When you’ve been a bookseller for more than 21 years, you see a lot of trends come and go. When we opened in 1996, middle-grade realistic fiction and mysteries were big and the young adult genre was considered “dead.” Ten years later, YA was exploding, and picture books were declared to be critical condition. When Harry Potter burst onto the scene, catapulting longish MG fantasy into the stratosphere, realistic MG fiction languished. When The Hunger Games launched a torrent of dystopian fiction, classic fantasy took a backseat. Then, when Game of Thrones hit the small screen — well, you get the idea. One genre rises, another falls, and thus spin the wheels of publishing.
It seems to me that the so-called death of any genre usually results in two things: (1) wiser publishing decisions (i.e., less mediocre stuff makes the shelves in that genre), which is great, but also (2) very cautious publishing decisions. In the immediate aftermath of a great slump, the genre itself may narrow in scope and originality, with publishers passing on quirkier manuscripts that might have had legs given the chance—and a viable market—to breathe. It’s an understandable reaction, and, I hope, doesn’t do permanent damage to the breadth and scope of literary imagination.
The occasional death of a genre might be like a forest fire — there are terrible losses and lost chances, some irrevocable. But the clearing also makes space for new life to spring up and bloom. Look at YA; it’s hard to believe it was ever endangered. It’s possible that the burgeoning of YA couldn’t have happened without that steep decline. The same is true of picture books. Our current golden age of picture book art makes it hard to remember those years when editors complained they couldn’t sell them to save their lives.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if rock bottom were always followed by beauty, growth, and progress? (Please feel free to apply that to any social ills we are currently experiencing.)
As far as genres due for a rebirth, I think MG mystery and horror are showing signs of increased demand and the potential for a future boom.
How about you? What are your predictions for collapse and ascent in children’s and teen literature?