Romance Writers of America recently held its annual meeting, and judging by the chatter on several of the writerly email loops to which I belong, the death of paranormal—specifically, urban fantasy and paranormal romance—was high on the list of topics.
Agents don’t want it because editors don’t want it. Paranormal is dead. Authors have been trying to figure out whether to call their paranormal something else, avoiding the “P” word, or take the paranormal elements out of it altogether.
This “death of paranormal” thing has been rumbling for a while, and readers always seem surprised by it. Because there are people—a lot of people—who only read paranormals. So, because I’m an opinionated kind of person, I’ll venture forth an opinion on this subject.
Paranormals are not dead. Paranormals are, and will continue to be, alive and well. Want to (like me) write paranormals while also pursuing a career that involves traditional publishing? You’re probably shit out of luck unless you’re already a Big Name. Big Names can write whatever they want and it doesn’t really matter what genres are dead or alive.
So here’s what I think has happened in the world of the paranormal: indie publishing. The publishing world has changed dramatically since I signed my first (paranormal) contract five years ago. Editors and agents began getting flooded with paranormals that were just variations on Twilight or the Black Dagger Brotherhood and began taking fewer and fewer of them.
In the distant past—like five years ago—the rejected author would have slunk away and licked her wounds and either kept submitting to smaller publishing houses and/or stuck that book away and started working on something else.
Now, she polishes up the manuscript (not in all cases, unfortunately), sticks a cover on it, and publishes it herself.
Great to have that option, right? Absolutely.
BUT it also meant the number of paranormals being released each year, by publishers plus by indie authors, has quadrupled. Maybe even quintupled. Okay, I’m making that number up but it was a GARGANTUAN increase in books released.
Did the readership for paranormals shrink? Nope, I don’t think so. Maybe it even grew. But it didn’t grow anywhere near as fast as the indie-plus-traditional deluge of new books. Readers didn’t get more reading time, so they got spread out over more books, which made it look like sales were declining in the genre, which made traditional publishers buy even fewer paranormal books that ever. A lot of indie books are free or uber-cheap, which also pushes traditional books aside. No matter who wins the current Amazon vs. Hachette war, a reader will always try a $1.99 ebook over a $10.99 ebook if she doesn’t know the author. Always. Wouldn’t you?
This, of course, has created a dilemma for traditional publishers, which has in turn created a dilemma for authors. Now we have more options as authors, but we also have more competition for the same readership. Which all makes the process of being “discovered” by new readers even more difficult.
I was blessed. I got my foot in the door with a great agent and, in turn, a couple of publishers before the paranormal door slammed shut. But I’m not one of those Big Names, and once current contracts are fulfilled my paranormal writing will probably be on its own because, again, publishers don’t want it right now. That’s just the blunt truth. I will continue writing it because it is my first love, even if I have to publish the occasional book myself.
But it still brings us back to the same number of readers getting four times the number of books, and of finding ways to let readers know about them, and of finding that elusive “magic bullet” that will help our books visible among the noise of tens of thousands of others being released in the same genre.
Finally, it comes down to the old “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” scenario. Even if paranormal is not technically dead and you put out your own books, if nobody knows about them or reads them, do they cease to exist?
Stay tuned. This scenario isn’t done. What’s your take? Is paranormal dead? Is it playing possum? Or do readers just have a whole lotta choices?