July 19 , 2017

The facts about fiction

As we posted June's bestseller list, it was glaringly apparent that nearly 80% of the titles on the list were nonfiction. In addition, overall sales were also skewed in this fashion. To top it off, 80% of the returns we are receiving are fiction. So, what gives? Are readers no longer interested in fiction?
Below is a chart showing the percentage of Sunbury Press bestsellers that are nonfiction over the last 18 months:
As you can see, there is a clear upward trend in nonfiction titles selling better. I've often said, about 60% of our titles are fiction, but 60% of our sales are nonfiction. This is because a typical nonfiction book, on average, outsells its fiction counterpart by about double. I had mentioned we were shifting our focus to be more balanced -- about 50/50 between nonfiction and fiction. Is this the culprit behind this trend? Most likely, it is not. Most of the bestsellers are backlist books!
Earlier this year, Publishers Weekly reported adult nonfiction was the fastest growing segment last year, while adult fiction declined slightly. Perhaps those trends are continuing.
You would think, with all of the ugliness in the world, readers would be looking to escape into make-believe. Instead, readers are seeking the facts!
What does this mean for Sunbury Press? Obviously, we are a business, and in order to be successful, we need to be where the market is. There seems to be a lot of demand for 1970s-era nostalgia. I'm sure the 80s won't be far behind. We will continue to shift, gradually, our offerings to be more nonfiction-oriented, until we achieve about a 60/40 balance in favor of nonfiction. We will continue to publish fiction, as we have for over a decade. However, we will be even more careful about it.
What does this mean for our Nonfiction Authors? Keep writing -- we are cycling around to the 250th anniversary of the USA in a few years. Interest in the Revolution will increase. This will foster a renewed interest in American ideals and beliefs. I expect a lot of new material about the colonial era, and about our early Republic. Also -- it seems like the baby boomers are reminiscing about the 70s -- a trend that will continue for awhile longer, until the Xers begin to retire and begin thinking about the 80s and 90s.
What does this mean for our Fiction Authors? To be frank, the only fiction authors who are selling anything are those who are out promoting their work. Those that just want to write are not doing much at all. It's a much tougher road to success in this segment, and with ebook sales declining 16% last year (again!), the outlets for self-published fiction authors are declining with it. I believe the higher quality material, like we publish from you, has been lost in a sea of self-published dreck that is cycling through the marketplace. Nobody is making any money -- and you can't even give it away FREE anymore. It is clearly at the end of the line. Like any economic depression, it takes time to recover, as failed entities go away, the strong ones become stronger than ever before. Fiction authors who want to stick with it, need to continue writing high quality work, but also need to promote their careers. A publisher can help you create a near-perfect product, and place it in the book trade. But, unless the author is trying to make a name for themselves, success is highly improbable.
Of course, I would also encourage any of our talented fiction authors to consider coming over to the nonfiction side of the house. Local and regional history is hot. Is there a story in your area that needs to be told? Think about it.
If that doesn't turn you on, historical fiction continues to sell well - or fiction with nonfiction hooks / settings.
More to come ...