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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wimpy Kid Eats George Bush’s Lunch

 Last week George W. Bush’s memoir gave Random House their best opening day sales in seven years—170,000 print copies.

BUT—on the same day, Middle Grade fiction writer Jeff Kinney launched his fifth book for Abrams in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and sold—375,000 print copies.

Yeah. Do you wonder why so many agents are looking for KidLit and passing on that brilliant stuff you’re writing for grown-ups?

You kind of have to wonder if it’s time for us all to give up on our chosen genres and start penning middle-school-nerd/angsty-teen sagas. I admit to giving it serious thought myself.

Not only are children’s authors more in demand, but the whole KidLit industry is more fluid and open. Children’s publishing isn’t bound by the rigid agent-as-gatekeeper paradigm. My unrepresented YA writer friends get to go to conferences where they engage in actual editor-to-writer communication. That’s right. Without five or ten years of groveling in agent inboxes to get there. And then—even if the editors pass—they get detailed letters full of helpful suggestions.

If you’re a writer of adult fiction you probably suspect I’m deeply full of batcrap, but I swear it’s true. Ask any writer who’s a member of SCBWI. While a new writer of adult fiction can spend years—even decades—trapped in a Phantom Zone of  rejection and silence, children’s writers seem to live in a warm, welcoming world of rainbows, bluebirds, and effing unicorns.

Oh, do I sound a little bitter?

Well, yeah. I guess I’m kind of tired of reading all those articles on how if you aren’t getting partial requests on 75 % of your queries, you’re a bad writer. Or if you don’t have an agent yet, you must be calling your work a “fiction novel” and mass cc-ing every agent in AAR, addressing them all as “Snookums.”

The truth is, if you’re not getting any reads, it might mean you don’t write for people under eighteen. Full stop.

This phenomenon doesn’t just affect the unpublished masses trying to break in. Established writers are jumping into the kiddie pool as well—big name authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Carl Hiassen, and Stephen Hawking. Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde says she can’t even get her adult fiction published in this country any more—even though it wins awards in the U.K.—but her new YA book, Jumpstart the World is getting huge buzz. 

There’s a reason why this has happened—and its name is Harry Potter.

As J. K. Rowling kept the industry afloat through an entire decade—while becoming richer than the Queen—publishers learned that one phenomenal kids’ book can outsell thousands of adult titles, and if it spawns a series, it can have the return-customer power of crack cocaine.

Why? Kids tend to group-think more than adults. The instinct to fit in with the herd is necessary for young humans to survive. This means children and teens can be manipulated into thinking they can’t survive without the latest fad.

The Potter/Twilight type-blockbuster doesn’t happen with grown-up books because adults individuate and outgrow the fit-in-with-the-herd-or-die instinct. No matter how well Dan Brown is selling, if a reader isn’t into religious conspiracy-lit, he won’t buy it.

The result is less risk-taking and diversity in adult publishing—why take a chance on something creative and new when there’s no likelihood of top-notch returns?

So a lot of us who are exhausted with fangs, gimmicky monster mash-ups, and serial-killer torture-porn are turning to YA when we want fresh contemporary fiction. But reliving the horrors of high school isn’t exactly escapist reading for a lot of us. The truth is, most grown-ups like to read about people like ourselves doing interesting/fun/stupid/brave/inspiring things—with maybe a little non-PG-rated sex thrown in.

But publishers say that kind of commercial fiction “doesn’t sell.” By that they mean a single title doesn’t earn six figures on launch day. And OK, when it takes approximately 2.2 U.S. Presidents to add up to one Wimpy Kid, I realize it would take hundreds of midlisters to compete with KidLit sales numbers. And each adult midlister needs an editor, cover designer, distributor, and at least a perfunctory amount of hand-holding while she sells the book. All costing $$$. Yeah, I get why we’re not the best business choice. Sigh.

But a ray of hope has emerged in the last year, and it’s coming from e-readers. Most Kindle owners are adults. Sales of Kindle books have already topped a billion.

So maybe we should all self-publish our adult books for Kindle while we’re researching that dystopian post-apocalyptic steampunk high-school-zombies-on-Mars epic that’s going to break us into the Big Six publishing fortress. (Can anybody lend me a teenager?)

Meanwhile, we can take heart in knowing we’re not alone—and even the former leader of the free world gets his keister kicked by wizards, sparkly vampires, and wimpy kids.
If you want to read more of my bon mots: starting next week, I’ll be on staff at the Best Damn Creative Writing Blog—one of the fastest growing online destinations for publishing industry news, essays and commentary. Whether you’re looking for MFA application advice, Twitter tips or you just want to stay informed on the latest in all things literary, they have something for you. Check it out. It's unstuffy and full of information. Kind of the HuffPo of publishing news sites.

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Anonymous Ruth Harris bestselling author of HUSBANDS & LOVERS said...

Publishers don't need competition from ebooks to go under, they're publishing themselves into oblivion with their banal, uncreative, super safe (they think) approach.

I barely even look at the BS (Best Seller/Bull Bleep) lists any more. Just think of the usual suspects & you've got it. Publishing which used to be exciting and lively has turned (for the most part) into a y-a-w-n. YA is hot now but, trust me, they'll overpublish that, too. And then what?

November 14, 2010 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Joanna St. James said...

Good Luck on the new job. This whole thing is kinda sad isnt it? I once read in a study that teenagers have a lot more disposable income than adults so that could also explain it.

November 14, 2010 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth, I couldn't agree more about all that so-called "safe" stuff they publish. I wrote a whole rant about it, but it made this post too long, so more on that later...

Thanks Joanna. Yes--it's sad. Because when "bottom line" people take over the arts, the art suffers. And so, as Ruth points out, does the bottom line.

November 14, 2010 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger Katrina L. Lantz said...

This is the second awesome article I've read by you in one week, and when you ended with a plug for one of my favorite sites (BDCWB!), I got even more excited.

I write kidlit and just want to say that even though I laughed at the hilarious trueness of rainbows, bluebirds and unicorns, I've been haunting agent blogs and working on the craft for over two years. It's a fun online environment and writer's conferences are fabulous (so I hear; I can't afford to go), but it's still not easy to get published. We have to deal with trends and publisher risk-management just like adult writers, even if we do get more attention from agents and editors.

Take comfort in knowing that an adult novel often gets more respect once published than YA/MG, as there's a misconception that kidlit is easy to write.

Even though I identify myself as a kidlit writer, I have written one adult novel and have ideas for a few more. I hope someday to publish any worthy novel I write, whether it's written with adult characters or rainbows, bluebirds, and unicorns. Perhaps we'll all have to self-publish at some point to remain true to our writing. It's an idea worth considering.

November 14, 2010 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger LR said...

They say coming-of-age novels "don't sell" but if you package them as YA, suddenly it's all right.

So anyone with a young narrator might be well advised to go the YA route (might be...).

November 15, 2010 at 12:32 AM  
Blogger Elaine AM Smith said...

Good luck with the new challenge.
I think it is hard to get a break no matter what you are writing or for which audience. But three times as many adults buy books for children - it's a generational thing ;)

November 15, 2010 at 2:07 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Makes me wonder why I want to be a writer.

Good luck on the new job front. I hope it pays.

November 15, 2010 at 3:27 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Well, the good new: at least kids are . . . reading?

November 15, 2010 at 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Megan Shepherd said...

I usually enjoy your blog, but as a YA writer and SCBWI member, I found this entry a little condescending. To imply that getting published is easier just because you write children's literature is simply wrong. I have found the children's writing community to be very supportive, friendly, and positive--but certainly not "rainbows, bluebirds and effing unicorns." You still need an agent. You still need to spend years, sometimes decades, studying the craft, working your butt off and racking up rejections. It's a serious business. It seems to me that anyone with this type of belittling attitude is exactly the wrong type of person to "start penning middle-school-nerd/angsty-teen sagas." Authors who do well in this genre have great understanding and respect for the age group, which certainly didn't come across here.

November 15, 2010 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger M.M. Gornell said...

Great blog!

November 15, 2010 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katrina--I'm glad you took this with the humor that was intended. I know children's writers work their butts off, too. Most of my writer friends write MG and YA and I know the road to publication is always long and hard. But at least you have a fighting chance. And I agree that some old school types don't give the genre the respect it deserves.

LR--If you've got a coming of age novel, I definitely would go the YA route if you possibly can.

Elaine--you're right that adults buy kids' books and kids don't buy adult books, so that's another reason the kidlit market is more open.

Anne--Don't despair. It's scary, but also an exciting time to be a writer because things are in flux and nobody has any idea which way it will go next.

Churadogs--You're right. This is one area where our kids are not being pushed aside and neglected, so there's a wonderful silver lining.

Meghan--I didn't mean to be condescending. Humor doesn't always come across. Certainly getting anything published is harder than ever--even in popular genres like YA--and it takes just as long to learn your craft. But as I said above, at least you have a fighting chance. I'm getting this info from agents, many of whom say they just can't sell any adult books any more. This is simple fact--like the statistics on the Bush book vs. the Kinney book. I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings--just to let writers know what's happening. And you're absolutely right--I'd make a lousy kids' writer--that was supposed to be my point. Sorry the humor didn't come across.

Thanks, MM!

November 15, 2010 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

Good points Anne...and yet, don't you have to want to write kidlit to write it?

Oh, maybe that's just me. I write (what I like to think of as) humorous women's fiction and I love it. It's why I write. I don't want to write anything else. If it means I sit here unagented and unpublished for years...okay. I don't think I could push myself to write something my heart wasn't in. I know some people feel differently and many writers successfully straddle multiple genres.

But I also agree with some of the other commenters that this trend will change. The kids reading now will grow up...they have a great foundation in reading already.

November 15, 2010 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sierra--you're right of course. I meant to be ironic. You gotta write what you read. Like you, I like funny books by/about grown-up ladies. Can't help it.

Things are bad for us now, but as you say, everything changes. If publishing begins to diversify again, as I think it will because of e-books, we'll all be able to write what we do best.

November 15, 2010 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Sue Lehman said...

I just had my novel rejected again---but this time she suggested it might be more in the Y/A line than the Historical Mystery genre. I started out writing for children years ago and that is probably why I may consider rethinking the Y/A category. Thanks for the great article and making me think really hard about which direction to go. (I've already been published in the Mystery genre!)

November 16, 2010 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger Rachna Chhabria said...

Loved the post, Anne. I was tired of everyone in India saying kidlit is not selling, that one should start writing adult fiction. This post is a harbinger of good tidings, that kidlit is thriving.

November 16, 2010 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue: Absolutely, if you've had that feedback from an agent and your work lends itself to YA--go for it! A lot of very good writers are doing that. It's not so hard to make the transition when you're already published in the same genre for adults. Historical Mystery YA--great genre.

Rachna--Thanks for this! It's fascinating. It may be that India follows the UK paradigm rather than the US (good for you!) In the UK, smart adult fiction is not dead. It sounds as if you're in a position to pioneer Indian Kidlit. Maybe you'll be the Indian Stephanie Meyer or Jeff Kinney!

November 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM  

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