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?
I spent my time in San Antonio learning about indie publishing, and that’s probably where I’m heading–if there’s anything tougher to “sell” to New York than paranormal, it’s humorous paranormal! But that’s what I want to write, and I’m not going to torture myself trying to write something else (while I wait for the next cycle to come around).
Amen, Kay! I write humorous paranormals too, and they’re even harder to sell than the angsty ones. Good luck to you in your indie journey (I’ll be following along behind you soon, I’m sure!).
I tend to ready paranormal & urban fantasy. I’m not going to suddenly start reading contemporary, western or historical. Part of this swing is as you say due to self-publishing, and part is just the way the Big 5 want it to go. They don’t want to copy each other, so the “lets do something different” comes in to play…the market moves, they jump on the wagon for a bit, and then “lets do something different.”
I agree there’s some of that “let’s do something different” in the business, but in the end, I think it’s mostly about the money. They’re businesses, period. If the Big 5 were making lots of money on paranormals they’d be shoveling them out the door as fast as they could print them. Right now, however, the money being spent on paranormals is spread thin, so they don’t see it as worth their time.
I think you outlined the situation very well, Suzanne. Received the same feedback from my agent and my editor. I look at my existing series and the fans who email me asking for more, and wonder what to do? Obviously, I’m going to write what the readers want — after all, it’s what I WANT to write as well. And sure, I can take the “paranormal” label off my work. I’ve slid ever closer to UF anyway, and maybe I’ll just call it plain old Fantasy and leave it at that. But the paranormal fans are STILL THERE, as you pointed out. As for gaining new readers? I haven’t got a clue how to get their attention other than to (a) be thankful for existing fans who tell their friends and (b) give away books so people can sample my work.
That’s sort of the boat I’m in with one of my series, Dani. And that ‘discoverability’ thing is tough. I have no answers other than the methods you mention 🙂
Paranormal and Urban Fantasy is the majority of what I read. There certainly are a lot more choices. And I guess word of mouth from fellow readers in person or through blogs is still the best way I find new authors. Although, I must say I have found a surprising number on the new book shelf at my public library. That’s how I found River Road!
Ah, and the library-distribution factor is a big disadvantage of the indie world, I would think. I’m not sure, though…do libraries ever stock indie books? Maybe if the author donates a copy? I’m not sure about that. So had the Sentinels series been self-published, I’m not sure your library would have ever had a copy. (I’m glad you found River Road!)
i do love reading paranormal and urban fantasy and in my country editors still release a lot of them but it’s thanks to others bloggers that i discovered some great ones and yes i don’t mind spreading teh word about books and series i loves i just would like the editor to see longer in teh future and not just see quick money because big name started small too
I think the market is so unpredictable the editors are just guessing a lot of the time. They buy what they like and what their marketing teams think will sell–it’s a combined decision. But who knows when something like a Hunger Games or a 50 Shades will unexpectedly take off and start a whole new wave? But you’re right. The big names had to get started somewhere!
Urban Fantasy makes up 90% of my TBR pile, Paranormal Romance the other 10%. In order to get these books on my TBR pile, publishers must print them, authors must write them, I must buy them…
It’s supply-chain management at work, Roger!
I think it’s a cycle with editors. No we don’t want that. Yes. Now we do. Now we don’t. Too much of anything makes you want to try something different, but then you miss your old books and buy them again. I read across the board so I don’t get bored with too much of the same thing. (Paranormal will always be my favorite though.) So lets hope it quickly recycles so we can get more Suzanne Johnson’s urban fantasy and paranormal books!
Bewitching the Enemy, October 2014
Aw, thanks, Dawn! I think acquisitions editors are always playing a guessing game–when is this “hot” genre going to top out and be done? I had dinner with two of my editors at RT this year and they were not only “over” paranormals but also dystopians.
still like paranormals
And so do I! Left to my own devices (i.e., when I’m not trying to avoid the genre I’m writing in or not reading for research), I’ll always read paranormals.
I think you’ve pretty much nailed the root of the problem. The market has definitely been flooded in the last few years due to self-pubbing. What’s interesting is that I read lots of self-pubbed romance, but I rarely read self-pubbed PNR or UF. I find that in those genres, lack of good content editing is particularly glaring. I’ve tried some self-pubbed UFs, but was quickly turned off. The world building or story always seems to fall apart midway or the pacing is really off, or whatever. That’s not to say that some of the UF books published by the Big 5 don’t have the same issues, but I find a much higher ratio of enjoyable books if they are Big 5 published, so it’s worth it to me to pay the higher prices. My only exception is if the author was previously Big 5 pubbed and is now self-pubbing. I don’t hesitate to pick those books if that story appeals to me, even if I haven’t read that author before.
Needless to say, I’ll be happy to pick up your future books regardless of who publishes them!
Unfortunately, that’s been my experience with a lot of the self-pubbed UF and PNR as well, but I think indie authors are getting more savvy about the need to get manuscripts professionally edited. And there are more traditionally published authors dipping a foot in the indie pool every day,and I’m looking in that direction. So thanks for the vote of confidence!!
I think you have your finger on the pulse of the problem. I read and write paranormal, and being a new paranormal author, have already been on the stingy side of rejection (although they still want to see romantic suspense from me). I love reading paranormal and I love writing it and I’m not going to stop doing either. I know a lot of other people who love reading paranormal too and they haven’t stopped buying books. It’s just that the pool is much larger. Maybe things will slow down, maybe they won’t, but I’m still going to write the best books I know how to write and get them out there some way – if that has to be by myself, then so be it. But they will be properly edited with a good cover and blurb to give them the best chance they can have.
Great piece Suzanne, and I do agree. As a reader I have so much to choose from already, and not enough time to read everything I want to read. How about trying to reach more readers in Europe? So often an ARC is limited to America and perhaps Canada only, and there are millions of English readers in Europe. And one awesome convention in Berlin, Germany, each year.
I agree, and it looks like that’s also where indie authors have greater flexibility. I just put my time travel up on pre-order and I already have sales in the UK, Australia and Germany.
Xaurianx nailed it with ARC just available for Canada and USA. I’m Indonesian, but I love reading English books because paranormal and fantasy are my favorite genre. It irked me with some publisher and retailer (like Amazon) decline to sell their ebook in Asia Pasific, even in the other side, I can buy my ebook from Kobo, but the title somehow limited.
Tbh, paranormal will never dead, same with other genre like historical and suspense romance. People need escapism after all, and I’m glad I found my escapist in the form of PNR and UF books
Cool article the title really caught me by surprise because I really like paranormal and I could not see how it was dead but when I looked at the authors I read they are mostly if not all small press or indie. My favorite author right now is indie and it’s like she came out of nowhere.
Glad I stumbled upon this article really gave me something to think about.
To the authors writing light funny paranormal, I love them but they are so hard to find find!
Hate Bella and JR lost me with the cursed hand and dead/ghost heroine.
Great post, Suzanne. I’ll just be over here, continuing to write UF and PNR because that’s what I love to write. 🙂
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