Shortly after I published my first book (a Regency romance), the first wave of the Big Romance Boom hit. Suddenly every publisher and his aunt Cressida was putting out a profusion of romances, from Regencies all the way to what I fondly refer to as Love’s Towering Anguish–the big juicy books with improbable sex and ludicrous history.
I was personally affected by this to the extent that Fawcett, which had printed a (then) standard number of my first book–40,000 copies of a paperback, which sold through nicely–went off the deep end and printed 140,000 copies of the second. Even a booming romance market couldn’t absorb that many copies of a midlist romance with three other titles on the same list from that publisher and a gazillion others out there as well. There were enough copies of that book that people were probably wrapping fish in them. I like to think that little old ladies kept themselves warm in the cold winter months by burning copies. And Fawcett published my last three Regencies in more sane print runs, and they all sold through and everyone was reasonably happy.
Then, when I was working at Tor Books, the Horror Boom hit. Suddenly we had a horror list of six titles a month–most of them with black-and-orange covers and scary lettering. And some of those books were good and did well, and some of those books were okay and still did well, and then the boom started to bust and the line started to shrink because the market was saturated with books with black and orange covers.
Right now, I am waiting for the demise of the “let’s take a beloved classic and tart it up with scary” thing. Started out with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (sea monsters? That’s the best you can do? Hey, the Dashwood sisters deserve werewolves at least…). Mansfield Park and Mummies. Then people went further afield and started doing things like Little Women and Werewolves. Then came personality-based books like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and the book shown above, Shakespeare Undead (note his cunning little fangs!). Each one of these books may have their merits (I got about twenty pages into P&P&Z and figured that I got the joke and could move on. Your mileage may vary). But taken together they’re a movement, and a movement standing on on really soggy ground.
Wandering through a Barnes and Noble the other day I was surprised, and a little creeped out, by the number of these sorts of books on the shelves. For a high-concept joke, it’s spread far and fast, and, frankly, it’s taking up the air and advance money that could be spent on something totally original. (Hey, for those who want an Austen-ish Victorian fantasy with supernatural beings in it, there’s Gail Carriger’s Soulless, which has the virtue of being itself and nothing else, and amusing on top of it.) It’s not like a Robert Jordan or a Stephen King, whose success swells the coffers of a publisher so that they have money to spend on us littler fish. The vogue for Sister Carrie and Carrion* titles will fade, and most of them won’t have made much, if any, money for their publishers, which means less in the pot for me (or you) which is a sad thing.
Catching a trend only works if you’re at the front of the wave, really. Even now editors everywhere are hoping to see, not the next in a series of Gone With the Giant Spiders From Mars* titles, but the next new thing, the thing they haven’t seen yet. Maybe it’s the thing you’re writing right now.
* yes, I made those up. I hope I don’t see them on the stands next week.
Madeleine Robins is a founding member of Book View Café, and the author of ten novels, including Point of Honour and Petty Treason. Her short fiction can be found on her bookshelf, and there are no zombies, werewolves, or sea monsters anywhere to be seen.