I continued my market research yesterday, and it was rather eye-opening. It turns out that the books I had in mind were classified as “fantasy romance,” and that bestseller list was almost identical to the “romantic fantasy” bestseller list. That category is all over the map. There were things like The Princess Bride in it, along with some fairly traditional fantasy by a Mormon author who’s a big champion of “clean fantasy.” And then there were books that looked like what I have in mind, those with covers that feature a woman in a fairy tale-like gown, usually in a forest or near a castle, with a kind of filigree frame around the cover.
Half of those were classified as young adult (so I don’t know why they were on an adult fantasy bestseller list). And half of them turned out to be what’s apparently the big trope right now, “reverse harem” (and, oh dear, the interesting spam I’m probably going to get on this post thanks to that term). That seems to be about a woman who has a whole team of men serving her in multiple ways (if you know what I mean). Some of them were pretty up-front about it, with that term in the subtitle or series description, but some were more subtle. I didn’t pick up on it from the book description, but then all the reader reviews were swooning over how hot the book was with all those men in the heroine’s harem. There seem to be some code words or phrases in the description that make it clear to those who know. I just thought the mention of four men meant it was setting up a romance-like series where there would be a team of guys who would each get to be the hero of his own book, with one of them ending up with the heroine of book one, and a new heroine for another member of the team in book two, etc. But it seems this heroine is greedy and keeping them all to herself. This would definitely fall into the category of “not to my taste.” Heck, with just one man I’d have to send him off on the occasional quest. I’d feel really crowded with four or five. And I’m probably going to get all kinds of bizarre Amazon recommendations now that I’ve looked at those book pages.
No wonder it’s hard to find things to read if you find “clean” Mormon-written books, YA, and that all in the same category, and they all have fairly similar covers. That also doesn’t make marketing easy. I don’t know if there’s an underserved market of people who want the kind of thing I have in mind and haven’t been able to find much of it or if there isn’t much of it because people don’t want it and it doesn’t sell well.
One thing that’s very difficult about product marketing is that there’s no way to measure unserved pent-up demand. Back in my PR days, I had a client that did supply-chain management, and that included the ability to measure what was selling so that stores could get more of what was selling better and less of what wasn’t selling. I once stumped them in a meeting when I asked how they could really measure that, since they couldn’t count the people who came into a store looking for something and walked out empty-handed because it wasn’t there. I have a problem finding my size in clothes because most stores only get in one or two items in my size, and they sell right away. Maybe that would trigger some systems to then order more if they sold that quickly, but generally it just shows that only two sold in that size, so that’s all they order in the future, and they have no way of knowing how many people didn’t buy anything at all because it wasn’t there in their size.
I think there’s a lot of that going on with books. You can only measure demand by looking at what’s selling, but if something doesn’t exist and people want it, you can’t know. Publishers decide what to publish based on how well the things that are already being published are selling. They don’t know how many people go to bookstores and walk away empty-handed because they don’t find what they want. The rise of independent publishing has shown that there were some underserved categories, usually at either end of the spectrum. “Clean” romances have done very well, since they’d stopped publishing books without graphic love scenes, but then the racier ones that go beyond what publishers were willing to do have also done really well.
It may be a leap of faith to see if there’s a readership for tamer character-driven fantasy. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want grimdark or harems of any kind.