Zombies are HOT in the publishing world. I know this because pretty much every issue of Publisher’s Lunch for the past year has reported stupendous deals for writers of zombie fiction. This includes one headlined seven-book deal—planning for years of zombiemania to come.
So lock your doors and windows, fellow reader-persons. We are in the midst of an invasion of literary zombies, nonfiction zombies, romantic zombies, high school zombies, historical zombies, and anthologized zombies. All eating brains at a bookstore near you.
And to make way for all this zombification, our corporate masters (aka the Big Six publishing companies) aren’t buying much other adult fiction. At least I guess that’s why agents report editors aren’t buying the following genres: romantic comedies, family sagas, action-adventure, high fantasy, sci-fi, westerns, historicals, literary fiction, most mysteries, thrillers by anybody other than James Patterson or Dan Brown—and pretty much anything that does NOT involve women falling in love with angsty immortal beings.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how brain-eating, festering undead persons have such a universal appeal. Most book-buyers are women over forty. Zombies aren’t really our thing. Don’t get me wrong, I was as big a fan of George Romero’s classic Living Dead films as any college kid ingesting controlled substances, but I’M A GROWN-UP NOW
So I’m talking to you, fellow grown-ups. OK, Zombieland was a hoot, and you bought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for the hilarious cover—although you probably never got around to opening it—but are you plunking down your hard-earned, Recession-era cash money for the latest Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Zombies, or whatever—and all six sequels?
Our corporate masters say you will. You will all stampede down to your local B&N and demand these books like a mindless horde of, um, zombies.
This is supposed to happen because of the self-fulfilling prophesy that is the religion of marketing strategists: severely limit people’s choices through distribution control, rationed advertising, and kick-backs—then declare “the people have chosen” your product.
You can see this phenomenon at work any time you shop for a utilitarian plastic object at your local mall. Maybe few years ago you decorated your kitchen in the Wedgwood blue that was everywhere, but now you can’t find a dishpan in any color but used-chewing-gum beige or coagulated-blood red. You go to Kmart, Walmart, Big Boxmart or wherever, and find the identical dishpan in the same two colors in every store. Acres of them—all the same. So you’re finally bullied into buying a used-chewing-gum beige dishpan…and THE MARKET HAS SPOKEN! Everybody LOVES used-chewing-gum beige.
I haven’t forgotten them. But, you know, when I look at the bestseller list, I don’t see a lot of zombitude. I see the top bestsellers for many months have been three mysteries by a dead Scandinavian, who probably couldn’t get published in his lifetime because “nothing was selling” but zombies, or vampires, or chick lit, or the faux-fad of that particular year.
I know all this is depressing as hell, but I do have something hopeful to say. This is it: I think the e-book revolution is about to eat the brains of that whole resistance-is-futile, one-size-fits-all paradigm.
When readers can buy $2.99 books, wherever, whenever the whim strikes, book sales can’t be controlled by simply paying chain stores to put certain titles in the front of the store and buying a full-page ad in the NYT Book Review.
Niche sites will start to review and market niche books. Readers will have more choices. Because it’s less risky to buy a $2.99 e-book than a $25 hardback, buyers can take chances on something new without needing to hear “it’s what’s selling” from their inner sheep.
Whether or not you decide to buy an e-reader (I’m personally not ready to take the plunge) they’re good news for writers. Especially if e-stores continue to pay high royalties for lower-priced books.
Most of us will probably still need agents and publishers, but they’ll serve slightly different functions. The market will fragment, but that’s not a bad thing. We may end up with a system like broadcast/cable TV where instead of a whole nation watching The Ed Sullivan Show on a Sunday night, some can see Mad Men while others enjoy watching tear-jerking home remodels or really rude people from N
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What’s happening is Chris Anderson’s “long-tail” theory at work. Long tail theory says niches, when considered collectively, represent a substantial market that shouldn't be ignored.
So don’t join the zombie march. By the time you hit chapter seven, zombie lit will probably have gone the way of chick lit—made toxic by frenzied over-buying. Keep writing in your favorite genre, hone your craft, join niche organizations and wait. I predict the e-reader will have a very long tail—which will be great for writers.
But maybe not for zombies.