Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Next Big Thing by Keren David


Trend-setter
Dystopia is the new paranormal. So says The Bookseller magazine, reporting on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  Publishers’ stands were still full of vampires, angels and ghosts, but agents and publishers were haggling over rights for Young Adult books about imagined worlds and deadly disasters. 
Publishers' Weekly quoted Random House UK’s Becky Stradwick: “I literally had six dystopian novels land on my desk a week before the fair. People are feeling the need to create a feeding frenzy, a ‘book of the fair.’
The trend started with the deserved success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, in which the government of Pan-em, an imagined America, makes teens fight to the death on television.  Big advances, film rights and a lot of hype followed for several other writers of high concept dystopian tales. Their books will be heading up publishers lists, getting the biggest share of marketing spend and prominent placement on bookshop shelves next year.
Woo! Exciting! Shelve that sexy vampire story and start dreaming up a world with no energy sources. A planet without water? A regime in which half the population is imprisoned by a tiny elite? Dystopia gives writers a great opportunity to take a premise wherever they want to, to tackle contemporary and universal issues in a futuristic setting.
But wait. Dystopia is already on the wane. According to The Bookseller article spring 2012 is already saturated with apocalyptic tales. Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Children's, said there had been a wave of dystopian trilogies from the US, ‘and we are being very selective.’
The glut of dystopia books coming next year won't start the next fashion. That’ll be reserved for some other book that slipped through the net and got published even though its chances were severely limited by not being on-trend. Publishers' Weekly runs through a few ideas for the next Next Big Thing. Books for younger readers! Time travel (the anti-dystopia, apparently) And I'm glad to say that there's even hope for the realistic novel. PW spoke to another Random House editor, Beverly Horowitz who said “Everyone’s asking if I think the realistic novel is coming back. ‘It’s never gone away,’ I tell them. These books are still selling, they’re just not getting the same attention.”
 My imagined world -  my utopia -  is one where the world of publishing isn’t so quick to follow  one best-seller with more of the same. Where story, characters, plot and writing matters more than genre. Where publishers say things such as ‘Readers need a wide range of books about all sorts of subjects.’ And ‘We value originality more than anything else.’ And ‘We judge every book on its own merits, not on its similarity to books by other authors.’  There are editors, sales and marketing people, booksellers who believe this and act accordingly. And those people start trends rather than follow them.
The London Book Fair starts today. Good luck to all those YA dystopian writers. And even better luck, this year, to everyone else. 

14 comments:

catdownunder said...

Oh right, thankyou. I sat down and wrote something based on a real life event...a small incident told to me in the course of some research. I wondered if I was being completely ridiculous expecting anyone to be interested in a much more realistic adventure story. It may be a while before I find out but...I can hope.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hear, hear, Keren. I'm sick of people worrying about or listening to any advice which implies the need to follow a trend or bandwagon. Just write a great story - there's one trend that never went away. Nx

Liz de Jager said...

Trends are just that: trends. Before you can even write to that trend, it's gone.

This is something we heard about at the Undiscovered Voices and at the SCBWI Agents Party last year.

No one seemed excited about the dystopian novels, I have to say. That boat has come and gone.

As a reviewer what I'm seeing a lot of at the moment is horror and uber-realistic gritty contemporary fiction, not necessarilly "issue" books, but pretty damn close.

Another trend that is happening and that has been happening for some time is fairy tale retellings. With a swathe of fairy tale books selling really well both in the UK and abroad, it now means that we have a stack of movies coming along, from Red Riding Hood to Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters as well as Snow White and the Huntsman and of course Beastly.

It is a strange old time for stories, and to be honest, I'd like to think that the UK market is far different to the US market. Our readers are happier to try out something different, something new, rather than follow the pack. And I'm hoping that the publishers end up doing the same.

Sue Purkiss said...

Hear, totally hear. There are lots of different readers out there, who like different kinds of books - why do we have to have wall to wall anything?

midlifesinglemum said...

If it takes a couple of years from starting a novel until it's in the shops the new trend will be old hat anyway. I say write what you like and start your own trend.

Sara Grant said...

Funny but true...in 2008 when I wrote my dystopian novel, I had an agent tell me that publishers weren't interested in this genre and that I should write something else.I didn't listen and continued to work on the book I wanted to write. My dystopian novel -- DARK PARTIES -- will be published by Orion in October.

Anne said...

I have been writing 'social' realism for twenty years and watched it go in and out of fashion. The key thing is there's always a place for a good story whether it's set now or in the future or (groan) among vampires. I'm hoping the CRIME will become fashionable now that WHEN I WAS JOE has had such a good reception.

adele said...

My husband started reading a novel by Jane Gardam last night so I was filling him in by telling him about her YA novels like A VERY LONG WAY FROM VERONA, BILGEWATER etc. Then I reflected on this: I bet if those novels appeared on an editor's desk now they would perhaps not be published at all. This is very sad. The stand alone LITERARY novel for teenagers is an endangered species. How would Jill Paton-Walsh's GOLDENGROVE go down? Or Penelope Lively's THE HOUSE IN NORHAM GARDENS? Not well, I don't think....very sad. As for Jan Mark, well..don't get me started on her backlist and why it's out of print for the most part. And she had dystopias a plenty.... I feel very old!

Keren David said...

Two of the rejections I had for When I Was Joe when it was submitted to publishers in 2009:
'I have my doubts about the market for hard-hitting teenage reality books.'
'I'm just not convinced that it could be the success it would need to be in today's crowded and competitive market place.'
And now Liz says that everyone's doing gritty thrillers. Oh well.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the write what you are passionate about writing (although sometimes a good agent can convince an author to write something a bit funnier/darker/longer/shorter/whatever, and it will pay off when the writer finds the nudge has taken them to a great new place they hadn't thought of). But how do you convince an agent, perhaps a new agent, that what you have decided to write should be sent round the (publishing) houses? And is the "not quite right for the market right now" argument only really an excuse for "actually, we didn't absolutely love it enough"?

Keren David said...

Much better to tell a writer 'we ddn't love it enough' than 'it's not right for the market'. But I think there's a lot of 'we love it but our sales people don't think it's right for the market' going on.

Leila said...

So true, Keren, great post. I make a point of not reading stories about 'the next big thing in children's books'. If I read them I end up feeling insecure and desperate, as if I ought to rush and write a dystopian novel/gritty thriller/vampire/werewolf story NOW NOW NOW - and of course, that approach achieves nothing. I just have to go on looking for characters and stories that I love writing, and ignore the hype!

Juliette said...

This so true. I actually worry more when what I'm writing (usually either historical or more optimistic futuristic SF) *is* on trend, because by the time it's ready no one will be interested any more - somehow I have more hope that a far-seeing gatekeeper might look at something a bit different, whereas it's a good thing I didn't go down the vampire route...

Pauline Fisk said...

A strange old time for stories, Liz de Jager says. She's right I'm sure, and Adele's right about hard times for literary stand-alone novels. When I started out over twenty years ago, my agent of the time said that if a novel was good it would always find its market. I'd be astonished if she said that now - but it's still something to aspire to.

When I go into schools, children always ask, 'How much money do you make?' My answer's always, 'Enough to keep me in bread and jam,'. It would be nice if it came to more than that [and occasionally it does], but I'd rather write a good book that'll maybe last than a poor one that's out of fashion by this time next year.