Thursday, December 09, 2010

That's so five minutes ago

by Michael

Yesterday, Scholastic released their list of the "Ten Trends in Children's Books from 2010."   Aside from the fourth on the list, which felt more like them pushing the multimedia series that they're very invested in, I thought the list was pretty accurate.  There's happy stuff there: expanding YA marketplace!  Return to humor!  Books that aren't about vampires!  I can definitely cheer on all of those things, though I should say that I still love vampire books, despite the market saturation.  There was sad stuff, too: The steady decline of the picture book, which shows no stopping.  The power of big brands to dominate all forms of media.  I love picture books, but I represent very few because it feels like the get harder to sell every day, and that's disappointing, since I think they have the power to make children into life-long readers.  And though there are many popular, brand-name characters that I, too, love, it's hard knowing that books thought of solely as "product" are taking up precious shelf space that could have been devoted to new voices.

While I always keep an eye to trends, I also try not to get too caught up in them.  And, as writers, I encourage you to do the same.  It's important to read about what's happening in the market, so that you can have an understanding of where your work fits in.  But chasing trends, or writing to them, can be as bad--or even worse--than not knowing anything about the business.  I've seen so many manuscripts over the years that are clearly following a recent trend, and as every agent will tell you, if you're modeling your book after what's on the bestseller list now, you're way behind.  With how long it takes to for a book to get published (2 - 3 years from completion of a submission-ready manuscript), those trends will be long gone.  My two cents: write what you feel drawn to write, while keeping an eye on the market to help understand the context of your work and to help tailor your pitch.

What do you think of trends and the list from Scholastic?  Did they miss anything?

8 comments:

  1. Expanding audience, humor: great. Picture books heading the way of dinosaurs: not good. I wonder if people have some sort of dollar- amount-to-number-of-words ratio when they bypass picture books in the store. Anyone who has read the same book five hundred times to a captured and engaged child would know the magic of a beautifully written, illustrated and produced book. Sad.

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  2. I feel like doing a major *headdesk* when I read that list because the MG novel I'm writing has a mythological basis, though I'm not writing it to be 'on trend.' I loved the idea I had and flew with it and now when I see it listed as a trend, I'm wondering how seriously it'll get taken when I'm ready (in several months) to start querying.

    I keep telling myself, "Write well and it won't matter."

    *sigh*

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  3. Wonderful to see that more and more adults are venturing into the YA market. There's great stories written there that capture many different audiences and with what I read on that list, there are many different types of YA books to fall in love with. I too, am a die-hard vamp fan, but love the idea of more dystopian, humor and fantasy on the shelves. Although, I thought contemporary/coming of age would have rounded out the top ten.

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  4. I agree completely with your point about publishing schedules. It's so strange when someone writes a book based on a current trend --- because the chances of (1) someone writing a GOOD book based on the trend, and (2) the trend holding for that long, are miniscule. I don't get it.

    Write What Fires You Up. Otherwise, it's a waste of time.

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  5. Amy - Don't worry about that too much. I think you're absolutely right when you say, "Write well and it won't matter."

    Teri - I really like "Write What Fires You Up." WWFYU!

    - Michael

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  6. I kept some of my favorite picture books from when I was a kid. :( I'm with you, Amy; my book's genre is on that list too. We will definitely have to fire it up!

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  7. Picture books are such great treasures that in my family, we pass them down generation to generation. Trend doesn't seem to matter with picture books. A book I read when I was a little girl still captures the interests of my children. So I don't usually buy them unless it's for a birthday or Christmas. I'm going to have to buy more so they don't disappear entirely. That would be too sad.

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  8. I think there is an 11th trend -- a shift in quality in upper YA because of the "expanding readership" of YA novels. I don't think it's that adult readers are reaching for YA as much perhaps as YA reaching for adult readers. By quality, I mean richness of plot, depth of character, and acceptable multi-pov characters for a novel.

    I think we have agents and editors to thank for moving the MG/YA novel along this exciting path. And maybe J.K. Rowling.

    I would counterpoint the trend in popularity of humor being directly related to the recession (althought it certainly may be!) with the idea that humor is the most challenging form of literature (for any age) and the strong market in children's lit is attracting better and better writers.

    Dr. Suess has always been funny and he didn't gain popularity in a down economy. Funny works, funny sells... always has.. but very few people can write humor for a general audience. Especially for youth.

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