Back to BHP’s virtual mailbox to answer questions today! Here’s the one I chose for this month: “Do publishers purposely start trends (setting, genre, issue, etc.) or does one book with a unique angle get large sales, so others jump in with similar books?”
And the answer is…drumroll please…both. And sometimes neither. And sort of, but it’s complicated.
Let me unpack that a bit.
Sometimes publishers start trends by what they choose to publish, though not always intentionally. For example, Beverly Lewis grew up in Lancaster County and thought it would be interesting to write a novel that introduced readers to the Amish. The Shunning became a huge success, and since readers couldn’t get enough of the journey to a simpler lifestyle, other authors began writing Amish fiction. Beverly Lewis and Bethany House started the bonnet novel trend…but without meaning to start a trend, much less a whole new sub-genre of Christian fiction. The editors just enjoyed the intriguing story and responded to it.
There are times when publishers see an existing trend early on and want to publish something in it by requesting manuscripts of a certain kind. For example, one of our acquisition editors might tell her contacts in the industry that she’s looking for say, romantic suspense. That lets agents know which queries are the best ones to send that editor’s way.
Other times, writers, agents, and editors will see something that’s taking off in the general market and see if it can translate to the Christian market. That doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes, certain categories don’t “take off” in the CBA. For example, there are some Christian YA dystopian series, but they didn’t find nearly the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the rest of their ABA counterparts. And some trends just don’t have a chance—you didn’t see any Christian publishing houses dying for novel similar to Fifty Shades of Grey, for obvious reasons.
Sometimes, though, this strategy does well. For example, with more Americans watching British period dramas and TV series like Downton Abbey, British-set books increased in both the ABA and CBA, especially in the Edwardian and Regency time period. Julie Klassen was one of the first Christian authors writing Regency, and Bethany House has added several new authors whose tales are set across the pond, including Roseanna White and Kristi Ann Hunter.
Other trends seem to go through ups and downs—military novels are all the rage, and then you can hardly find a uniform anywhere. Biblical fiction is popular, then sparse, then swings a comeback. Chick lit is everywhere, then nowhere. One year middle grade books about horses see a surge in popularity, the next year…no, let’s face it, elementary-aged girls will probably always buy horse books. But you get the idea.
Maybe an experienced sociologist can parse the evidence and determine just what led to the rise and fall of these trends. (And some have—for example, comedies tend to do better in times or war or economic hardship because people want to be able to forget their worries and laugh.) For the most part, though, many factors contribute to why a theme, setting, or plot rises or falls in popularity.
(Incidentally, this is why it’s not always good for writers to “write to a trend.” They might be getting on a bandwagon just as readers are getting off. It’s better when writers write the stories they feel most passionate about, because they’ll usually be better at writing those anyway…and no matter what’s trending, a compelling, well-written story is always going to appeal to readers.)
Occasionally, trends just happen by sheer coincidence, even when the authors are from the same publishing company. At Bethany House, we tend to notice them and shake our heads: a season where fully half of the leading ladies are redheads, for example, or two new fantasy series releasing within a few months of each other where the heroes names are Wilek (KINSMAN CHRONICLES) and Wilet (THE DARKWATER SAGA). At that point, you just shrug and say, “Great minds think alike!”
What are some trends you’ve seen in Christian fiction lately? Any trend you’d like to see but haven’t yet?