What's Hot in Publishing.

At the CC Writers Conference, I finally heard some hope coming from the publishing industry. After last winter’s editorial carnage, and a spring and summer of discontent, life seems to be stirring in the book biz. (I hope it hasn't just been re-animated and zombified.)

That’s according to the three smart, fun, helpful agents on the faculty: Katharine Sands of the Sarah Jane Freyman Agency, Amy Burkhardt of Reece Halsey North (soon to be rechristened the Kimberly Cameron Literary Agency) and Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada.

I learned a lot and met some fantastic people. Also got inspired by Danish-American writer Christian Moerk (Darling Jim: Henry Holt and Co, 2009.) Yes, you still can get a first literary adult novel published in the US, but it does help if you’ve already sold it to the entire population of Denmark.

Here’s what’s hot in publishing right now.

Romance. It’s is the bread and butter of the industry—now more than ever—a whopping 50% of sales. (If you write it, and aren’t a member of RWA—join, say the agents.) Paranormal is the major seller, and Romantic Suspense is big, too. Historical is a perennial favorite, especially Regency, Medieval Scottish and Edwardian—and Elizabethan is growing.

Young Adult and Middle Grade are where the real growth is happening. This is not your mother’s YA/MG. Edgy literary/experimental fiction is alive and well and living on the YA shelves, which are now perused by young people all the way through Junior college, apparently. (They’re always nearest the coffee bar.) This means your protagonist can be as ancient as 22, and word count can be from 40K to whatever (but less is still more, Ms. Rowling notwithstanding.) Anything goes in terms of language/darkness/weirdness. Even Chick Lit still lives in YA, because of Gossip Girl et al. (But don’t even mention the term when pitching adult Women’s Fic. More later on what’s not hot.)

One caveat in YA: no boy’s adventure stories. (Pirates, mysteries, quest sagas.) Save that for MG. Marketers have proclaimed that boys don’t read after age 13.

Fantasy is still way hot in MG—over 50% of the market. What used to be YA material is now MG. Middle Grade still has restrictions on language/sexual situations, but it’s darker and grittier than it used to be. Your MC needs to be 13 or younger and word count between 20K and 40K. If you can change the age of your MC to 13 and pare down your word count, your fantasy WIP has a much better chance of being published. Funny is good too. Funny Fantasy MG for boys is golden.

Vampires are still taking a bite out of adult fiction, as well as YA, but the market may be getting saturated. The upcoming Wuthering Bites, about Heathcliff as a vampire may signal boredom with the conventional vampire saga.

But mashing undead/shapeshifter stories with classics took off with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so anybody out there with a finished ms. of Jane Eyre and Zombies, the Golden Bowl of Blood, or the Last of the Mohican Werewolves, send it NOW—you’re on the brink of fame and fortune.

Zombies are huge for all ages (publishers tend to forget the existence of readers over 30, of course) I’ve noticed most of the deals listed in Publisher’s Lunch in the last two months have been zombie-related, and the success of the film Zombieland will only fuel the trend. But beware, says Laurie McLean. Trends like this can be short lived.

Steampunk is the new Big Thing. It’s something I knew about mostly from costume catalogues, but apparently it’s the new Goth—scary-sexy retro clothes without the emo angst. But more buckles. Lots more. And goggles. For the uninitiated, steampunk is sci-fi set in Victorian and Edwardian England. Think Jules Verne. Mixed with the TV show/film The Wild, Wild West. It’s set in a universe of steam powered computers and clockwork cell phones used by spunky hotties in corsets and bustles. Oh, yeah—and maybe they do a little space travel in wooden space ships a la Firefly.

Not much hope for people who write for grownups, but unfortunately, grownups seem to be glued to their TVs watching Dancing With the Biggest Loser these days—or that’s what book marketers think. If you want them to think differently—go out and buy a book. Preferably without a zombie Mr. Rochester wooing Jane Eyre on his clockwork cell phone.

More soon on what’s NOT HOT.