“The thriller market is almost completely saturated right now. It's VERY hard to find room on the shelf, and I'm having a hard time finding books that knock my socks off to the point I want to wrestle with that bear of a category.”
You also wrote:
“If all the best selling authors have been published for 20+ years, that's a good sign new authors aren't getting much traction.”
So here is the question: I have noticed that EVERY business is saturated, unless the business is hunting deer in an empty field. I probably would not have much competition selling covered wagons at Star Trek conventions. I probably also would not have much competition selling condom vending machines to Catholic schools and universities. There’s probably not much dosh in it, either.
Oh yes, the question: what does one do about this? When I read you comment about best selling authors, what came to mind is that Stephen King is not allowed to publish more than one book a year. But then I realized if he has a long backlist it’s going to take a while for fans to work through every gory, disgusting, yukk-o thing he has ever written. Kudos to Laird Barron for cracking the horror market. Kudos to you for selling his MSS. Both of you have scored major triumphs IMO.
The reality that there is no room for new writers seems to abut oddly with the reality that you and other agents are actively searching for new MSS. From out here in the weeds that is very confusing. Yes, I know best selling authors die. But the Bible is still selling. People still read Homer.
Any random musings on this topic or expansions on the original thoughts expressed you might wish to share will be gratefully received.
A couple things to remember. Most people reading Homer aren't picking it up at the airport bookstore for a fun read on their way to Thessalonia.
And people picking up a Bible are likely to have a purpose other than something to read at the DudsSudser while the dryer rumbles.
In other words, you need to use examples from the commercial side of general trade publishing.
And you need to remember that people like us who have actual To Be Read piles of books, and read 20+ books a year, and talk about books and think about books, and write books (you) and sell books (me) are NOT the normal book buyer.
Most people who buy books buy five or fewer in a year.
Yea, let that sink in for a minute. (I bought five last week.)
That's not to say those folks aren't reading. I suspect many of them use the public library (at least I hope they do.)
BUT if you're buying five books a year, generally you're buying books you know you want to read. Thus, you're buying favorite authors, and maybe an author recommended to you by someone you like.
Which is to say if Lee Child is your favorite author, you're buying his book this year, and then four others.
If you love Lee Child and Louise Penny, well, there's two you're buying.
And if you love Lee Child and Louise Penny and James Patterson, that's the ball game.
Which is to say, if you're writing books that will be shelved with Lee Child or Louise Penny, we've got a tough road ahead to break in to that market. It can be done. It IS being done, but it's harder now than it's been in a long time.
One factor is that death isn't reducing an author's output. Estates are licensing the author's name and Robert Parker is still publishing books. If you like Robert Parker, there's one of your five. And that's years after his death.
Another factor is that it's an increasingly noisy marketplace. There are a myriad of places to find out about new books, and those places aren't all choosing the same books.
Years ago, before I slithered into publishing, the only place I went to find out about new crime novels was the New Arrivals shelf at the library. Crime novels didn't get reviewed in the newspapers I read, and even then, I liked the commercial stuff, not the high brow literary stuff that got review attention.
Now I can name sixteen places to find out about books, and I can access all of them from my bathtub in Brooklyn if I want.
So, what to do? This is where familiarity with your category comes in. Write the book that isn't there. I'm always looking for something fresh and new. The "new" Lee Child isn't going to be a knock off Jack Reacher. It's going to be a fresh approach to "a stranger comes to town."
I can think of a dozen authors who wrote something that surprised me with a fresh take on an old trope. Charlie Huston. Jeff Lindsay. Chris Holm. Charlaine Harris. Dana Cameron. And back in the day, Robert Parker is credited with revitalizing the private eye novel because he did something fresh and new with his protagonist.
So, look for what isn't there. I'm looking for that too.