fonzieAAR ran a style poll back in 2002 which had completely slipped my mind until I clicked on it by accident the other day. (Take a look; it’s got some interesting ideas in it). I was particularly struck by the category “Jumped the Shark,” in which readers selected Amanda Quick, Catherine Coulter, Jude Deveraux, Sandra Brown, Julie Garwood, and Judith McNaught. I wondered if these authors were in fact no longer popular with readers, as predicted. Since it’s been twelve years since their demise was predicted, I thought AAR must have some data to help me find an answer.

Most of these authors enjoy enduring popularity with readers. According to our pollsters, Garwood was the #9 overall vote-getter in 2014, McNaught was #10, Quick was #30, Deveraux was #41 and Brown was #57. Only Coulter failed to place in the top 100 authors. However, “Jump the Shark” refers to a decline in quality production, not a decline in love for a backlist. So were AAR readers right that these authors were headed for a slump?

Data suggests that largely, yes. Despite lingering popularity of their older 80s and 90s titles, not a single post-2000 release by these authors cracked the Top 100 poll in 2014. (I’m using the 2000 poll as a benchmark because there was no Top 100 poll in 2002). Even their backlists have declined in popularity, with each author placing fewer books in 2014 than they did in 2000.

Coulter and Brown didn’t place in the 2000 poll, but they also haven’t placed since. Considering that Coulter released 25 new titles, and Brown released 20, that’s not a lot of success.

Among the authors who placed in 2000, McNaught fell from seven titles to five. She released 2 books, neither of which placed. Amanda Quick had 3 titles in the 2000 poll but only one in 2014.  Despite having added fifteen titles to her catalogue, her sole 2014 placement is Ravished, which dates back to 1992 and also placed in 2000. While releasing twelve new works, Julie Garwood fell from eight titles to four. None of her 2014 titles was written after the poll (one new title entered the list for her, but it was written in 1999.) Jude Deveraux placed twice in 2000. Despite releasing 22 titles since, she fell to one book in 2014, the pre-2000 A Knight in Shining Armor.

Overall, therefore, the AAR “Jump-the-shark” metric successfully predicted a lack of blockbuster new works in all six cases. Still, maybe a Top 100 placement is a lot to ask. What about general reviews?

It turns out that some authors fare better by a review metric; others fare the same or worse. Again, due to the small sample size, it’s hard to evaluate Judith McNaught at all. AAR reviewed one of her two post-2002 releases, granting Every Breath You Take a respectable B+. Before 2002, she had earned 5 A grades, and just about everybody would look like a failure up against that.

The 2000s were not kind to Deveraux, Coulter, and Garwood. Deveraux and Coulter released a significant amount of new material but did not earn a single DIK, both topping out at B+. That’s against the five DIKs each earned before 2002. Julie Garwood fell even harder. She earned 14 DIKs on pre-2002 titles. After 2002? Nada. Ouch.  (I did not count multiple DIK reviews for the same book. Any DIKs earned on pre-2002 titles rereleased post-2002 in the same or a new form, such as audio, counted towards pre-2002 titles).

By contrast, reviews show Quick and Brown in a more favorable light than the Top 100 Poll does. Quick earned three DIKs before 2002 and one after. Brown had 4 DIKs before 2002 and 3 after. Considering that AAR only reviewed eight of her 20 releases, she may have even more good books out there that didn’t get noticed.

2000 Top 100 Poll 2014 Top 100 Poll Pre-2002 DIKs Post-2002 DIKs
Amanda Quick Ravished (33), Rendezvous (77), Scandal (95) Ravished (58) 3 1
Catherine Coulter 1998; not 2000 none 5 0
Jude Deveraux A Knight in Shining Armor (16), Sweet Liar (52) A Knight in Shining Armor (37) 5 0
Sandra Brown none none 4 3
Julie Garwood The Bride (11), The Secret (20), Saving Grace (34), Castles (39), The Prize (56), The Gift (57), Honor’s Splendour (74), The Lion’s Lady (85) The Bride (29), The Secret (47), Honor’s Splendor (73), Ransom (75) 14 (not counting repeat DIKs of the same title; counting audiobooks if the work was not previously reviewed) 0 (not counting audiobooks of pre-2002 releases)
Judith McNaught Paradise (22), A Kingdom of Dreams (23), Almost Heaven (24), Whitney, My Love (35), Once and Always (45), Something Wonderful (49), Perfect (62) Paradise (28), A Kingdom of Dreams (43), Perfect (71), Something Wonderful (81), Almost Heaven (94), Whitney, My Love (99)

Obviously, there are shortcomings in my method. Some authors are more widely reviewed than others (see Sandra Brown), giving them more chances to score DIKs. I did not average ratings, or look at how many failures an author had in each time period (there are only so many hours in the day!). Since many readers use previous Top 100 polls to help them fill out ballots, there may be a “grandfather” benefit to books which made prior lists. McNaught’s marginal books at 94 and 99 in particular may still be around because the lists remind people to vote for them. I did my best to count all of the author’s works and release dates, but it was hard to keep track among reissues and other listing format quirks, and I may have missed or incorrectly sorted a work or two. All of these metrics come from within the AAR community, and the community which voted that certain authors jumped the shark may already have been predisposed not to like or read their work. I didn’t use sales data or other numbers (which might also be flawed by distribution bias etc).

With these imperfections fully acknowledged, here is my overall verdict:

Amanda Quick: Did not jump

Jude Deveraux: Jumped the shark

Catherine Coulter: Jumped the shark

Sandra Brown: Did not jump

Julie Garwood: Jumped the shark

McNaught: Disqualified due to small sample size (although you could argue that failing to write is a form of shark-jumping)
That would make AAR voters right in three or four out of six cases, depending on how you count McNaught. Considering that the voters were choosing from a list of 36 authors, it’s not a bad showing. In fact, of all the authors on the list, the only one I think of as a definite shark-jumper who was overlooked is Laurell K. Hamilton. However, I haven’t read all of them.

Do you agree with my analysis? Did I use the right data to try to reach my conclusions?  Who did the voters miss from the 2002 poll (who jumped but didn’t get voted for?) Who’s jumping the the shark these days?

Caroline