Anna Denning, the heroine of my mystery novel The Muncy Tree, is a forty-year-old woman. But when I was plotting my story, I tinkered with the idea of a protagonist in her early thirties. Why? Because I thought a younger character might be more marketable.
Take a look at the covers of today’s Christian novels. Of those with people on them, a majority feature women in their twenties and thirties. So you’d think it’s women in their twenties and thirties who are buying and reading most of the books, right? Wrong.
The statistics—who buys and reads books—run counter to the covers. According to a study on Slideshare.net, 32 percent of book readers are over age 55 (the average reader is age 44), the average age of those who most often buy books is 50, and readers age 55 and older buy the most e-books. (That last statistic is especially surprising.)
When you break it down by genre, 92 percent of all mystery/detective novels are bought by those born in 1966 or earlier. The number one fiction genre is the mystery/detective story, accounting for 16 percent of all books, fiction and nonfiction, purchased. (At least when you include statistics for secular mysteries. Romance is the number one genre in Christian fiction.)
I enjoy mysteries with protagonists in their thirties, even twenties, but a character in her forties or fifties interests me more. I can identify with such a woman. She’s lived more. She has a depth that’s naturally missing in younger characters.
Sure, an author can try to add that depth to her twentysomething character, but she then runs the risk of making the character a little too mature, too considered and accomplished for her age--a little “off,” like those TV sitcom kids who talk like wiseacre thirty year olds.
Anna Denning couldn’t be a twentysomething. She’s experienced too much of life, and although she has her insecurities, she also has the confidence of a woman who knows things only time can teach you. And she’s a better amateur sleuth for it.
I’m not in marketing, and obviously those who are know what they’re doing, as sales of Christian fiction are holding steady in these tough economic times. But surely there’s room for the slightly older protagonist, especially in mysteries. One in the vast middle, say, older than Nancy Drew but younger than Miss Marple? Maybe even one in the same age ballpark as the author who created her?