Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Make mine a twist

Despite the air conditioning failure on the most unYorkshire of Yorkshire weekends, despite that sneaking sense that everyone else knows each other and is having the most wonderful time while you lurk uncomfortably on the sidelines, despite the ever growing fear that I will forever be New Writers Scheme and never a writer,
I had a good time in Sheffield. Stand out talks from Julie Cohen on theme, Nina Harrington on Procrastination and Fiona Harper on Romantic Structure managed to be both entertaining and really informative and it was gorgeous to have a 2 day catch up with Jane O'Reilly and Donna Douglas.
And I had two very helpful chats with two editors and came away feeling maybe I haven't totally wasted the last three years.
But I'm still a little unsure where to go next...
If the theme of last year was erotica the publishers, especially the non-categories, were a little less certain this year. They are all looking for something just not sure what. Not vampires. Not dystopia. They want fresh. They want a twist. They all want a twist.
And if it could be The Fall meets Gone Girl that would be great.
Only, last year, out of that massive deluge of books with grey covers coloured with one suggestive twist of silk, only those released in the three months after Fifty Shades did well. This year may be the year of the psychological domestic thriller but next year it'll be something new. After all, they didn't want vampires till after Twilight, dystopia until  The Hunger Games or erotica until, well, you know what.
This is nothing new. Many years ago when I was a bookseller the runaway success was 'the blue book' 'that one about the banjo'. Six months later a slew of Captain Corelli style covers hit the shelves. Marian Keyes and Bridget Jones kickstarted chick lit and Harry Potter introduced the crossover concept with special adult covers.
But no-one could have predicted any of those successes. And of the imitators the best are still going strong, the rest have sunk or moved onto something new. The best were already writing those books long before the publishers were demanding them.

Sometimes, in the rush to get the sales, to join the bandwagon, publishers stop trying to be the ones who actually launch the next craze, content to sweep up the leftovers from the last. I have just had a bout of reading YA dystopia. One of my favourite genres since Brave New World hit my GCSE reading list.
I have read some incredible world building let down by heroines who make Bella Swann seem like a feisty go-getter, cardboard heroes, books all tell with no show and always, always first person present. This works with a heroine as real as Katniss but these are thin on the ground. Thing is, they might have been good books. More edits, more time for the author to really find their voice, not rushed out to fill a post-Hunger Games void.
Because eventually the readers get bored and start looking elsewhere. And then the publishers call time on the whole genre and move onto the next golden egg.
But readers don't work that way. One of the most interesting things about the Kindle is how it has allowed readers to find and buy exactly what they want, often genres the publishers and booksellers have proclaimed over especially in the UK, the US has a stronger genre market; sagas, regencies, cosy crime. Erotica.
So maybe the twist they want, that the readers deserve, doesn't have to be something new. Maybe it can be an old genre done well, done with a spark, by an innovative and compelling voice. Because as every publisher says, these are changing times and with the rise of the self pubs readers have all the choices they need. Publishers need to make sure that they are the ones offering the best, most encompassing choices. To be the ones ahead of the curve in this moving, exciting brave new world.

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