Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home Run Books

I keep reading various articles and blogs talking about how these days the major publishing houses have moved to a model where they are seeking to publish fewer books while selling larger amounts of the ones they do publish. Rather than remain diverse in what they sell, they are looking for more 'home run' books that sell mega-amounts.

This is really depressing for most of us, I think. I am writing books that I wish to read, and I don't think my primary tastes fall into the category of what makes up a home run book. I didn't much care for The DaVinci Code or Twilight. I did like Harry Potter, and that has spawned a whole Young Adult phase that is also killing off writers like me who do adult speculative fiction. I have nothing against Young Adult books. I just wish all the agents and publishers weren't jumping on the YA bandwagon so heavily that many of them specifically ask only for YA on their websites these days.

Sure, they are selling a lot of YA today. But that can blind them to tomorrow's trends. I see A Game of Thrones HBO series being produced and building up a tremendous amount of excitement because it looks like they may be doing it right (the way that Peter Jackson finally did a fantasy the right way after decades of pathetic fantasy efforts). I see the two Hobbit movies coming out in the next few years. The Hobbit may technically be YA, but it doesn't have that feel. It feels more like epic fantasy, and A Game of Thrones is completely adult fantasy. Any half smart publishing exec looking for home run books right now should be thinking about this.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of epic fantasy lovers already purchased the Tolkien books because of the Lord of the Rings movies. They will be looking for something new once the above shows come out.

The problem remains that most epic fantasy novels are not so huge that they make it into the 'home run' category. They can do very well, as The Sword of Shannara demonstrated and A Game of Thrones also, but still they don't sell the tens of millions of copies that we saw with Harry Potter or DaVinci Code. If publishers insist on only going after home run books, it means that it will continue to be nearly impossible for writers like me to get published.

My hope is that some very smart small publishers will recognize the void and step in to snatch up books like mine. So far I don't see this happening. A couple months ago I looked up a big list of small publishers for fantasy. I went to each of their sites. Almost all of them were either closed to submissions or were looking for only YA or urban or paranormal fantasies. I found no one I could submit my books to.

So, I am writing my second novel right now. I wish I could write it in the same adult style that I used for the first. However, I keep fighting myself on this, thinking that if I just tailored it to the YA audience it would give me a much better shot at being published. I really don't want to go that route, but I can't stop thinking that I may have little choice, since I do wish to be a published writer.


  1. Well, I have faith that the right choice will come to you. Sometimes it just takes a little time to percolate.

  2. I feel your pain Ted. I'm submitting a MG story right now, and though agents say they want MG boy books, all I see getting offered representation is YA.

    I do think that the trend toward YA will die out, with the success of adult series like Dragon Tatoo, etc... But I think the best hope for specialized genre that don't cross-over well into mainstream is with electronic publishing.

    I'm not talking about hacks who put their unedited stuff out there without any professional guidance. I'm talking about the huge opportunity that exists for savvy industry professionals to break away from the confinement of the big six publishers and establish a whole new world with fewer financial barriers to entry, but greater artistic requirements.

    I know a lot of people resist the paradigm shift from pen and ink to electronic, but I think it's coming and it offers an opportunity for those of us who fall outside the mainstream.

  3. Melissa, my biggest concern with eBook publishing is if one doesn't get the book professionally edited. However, I can't afford thousands of dollars to hire a really great editor, so that leaves me with still needing at least a small press willing to publish my book.

  4. I understand your concern and frustration Ted, and I know we've discussed before that I feel the same way about Adult Fantasy and there not being enough books being published in the genre, which I love to read so much, but I also think you have to consider the market and the business side of things.

    There are real monetary reasons that big publishers don't risk investing in Fantasy novels. I mean even with the popularity of LOTR (books and films) it is still essentially a niche market. I can't see Business Execs and Housewives who read stuff like Dan Brown and James Patterson buying Fantasy, no matter how good it is. There is a reason that certain books become bestsellers, no matter how formulaic they may be.

    I do agree it's kind of sad, but I also think it's no reason to despair. I think you should press on, and find a way to publish The Shard with some small press, or write something more commercially viable first, and then get your favorite stories published.

    I certainly know you're a good enough writer that you can make it work one way or another with enough hard work.

  5. Imagine me with a red suit and horns. "Write YA, come on, it would be so easy. You could be famous, don't you want to be famous. They will make a movie that bastardizes your work. Just do it."

  6. I don't have the money for a professional editor either. I just have faith that sometime very soon a group of industry professionals is going to break out and create a new publishing house that can offer well edited, high quality books in electronic format that will become the standard people look for when searching for electronic offerings.

    And I agree with Matt, as much as I love high fantasy and wish there were more choices available, it's not for everyone. For instance, both of my book clubs read the DaVinci code (and loved it, sorry). But if I suggested we read LOTR, they'd laugh me out of both clubs. I wish that weren't the case, but most adults have lost the ability to enjoy goblins and elves. And lets face it when JRRT wrote LOTR he though of it as a children's story.

    Thanks for the discussion though. This is a really interesting topic that's near and dear to all of our hearts.

  7. Thanks for the laugh, devil Budd!

    Matt, the funny thing is I always challenge people to show me a single well-written Tolkienesque fantasy that didn't sell really well and no one is ever able to do it. Tolkien sold great. Sword of Shannara was a blatant rip-off and sold the best ever in fantasy up to that point. The Iron Tower trilogy was written to be a direct sequel to LOTR until the Tolkien family said no, and it also sold great. To me, even if they are not huge on the Potter scale, such books are as close to a sure hit as one can buy.

  8. Melissa, there sure are a lot of adults that are sick of elves and such. But, that doesn't mean that there are not a heck of a lot of adults who flat out love them still. I know all kinds of adults who crave just such stories. We are always commiserating together that no one is publishing them anymore.

  9. Ted I just tried to post a comment but I think Blogger ate it...

    Short version: I wish you peace in coming to the decision that will be best for you. I hate the idea of you sacrificing your vision but I understand that when the art of writing and the business of publishing combine, it all gets tricky.

    Thinking of you, and wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.


  10. ted, write what you want to write and write it well. i don't think chasing trends will make you very happy. good luck! :)
    but... if you want to write YA, i bet you'd do an excellent job! :)

  11. I hear you, Ted. Boy, do I hear you. I write adult thrillers. There's not a lot of agents out there looking for debute adult thriller writers, either. Unless your name is Chevy Stevens. Sigh.

    I guess we just need to keep writing what we like to read and hope someone else (like an agent)ultimately feels the same way.

  12. It seems so ridiculous to me, that in this era where PoD is possible, that publishers would think REDUCING the number of titles is a good idea. I think they are better off diversifying but limiting print runs, because it is now EASY to print MORE as they are needed. Eliminate the waste, and they make more money, yes? I have only been a marginal fantasy reader--as a kid I thought I was 'above it' (opted for the adult sex and horror stuff *cough*) but Harry Potter introduced me and reading with my kids kept me engaged. I read Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series and loved it (the TV show fell FAR short), so I know you're right--this can be an amazing genre. Honestly, it is also a voracious readership, so big house may not be doing a ton, but I don't think the specialized publishers are going anywhere.

  13. Ted,

    You say that you're considering writing YA even though you don't want to, because you want to be published. Why is it that you're willing to change what you want to write (and invest countless hours in) in order to be published. What is it that you're expecting to get out of being published?

    I know trying to get an agent interested in your work is the absolute pits (especially when you write for a niche audience), but writing something you don't love seems like misery to me.

    Publishing isn't the be all end all. Writing should be about you, your heart, your joy, not what sells. Because if you succeed in getting it on the bookshelf and you don't love it, you will have lost both ways. Just something to think about. *hug*


  14. Cyndi, of course I would normally agree. It's just this story that seems to lend itself to going the YA route. The main character is a 13 year old boy. My normal style is to write it in the same adult fashion that I wrote my first book, but with this main character, I just don't know. Perhaps as I continue to write, it will feel adult to me but still fall into YA just because the MC will have a YA viewpoint?