Chip MacGregor

February 9, 2015

Ask the Agent: What's hot and cold in publishing these days?


Whenever I speak at conferences, I get the “what’s hot?” question asked me. I generally offer what I’m seeing, but I try to always temper it with, “That’s just my opinion, of course… others might see things differently.” So I was happy to see the Nielsen folks put out some facts on publishing trends with hard evidence to support them.

In the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly, they gave a summary of the Nielsen BookScan report, which tracks the bulk of printed book sales, and a handful of things stood out to me…

First, Christian fiction is really struggling. That’s become obvious to me over the past couple of years, and I’ve discussed it with many other agents. Several houses have stopped doing inspirational fiction, others have trimmed back their lists, still others have simply put a “freeze” on new acquisitions, so it’s become evident that it’s a tough time to be trying making a living writing Christian fiction. But the Nielsen report proved the depth of the problem. Of all the categories in publishing (and BookScan tracks about 50 genres), Christian fiction took the second biggest drop. In the past year book sales were down 15%. Coupled with the previous year’s drop of 11%, we’re seeing the category shrink considerably. (The only publishing category to do worse? Occult & horror fiction, which is down 26%.)

Second, YA fantasy and sci fi is the fastest growing category in all of publishing. It was up 38% in the past year, after having grown in double digits the previous year. So yes, all those Harry Potter and dystopian (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) readers have made their mark. And the study noted that inspirational and holiday YA novels (an odd combination in my mind) was up 16%, and YA family & health stories (hello The Fault in Our Stars) were up 17%.

Third, adult fiction overall is struggling. Romance is down 11%, adult fantasy is off 13%, suspense is down 9%, and action/adventure stories are down almost 15%. The entire category of adult fiction is down 8%. Remember, this study was just of print book sales, so perhaps much of this can be attributed to readers migrating to ebooks. Still, it’s interesting to see the declines.

Fourth, memoir and self-help are the growing nonfiction categories for adults. Sales of self-help books were up 15%, and memoir is up 12%. The sale of Christian nonfiction books and Bibles were also up 12%. I’d find it more helpful if they broke out the “Christian living” books from bible sales,  but it’s still helpful to see that memoir and books dealing with personal & spiritual growth are on the upswing.

Fifth, there’s always room for surprise in this business. That’s why I can read this and go, “Sales of books about animals are up 19%? And kids’ hobby books are up 33%? Really?” I had no idea. It’s another reminder that nobody has a lock on what the next big thing will be in publishing. We’re all muddling along, trying our best to do good books and hope that they hit.

Would love to know what trends you see happening.

Share :


  • Jodie Bailey says:

    Well, that was no fun. I think I need to go drink now…

    Hey, it worked for Hemingway.

    • Jodie Bailey says:

      Seriously, though, I wonder if these numbers are related to a survey I read that says teens prefer paper books over e-readers?

  • Mirta Ana Schultz says:

    I’m a genre reader: I buy primarily science fiction, fantasy, thriller,
    and mystery. And I”ve migrated almost entirely to ebooks. So, instead of
    dropping 100+ bucks on a weekend jaunt to Borders of B&N, as in ye
    olde days (last time I stepped foot in a bookstore was 2012), I buy one
    or more books a week on Amazon for my Kindles (I own four, plus one Nook
    Color, plus I have the apps for Kindle and B&N and Kobo on my
    laptop, Mac, and iPhone).

    I’m still spending a small fortune on my genres. I just spend it on ebooks.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Lots of folks taking that approach, Mirta. Again, this was a look at print sales, which have both strong and weak categories, according to the study.

  • Marcie Bridges says:

    Personally I think the explosion of the Amish Christian fiction novels really did the Christan market in some. More than half of the books you see on the Christian fiction shelves now are Amish type novels. While I have no problem with them, I am fascinated by their seeming popularity. Historical Christian fiction seems to be back on the rise but I would like to see the mystery/suspense Christian genre come back to life as well as the spiritual warefare (Christian Gothic) genre. I think what we’re seeing right now is just a boredom with the Christian Fiction genre as a whole because it got so taken over by one huge market. But that is just my free humble opinion. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Perhaps, Marcie. But publishers tend to generate books they think they can sell. So if they’re producing a bunch of Amish novels, it’s because they think Amish novels will sell and make them money. If they don’t do Christian Gothic books, it’s because they don’t think they can make money with the genre.

  • Valerie Comer says:

    Sorry, I tried to copy/paste the sentence into my comment and it didn’t “take'” Well, apparently it did, and there’s no way to edit. Sorry about that. Valerie

  • Valerie Comer says:

    As an indie author, I’m not at all finding it “a tough time to be making a living writing Christian fiction.” What their study is missing (completely, by the looks of it) is fiction sales in e-book. They are very strong, and if you look at Amazon’s bestseller categories, you’ll see many indies at the tops of those lists—indeed, all throughout them. Many of these authors are making a significant income. There’s never been a better time to write and publish Christian fiction. I believe that with all my heart. I’m living the evidence.

    Valerie Comer

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Um… yeah, as I stated near the start, this is a report on PRINT sales, Valerie. So the study is indeed missing ebook sales data. As for “many” authors making a significant income on Christian fiction via indie sales, I think that overstates it. “Some” authors are. I’m happy to back that up with numbers, should you like to see them.

    • Valerie Comer says:

      Oh, I’ll agree that “many” are NOT making a significant income, but I happen to know quite a few who are. Numbers/stats can be made to prove just about anything. I know dozens of authors for whom indie publishing has been a major financial game-changer. Certainly there are many thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) who are not, but the possibility is definitely there for those who are ready. Valerie

  • Thanks, Chip, for sharing this information. Very interesting indeed. Interesting that adult occult and horror fiction is down, while YA fantasy and si-fi are up. I am not a reader of either, so I have no idea why this may be.

    Also interesting to note that Christian fiction is down, while memoirs dealing with personal and spiritual growth are up. This suggests to me that readers are gravitating to stories about real people.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes, readers are gravitating… but that’s what happens in this business, Saloma. Readers go hard after dystopians for a while (or Amish, or Prairie stories, or whatever), then that fades and they go elsewhere. This is a tidal business — the tide comes in on a genre, then it goes out.

  • claudiacv says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this inof with us!

  • Iola Goulton says:

    While these figures aren’t good for publishers who rely on print sales, the rise in ebooks mean it’s not necessarily bad for authors, but it’s hard to say because there doesn’t appear to be any way of tracking the whole market. It’s hard for a business to make decisions when they don’t have full information.
    Even tracking sales by ISBN doesn’t work, because of the number of self-published ebooks issued without an ISBN. The Author Earnings report goes some way to analysing ebook sales, but they only (only!) analysed the top 120,000 ebooks sold on Amazon.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, we can’t seem to track all the sales… so we track what we can, which is certainly a good chunk of it, Iola. I think the numbers in the Nielsen report are fascinating.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.