The Trouble with (and Triumphs of) Trends

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 15th, 2018

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?

4 thoughts on “The Trouble with (and Triumphs of) Trends

  1. Carin Siegfried

    On the one hand, I’m bummed that Memoir is super-down as that’s my personal literary crack. On the other hand, in a down market, most of what gets published (not including celebs or pols) is the dream of the crop and there’s still way more published than I could ever read. Yes, some of the trimmed edges include an occasional fun weird book I’d have loved, but it’s inevitable that a few gems will always be overlooked. I miss the super-realistic YA of the late 70s and early 80s a la Norma Klein but I too hope and believe it will come back around. It was just too good not to. Each boom and bust is an answering to the needs of teens and children responding to an outside world that might require more escapism, for example. But everything old is new again.

  2. rds

    YA, middle grade, and picture books aren’t genres, though–they’re age categories. Within each there are multiple genres, of course, but talking about the decline of YA sales overall is a different discussion than talking about the decline of a trend of a particular type of YA. Both make for fascinating discussions, but it’s not necessarily the same conversation. For instance, YA paranormal romance was huge and then finally declined and dark realistic contemporary rose again–that’s a change in what genres are trending, as the title of this post mentions, and is probably to some degree dictated by readers’ interests changing. But the fact that YA overall was huge and now is finally slowing down sales-wise is about the entire age category, not necessarily only one genre., and is at least in part because adult readership of YA, which was a big and new thing for several years, has been dropping off.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Yes, you’re right, of course. A bit of lazy language usage (i.e., using “genre” instead of “age category” for picture books). There are both age category and genre slumps, and both are affected by the tides of demand.

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