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.