Tag Archives: trends

Overheard in NY

A few random tidbits that relate to spec fic and were heard from speakers at the SCBWI conference in New York and other anonymous professionals with whom I met:

- The paranormal rage is (finally) subsiding.

- Dystopias are still going strong, with plenty of submissions still coming in.

- High-concept reigns. If you can’t describe it very briefly and make it sound hooky, it’s going to be a tough sell.

- From an agent: “Editors keep saying they want middle-grade, but then they won’t buy it. I’m not going to believe them any more.”

- From an art director: Cover art is trending away from faces.

- Next trend, perhaps? Historicals. Flapper steampunk. Or contemporary “normal” YA about “normal” teens.

Since “normal” doesn’t sound like much fun to us here at The Spec, I’ll take that as a call to battle. Let’s give them some good abnormal stories!

— Joni, who is still catching up on the lost sleep

 

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Princess Mashup and the Future of Genre Fiction

On one of the lists I’m subscribed to, I received an advertisement targeted to booksellers about a recent release. In the interest of protecting the parties responsible for its publication, let’s call it Princess Mashup and the Laser Vampire Steamship of Death (not the real title). I was especially interested in the ad’s claim that Princess Mashup is a “landmark work” and considered to be “the future of genre fiction.” This got my attention because I love reading landmark works and every author needs to know where the industry will be heading.

Based on the rest of the ad, the future of genre fiction–as contemplated by this one publisher’s marketing department–is going to be a rocky landscape of extremes. There are two main readership groups targeted by Princess Mashup: people who don’t read books at all; and people who obsessively devour books in all six of the genres that Princess Mashup falls into.

The ad envisions, first of all, a legion of non-readers stumbling into a bookstore for the first time in their lives when well-meaning relatives give them bookstore gift certificates for the holidays, perhaps as a joke. The ad instructs booksellers to hand-sell Princess Mashup “until every one of those gift cards are redeemed”…but why? They never say. My first thought was that books in the speculative genres are universally approachable vehicles to hook young readers into a lifetime love of reading–except that Princess Mashup is also touted as a YA/Adult crossover. By the time a reader is developmentally ready for such a book, their reading habits or lack thereof will probably be set for life already. Still, if you’re a sometimes-reader looking to survey six different genres to decide which you might like, maybe it is most efficient to get them all in a single volume.

For the second demographic of Princess Mashup, imagine a Venn diagram–that’s the one with two or more overlapping circles. We’ll start with circles for people who are rabid fans of vampires and those who love, love, love a good romance. At the intersection of those two circles are fans of the Twilight series, among other recent works, representing a number sizable enough to drive a book onto the bestseller lists. Then add a circle to represent more-than-casual fans of steampunk, and suddenly you’ve fragmented your potential-bestseller market into a hoping-for-a-cult-classic market. Now add three more circles for fans of alternate history, fans of dark fantasy, and fans of pulp adventure. At the intersection point of all six circles, you’ll find the set of readers who are omnivorous enough to already be familiar with the six distinct storytelling conventions required to truly appreciate why Princess Mashup is such a “landmark work.”

Giving Princess Mashup the benefit of the doubt, I figured it could actually be a fun cross-genre romp that the marketing department had no idea how to present. Then I just took a sneak peek at the opening pages and found them to be something about a princess on a steam-powered pirate ship using her magic sword to fight off a pair of startlingly handsome vampires in a world where the Macedonian Empire remains a world superpower. I know that sounds cool as a synopsis but the execution was underwhelming–and that shouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s hard enough to do just one genre well, but with six combined there’s an exponential increase in the difficulty level. My upcoming Galaxy Games series is a humorous take on sports and science fiction, and I had to pull out all my writing tricks and reader experience to make sure it was good science fiction, a plausible sports story, and genuinely humorous. Assuming my reaction to Princess Mashup is typical, cramming six different genres into a single book will only serve to nauseate a reader in six different ways at once.

This one publisher’s terrifying vision of the publishing industry’s future is one in which genre fiction becomes a mash-up, individual genres cease to stand alone, and all new books are grouped together in a single bookstore section ideal for non-readers and a select group of crossover fans. Readers will be required to either love the latest fantasy-romance-cyberpunk-zombie-detective offering wholeheartedly or give up reading altogether.

The blending may be starting already. In the past few years we’ve seen the monster genre almost entirely subsumed into the romance genre. I can’t recall any recent books about unrepentant vampire killing machines and the heroes who must stake them in the heart or die trying. After an entire tradition of standalone monster stories is lost, what genre will be next? I’m looking at you, Space Opera!

—Greg, who loves a good mashup and wishes everyone a happy Christmachannukkwanzanew Year!

Greg R. Fishbone

Greg R. Fishbone

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TAG, You’re It!

There was an interesting announcement recently from Sterling, the book-publishing wing of Barnes & Noble. They will be launching a YA imprint called Splinter that will debut in January with at least one fantasy title, Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck, followed by four more books in the Tiger’s series.

New fantasy imprints are worth watching. Books published by a retailer are a trendy topic. But here’s what really raised my eyebrow:

“…all books will be released simultaneously in hardcover and e-book formats, and the print editions will be imbedded with TAG codes that will enable readers with smartphones to scan the codes to access Web-only material.”

The commitment to publish an e-book edition of every book simultaneously with the hardcover edition shows how legitimate the digital format has become. But what in blazes is a TAG code? Could they mean that those ugly QR Code blocks will be plastered throughout the book?

Page 112 of Tiger's Curse?

Obviously this is just a rough mock-up but it’s fun to imagine a book with web-content footnotes using a technology that’s becoming more and more common.

There could be links to interesting facts about the setting, video of the author explaining how a scene came to be, references to other books or movies that the reader might be interested in, pictures, recipes, or whatever. It would be just like an HTML-based book with hyperlinks!

We’re now seeing the first printed books that incorporate some of the capabilities of digital books. Only time will tell whether readers will come to expect hyperlinked content in all formats or if this is just the kind of weird experiment we see when people go a little nuts with a new technology.

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What’s Hot?

Several of us just returned from the Los Angeles SCBWI conference. It was a good time, as always, and packed with information. So what did they have to say about speculative fiction? Here are a few tidbits from talks I attended:

Fantasy and paranormal romance are still popular genres. You don’t see much hard sci-fi, but subgenres like dystopia, genetic engineering (Maximum Ride) and steampunk are strong.

Genre fiction lends itself well to series, but it’s safer to write a standalone with the potential for sequels.

Trends trickle down. If vampires and dystopia are big in teen books, they may hit middle grade next.

Alternate histories (Leviathan) are “cool” according to one Scholastic editor. He also mentioned how one author looked at what her son was reading — Western fiction, sea life nonfiction, and either Avengers or Animorphs, I didn’t quite catch which — and combined them into an underwater Western with superpowers, called Dark Life.

What genre mixup would you like to see? (Of course, if you are a writer, you may want to keep this secret for your own use. Or not, if you are just being silly, which is always good too.)

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch is getting to work on her dystopian steampunk paranormal vampire romance middle grade novel.

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Middle Grade Trends in Speculative Fiction

Yesterday I discussed speculative trends for teen readers. (By the way, I forgot to mention some prime paranormal examples: the Dead Girl series by our own Linda Joy Singleton, the Ghost Huntress series by Marley Gibson, Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez, and ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley.)

So what about middle grade readers? Vampire romances and dystopian suspense haven’t trickled down to preteens, but paranormal is supposed to be on the rise with preteens. That should be good news for my Haunted series. But how new and strong is this trend, really?

Most of the current ghost series are targeted at teenagers, like the ones I mentioned above. It seems like most of the single title, middle grade ghost stories I pick up at the library are from the 80s and 90s.

Of course The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a recent bestseller. Peg Kehret has been writing suspense novels for years, mostly contemporary realistic stories involving robbers or kidnappers. She came out with The Ghost’s Grave in 2007

But let’s look back a bit…. Richard Peck’s series that began with The Ghost Belonged to Me started in 1975, and that title was re-released in 1997. Bruce Coville released The Ghost in the Third Row in 1987, and continued the trilogy with The Ghost Wore Gray in 1988 and The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed in 1991. Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude came out in 2000.

(Read my Amazon list mania “More spooky ghost books” for brief descriptions and links to all these books.)

Then, of course, there’s Goosebumps. According to Wikipedia, the Goosebumps umbrella featured 62 books published between 1992 and 1997. An average of 10 books per year from one author, and that doesn’t even count his Ghosts of Fear Street (a spinoff of Fear Street targeted at younger readers), which started in 1995. Now THAT’S a trend.

So when, exactly, did paranormal go away? Based on this very unofficial survey, it seems like the 90s were a prime paranormal time, though the trend may have dipped in the early to mid-2000s.

Maybe the lesson here is that some topics are eternal (just ask Dracula, who made his appearance in 1897). Or perhaps there’s a message about the futility of trying to write to trends. Or the inaccuracy of all this trend prediction, anyway (look at yesterday’s post about the supposed decline in fantasy). Or maybe the real point is, we just shouldn’t worry about it, and focus on reading and writing what we enjoy.

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch needs to go investigate that strange noise in the basement now. Oh wait, she doesn’t have a basement. CREEPY!

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Teen Trends In Speculative Fiction

Three years ago, I interviewed some editors for an article on horror and paranormal fiction, and asked what they saw as upcoming trends. Let’s see if they were right….

“There’s definitely been a rise in the popularity of thrillers, ghost stories, and stories based on the paranormal,” a Delacorte editor said. “I think the most popular books are the ones that set the ghost story in the contemporary world. There’s something about believing those things are out there right now that is thrilling for young readers.”

“Pure horror will probably never explode the way fantasy or sci-fi have exploded at different times,” a Scholastic editor said, “but the wave of terror ebbs and flows. During any given year, some subgenre or another seems to take off. For the past couple years, apocalyptic zombie stories have been big, thanks to Max Brooks, Brian Keene, and others.”

At Llewellyn, an editor said, “We see good, steady demand for well done paranormal thrillers, books that might even be called ‘dark fantasy’ or ‘urban fantasy,’ especially for girls. Witty, graphic horror, such as the books by Darren Shan, seems to work well for boys.”

In a Candlewick Press editor’s opinion, “I think we’ll see more graphic fare in all of these areas as the graphic novel continues to gain popularity. It’s a natural fit. For middle-grade readers and younger, the emphasis seems to be on series publishing and story collections, while YA readers range more between genre/series fare and lush, literary novels like Twilight.”

Seems like they did pretty well. And how about today? At the SCBWI New York conference a few of months ago, Susan Raab said that mystery and ghost stories are thought to be growing. Vampires and werewolves are still big, but not expected to last. Fantasy in general is softening, but dystopian fantasy is growing.

Of course, who really knows? A fantastic book may be ready to launch, and pull back up one of these trends, or start a new one. And as for fantasy, editor Ari Lewin noted that eight or nine of the top 10 books on both the hardcover and paperback children’s bestseller list that week were fantasy of some kind. We keep hearing about the death of fantasy, but that seems to be wishful thinking on the part of editors who are tired of it. Readers just keep on reading. (Note that these were not high fantasy (knights and dragons), but lots of dystopian and paranormal books.)

So what’s the next big trend? Have you read — or written — a book that you think will light some fires? Personally, I’m hoping that Rick Riordan’s new Kane Chronicles series will reignite interest in ancient Egypt, both historical fantasy and straight historical fiction. Because, you know, I have this Egyptian novel I haven’t beChris Eboch with Haunted booksen able to sell yet….

Chris Eboch has this fantasy that she’ll start a new trend and beginning authors will submit their manuscripts with covers letters that says, “It’s the next Chris Eboch” so often that it becomes a cliché.

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