy/steampunk/science fiction and romance categories. It seems much of what I’ve read in YA falls into an assortment of all of these.
    Great article. five starts!

  30. I’m not too surprised by the YA numbers; lots and lots of teen girls are reading more and more – it’s sort of becoming the “IT thing” to do – as a parent, I don’t mind spending discretionary dollars on books for my teen (and I get to read her books, too – books like The Mortal Instruments series, Graceling, Twenty Boy Summer [which wasn’t my cup of tea, but]) – a lot of the YA books can be classified as paranormal, fantasy, or supernatural as well. I’m starting to get into Steampunk as well, so I can see how the more buzz that goes around, the more Steampunk will be sold. Look at all of the awards The Windup Girl received – and it can also be classified as sci-fi or even fantasy. I think we do a disservice when we push certain books into one category or genre, as many now seem to be hybrids.


  31. Interesting. The YA numbers dont surprise me too much, while there is a lot of great new YA out there its also become a big ticket item for movies and TV as well. I think it would be cool to see these compared to the past couple years too.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  32. Amazing article on what publishers are buying and what they are not buying.

    I did wonder though what percentages of the YA overlapped the urban fantasy/steampunk/science fiction and romance categories. It seems much of what I’ve read in YA falls into an assortment of all of these.
    Great article. five starts!

  33. Amazing article on what publishers are buying and what they are not buying.

    I did wonder though what percentages of the YA overlapped the urban fantasy/steampunk/science fiction and romance categories. It seems much of what I’ve read in YA falls into an assortment of all of these.
    Great article. five starts!

  34. Amazing article on what publishers are buying and what they are not buying.

    I did wonder though what percentages of the YA overlapped the urban fantasy/steampunk/science fiction and romance categories. It seems much of what I’ve read in YA falls into an assortment of all of these.
    Great article. five starts!

  35. Amazing article on what publishers are buying and what they are not buying.

    I did wonder though what percentages of the YA overlapped the urban fantasy/steampunk/science fiction and romance categories. It seems much of what I’ve read in YA falls into an assortment of all of these.
    Great article. five starts!

  36. The numbers from YA really surprised me. I never expected that. I am glad to see Steampunk hasn’t lost it’s steam. πŸ˜‰ The steampunk genre fascinates me and seems to have so much room for a variety of stories and subgenres. I hope those numbers continue to grow.

    Thanks for doing this!

  37. Wow. There’s nothing like numbers to really draw a picture. Breaking down the Romance/Women’s Fiction number into sub-parts will be an amazing post… can’t wait! Does this include category/Harlequin sales? If it doesn’t, then wow on the inspirational numbers!

  38. Hey! Don’t wish for YA to go away! Those are your future readers.

    Very cool and interesting breakdown.

  39. That is great information – but as you mentioned you need to pull the sales numbers for AT LEAST the previous year (I would recommend last 3-5 years) to truly understand which categories are seeing increase/decreased sales.

    Additionally, I’m unfamiliar with the data source your referencing – so I wonder if any of these categories are ‘cross referenced’? i.e. does one book fall into multiple categories like YA AND Urban Fantasy?

  40. Well, Suzanne, thanks for the info. My current WIP is a shapeshifting vampire story. I’ll just keep up what I’m doing and hope someone likes the story enough to buy it. πŸ™‚

  41. Thanks for compiling this. It would be nice to see the breakdown in all the genres but the overall numbers give a great deal of insight into what the publishers think will sell. I wonder how the “bought” list stacks up against the “sales” list.

  42. Thanks for this timely info. I have 72,000 words so far in my paranormal where my hero is a mortal working to quell demons for Heaven. It will be dark and sexy. This info is invaluable. Wish I could write YA, but I learned awhile ago to FOLLOW MY HEART in my writing.

  43. GREAT job, Suz. The numbers really boggle the mind. I wonder how many MS’s are going with the smaller non-reporting houses, like you mentioned, and with the indie or micro-publishing route.

    People are still buying their favorite genre books to read, the difference is *where* it’s published. In the end, I don’t think a reader gives a damn what house it comes from – they just want a good-priced, well-told story.

    No matter where they buy it, the savvy reader will return it if it’s crap.

    The YA figures ASTOUND me. I just don’t enjoy reading them as much as the ones geared for an older audience – except of course, Harry Potter πŸ˜‰

  44. Thank you for researching this; this is invaluable information. I do think that by the time an author wants to jump on a trend, unless there’s speed writing involved, the trend may already be on its way out. I’m going to forward this information to my husband, who is an aspiring writer. He’s not writing about zombies/vampires/angels/demons or anything, but trends are always useful to know. I think it’s important to write from the heart and about what you really have an interest in.

    (I used to post as Whoo…)

  45. I’m a YA writer, and the thing to realize is that YA is not a genre, it’s a category. Inside YA there is fantasy, Sci Fi, Paranormal, Historical, and my own genre, realistic contemporary. People think Harry Potter and Twilight, but there is so much more. And so much of it does crsoo-over to adult readers, not just to revisit their childhood angst, but people in search of some of the different kinds of stories adult publishing houses think readers won’t buy. I have readers who buy for their children AND for themselves. I’m not writing for the market, I’m writing for them

  46. The numbers are interesting, but I have to be an optomist. If only one house buys only one book in my subgenre, I have to hope it will be mine. Maybe I’ll have a breakout novel and revive that subgenre. It could happen. πŸ™‚

  47. Everyone wants to be the next JK Rowling, hence the YA boost. I’m working on hard SF myself, will cry bitter tears if a publisher suggests I “steampunk” it.