Saturday, 30 January 2010

Move over Harry Potter - I.J. Parnham

Black Horse Westerns are now more
popular than Harry Potter
They say you can prove anything
with statistics, so I intend to prove
that the Black Horse Western series
and its tales of gunslingers and
their Peacemakers are more popular
than the boy wizard and his magic wand.
The amazing thing is, it's true!

The evidence comes from the UK's
PLR system. British authors are
lucky in having a scheme
in which they receive a small
payment every time a book is
borrowed from a UK library.
Currently this stands at around 6p per
loan and when an author has several books
out this mounts up to a worthwhile payment.
The scheme though has a second advantage of letting authors see
how many times their books have been borrowed. At the very least
this provides welcome comfort that someone has actually read your
books, but over time it provides interesting results to mull over
about both the success of your own work and also the state of the
western generally.

On a personal level my 1st
IJ Parnham BHW
The Outlawed Deputy was
published in 2001 and my
18th Sharpshooter McClure
is out this month. Nine years on the first book along with
its Large Print Linford Western version is still being borrowed
around 50 times a month. During those years the book that has
been most popular with borrowers in terms of average
loans per year is Dead by Sundown and the one that has
been least popular is Mendosa's Gun-runners with the
former attracting 75% more loans than the latter.
I initially found this bemusing as I rate Mendosa's
Gun-runners as being one of my better novels to the
extent that when people ask me which of my books
they should try it's one of the ones I usually mention
. I never mention Dead by Sundown as it didn’t strike me
as being particularly special. On the other hand Dead by
Sundown is a good title for a western and it has the best
cover I've ever had, one that has a great composition and which ties in
perfectly with the title
. Mendosa's Gun-runners has a
dull title and the cover was
fairly generic.

This theme continues. My second most successful book is
The Last Rider from Hell, which has a good title
and a nice cover, and my second least successful
is Calloway's Crossing, which has a good cover
but a dull title even though again it's one
of my favourite books. Continuing down the
list, also in the bottom half as regards
average loans are Yates's Dilemma and Calhoun's Bounty,
both of which have great covers, but perhaps their relative
lack of success hints that titles with a named person
aren’t so interesting to readers. Having said that
my other titles that feature a name Devine's Law
and Wanted: McBain have been popular, but then
again their titles sound more dynamic than
vague concepts such as a dilemma or a
bounty. There could be many reasons
for the spread of borrowing, but
I'd offer the reasonable conclusion
that the title is very important in
giving a book a better chance of
someone taking it off the shelf.

Totalling up these statistics I
found that after nine years the
title that has been borrowed the
most is The Last Rider from Hell.
That was my second book and it has
now been borrowed 11,000 times. As
at June 2009 an IJ Parnham western
has been loaned 87,000 times and
with someone taking out one of my
books every 29.4 minutes I should
reach 100,000 loans on March 17,
2010 (at 9.22am approximately).
I'm also currently the 1498.3th
most borrowed author. I find
that all encouraging. But even
more encouraging is that I can
detect no sign of waning popularity
no matter how I play around with
the figures. Trends are in truth
hard to work out as new BHWs are
always the most popular. The first year
after publication is when the most loans happen..
Thereafter loans fade away so every year an individual title
will be borrowed fewer times than it was the previous year,
but if I compare the trend of my recent books to that of my
earlier ones the conclusion is an
interesting one.

The Gallows Gang in 2009 came out in January as did
The Last Rider from Hell in 2002, but the
recent book was borrowed more often in its first half year
than the old book. Massacre at Bluff Point from 2007 hasn't tailed off
as quickly as Bad Day in Dirtwood did from 2003. It's the same with the
rest. But apparently library lending statistics show that library loans
in total fell over the last decade by around 20%. If that decline was
across the board the trend ought to show up, and yet my
latest titles are doing as well now as my earlier ones did
, if not better.

This health becomes even more apparent when considering
the Large Print versions. Traditionally these are borrowed
around 50% more often than the normal print versions, and
my more recent Large Print titles are noticeably more popular
than my earlier ones. Obviously I can't with assurance
say that my figures, which PLR derive from a statistical sample
and which next year could plummet as a different
part of the country is sampled, prove the western generally
is healthy, but I am certainly not getting a picture
of a dying genre, declining readership, and budget-strapped
cutting back. The picture for me appears to be that
BHWs are as popular as they ever were
and Large Prints are growing in popularity,
and as someone who has now accepted

I'll never be able to see the small
print on product labels again I understand why.

Taking this analysis to its logical
conclusion, I looked at how many
BHWs have been published since my first book.
The answer is 874 and so I've provided
about 2% of the series. I reckon
I'm an average author
being neither much more
popular nor much less
popular than others are
and so I'd estimate that
all BHWs and their Large Print
reprints are loaned at least 1 million times annually.
According to the PLR site only four authors are
currently being loaned more than
1 million times headed by James Patterson.
JK Rowling wasn't one of the four and therefore
she was loaned less than 1 million times.
Ergo Black Horse Westerns have more fans than Harry Potter...
So, fellow BHW writers,
the next time someone discovers you’re a writer
and feels obliged to ask if you're doing as well
as JK Rowling is, you can reply that you're not
, but the series you write for is!

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