Wending and Trending
By: Miriam Zizza
It is still early in the day when you arrive at the great realm of YA fiction, and the place seems to be hopping. You wander leisurely up to the receptionist’s desk and tap the bell. RING! She looks up at you through those black-rimmed, everybody-has-them square modern glasses and gives you her best librarian look. The look that says, “I know stuff about books.”
“What’s the deal?” you ask. “What’s good these days? What’s the trend?”
The receptionist taps her nondescript and yet highly threatening pen on her desk. She’s strangely familiar and you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen her before, not just once, but several times.
“What are you looking for?” she asks.
You consider for a moment and then reply, “I’m looking for what everyone else is looking for.”
She turns her back and opens a drawer in a filing cabinet that you could’ve sworn wasn’t there before. It’s impossibly tall, taller than the tallest giant you’ve ever envisioned in all your fiction reading escapades. You’re no stranger to fantastical worlds, and yet this rectangular giant beats them all. And…it only seems to have one drawer. The receptionist pulls out a stack of files, her red nails like blood on the snow white paper.
“You did that on purpose,” you say accusingly. “Young adult novels always have women with blood-red nails, especially fantasy.”
“Obviously.” The receptionist slides her glasses down her nose, judging you with those “I-know-stuff-about-books” eyes. She’s far too sophisticated to say “Duh.”
What’s wrong with pointing out clichés? you want to ask. But you don’t. The nondescript threat between her fingers is tap, tap, tapping again. You take your files and move elsewhere.
Where’s elsewhere? There of course, the best seat in the land. You settle by the bubbling brook where the fairies dance among the fire flowers. The good fairies. Obviously, the receptionist’s voice says in your head. The bad fairies are all off plotting evil deeds in the Dark Woods. After a melodramatic sigh and some thoughtful gazing into the middle distance, you flip open the files and begin to read.
So what is everybody reading in the realm of YA?
“Paranormal romance!” the files sing in perfect harmony.
You nearly jump off your rock straight into the bubbling brook. A drifting fairy looks at you askance, wondering if you’re quite well. You clear your throat and glance behind you sheepishly. It’s a good thing they don’t know you’re an aspiring author. Obviously you should have known the files were magical, and that magical things have a tendency to break into song.
“Vampires and love,” the files trill. “Werewolves and love. A vampire-wizard-werewolf who also happens to be three quarters dragon and half wombat with a terrible curse and a twisted past. Angst, angst, headdesk, angst, love. Did I mention angst?”
“Dystopiaaaa!” the files warble. “Forbidden love, fight the system. Rebel, rebel, yeah. Thrown together by circumstance, stick together to survive…and fall in love only to be separated, only to find each other again. And again. Oh, and again.”
“So that’s what’s trending?” you say.
“Trendy? Same old, same old!” the files chirp. “Tested, tried, and true—at least for a while. But formulas form habits that are hard to break, molds that are hard to bust. Why does everyone want to be the same, anyway?”
“The…money,” you hazard.
“Money, money, money,” the files echo, shivering in your hands. “If it’s always about the paper with important faces, then maybe you’ll be one of those faces, too. Not the ones on the bills, of course, but out there on the net, in magazines and book covers.”
Snippets and factoids from websites scroll up the file pages like Star Wars credits and you scan them swiftly. Sarah Flowers, the 2012 president of the Young Adult Library Services, reveals in an interview her beliefs on the current trends for that same year. Key genres jump out at you like literary whac-a-moles. Flowers says, “I think dystopias and post-apocalypse books will continue to be popular…Also, fantasy in general seems to be doing really well right now” (Kennedy).
At this point, there’s pretty much no doubt that genre fiction is popular, you decide. All you have to do is think about all the young adult novels that were turned into movies recently. Harry Potter, Twilight, Beautiful Creatures, City of Bones. Oh, wait. Most of those seem to be suspiciously centered around the paranormal.
“So should I write the next best paranormal romance?” you inquire. “That half dragon, half wombat, or whatever you said doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”
“Before you get too excited about your DNA splicing, check this out,” the files twitter. “For the week of December 3, 2013, the weekly bestseller list at Barnes and Noble boasts dystopian YA in first, third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth place (B&N Store). I’m sure you’ve heard of many if not all of them.”
“Are you just going to string me along, or are you going to tell me what they are?” you ask impatiently.
The files shuffle a little in your grasp. “No need to get testy. In order of appearance, I give you Divergent, Allegiant, Mockingjay, Catching Fire, The Hunger Games, and Insurgent (B&N Store). Happy now?”
“Well….” You stare at the files in consternation. “Then you’re telling me to write dystopian?”
“No. We’re not telling you what genre to write at all. That’s not our job. Look at this.”
You look. The files are scrolling again. You’ve seen some of these names before. Amazon’s list for popular teen and young adult book authors lists Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, and Cassandra Clare within the top five, places one, three, and four respectively (Most Popular).
“Okay, you’re not making any sense,” you say. “These are more dystopian and paranormal authors. It seems to me that’s where the money lies. I mean, look!” You point to the files, wondering if they can see the information they are displaying. “It seems even ‘the good ship Literary Fiction has run aground and the survivors are frantically paddling toward the islands of genre’ (Wright). Literary fiction isn’t even necessarily associated with YA and those writers are changing their minds. You can’t tell me that writing to the trend isn’t worth it. That’s where the big bucks are!” you exclaim, nearly throwing the papers into the bubbling brook.
“We didn’t say it wasn’t worth it,” the files sing sweetly. “There are both agents who are accepting these genres and those who aren’t. Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency accepts ‘genre fiction with emotional power; speculative fiction and alternate histories/realities; dystopian, fantasy, and paranormal’ and more (Agents). However, although she accepts these categories, too, agent Pooja Menon says she sees ‘a lot of YA crowded with vampires, werewolves, faeries, demons, and lately…you have to ask yourself how your book is different to the countless others that saturate the market’ (O’Neale). Of course, you can side-step the industry, write to the trends and self-publish if you so wish. But the fact remains. The market is flooded with this kind of fiction.”
You feel like screaming and tearing out some hair. Preferably not your own. “So the market is full of the trends. Where does that leave me now?”
“Well, ‘IBM has found that steampunk is evolving into a cultural ‘meme’ via a series of leaps across cultural domains (such as fiction, visual arts, etc)’ (IBM). So that could be the next big thing. Besides, full does not mean there’s no room for more of the same. You see it happen all the time. City of Bones was published around the Twilight craze and it did fine, was maybe even bolstered by it.”
“I will put you through a paper shredder,” you say flatly.
The corners of the files curl. “We contain information on YA trends, not advice. Go see a therapist if you’re having a midlife crisis.”
“Midlife!” you begin indignantly, but then think better of sharing your true age. Why should you listen to a bunch of operatic files anyway? You take a deep breath. “Okay, so I should write…about a struggling clockwork vampire painter trapped in a society where art is forbidden?”
The files flutter but there is no wind. You eye them suspiciously. If paper could laugh….
“Sure,” the files hum. “If you want money, if that’s what this is about, then ‘write popular fiction. This may be controversial, but…write for the masses’ (Penn).”
“What are you saying?”
“We’re not saying, we’re singing.”
You stare at the files in your hands, restraining yourself from crumpling them into little pieces of litter and flicking them at the fairies. “Okay, fine. What are you singing?”
“We’re singing that this genre novel thing ‘isn’t a game with favorable odds’ (Writer’s Relief). But if you do manage to cash in, you can, in fact, cash in, if you know what I mean. Assuming your writing floats with the readers.”
“So I could be like one of these authors on the top YA books lists.” You start to imagine the moment and the glow of the fairies around you seems brighter somehow.
“It’s not impossible,” the files chirrup. “But whether or not it’s worth it is up to you. It can take a long time to break into the industry, traditional publishing or self-publishing. Former literary agent Nathan Bransford writes, ‘a mere handful out [of] the 10,000 people who quer[ied him] a year bec[a]me clients,’ and he likens the authorship of a book to ‘spending a year creating a lottery ticket’ (Bransford). As for self-publishing, the successes you see don’t necessarily demonstrate ‘the typical experience of unknowns releasing digital titles’ (Klems).”
You are suddenly under the uncomfortable impression that the files in your hands are scrutinizing you. “What is it you really want?” they trill.
“I want to write books,” you say. “Beautiful, dazzling, crazy, epic fiction young adult books.”
“I’m not sure they have a specific genre for that one….”
“I want to write. There are stories sitting up here,” you tap your head, “and they need to be told.”
“And do all your stories fit in the confines of the current trends?”
“No. But…I have to write them. If I let them sit in here too long they’ll start to crowd out my own thoughts.” You place a palm to your forehead.
“Then write them. Trends can be okay. You can use them to your advantage or turn them upside down. But we say write what’s in your soul. And put all the effort of your heart behind it. When the author is immersed in his/her imagined world, it becomes that much more real for the readers.”
You blink and scratch behind your ear in the following silence. “That…uh…that was pretty deep for…uh, paper.”
“Write what you want, whether it’s trendy or not. That is what will be the most satisfying in the end, money, or no money. And who knows, you could be the next breakout author. You could be the trend setter with your crazy new idea about that clockwork vampire painter…er, honestly, just bench that one, okay?”
“I thought you said you didn’t give advice,” you say.
“Shut up and go write those books.”
“Agents.” Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www.andreabrownlit.com/agents.php>.
“B&N Store Bestsellers — Teen Bestsellers.” Barnes and Noble. Dec. 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/barnes-and-noble-store-teen-bestsellers/379003731>.
Bransford, Nathan. “It’s Not You, It’s the Odds (and the Resonance Factor).” Nathan Bransford, Author. 16 June 2008. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/06/its-not-you-its-odds-and-resonance.html>.
“IBM Social Sentiment Index Predicts New Retail Trend in the Making.” IBM. 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/40120.wss>.
Kennedy, Elizabeth. “Teen Reading Trends: 2012.” About.com. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/5youngadultbooks/a/Teen-Reading-Trends-Current.htm>.
Klems, Brian. “HOW CAN THE AVERAGE WRITER MAKE MONEY SELF-PUBLISHING E-BOOKS?” Writer’s Digest. 25 June 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-can-the-average-writer-make-money-self-publishing-e-books>.
“Most Popular Authors in Teen & Young Adult Books.” Amazon. 4 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.amazon.com/author-rank/Teens/books/28/ref=ntt_dp_kar_B001JRXWE4>.
O’Neale, Stacey. “Interview with Literary Agent Pooja Menon.” Staceyoneale.com. 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://staceyoneale.com/2012/10/05/pooja-menon-interview/>.
Penn, Joanna. “What Do The Most Highly Paid Authors Have In Common?” The Creative Penn. 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/40120.wss>.
Wright, Kim. “Why Are So Many Literary Writers Shifting into Genre?” The Millions. 2 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www.themillions.com/2011/09/why-are-so-many-literary-writers-shifting-into-genre.html>.
Writer’s Relief staff. “Writer Wednesday: Is Writing Genre Fiction Really All That Easy?”The Huffington Post. 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/writing-genre-fiction_n_1071267.html>.