Friday, December 20, 2013

Readers: Step Away from the Book

It’s happened again. The literati (agents, editors, and the like) have spoken One trend in teen fiction is over, and another begins. Dystopian novels, paranormal romance—in fact, the entire genre of fantasy is SO last year. Now we want—well, we’re not sure. Maybe realistic contemporary fiction. Maybe anything that is not one of those things.
Vampires, werewolves and angels—head to the unemployment office. Wizards, pack away those wands and learn a useful skill, like—like—well, we told you not to go to wizarding school.
All over the world, writers are deleting files, tucking manuscripts away in drawers, or trying to figure out how to convert a dystopian vampire romance into contemporary realistic fiction.
            All over the world, teen readers are...hey! Readers! I’m talking to you. Close your books NOW.  Haven’t you heard? Time to move on. Just stop already.
            See how well that works.
            Trends begin because a reader falls in love with a book. This one particular book. Often, it is not the kind of book that is supposed to be, well, popular. It’s the kind of book that ambushes a reader. And this ambushed reader tells another reader, who tells another reader who talks about it at school, or posts it on Facebook or Pinterest or wherever they hang out.
When a reader falls in love with a book—this one particular book—she asks librarians and booksellers and teachers, Do you have any more books like this one that I love? The smart librarian or bookseller or teacher knows that she is not just looking for another book with a moody boy or a dragon on the cover. She is looking for another book that will give her that same rush of joy, that recognition of self, that feeling of context and connection.
This brushfire of reader love burns more and more brightly as it spreads until the flames are high enough that somebody in publishing notices. And, says—aha! THIS is what readers want. But what exactly is it?
What it is, is a vampire book.
And the call goes out to agents, and editors, and those few journalists that are still out there (journalism is over, too) that vampire books are HOT. Buy more of these. And writers get the message—write more of these. And somewhere, a writer pulls her beloved vampire manuscript out of the drawer and knows that NOW is her  hour. Other writers put aside their contemporary realistic fiction, grit their teeth, and begin to craft stories about vampires. And, because it's not from the heart, maybe it's a bad story.
Eventually, a reader has her heart broken one too many times by a book that promised to be just like that book she loved, and wasn’t. She has learned through bitter experience not to judge a book by the moody boy cover; not to listen to the seductive words of the publicists who tell her that THIS book is just like that book that she loved. She knows that she is going to have to work a little harder to find that next book.
An agent sits with a slush pile full of bad vampire romance, and realizes that he cannot stomach another one. And a publisher with a list of bad vampire fiction that is not selling says, WHOA! Send me something else. Anything else. And a trend dies an ugly death amid disillusionment and disappointment.
But that reader is still looking. And, like as not, the book that started the firestorm in the first place is still selling, because that was the book that readers fell in love with in the first place. Guess what—it’s STILL a great book.  There are STILL great books out there in every genre. The hard part is finding them.It's not about the genre, or the pitch--it's the execution.
            The ugly secret is, nobody knows what readers want until you tell us.
Author’s note: I was all ready to post this, and then I learned that the blog is dead.  So for those of you who are offended, I'm sorry. I never was all that good with authority.