Chip MacGregor

July 31, 2013

What's selling right now?


A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that read, “Chip, I know you’ve been to BEA and RWA in the past month. Can you simply tell us what books are selling right now? What are the trends you’re seeing?”

I can try. In the ebook space, it’s pretty clear that contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and suspense thrillers of all types are selling well. That would include PI novels, police procedurals, crime novels, etc. So what we call “category” fiction (that is, fiction that follows certain rules for its genre) really leads the way in ebooks. It’s nice to see literary fiction is finally starting to sell well digitally. For a long time there was a sense that people weren’t buying literary novels on their Nooks and Kindles, but we seem to be beyond that now.

Of course, the whole notion of “fiction on e-readers” is not just a trend, it’s an established fact in the contemporary world of publishing. We all thought fiction was outselling nonfiction about 3-to-1 on e-readers, and that was the figure I often used at conferences. Then a study was made recently that showed fiction is outselling nonfiction roughly 8-to-1 in the e-book market. Wow… My guess is that people who are used to reading things electronically are simply getting a lot of their nonfiction information (recipes, health tips, medical advice, etc) on the web, leaving them to look for fiction on their readers.

In the print space, we’re still seeing the fiction bestseller lists ruled by familiar names. Nearly every big book these days is from an author who has had big books in the past, which seems frustrating to a lot of novelists… but that’s just the nature of the business. When a book breaks out (and there are always going to be breakout novels — see Gone Girl, Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Really Crappy Writing, etc), we add a new name to the list. But aside from the breakout novels, we’re still seeing romance, suspense, and historical fiction selling well. Of course, literary fiction tends to dominate the print bestseller lists.

Other trends — much more colorful and artistic covers. A focus on “relationships” and “body image” dominating nonfiction titles. A renewed interest in history, including both the big events in history as well as the overlooked, interesting bits. Niche publishers popping up to give readers what they want via ebooks (such as noir novels or westerns). Intriguing TV stars doing books. Strong interest in religious titles in general, especially books about heaven and “proof” of the afterlife.

One of the interesting exercises to try is to track the top twenty novels on the bestseller lists, to discover what fiction readers want. It’s pretty clear the general market likes tension-filled stories and insightful growth/coming-of-age tales. Meanwhile, those on the CBA side seem to like emotional romance stories (Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, Lynn Austin, Tracie Peterson) and exciting-but-not-racy suspense novels (Irene Hannon, Dani Pettrey, Dee Henderson, Joel Rosenberg). Now, having said that, keep in mind that I don’t think authors want to chase a trend – by the time your book is written, that trend will probably be on the way out. Instead, focus on the story you’ve been given, even if it first seems like your story may not be trending at the moment. And, of course, my best advice is to “stay away from advice from people like me,” since that is the one thing that’s SURE to screw you up.


Share :


  • Tim Osner says:

    Good to hear that more literary fiction is hitting on e-books.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, it is. All you have to do is look at the sales numbers. If this interests you, Tim, check out Digital Book World (DBW for those who read it). They are always tracking ebook trends.

    • Tim Osner says:

      Will do. Thanks.

  • Robin Mooneyham Archibald says:

    I’m writing what I call Garden Fiction because it’s what I want to write. Perhaps Garden Fiction is a growing niche genre. When I google “Garden Fiction” I find lists for garden fiction on goodreads, library sites, and garden blogs, with some garden bloggers crying out for more garden fiction. Every March, our local B and N puts out a table with novels that have “Garden” in the title, or flowery-looking covers, though the plots don’t really involve gardens—not like Burnett’s The Secret Garden, or Beverley Nichols’ garden memoirs (in print since the 1930’s).

    When I moved to Lancaster Co., PA, I felt like I’d moved to gardener’s paradise. People here, especially the older ones, speak gardening. So my story is set here. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I don’t know, or make up a story from a line in a newspaper, or write a copycat novel because the genre sells. I want to write what I know and love. So I’ve worked to devise a story about a place I love, with strong characters, conflict, and subplots that REALLY involve gardens. Underlying it all is the theme, à la Wendell Berry, that attachment to the land creates community. Though I’m sure I’ve bitten off far more than I can chew . . .

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Love the way you’re thinking, Robin. Garden fiction… possibly the next big thing!

    • Robin Mooneyham Archibald says:

      Except that I’m going to have to become a Pennsylvania Master Gardener to follow my MC’s trajectory of growth. Research!

  • jeanpurcell says:

    Oops, I commented having misread a comment. Good and interesting article. I had misread you as having said that Joel Rosenberg’s novels are ‘racy.’ Re-reading your words cleared that up. I just finished The Tehran Initiative and want to read more by this author.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Joel is NOT racy. He writes a taut story, but he never includes anything I’d consider racy, Jean.

  • Genny Heikka says:

    Your posts are always so valuable; thank you!

  • I always enjoy reading your posts, Chip, for the insight you give regarding the publishing industry. I have taken many tips and tricks from this blog and applied them to my YA mystery and fantasy novels. Too bad you can’t look into that magical crystal trending ball of yours and give us an idea of what will happen in the world of children’s picture books…the other genre I write in…lol…
    P.S. I like your closing comment as well…although I tend to think YOU will give us sounder advice than maybe a few other people I have met along the way to publication…;~)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      The world of children’s books is in uproar. New artists and new companies cropping up, so we rarely know where the latest hit will come from. And we all thought the market was going to move to ebooks, but little kids have a way of damaging expensive e-readers and tablets, so that hasn’t proved to be the best delivery vehicle after all. I’m suggesting we start making e-readers out of concrete, so they’ll stand up to most five year old boys…

    • In my humble opinion I think the e-readers might have been created more for the parents’ benefit than the five year old child except maybe in the case of interactive book apps. Most of the children I work with on a daily basis (ages 4 to 12) prefer hard bound picture books with beautiful illustrations over an e-reader when reading stories…;~)

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    Loved the closing remarks best.

  • Rick Barry says:

    Seems to me that most breakout novels automatically fit your advice not to chase trends and to focus on the story you’ve been given. Even if a story doesn’t sell, I think I’d rather produce a book that is 100% mine rather than a half-baked, watered-down copycat of someone else’s invention (which would be tough to write with enthusiasm).

    By the way, there is a hot discussion going on at You are probably too busy to weigh in, but your thoughts always prove worthy of consideration.


  • Anne Love says:

    I’ll have to send my hubby to read your post today. He keeps telling me to put a bonnet on everyone in my story so I can sell it. I keep resisting! 🙂

  • Carey Green says:

    Great information but I love the way you wrap it up… don’t focus on chasing the trend. It seems to me that we authors need to write what is in us to write… whether it’s trendy or not.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah — I see writers too often trying to write to a trend. But a writer is given a story, and needs to write the stories given to him or her.

  • Iola Goulton says:

    “We all thought fiction was outselling fiction about 3-to-1 ” – Do you mean fiction is outselling non-fiction?
    (And feel free to delete this comment)

Leave a Reply

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