Book Trade Trends—
Hot and Not So
Copyright 2000 by Patricia Anderson
In the world of publishing, trends come and go. There is little advantage in picking a trend and writing to suit it. Odds are, by the time you finished your version of the latest hot item, it would be stone-cold—stale and unmarketable. In the end, you have to write what you love, what you believe in, and what best suits your particular abilities.
But great books—which just might become hot trends—don't grow in vacuums. To write successfully for publication, therefore, is to write with knowledge of the current state of the book trade, so that you can carve out your own unique niche within it. Here then, based on standard guides to getting published and on trade papers such as Publishers Weekly and The New York Times Book Review, are some hot trends and some that appear to be cooling, at least for now.
Novels by young people. Really young, that is—age twenty or younger. For example, among others, Rebbecca Ray, the author of Pure, a coming-of-age novel begun when she was sixteen.
Reflections of our multicultural, multigendered society. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction—for instance, books exploring, or written from within, nonwestern cultures; books by and about African Americans; books treating the diversity of immigrant experience; books about gay, lesbian, and other alternative sexual lifestyles.
Romance. From series like Harlequin to mainstream novels, romance has been hot for decades and shows no signs of cooling. If you're thinking about genre writing, then this is your best bet. Romance, by one recent reckoning, now controls 53 percent of the overall book market.
Mysteries and thrillers. Second only to romance as a popular genre. But keep an eye out for overdone areas within the genre. See below.
Nonfiction perennials. For now at least—and as long as they have new information or some original twist to them—the following nonfiction categories hold their own in the marketplace: computers, spirituality, alternative health, and cookbooks.
NOT SO HOT
Some thrillers. While thrillers in general are hot, some categories—especially medical and legal thrillers—are well-covered. If you're writing in these areas, remember that you're competing with superstars like Robin Cook and John Grisham, and your story had better be polished in style, as well as gripping in plot, and offer something new to the genre.
Westerns. This once highly popular genre is currently in the doldrums. Agents and other experts advise that classic westerns are no longer good sellers. If the western is your genre, then you have to come up with something new out there in the Old West.
Noncelebrity memoirs. A couple of years ago the memoir was the "genre du jour." Though some noncelebrity memoirs continue to be published, there are now so many being written that great numbers of them will never see the light of conventional commercial publication. If you are bound and determined that memoir is your genre, then be aware that those that succeed will have to be of unusual literary merit and/or offer something strikingly new in the way of themes and capacity to inspire readers.
Originality and excellence. Knowledge of current market trends is an important professional tool, one among several that can serve a writer's career. As such, you control it and not vice-versa, for following the market is not ultimately what counts most. Rather, what will always be hot are fresh voices, compelling stories, enriching insights, and masterful writing.
As Wordsworth said, "Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." In other words, regardless of what is currently hot (or not), your continuing agenda as a writer is to strive for excellence—to be no mere trend-follower but one of the trendsetters.