Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's Hot and What's Not: Predicting Trends in the Publishing Industry

literary agent Gordon Warnock
If people could truly predict what sells well, there would only be about 200 books accepted for publication per year, according to senior literary agent Gordon Warnock, the featured speaker at a recent Writer's Forum. But with 2 million titles published annually, (200,000 by the New York "big six" alone), how can you tell what the industry will seek next? Start with the bookstores, Warnock advised. Notice the lay-out of what's on display, and see what changes throughout the months. Whatever is selling best is easily found at the front of the store, with the most appealing or popular titles facing out. "Nothing in a bookstore is random," he said.

"But don't write to the trend that's happening now, or you'll be too late," Warnock warned. Since it typically takes 1-2 years for a book to reach the shelves, he said, and that's after you get a publisher, you don't want an agent to pass you over just because the market will be saturated with your topic by then.

"The industry wants what is both fresh and familiar," he said.

Say, for instance, you want to write a Young Adult novel. You look at the miscellaneous topics on a YA shelf. You may find urban fantasy, steampunk, and magical realism, along with a usual assortment of "high fantasy" elves, wizards and werewolves. "I know," you think. "I'll write a book on Victorian-era vampires in steampunk style!" Sorry, you should have jumped on the bandwagon with Gail Carriger and her best-selling Parasol Protectorate series.

In fact, on his agent web page, Warnock notes he accepts "YA (No vampires please)." Vampires, and their zombie pals, are long dead. (Unless you're my NY Times best-selling cousin, Ellen Schreiber, though it's true her last volume in the series came out in 2010. Her latest series features werewolves.)

The YA market, Warnock said, whether contemporary fiction or fantasy, "changes as quickly as the youth culture itself." Your best bet, whatever your genre, is to "know your audience." Make sure you have experience with the people you're writing for.

Since I work with pregnant and parenting teens, I'm always considering the contemporary issues relevant to them. "Intensity marks their lives," agreed Warnock, who claimed "there's no limit" to how far you can explore issues on "the shadow side of life" for young adults.

Ultimately, no matter your subject matter, I think you have to write what you're driven to put on the page. If you shape compelling material, it will eventually find its audience.

That said, here are some places Warnock recommends to follow the trends, or at least to note what markets may be saturated:

Writer's Digest guide to literary agents blog: often agents will present a 'wish list' of topics for foreseeable markets.

Publishers Weekly: a magazine publishers and agents read. Here's a web sample:
"If you want to sell in the mega-numbers, write or publish a series. That's the clear message from our compilation of last year's bestselling titles. Eighteen books for children and teens sold more than a million copies last year: all of them were from authors of big franchises... The Wimpy Kid had a not-very-wimpy total: 11.5 million copies sold, of seven titles."
Writer's Market: keeps you informed on the latest publishing industry news:
"Use’s search tools to find more than 100 book publishers and contests looking for young adult novels, whether you’re writing the next big series or a stand alone coming of age story."

1 comment:

Arletta Dawdy said...

Great summary, Niclole. Sorry we didn't chat that evening.

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