Publishing Trends

rolling dice

      SOMETIMES MY MIND wanders and ponders upon the history of writing, of what has gone before and what is yet to come. Publishing is widely said to be an unpredictable business, literary agents and publishing houses alike struggle to identify what will make one book hugely successful over another. A big name writer always helps sales and in essence they can release something like Breathless (the alternate title being How Not to Write a Thriller) and still get to number one bestseller (I may bash Dean Koontz’s book for some time yet).

But what about the debut authors? Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and The Martian by Andy Weir are two contemporary examples that have been successful beyond imagination. One an urban murder mystery, the other a survival story set on Mars – Weir’s story is hardly genre specific. I’m a 100 pages deep into Hawkins’ debut and it’s nothing exceptional so far. So what gives?

In publishing it seems that certain genres are untouchable through the ages. Murder and mystery have been the backbone of writing for well over a century, think Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot to Keigo Higashino’s Detective Galileo series. Romance while still popular was once a major mover with serious prose dedicated to it, and love is still at the core of many a book. In a way that’s no surprise; death and love are the drivers of humanity, we all experience them in one way or another, good or bad. I don’t doubt thrillers, murder mysteries and romance will be written about until the end of time, a guaranteed seller.

What about the outliers? Frequently a trend breaks out and dominates for a succession of time. In the last fifteen years we’ve had zombies, vampires, superheroes in all their incarnations and dystopian books take centre stage at one point or another. Why? If I could pinpoint the reason I’m sure I’d have a very high paying job somewhere… But whatever the reason their rise to prominence was unpredictable. Any movie tie-ins are sure to raise the profile of course like The Hunger Games, World War Z  and the dreaded Twilight series which in turn spawn interest, but the books preceded all of them. Is there something in the zeitgeist that leads to certain themes being popular? A theory of mine is that the YA dystopia genre gained popularity due to the generation reading it, a generation raised on the meat grinder of social media and constant attention of cameras and video means it’s a dog eat dog world, so the idea of teens fighting for their lives against other teens and so on feeds right into that psyche.

As the old saying goes, don’t write for money: and don’t write with the intent of making it by bending your writing to current trends. Trends are phantasmagoric anyway, by the time they hit, the chances are the best books in that category have already been written and are being marketed. I won’t say write what you know, because that’s nonsense, it’s trite, a throwaway quote that sounds good on the surface. I don’t know about 90% of the things I write about. In this ramble I guess I’m saying that certain genres will never stop shifting copies whereas others are contenders to be the next big thing, but the vampire-romance ‘yeah, like Game of Thrones in space (with battling cats)’, may not be it, but you never know. All I know is that quality writing engages and if you write with a passion for the craft that cannot help but come across on the page. And with self publishing opening the market, I think genres are there to made and moulded in new ways in what should be a creative boom.

lion around 2

37 Comments

  1. Most writers create stories because they are passionate about it. I know I do it because I love it. I type every day just like I go running every other day. It is an exercise I enjoy and need. I already have a job I love. Writing is not a job to me, it is an adventure. When I am not physically travelling my words take me places I could never reach where it not for my imagination.

    If I get published, I would be very happy. However I do not focus solely on that end goal. My focus is entirely on the page and the story at hand. I want to see where I can go, what I can tell, what I can do. I want to test my abilities and discover more about me and about the world around me in the process.

    Writing is more about personal growth than it is about anything else to me. And anyway as you said, even if I have worked in publishing a few years back I could not begin to understand how they choose the stories they publish.

    Moreover and as you pointed out the publishing industry is undergoing major changes, with the rise of e-books and self-publishing. We don’t really need a traditional publishing house if we want to hold a paperback print of our work in our hands, just a lot of personal investment and sound advice from friends or free lance editors.

    A friend of mine self-published a book on fencing and he even makes a substantial income out of it – it pays for the mortgage on his house – which is much more than he would have, had he gone through a publishing house first.

    1. Ultimately passion writes books. And when it is a daily ritual it can become something bigger.
      We can publish ourselves but the one trick the publishing houses still have up their sleeve is marketing and distribution not to mention contacts galore – self pubbing and selling a lot is a mega rare.
      Is that book on fencing as in fields or the epee kind?

      1. I could. I have a masters in multimedia publishing and professional writing. I worked for a French publishing house for a while, but the working conditions and the wages for junior editors are terrible in France. Besides, when you enjoy writing and spend all of your energy editing other people’s words you quickly get frustrated – especially if what you are editing feels way below your standards. Anyway. All that to say that I believe in you and I am way happier as a teacher. 🙂

      2. I always imagined editors must be readers more than anything else, I know I would get frustrated doing it, even my own stories is bad enough lol.
        What level do you teach and what subject?

      3. I share that feeling. Writing is the treat. Editing the work. I teach English in priority education. I am working in a Junior High School at the moment. The work is challenging. The kids are a handful, which incidentally means they are very lively. I love it.

  2. Interesting post, I definitely agree. Publishing is a hugely unpredictable business; I have just started working for a small publishing house, and determining what could be ‘the next big thing’ is no easy task! Like you say, by the time a trend hits the shelves that will sell, the better works are already out there- and a book can take years from beginning to publication, by which time the trend will be considered out of date.
    Even those who have years of experience in marketing cannot definitively know what is going to interest the general public, they can only make informed predictions.

    1. Thanks for dropping by rebecca, best of starts for you at the publishing house.
      I might be wrong but so many books seem to be the product of publishers, usually the big 5, pushing a particular novel like The Girl on the Train which has sold millions and after reading it, I cannot comprehend how or why other than the publisher earmarked it for success.
      My unrealistic romanticised idea of successful books is that they will rise to the top even if it takes time, sadly it just isnt the case.

      1. Thank you! Yes, I completely agree with you with The Girl on the Train. I don’t think it was a bad book at all, but I certainly don’t think it deserved the attention that it got- but the big publishers can push the sales of virtually whatever they want, because they have the resources and finances to do so.
        I like to think the same as you; even though editing is what I want to do, the other side of me is very happy to see all of the platforms by which new writers can reach the general public. I think that there are more ways than ever to get stories out there, exactly how the individual wants to write them. The only downfall is that although stories can be put out there more easily, marketing without the backing of a major publishing house more often than not limits the number of people that a story can reach.

      2. Yeah it wasnt bad just fairly mediocre.
        And you are totally right about platforms and stories. There are so many avenues that it is amazing anyone gets recognition really, the web being so vast and so many stories out there. Thats the good and bad of blogs, self pub, ebooks etc etc

  3. The YA genre thrives on social media. The unexpected thing about it is that, more and more adults seem to be reading it. If you’re interested in my take on the vampire genre, you’ll find it in my book ‘It’s a Fantasy World’.

    1. Cool.
      And that seems to be a major selling point for YA, like Harry Potter books, the adults enjoy them as much as the intended audience. Not sure if it’s the fact they are well written or a growing immaturity amongt adult readers? YA seems to be pretty progressive anyway which is always positive.

      1. I’ll probably be beaten about the head for saying this but I don’t think it’s ‘growing immaturity’, more laziness. A lot of people are out for a quick fix, a quick thrill and can’t be bothered reading anything more substantial.

      2. I think there is definitely a degree of that. Lets face it most best sellers reflect the movie world, easily absorbed, fairly mindless (not necessarily bad or even unintelligent) blockbuster type fodder is the most consumed.
        There is a real battleground of well written vs easy to read and a good book should be both ideally but easier said than done in many ways.

  4. I think the emergence of the vampire / superhero / zombie / dystopia series of genres is just an extension of what story-telling has given us for millennia. Most books and films have tended to concentrate on real people in real situations, but there’s always the desire for something a little bit different. Which gives us either: 1) an ordinary person in an exceptional situation (which usually involves the ordinary person blossoming into someone exceptional, such as Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, or even Mark Watney in The Martian); or 2) an exceptional person in an ordinary situation (most super-hero films, Jim Carrey’s character in Bruce Almighty, the main characters – ghost, vampire, werewolf – in the awesome BBC series Being Human).
    These kind of tales hark back to myths and fables that are often wrapped up in religion – feats of super strength, awesome powers, battling ferocious monsters.
    The point at which interest starts to dwindle is where the reader / viewer no longer has any connection with the main characters or the scenario. Super-hero films tend to work fairly well when you end up with exceptional people in exceptional situations because we’re used to who they are – they’ve come through their ordinary-into-extraordinary character arcs and so we continue to identify with them. But take an unknown extreme character and place them in an extreme situation and you’re unlikely to take the audience with you.
    So don’t chase genres. If you’re going for something a little different, just make sure there’s an element that your audience can identify with – it’s the clash of ‘different’ with ‘mundane’ that makes things fizz.

    1. Definiteley babbitman, being able to identify with the story and characters (characters more so) is a huge draw. Stories are emotional rides, and success can rest on it, although I struggle to think of a single block buster in recent times in which I gave a flying about any of the characters – there is zero attachment or cares given for super heroes (bar Batman due to the great script and background work on Nolan’s trio).
      As for different and mundane I think you’ve nailed it really, those situations often work best.

  5. Other than Samsung, no one knows what will be the next big thing will be. Adding a fresh slant to old genres always works. The Martian was a remake of Tom Hank’s Castaway (with an obvious sci-fi slant). Coming up with something that hasn’t already been done – well that is brilliance.

    1. Good spot, the premise is really just moved to outer space instead of an island. I havent read it but I gather the detail in the story is exceptional as in the technical aspects and sometimes that alone can raise a book above many others when the expertise of the writer is utilised to make the world as realistic as possible.

      1. The writer was an expert on the subject. Which made the read all the more fascinating. Micharl Chrichton was another writer like that. He delved so deep into the science of the subject he made it real.

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