Monday, April 18, 2016

Too Much of a Good Thing

Publishing's continual repackaging of the Last Big Hit may cater to demand, but it keeps the industry from moving forward. ♦ 
Imagine walking into a bookstore and glancing along the shelves. In your mind’s eye, you might see a diversity of books of all shapes, sizes, and subjects…but now imagine that you’ve walked onto a particular aisle, for one genre or another, and try to visualize what you’d see. Very likely, you’d notice that many of the covers have a similar feel, and a closer inspection of the back jacket you might reveal that these books also have similar themes and ideas, similar types of heroes and conflicts and settings. Do you ever find yourself wondering why this is? Do you ever feel irritated to be surrounded by virtually the same books every season, just in slightly different packaging? This is because, whenever a book becomes a major success in the literary world and among readers, there is a tendency for bandwagoners to come out of the woodwork, and almost immediately publishers are on the hunt for any almost-kinda-like-it story they can find to turn a quick buck off a hot trend.
    History repeats itself, and so do breakout stories. One great example of this is the rise in the paranormal romance genre. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight hit the shelves in 2005, and soon thereafter the book became a staple on most teens’ and young adult girls’ bookshelves, and even more paranormal romance books began to spring up. Love stories consisting of vampires, werewolves, humans, and their romantic relations quickly became a majority of YA books coming out. The popularity of this idea spread quickly and widely, even transcending just the book industry and making its way into movies and television with shows like The Vampires Diaries and True Blood, which came out just in time to ride the moneymaking wave that was paranormal romance. Paranormal romance is still in the marketplace today—and, as of this writing, still has an entire section devoted to it at your local bookstore—but the genre seems to be slowly fading out.
    The rule is “nothing golden can ever stay”—every genre and subgenre sees the end to its reign at some point. They can be recycled years later, perhaps, but their popularity can never stay at the top the entire time … but, when writers and publishers bandwagon onto a genre or subgenre, suddenly the marketplace becomes oversaturated. Readers become tired of reading similar books that maybe they once could not get enough of. This boredom calls for the rise in a new genre which will, inevitably, see the same rise and fall.
    Following paranormal romance, for example, the next big genre to hit the shelves was (and still is) dystopia, where futuristic worlds and dysfunctional societies became the newest book “fad.” The breakaway moment for this genre was when Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games came out in 2008. Her book brought to life the story of the future of our world, creating a society that was intricate and so different from the one we live in today. The dictatorial government and the chaos that emerges from the oppression intrigued many readers, as did the chance to root for an everyperson battling the system in the form of Katniss Everdeen. Quickly, though, many books contained dictatorships in a future world where a hero or heroine breaks away from the norm and starts a rebellion, following the same basic mold, including books like Divergent, Matched, and The Maze Runner. The literary world was not only flooded with these books, all following the same genre and basic story, but with sequels and entire trilogies from that genre hammering the market. The Hunger Games came out in 2008, and in 2016 dystopian books are still everywhere…but how much longer will it be before publishing’s tendency to glut the market has made everything that was once innovative and interesting about the genre completely watered-down and predictable?
    Admittedly, part of publishing’s strategy has to do with reader demand; some people love one book so much they will blow through any book with a resemblance. But, on the other side of things, many readers find it frustrating when it seems like no story is fresh and exciting. So why does the industry take a good thing and essentially “ruin” it? The most logical reason would be money. It seems that publishing follows the idea of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and if publishers put out a book that is a wide success, they are most likely going to keep publishing books of a similar type to keep up the good revenues. Instead of being adventurous, they choose to go with what they know will sell. This is an understandable business technique, of course, and once the genre receives less attention, they will move on to the next safe bet and go where the money is sure to follow.
    But, as well as this works as a business model in the short term, in the longer term publishing should move away from these sales tactics. You will not have people complaining about how annoying some types of books are, or entire genres of books, because they will not be swamped in them. A wider spread in the types of books published, and the types of risks publishers are willing to take, will promote more diversity and constant new or interestingly reworked ideas. The last thing an author wants is for their books to be lumped into a genre that people are sick and tired of reading, or even hearing discussed. So here’s my call to the publishing world: keep publishing good books, but please stop publishing too much of a good thing.
  • About the Author
    Kenzie Delaney is a sophomore English Professional Writing major at Miami University. Her favorite hobby is curling up with her cat, some tea, and a good book. She is hoping to contribute to the publishing industry after graduation.

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