Friday, December 3, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Mystery/Thriller (Part 4 of 8)

You knew it was coming, mes auteurs: bad news. Not colossal bad news! Not doom! I'm not dropping Mordor on your party! However, it does look like (based on sales data and a sprinkle of anecdotal evidence) that the mystery/thriller genre is flat or down in terms of sales this year.

While it doesn't look like there's a downward trend within 2010 (that is, each month doesn't appear to be getting progressively worse), sales for mystery and thriller titles do seem to be significantly down year-on-year, and this trend seems more pronounced for mysteries than thrillers (the latter category is basically flat to 2009).

Why is this? Well, as usual, I have some theories.

Mysteries and thrillers are psychologically taxing. As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason fantasy titles (ditto romance—tune in next week!) do well during economic downturns is because they provide escapism, happy endings, &c. While mysteries and thrillers may turn out well, they tend to be darker, stressful for the reader ("suspenseful," "riveting," &c), and don't guarantee happy endings of any sort. Who wants to be terrified by a book when you can be terrified for free by your stock portfolio?

Mysteries and thrillers usually start out as expensive hardcovers. Don't get me wrong: genre fiction in general is conducive to the cheaper mass market format (see yesterday's post on fantasy), and many fantasy titles do start out as hardcovers, but it seems to me that mysteries and thrillers show up as hardcovers slightly more often. Additionally, the shorter average page count (compared to fantasy) means that reincarnated mysteries and thrillers appear to be sold slightly more often as trade papers rather than mass markets, and trade paperbacks tend to run $12 – $16 (compared to $4 – $9 for mass markets).

Two words: Dan Brown. Complete honesty: I have no idea exactly how many copies Dr. B sold of The Lost Symbol, and I can't share the proprietary BookScan information with you. Suffice it to say: when you're comparing mysteries/thrillers in 2010 to 2009—a year in which one title in said genre sold millions of copies—it's going to skew the numbers a little bit. That said, I'm certain the Dan Brown numbers do not account for the entirety of the disparity, and fairly certain they don't account for the majority of it.

Finally, if you're worried about e-books: don't be. At least, not any moreso than you already are. The standard 10% rule (i.e. 10% of all sales are electronic) for adult trade seems to be holding here.

Therefore, meine Autoren, in Noble and Most Ancient Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Mystery/thriller sales in 2010 are down compared to 2009. Womp womp.

· This is probably due to the psychologically taxing nature of the genre, the fact that mysteries and thrillers tend to début in pricey hardcovers, and the fact that 2009 was a slightly unusual (read: Dan Brown) year.

· Electronic sales for this genre are more or less in line with the rest of the market.

All questions, comments, vitriol, praise, &c in the comments section, dear readers, and when we return on Monday: Jonathan Franzen literary fiction!


  1. Of course sales are down. My agent is pitching a mystery series. Should it fly, I'll need a parachute, I fear. Then again, two of my other publishers are closing down imprints, so I'm crashing and burning there too.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. Bad news!

    What if your mystery is also comedy? Does laughter help when the economy is tanked? Any thoughts?

  3. With my manuscript out on submission, I've noticed at Publishers Marketplace that not many thrillers are being picked up by editors lately. I wonder if fans of the genre are taking a break, so to speak. Having read many, many thrillers myself, I've noticed a lot of stuff out there isn't terribly fresh. Or to put it bluntly, many thrillers on the shelf are formulaic, derivative, even boring despite the chases and shoot-em-up scenes.

    Maybe the standard format of the genre needs refreshing. I'm confident that in the long term, the market for thrillers will be strong. People enjoy page-turning, plot-driven stories. But they also crave originality. To succeed, we must give it to them.

  4. Are mystery sales of ebooks down also? I'm a little confused.

  5. Has the market for mystery / thrillers been flooded? That drove down sales for horror after the 80s. Too many books read within the same genre tends to make the genre conventions glaringly obvious.

  6. Shannon, couldn't you argue that about any genre, though?

  7. Ho Hum. And here I am looking for additional motivation to continue with my mystery revision. Well, this seems to be not actually bad news disguised as bad news, but perhaps I'm not reading between the lines enough. We shall see.

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