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by Sharla Rae
If we knew the next hottest genre, many of us would jump on that horse and take a ride.
Since the 1990s, editors have chanted the same mantra, “Don’t worry about what’s hot, write the 'book of your heart.'”
Problem is, they didn’t really mean it OR we misunderstood what they meant. Many of us thought the statement meant we could write any genre we wanted as long as the book was well done with emotions that grabbed the heartstrings.
It turns out, that's not exactly true.
Oh sure, if editors receive a super book that blows them away, they “might” take a chance. But we’re talking one in a million -- especially in today’s ever-changing markets. And let’s be realistic. The economy isn’t that great. Editors want to keep their jobs and that means going with the flow and buying only the current high-earning genres.
How many of you have written the "book of your heart," only to receive a letter like this?
Love your characters, love your plot, love your writing style, but we just can’t sell your book in the current market or it isn’t what we’re looking for.
An indie writer may choose to ignore a letter like this, but writers who want to "traditionally publish or bust" know that choosing a popular genre will probably be in their best interest.
Laurie Alice Eakes wrote about her take on this in the August issue of RWA [Romance Writers Report] in the article, It's All in Your Head: Writing from Your Heart While Writing for the Market, she wrote: "'Write from Your heart'" is the worst advice you will ever receive as a writer."
The argument goes that if a writer waits until a genre is hot, it’s already too late to catch that ride. But look how long vampires have lasted!
This begs the question: Do publishers and agents know what the next hot genre will be?
I recently heard a young editor at a conference say that she believes watching the new wave of television programs is a very good way to predict the next hot fiction genre.
Ann Rice's book, Interview With A Vampire was made into a movie and the movie made the book more famous. From there we saw the Vampire rage take off. I suppose you could argue the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Young people have their fingers on the pulse of everything new and I’ve seen writers follow their lead to develop popular genres. Checking into subjects of the latest and greatest YA books is definitely a consideration even for adult romance genres. Being around teens doesn’t hurt either. What entertains them? What scares them? How do they see the future? What fads are they into?
What else can we do to predict future popular genres?
They say history repeats itself, and I think this is also true in publishing.
DC Comic was founded in 1932 during the Great Depression that began in 1929. From these comics we gained Superman, Green Lantern, and other superheroes. During this difficult time, the stock markets crashed, people lost their jobs and many a family lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
Is it any wonder that young and old alike glommed onto escapism and hope in the form of fantasy and superheroes?
Along with these escapism stories came great realistic stories like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, a story of a family seeking hope in the form of jobs in California and later they hoped to better their lives and that of others, through labor unions.
Does this time period sound familiar? Could it explain why the paranormal, fantasy and futuristics are again so popular? Could it explain why strong women surviving tough odds in Women’s Fiction novels are so popular now? It just might.
The 30s and early 40s also had its share of sweeping technology: FM radio, stereo records, Nylon, jet engines etc. These might seem nothing compared to modern innovations, but at the time, they were every bit as important as our ever evolving computers and cell phones.
What about the more affluent, post war Fabulous Fifties? This period saw women being told they must leave their wartime jobs and return to their "traditional" roles. Harlequin published many a romance about nurses, a traditional role for women who insisted on working outside the home. And don’t forget June Cleaver, the perfect TV mom in high heels!
Also during the 50s we saw many books and movies of teen rebellion, [Rebel Without A Cause] defiant young people who encouraged broader thinking than conservative parents who endured the depression as youngsters and then wartime. It was Sing Along With Mitch verses Elvis Presley. The dominant romances during this time were squeaky clean and most sex happened behind closed doors. But young people wanted it more real and times were changing. So were the novels.
I could keep comparing time periods and the novels they produced, but I don’t have the time, research, or space here. Still, I think there’s at least a vague pattern that writers can see.
Perhaps choosing the next hottest genre is a matter of understanding the theme (s) of the times and choosing a genre that supports those themes and/or hopes. Who knows for sure? I don’t.
I think we can only try to understand what our readership/target audience wants, and then do our best to give it to them on a platform that best demonstrates our creative talent.
Okay, you knew I was going to ask this: What do you think the next hottest genre will be and why? Will it make you change what you currently write?
Sharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOW, LOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical.
When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.
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Very thoughtful post, Sharla. I have NO idea what might be next. Since I don't watch TV, and almost no movies, I'm in the backwaters of modern culture.
But one thing I think readers have always reacted to, and will continue, is real emotion, from fully rounded characters who the reader can understand.
After all, even when our trade was sitting around a fire, talking about the hunt, I'm sure that's what the best stories contained. Don't you?
I'm with you, Laura. I think stories have always (and should always) be character driven. The character is who I remember long after the book has gone back on the shelf.
For all time, it's been about emotion BUT genre is the vehicle that supports and transports that emotion. And today more than ever, the vehicle we choose to drive makes a difference.
The cave men sitting around a fire listening to hunting stories were facinated and "excited" by the bravery they heard and perhaps let themselves believe it could be them. It's what readers do today, allow themselves to believe in that momement that they are the character. The stories fit the "times" and the daily life "themes." I tend to think readers will always be drawn to the hope and dream themes that generate from the times we live in. We may use Fantasy to fulfil what we as a generation need or something more grounded in real the world like Women's Fiction. I guess we could ask, do we want to ride a horse, or take a star ship.
Because of 50 Shades, expect a slew of bland, S&M and bondage erotica--none of which will have much success. The hot, upcoming genre will be Horror with a capital H. They won't call it that--it'll be called thrillers, or dark fantasy, but it will be horror all right. Too bad I quit writing it two years ago. ----William M. Brock
I hope you're right, William - not because I can write it, but because I LOVE reading it!
Sharla, I agree genre is important, unfortunately. I write cross-genre books: western historical romance with paranormal elements, and am just starting a new series of contemporary novellas which fall somewhere between romantic suspense and fantasy. None of which will ever be accepted by a large publisher. I might be able to get in with a small press, but I've already established myself as an Indie author and I don't want to share my royalties with a publishing house that expects me to do virtually all of my own promoting. I do that now.
As for the next hot genre, I don't know what it will be, but I hope it turns away from vampires and werewolves. Oh, and zombies. Sheesh, I am so sick of the Walking Dead, etc.
That's the beauty of e-books Lyn. We can dance to our own tunes. 🙂 And if we're lucky, a lot of other people will like our music. Heck, we might even "create" our own next popular genre.
I watched The Walking Dead with my son when I was with him at MD Anderson. At first, I thought, this is just gross! But the drama of the characters grabbed me, so I just covered my eyes, when they started chomping down on each other. 🙂 Hmm, theme here? Maybe, our world had become unfeeling and a people eat people (a take on the dog eat dog) world. It's about surrrival and they keep traveling, hoping to find a safe place and a cure. Horror is a good vehicle for this.
My predictions: medieval romance; small town romances for a while until the market becomes saturated and the pendulum swings back to more urban settings; lighter, less angsty new adult. We may see darker paranormal and horror, but I think dystopia is winding down. Unless people have really dark sensibilities, I think they're ready for something lighter. Good mysteries in the vein of Dan Brown but with more emotional/psychological resonance. In thrillers, whatever the opposite of political thrillers is -- home town thrillers? People feeling like their homes and values are threatened by some big, bad evil. Think Erin Brockovich.
Oh, Andrea, I think you may onto something with the Erin Brockovich thing. I think about all the people right now who have lost their homes even they though jumped through all the hoops. I think the hometown thrillers might be right on too. I don't know about you, but I'm kind of sick of the blood & guts police shows. I realize having a cop chase down the local teens at their riverside drinking hole isn't very intertaining but I think people might be surprised by what smalltown cops run into. 🙂
I think the next hot genre will be New Adult. Readers want to know what happens to these YA characters after they graduate high school or college and begin their lives. I certainly hope it's something besides vampires.
I think Vampires have had their fling. If we are going by movies and TV, the New Adult genre definitely has a shot.
Thought provoking post. Yes, publishers are in it to sell, which means slotting your work into a finely honed category. Especially the big 5 publishers, who rarely take a chance out of the slot. However, "indie" published books is a whole other matter. Indie published books DO NOT just mean self-published books. They also mean small press and even medium presses that like books that are "different." I cite as an THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE as a book picked up by a small independent trade publisher and when it started to sell like hot-cakes, it was picked up by a bigger house. Yes, if you want to write for a big publishing house, then letting genre guide is a good rule. But there are plenty of adventurous, successful indie presses (legitimate publishers) who like to take wonderfully written books that aren't like all the others. It's a choice each author must make for themselves. Interestingly, many of those risk-taking small presses are the ones who start the ball rolling on the next hot genre. Great post!
Thanks Sharon. And I totally agree.
Seems like Romance is always a safe bet - it's evergreen. Who doesn't love love? 🙂
Don't forget the digital first publishers. They can afford to take more risks because they don't print the books until they become proven sellers.
Andrea, I have some Indie friends who put out the print copies of their books on the same day as Kindle, Nook, etc. For the same reason, they request reviews ahead of time and ask the reviewers to post their reviews on the same day. This apparently gives their book a kick start.
I think it's always about the reviews no matter how the book is published.
This is true and writers and readers alike can be glad for htis.
Your post is very interesting and informative. My current book is a NA dark Fantasy bordering on horror so I believe I'm headed in the right direction. 😉
Another interesting post 🙂 I keep hearing that 'chick lit' is becoming unpopular with publishers, and the term itself obsolete 🙁 I do hope 'contemporary women's romantic comedies' are still 'in', as that's the genre of my book. Personally I think there will always be a market for love and adventure. I think thrillers and suspense, psychological thrillers for example have a good wide reaching readership, bestsellers are often in this category, they will always be popular, which is good cos I've ideas for a thriller 🙂 you're right about Fifty Shades inspiring lots of similar stories, but I think like vampires it's had its day. I'd say look to films to guess the be next big thing 🙂
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I think the 'hottest genre' is triggered by different things. Sometimes it's that one really great book that everyone seeks to imitate, while other trends are sparked by a movie or t.v. show with a couple that really ignites. Occasionally it's set off by an event; I remember during the Bicentennial, books and miniseries about the American Revolution were everywhere. "Dallas" triggered cowboy love stories. The war in the Middle East ignited lots of soldier love stories. Anne Rice made vampires cool, but "Buffy" and "Twilight" made them romance heroes.
My bet is on futuristic romance. So many young people are into science fiction, and "Avatar" made drew attention to offworld romance. More futuristic romances sold last year than ever before. Sadly, too many sci fi romances are rip offs of popular t.v. shows; I love the genre, but when I read most of them, I think, "Oh, this is a "Star Wars" take off. This one's "Firefly". That one's "Battlestar Galatica". I've been telling my friends for several years that all the genre needs is one fabulous, well-written and original futuristic love story and the genre will explode into the Next Big Thing.