What’s NOT HOT in publishing:
More from the CC Writers Conference

The publishing world seems to have been left in a state of befuddlement by the economic meltdown and the e-book revolution sparked by the Kindle. This situation, I learned at the CCWC, has “softened” most of the adult fiction market. (BTW, when the market is “soft” in a genre, those books are a “hard sell.” Go figure.)

The sad truth is that if you’re unpublished and write for adults, breaking in is way harder than a year ago (unless you write Romance: Harlequin/Mills and Boon sales are actually up, while most other publishers have lost their shirts and are holding tightly to their trousers.)

So what’s the level of squishiness of your WIP?

Literary Fiction hardly ever makes money, so in a bad economy, editors are even less likely to take it on. If you can pick up the pace and throw in some ZOMBIES IN ZEPPELINS (see last Monday’s post,) you might have more hope of hitting the shelves. An MFA helps, too. So does a friend on staff at the New Yorker.

Or go to England, like Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of Pay It Forward) whose new literary novel, When I Found You had to find a publisher across the pond, and isn’t yet available to us downmarket Yanks. For more info, check out her blog at

Memoirs are iffy even in good times, so if you’re not a former Vice Presidential candidate who can see Russia from her house, you need to focus on one story arc and incorporate a lot of action and tension. A good memoir should read like a novel. It helps if you’re an African kid genius who built an electric generator with a library book picture and scraps he found in the village garbage dump. (Check out The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba–and for the review police: nobody gave me a free book to say that.)

Chick Lit. I know. This makes me cry. But so much dumb stuff was published in the genre that it killed itself DEAD—as in departed, deceased & defunct. They say the smallest possibility that your novel might be called chick lit will get it laughed out of an editorial meeting.

But I’m pretty sure this is formulaic chick lit they’re talking: books about shallow, whiny 20-somethings with more disposable income than self-esteem. Wonderful comic writers like Jennifer Weiner, Marian Keyes, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and Sophie Kinsella, whose work was sold as chick lit a few years ago, are still selling just fine.

I can’t figure out what genre their books have been assigned, so if you know, do tell me. The savvy folks at AgentQuery seem to be in the dark, too, since they still name it as a genre. But DON’T use the term in your query, even if the agent is listed as repping it. They filled out those forms a long time ago.

Inspirational Romance. A saturated market. This doesn’t mean it’s been called home to be with the Lord. Just make sure you’ve got a unique voice and fascinating heroine.

Hard SciFi. The really techie stuff. There is a niche market, but if you want to break in, make sure you know your physics. You’re writing for science ubernerds.

Epic Fantasy for adults. Too many Tolkein wannabes out there. And videogames. But rewrite your Elf vs. Orc saga for Middle Grade and you’re golden.

Zombie-Free Horror. Standard horror has chilled. Except for splatterpunk. Ick. And all that amazing stuff Neil Gaiman writes, which is not called horror any more: it’s “New Weird.”

Cozy Mysteries. These aren’t bad sellers. It’s just that this is the genre with the most competition. If you write amateur-sleuth, body-in-the-library domestic mysteries, be prepared to have a harder time breaking in. It helps if your sleuth is majorly quirky.

Westerns. You kind of have to be Larry McMurtry. This genre has ridden off into the sunset. But western romance still sells.

So am I going to rewrite my comic romantic suspense novel and make my hero a 12-year-old zombie with a steam-powered space ship? Nope. The only really predictable thing about the market is that it’s unpredictable. Next month a Literary Chick Lit Western might shoot to the top of the charts and knock those vampires off their perch.

Hey, it could happen. Who thought there was a market for the long-dead British school-boy tale—in Halloweeny costumes, no less?

So don’t delete that squishy WIP. It’s always good to have inventory.