Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Industry Trend or Silliness?

This is the third year of The Sandy writing contest for unpublished writers and I noticed an interesting thing as the entries rolled in.  While the contest has continued to grow averaging more than 36 % each year, the trend in each category genre has been surprising. 

The second year, Mainstream grew 32% more than the contest overall growth of 39%, Romance remained fairly steady at 34% below  overall contest, Fantasy/SF grew 39%, Thriller/Suspense was 8% below avg growth and Childrens/YA  4% below avg.  The highest quality (the most number of high-scoring entries) genres were F/SF and Childrens—hands down.

This year (yr 3), Mainstream grew 35% above the contest growth of 33%, Romance popped up by 26%, but F/SF decreased by 45%, T/S rose by 21%, and C/YA was 13% below contest growth.  The highest quality finalists were in Mainstream and C/YA.

2009, F/SF dropped significantly in both numbers and quality, and Mainstream continues it’s steep climb in both numbers and quality.  C/YA remains relatively steady in quality and numbers.  Romance and Thriller/Suspense are creeping up in numbers, but not so much in quality.

I wonder if this is a reflection of a sampling of what writers are choosing to write, of the popularity of the The Sandy spreading to more genres, or the number of available competing contests for unpublished authors in each of the 5 genres.  Probably it’s a combination of the three. 

In the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award—a world-wide writing contest for unpublished authors, the number breakdown of the top 500, by genre follows:

General Lit: 212,  Fantasy/ SF:  88,  Historical Fiction: 54,  Mystery: 46,  Suspense/Thriller: 78,  Romance: 18,  Western: 3  They too have FAR more mainstream quarterfinalists than an other genre.  Interesting.  Trend or no trend?

Somehow, my results seem skewed ‘cause romance sales typically account for 52% of paperback market, but . . .  Could this be reflective of the beginning of waning popularity of F/SF and the rising of  Mainstream?  Has the world been saturated with Harry Potters and Twilights, and the new rising genre could be Mainstream?  

What do you think?



Audra Harders said...

Interesting perception, Theresa. When you look at overall sales being dominated by the romance market, this trend seems a curiosity.

Being an avid judge in contests, I've noticed the YA categories tend to have more than their share of fantasy-driven entries. Interesting, too, is the level of creativity vs. the quality of the writing.

If I think back about how I scored the fantasy entries, I'd have to say I complimented the entrant on their unique plots, but the overall high scores went to the entries grounded in more reality and adventure. Generally,the fantasy entries showed promise, but so much time was spent building the worlds, I never gained stake in the characters and their lives.

Harry Potter and Twilight have their place in the entertainment world, I won't dispute that. But these two authors showcase their craft well. IMHO, there's room for more fantasies, but the authors seeking that pinnacol must learn the basics of sentence structure, foreshadowing, conflicts, etc.

My genre of choice is never mainstream, so my perspective on this subject is limited to YA and romance. Maybe the folks entering mainstream know their target audience and write to that caliber. Still, the YA audience shouldn't be cut short. Kids aren't dumb and neither are the adults that who waited eagerly for midnight tickets to Twilight on opening night.

Dick and Jane primers must come before Star Wars technology. Skilled writing can make a physics textbook a bestseller : )

Vince said...

I think the significance of your data depends on the sample size. You need a adequately large sample to draw useful conclusions. Also there is not parity between genres. While almost anything can be called a mainstream novel, this is not the case with a genre like paranormals for example. A writer could enter a Y/A as a mainstream as could a mystery or suspense writer.

Selecting a category can result from many different reasons. Perhaps the writer thinks her chances are better in one category rather than another. This could have noting to do with national sales trends. Who judges the category and what publishing house the judges represent can also influence the category selection of an entry.

When it comes to romance statistics there is another factor to consider. A very high percentage of romance books are purchased by a small percentage of the buyers. It has been reported that 80% to 90% of beer is purchased by 20% of the beer drinkers. I would predict that these figures are even more skewed for romance buyers.(Perhaps someone reading this knows this figure).

In essence, I think the figures tell us what they tell us but how much more they tell us is a matter of speculation.