I used to study and write poetry, a fact that is relevant to this post in two ways. First, it helps to explain why the statistical methodology to follow is so shoddy, so truly terrible that it would make any self-respecting statistician gouge out her own eyes, Oedipus-style. Second, this post helps to explain, in small part, one of the reasons I stopped writing poetry and started with the epic fantasy.
Every year Goodreads hosts the “Readers’ Choice” awards, which the site bills as “the only major book award decided by readers.” That claim depends, of course, on what you consider “major”, but with nearly two million votes cast in 2013 competition, it’s fair to say that Goodreads is running a big competition. There are twenty categories, with fifteen books nominated in each. I’m thrilled to be nominated in two categories: Best Fantasy and Best Goodreads Debut Author. I also thought this was a perfect opportunity for someone who hasn’t done math since high school to do some math.
Specifically, I was curious to see if there was any difference in the average number of reader ratings per book by category. These ratings have nothing to do with the Choice awards – they’re just the number of ratings each book has accrued since its release. Still, it seemed like the nominations offered a sort of snapshot of each genre.
Of course, there are problems. The books are released at different points in the year, for one thing, and obviously books released in January have more ratings than those released two weeks ago. It’s very possible that readers of certain genres might be more likely to use Goodreads than others. Ratings might not translate well to sales. I accept my D- for data analysis.
Still, check this shit out:
Category Average Number of Ratings per Nominated Book
YA SF/F: 23,726
The discrepancy is pretty astounding. It seems to suggest that writers of Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi are just absolutely killing it, sales-wise, compared to anyone writing what we might call (for lack of a better term) Adult-Oriented Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The YA title with the most ratings was Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire, with 73,629 ratings. This is half the number of ratings all fifteen nominated adult fantasy titles combined. The only other genre that even comes close to these numbers is Romance.
That said, I think this is good news for those of us writing non-YA fantasy. I, for one, am delighted to see the YA market so robust. I like to think that when these kids get older, they’ll keep reading fantasy.
And then, of course, there’s the plight of non-fiction. After the breakout success of such books as The Perfect Storm, and Longitude, I expected non-fiction to have a much higher readership. Maybe it does in other years. Maybe non-fiction readers just hate goodreads. I dunno. Again, the holes in my method here are massive, but these numbers seem bleak.
Finally, poetry. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school writing poetry that I started to really understand it would be almost impossible to make money in the enterprise. I admit that this was pretty late for what should have been an obvious realization, but I love poetry. I still write the occasional poem. My son and I recite poems before bed every night. If you want to make a living as a writer, however, and I do, it’s not a viable path (unless you couple it with teaching or prostitution or something). Fortunately, my other great literary love, the writing of epic fantasy, offers more possibilities.
I’m delighted about the nomination of The Emperor’s Blades. Both slates (fantasy and debut) include some incredibly stiff competition, but it’s exciting to find my name in the fray alongside the likes of Rothfuss and Sanderson. I hope some of you wander over to the site, check out some of the categories and titles for yourself, and let me know what you make of all this data. Where have I gone horribly and wildly wrong? Or do you think that, warts and all, this is actually a pretty accurate picture of the current publishing world? Finally, please vote, either for The Emperor’s Blades or another writer you’re excited about. I love doing this, I’m incredibly grateful to be making a living at it, and I couldn’t do it – no writer could – without you.