There is a bubble that’s currently sustaining the publishing industry, it’s YA or Young Adult fiction. In a poor economy, editors and agents have identified a demographic that reads a lot and still has some disposable income. That audience is teenaged girls, and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series proved that they will gobble up urban fantasy, especially if it has a romance angle. So publishers are cranking out a lot of that, just like they cranked out Dan Brown clones a few years ago. No surprise there–chasing the last hit is what the entertainment industry does.
I find it kinda funny that the group currently keeping books alive is the same demographic that used to sustain the music business (and still does keep what’s left of it on life support, even in the age of widespread digital piracy).
But if you’re a new writer trying to sell anything that’s not YA, it’s tough right now.
I see a couple of predictable consequences of the YA bubble. One I’m psyched about, and the other… not so much.
The thing I don’t love is that paper books are probably going the way of the cassette tape. Hardcovers will become luxury collectible items for a specialty market, not unlike vinyl records. And paperbacks, which everyone loved for their cheap, portable nature, will become more or less extinct. Probably good for the environment, but hey, I love the feel of a book. One thing you can’t argue with is that the teenaged girls who are buying a lot of books right now are also the most avid users of smart phones. They will increasingly want their books on their handheld devices. Less bulk in the purse.
But here’s the good news for horror and dark fantasy writers, which are not exactly thriving genres right now. I did the math, and I don’t think these young ladies are into vampires just because a prudish Mormon decided to use them as a metaphor for virginity and abstinence in a high school drama.
A girl who was seven years old when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out was sixteen when Twilight came out. That means there is a generation of devoted readers who got hooked on dark fantasy at the same impressionable age when I saw the first Star Wars film. Part of why they responded to Twilight was because they literally grew up at Hogwarts and they wanted more fantasy, just fantasy that they could relate to in High School.
Many of them will not simply outgrow their affection for myth, magic and monsters in their twenties. They will read other kinds of books, sure, but they’re not going to just dump imaginative fiction and turn to Chick Lit en masse. (I’m not sure why fewer boys are reading, but I suspect it has something to do with awesome violent video games and internet porn.)
When I was a teen, there was no YA market (and no internet porn) so the next book I read after the Hobbit was The Lord of the Rings, and the next was The Stand. I believe there will soon be a big adult audience for dark fantasy. They’re going to want stories that evoke the wonder they felt as children reading the Potter books and weave it into the adult world in which they live—a world with sex and true horrors and a touch of philosophy. They’re going to stay hungry for monsters and miracles.