Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she discusses the next big fiction trend, and whether or not all books are the same.
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Dear FYSA,

What is going to be the next big trend in fiction?

Signed,

Pencil Poised

Dear Poised,

I am so glad you asked. I have been absolutely dying to tell someone. The next big trend is going to be … Amish steampunk crossover YA told in second person.

Right? I know! How did we not all see that one coming? It is so obvious!

OK, fine, that most likely is not the next trend, but it could be. Trends, generally speaking, are usually ignited in two specific beats on a publishing timeline: When a novel is shopped and at point of publication. The books we sell to publishers today in most cases will not see the shelves until fall 2022, so the themes, tropes, and trends you are seeing today were mostly put into motion up to two years ago when a title was initially shopped to the marketplace.

When a superbly conceived novel is sent out for consideration and creates enough enthusiasm for an auction, there can only be one winning editor. The underbidding imprints will then have a whetted appetite for something similar, and may reach out and say “Hey, I just lost an auction for an amaaaaaaazing Amish steampunk crossover YA, do you have anything similar?” And that is how you may get a bloat of steampunk YA in a future publishing season. (I have recently become obsessed with the names of groupings of animals. Like a bloat of hippopotami—could I be any more delighted with that?—and I am trying to pepper them into everyday usage. Just let me.)

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When a novel is published to fanfare and the ensuing word of mouth builds enthusiasm, booksellers will be more inclined to be looking for “the same but different” from publishers in order to keep readers returning to their registers. Like when Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl published and we soon saw a smack of domestic thrillers riding that wave. (Guess what that one is … jellyfish! A smack of jellyfish! I am barking with glee.)

However, let me be clear. I know I have said this before, but it is worth saying many times because I believe the real question being asked of me here is: What should I be writing in order to get that book deal? You should be writing a novel that pays attention to craft, technique, and detail. You should be writing a novel with fully realized characters, accessible yet nuanced imagery, and a storyline that promises the reader a journey both into the world and themselves. You should be writing the novel that your muse says is worth the time and effort and makes you sweat to make every word count. That’s the parliament you want to be counted among. (OWLS! *cackles with glee*)

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Dear FYSA,

Let’s be honest. All books are the same. The only difference is in how much marketing and publicity they receive. How do you get a publisher to spend some real money on a book?

Signed,

In the Know

Dear In the Know,

I think you used the wrong homophone in your signature, because I feel like it’s more like, In the NO! Gosh mister, whoever put the beetles in your cornflakes this morning really accomplished their goal—you are gettin’ up swingin’ today, and how! (I don’t know if I used “and how” correctly but try saying that sentence out loud like a newsboy in the 1800s and you’ll find it immensely satisfying.)

I would like to start by asking that we set down the idea that “all books are the same.” That doesn’t serve anyone as an author or a reader—and I feel that you and I could find so many titles that defy that sentence.

So! Let me say—there are certain books tapped by the publisher to get the lion’s share of a marketing budget, and some that aren’t. That will be determined most often initially by the P&L generated by the publisher at point of offer. The P&L (profit and loss) will use a variety of data points to predict how the book might perform in the marketplace versus how much it will cost in labor and production and therefore give a ballpark for the advance. The marketing budget will be included in that labor and production portion. (The dollar amount for a budget is not usually shared at point of offer, or even ever, with the author and her agent, but an overview of intent will be.) This amount will certainly inflate if there were multiple competitors bidding at point of sale, and that is one way an agent can “get” publishers to spend more—having a spectacular novel that was in high demand to begin with.

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BUT! I have seen, many times, books organically explode on the scene with word of mouth in-house, in early reviews, and from social media tastemakers, and that is nothing about the publisher spending money, but a clear mandate by the readers that what they have read is, ahem, original and exciting. To feel more invested in what this can look like, start paying attention to what makes you finally decide to buy a book—start to read like a consumer as well as a reader and an author—and starting turning your “no” into a “know.”

Ask Funny You Should Ask! Submit your questions on the writing life, publishing, or anything in between to wdsubmissions@aimmedia.com with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line. Select questions (which may be edited for space or clarity) will be answered in future columns, and may appear on WritersDigest.com and in other WD publications.

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