Friday, March 30, 2012

Dystopian Chatter

I'm part of Young-to-Publishing Group, a group of publishing young'uns who haven't been in the biz for too long (no longer than seven years) and who get together every so often to hang and network.   On Wednesday, the children's group contingent hosted a Dystopian Panel at HarperCollins (led by lovely assistant editor Sara Sargent).

The panel consisted of Greg Ferguson (Editor at Egmont USA who acquired Ilsa Bick's Ashes), Rosemary Brosnan (fellow Cornellian--woo hoo!--and Executive Editor at HarperTeen who edits Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy), Stephanie O'Cain (publicist at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers--you know home of Twilight) and Galaxy Craze (author of the upcoming The Last Princess).  

I haven't read The Last Princess yet, but it's a dystopia set in London, so I plan to put that on top of my stack.
The panelists shared their excitement about the genre and their thoughts on where the YA market is heading.  What I found especially interesting is how little author Galaxy Craze knows about the market.  She wrote The Last Princess in conjunction with a book packager in shaping the idea, so obviously they know the market.  Galaxy Craze, not so much.  It was oddly refreshing.

If you're an aspiring writing in a particular genre, you absolutely should read within it, no question.  Galaxy Craze is just one of those unique individuals who had unwittingly read what she liked and wrote something which coincided with a trend, which is fine.  Stephenie Meyer had never even read much vampire fiction and she wrote Twilight, so my rule isn't a hard and fast one (then again Twilight doesn't feel traditionally vampirey for a vamp book). 

There are always exceptions.  Still, for you aspiring writers out there, I recommend doing your research.  Paying the bills by writing means writing the book of your heart, but understanding the market.  And no, if there's a trend that you're not familiar with and have no interest in writing, please don't hop on the bandwagon just because.  You can do better than that.  Passion + Market are significant, but Passion alone will do it in a pinch. 

Why?  One, if you don't care for the genre, you're not likely to write a decent one.  And two, editors are already acquiring for 2014 books, so your trend hopping self will have already missed the boat by the time your book comes out (if an agent or editor even gives your manuscript the time of day in this competitive market).

The panelists all mentioned their favorite dystopian books, like Lois Lowry's The Giver (optioned by Jeff Bridge's production company, so maybe it'll come to the big screen), Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Veronica Roth's Divergent, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, of course.  To add to the list, I loved Moira Young's Blood Red Road, Lauren DeStefano's Wither, Scott Westerfeld's The Uglies, Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, and Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth series (my FAVE).

The panelists talked about the irregularities of censorship, with Greg joking, "Yeah, parents don't seem to mind children killing each other or like in my book Ashes, kids eating each other.  Just don't mention sex or bad words."

[Side note:  Greg Ferguson is a sweetheart and a kick ass editor.  You have to read Ashes!  See below for cool cover.]

The takeaway from the panel is, as always, a wait and see response.  We won't be seeing the last of dystopian, only variations of it, like the sci fi dystopian trend that already occurring.  Another trend?  Fairytale retellings, which I never tire of, so keep 'em coming.  Paranormals are still pretty strong, though I don't recommend pitching vampires unless there's a twist.  Vampires are dead, no pun intended. 

Wishlist?  As a Walking Dead fan, I would like to see more zombies.  I'd also like to see more fairies (dark like Melissa Marr's) and mermaids!  Mermaids haven't caught on quite yet, but if done right, could be big.  Rosemary Brosnan would like to see more historicals, along the vein of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy (agreed!).

Anything you'd like to see more of?  Less of?  I gotta admit, I may have liked the episode or two of Gossip Girl, but I can't stand to read the books.  The rich prep school stories don't do it for me.  And please, I like paranormals, but no more protagonist-goes-off-to-boarding school-and-falls-in-love-with-hot-brooding-angel/vampire/fairy.  Can't.  Take.  It.  Much.  Longer.


  1. Super interesting post, Linda--thanks! I'm happy to hear the opinion that dystopian isn't quite dying; rather, that it's evolving (dystopian with a sci-fi twist). What I'd love to see more of isn't of one thing in particular--just everything taken one step further!

  2. Just saw your comment, Elsie. Totally agree! The edgier, the better. And congrats on the companion novel deal I saw recently in Publisher's Lunch (hurry up and write it so I can read it already, lol).

  3. Aw, thank you, Linda! I am madly churning out that sequel as we speak. You will LOVE it!