Friday, 4 February 2011

A Trip To The Bookstore

Yesterday I went to our nearest city and spent an hour in Waterstones. Like a lot of readers I buy most of my books from Amazon because they are cheaper, but occasionally I will buy one or two from an independent bookstore or a high street chain - I see it as doing my bit to keep high street bookstores open.

Whilst I was distracted by the pleasure of choosing a couple of new science fiction books (I opted for Arthur C. Clarke's Randezvous With Rama and Childhood's End) I noticed something about the two genres I am currently writing in - horror and science fiction - that made me stop and question my choices: Waterstones had five mods of shelving for science fiction and only half a mod for horror. What does that say about the two genres and how they fare in the book-selling world? Was this just peculiar to Waterstones? And as an aspiring author what does it say about my chances of being published? Should I even be worried about this?

In effort to answer these questions I visited my local branch of WHSmiths and found they had just one mod for science fiction and horror, which was what I expected from a retailer that until recently devoted two mods to what I call Misery Lit (i.e. A Child Called It). I then visited two local independent bookstores and found one had two mods for science fiction and one shelf for horror - around the same proportions as Waterstones - and the other several shelves of science fiction and only Stephen King and Dean Koontz available for horror.

Are there more authors writing science fiction than horror or are there less publishers prepared to publish horror? Does science fiction sell better than horror? As someone who works on the book department for a supermarket chain, I can tell you that I have never seen an adult science fiction book for sale in our chart. But on the odd occasion we have sold a horror novel, it has sold extremly well. It makes me wonder what else would sell if they just took the chance.

Have you ever stopped to assess the shelf-space and range of authors stocked by your local bookstores? What did you find? With the range of online bookstores, ebooks and the plethora of self-promotion the internet now offers, do you even consider this a topic worth worrying about?


  1. I have noticed that science fiction has really taken a hold over horror in the bookstores that I visit. More or less you'll always have those certain genres that override anything else. But between those two I'd like to think it's based on what people are enjoying. If your horror story rocks, they'll publish it.

    I work with the philosophy that if they like my story nothing will stop them!!!

    Happy Friday!

  2. Although I think that something like this should be considered, I'm avoiding it until i am ready to face it.

    I don't want any unnecessary worries for further complicate my writing.


  3. Don't get me started! Space for horror and sci-fi is shrinking like crazy! I also hate the fact I have to pick through sci-fi and fantasy in some shops to find a horror, who decided these three genres would be lumped together??

    I know I have more horror books than Leeds City Libray, which is just shocking...bah!

  4. Don't ask me - I'm a crime girl!

  5. It would be fascinating to see a comparison of book stores and how/what they display. I was in Barnes & Noble last night...they have a huge biography section. Lots of shelves for YA, but their "new YA" mostly consisted of series that had been out for a while, i.e. The Hunger Games and the James Patterson Angel Experiment series. I felt like they should have more recent releases up there.

  6. I just had a conversation with another writer about this topic! know what? I you like to write said genre, then write said genre. Good writing will get noticed. You may have to be persistent and it may take a bit longer if the market is currently flooded with that subject or the market has shifted, but keep going.

  7. Interesting scouting trip! I think the answer is to write what you love and don't worry about "what is selling." If a story is good enough it will gain a publisher and people will read it. Quality of story and writing is key, because I think no matter the genre it is the universal human elements that draw people in.

  8. What's a mod?

    Anyway - you've given me a task for the weekend Ellie!! I shall pop to my local waterstones here where I work (gower street) and then the one where I live (herts) and I will note down the shelving space for each genre!!!! How interesting!!!! Will get back to you asap with my findings!!! Yay! take care

  9. I hate to tell you this, but working in one of the largest and THE busiest library in my area I can confirm that We have three units of Sci-fi, one of horror -mainly King and Koontz (although there's also one of 'teen' horror - mainly vampire stuff) compared to 15 units of crime/thriller and double that for general fiction.

    Readers of crime are BY FAR the most prolific readers, too - which may account for the figures. It isn't necessarily that there are more of them, but they read more (or faster!).

  10. Hey Ellie! I agree with Lisa Ricard Claro. Don't worry about all that stuff. Just write what you love. In trying to think of something "new & different" that was a huge success.....what about the "Twilight" series? I may be way off, but I don't think vampires were selling off the charts until then! In other words...again...Just write what you want...and people will buy it! :)

  11. For the past couple of years, I've been focused on mostly YA, so I haven't noticed the adult selection at our Borders too much (beyond the best sellers). But in YA, the endcaps and cubes are primarily for bestsellers and the latest paranormal/dystopian series. I really have to sift through the back wall to even find the contemporaries. *sigh*

  12. Now that is interesting. I wonder if TV affects our taste for certain genre too?
    I tend to buy women's fiction and YA though I enjoy TV Sci Fi most Sci Fi books are written by men in what I refer to as a rather blokie 'voice' which does not appeal to me. :O)

  13. There is less and less money for new authors today. If you write Romance or Mystery, I think you have a better chance of being published. If you write Urban Fantasy, you have a good chance to. In my case, Epic Fantasy, the demand is low. That is why I have chosen to self publish via the internet.

    I think it is important for any author to write the stories that speak to them.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  14. Oh, all the time! I go into the local Waterstone's and WHSmith. WHSmith is chock full of commercail fiction and chart stuff. Interestingly, Waterstone's used to be the same, but now it looks more 'literary'.

  15. I also find scifi books are popular along with the self help books I buy. I do like browsing in the bookshops.

    Enjoy your week-end.

  16. In my local Waterstones I've discovered that they have split horror in to horror and 'dark fantasy', which appears to be mainly filled stories about 'sexy' vampires.

  17. Jen Daiker - that's a great philosophy to have and interesting to note things aren't a whole lot different over the pond!

    Misha - I hadn't thought of it like that but you are being very wise - write what you love, not what you think others will want to read.

    Stephen Chapman - I guess its all about sales and some complicated research someone sat on a chair in their head office has decided . . .I mean carried out. Note the cynicism!

    MorningAJ - now that does sell well!

    Elena Solodow - sounds as if Barnes & Noble don't want to take any risks. Interesting!

    Salarsen - wise words, my friend. Write what you want to write, not what you think others will want to read. Still, in a market where 99.9% of writers have little chance of getting a publishing deal you can't help but want to know what sells.

    Lisa Ricard Claro - more wise words. I think the general answer here is not to worry about what is selling and tell the story you were meant to tell!

    Old Kitty - sorry. Shop talk. LOL. A mod is a specific shelving unit; a bit like a bookcase surrounded by other bookcases. I look forward to your findings with interest!

  18. The SF pie has dwindled considerably since the 70s. It's changed too. Rather than the hard SF of Asimov, Sterling and Heinlein, it's woven itself with romance, mystery and YA.

    It needs these subgenres badly too. If it weren't for that bit of CPR, there's no telling where SF would've ended up.

    I've watched it go through death rolls for the past two decades. I'm glad it's bringing readers back both to the new and old forms.

  19. brokenbiro - I had a sneaky suspicion that was the case. Crime/thriller readers always buy their books as soon as they are available. Interesting perpsective - thank you!

    Becky - wise words. Thank you!

    erica - I guess it's the same in whatever age-group we write in!

    Madeleine - I wonder if that is the case? I don't watch crime/thriller programmes, hence I don't read the genre. On the other hand I watch a lot of American sci-fi TV and enjoy stories told from the male perspective. I think what you have shown is that there are readers out there who like different genres and styles, so again, write what interests you!

    N. R. Williams - you've raised some interesting and valid points, which was why I asked whether as writers we need to be concerned by space in bookstores - there are so many possibilities opening up for authors using the internet and self-publishing. When I first started writing, I wrote stories for magazines because that was how I thought I'd like to earn a living writing. I soon discovered the opposite! Thank you for your wise words.

    Talli Roland - yes. I got that inpression with Waterstones, though they also seem to be doing far more to promote local authors. That can only be a good thing!

    welcome to my world of poetry - that's interesting. Where do you buy your books?

    Chippy - yes. I noticed that - the other half of the horror mod was the dark fantasy! Technically you could argue vamopire books are horror, but they class them as dark fantasy.

  20. And here a few years ago they claimed science fiction was dying!
    I don't think there's less horror - it's being reclassified as either thriller or paranormal romance. Plus, science fiction usually includes fantasy.

  21. Maria Zannini - I was thinking of you when doing my research, as there didn't seem to be too many female sci-fi authors on the shelf. However, I have noticed that the sales of chick-lit books are slowing, and having read both hard sci-fi and chick-lit, I welcome the mixing of sci-fi and romance. I'm bored of the city-girl-moved-to-the-city-met-Mr.Darcy-lookalike fiction. And if this new mashing of genres causes a resurgence in all the sub-genres of sci-fi, well who can argue with that?

    Alex J. Cavanaugh - I think you're on to something about horror being reclassified, as there is now dark fantasy. Interestingly, there were no fantasy books in the five mods of science fiction at Waterstones - it had its own section.

  22. I think horror is harder to place someone's writing. It's one of those vague genres that people aren't sure about. I mean, Twilight is in the horror (YA) section, but I'm not sure I would classify it as that. But by definition, it is because it has vampires. I think a lot of vampire/werewolf books are being reclassified as fantasy rather than horror (like what Alex said).

  23. I think you have to write what calls to you. I write sci-fi, too. I hear it's the hardest genre to break into - lots of competition for fewer slots than other genres. Just make sure you stand out.

    I think a lot of horror must be filed elsewhere? Mystery or thriller or fantasy.

  24. I don't think you choose your genre, so much as it chooses you. And whatever type of fiction is the most commercial in the present market may go out of fashion in a few years. So, best to concentrate on telling the story that's in you, and the kind of thing you would enjoy reading yourself.

    You can't beat browsing in booskshops. It's just so much better than buying online. I like to look at the book itself, and the author photos, and read the dedications and stuff. Internet shopping just can't compare.

  25. I also like to pop into my local Waterstones and have noticed that the Twilight saga has a massive display all on it's own. Sci-Fi is pretty small and fantasy/horror are lumped together with the majority of space given to Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker.

    The misery memoirs and chick lit have diminished but biography has a high profile as does the local area come holiday time.

  26. I do notice. I usually stay around the mystery section which includes a wide array of books and sub genres. Sci fi is usually behind mystery. This is where I spend most of my time. Oh, and the magazine section as I like the science and astronomy periodicals.

  27. Abby Minard - I think you and Alex are definitely on to something there - next time I visit Waterstones, I'll have another look at the fantasy sections.

    M Pax - I didn't know it was the hardest genre to get into, though I suppose it would be easy to end up writing some of the cliches that must now exist in sci-fi. Thank you for your comments - they've given me a lot to think about!

    joanne fox - you are so right about a genre choosing you and you can not beat a visit to the bookstore; I could spend hours in one!

    Margo Benson - it's interesting that the sci-fi in your store is quite small; I guess they must try and cater to local demands?

    Stephen Tremp - me too! I always treat myself to a astronomy-related magazine when I'm on holiday.


I love comments. They make my day!