What is The Next Big Thing in YA literature? Is it angels? Mermaids? Garden gnomes? In November I spent three days in St. Louis with a gaggle of librarians and authors who tried to answer this very question at the YALSA Literature Symposium. And what did we decide?
No one knows.
Seems like a disappointing end to three days worth of conversations, doesn’t it? But you know what? It isn’t. In fact, it’s some of the best news I’ve heard in a long time.
Since I work both as a librarian and writer, I know what it’s like to feel the pressure to find The Next Big Thing. I’ve spent a million hours worrying whether or not I’ve bought the right books for my collection or if that new story idea will become/still be mainstream once I get it written. I’ve read industry articles and blogs and followed conversations on social media sites in an attempt to spot trends early on. Heck, I drove all the way to St. Louis (a city in which both Mello Yello and sweet tea are scarce) to get ahead of the curve.
Quite frankly, I’m exhausted.
At some point, and I’m not sure when it was, I began obsessing over trends instead of books. I wanted to be the cool librarian who always recommended the hot new book before anyone else. I wanted to become the writer who released a book at just the right time instead of a few years too early or too late. I worried about popularity and numbers instead of what is truly important... the story.
What I took away from St. Louis was that trends are unpredictable. Who knew a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to keep bondage erotica on the shelf at my small town Kentucky library? Small town Kentucky. Bondage erotica. It’s crazy! And it came out of nowhere. Why? How? Because people got so attached to the story, they told their friends. And those friends read it, became attached, and told their friends. It went on and on until you couldn’t turn on a morning talk show without hearing the words “Fifty Shades”. Could anyone have predicted it was going to happen? I don’t think so. Because you can’t predict emotional responses to books, and those are what make The Next Big Thing happen. Writers, editors, and marketing specialists might be able to somewhat steer popular taste, but it takes passionate readers to create a trend-setting phenomenon.
So, what does that mean for those of us whose job it is to be on top of book trends? What are librarians, teachers, and writers supposed to do? I think the answer is simple. Find the passion. Read books that set you on fire, and then tell others about them. Buy books that excite you, and then hand sell them to your patrons and students. Write the stories that are clawing to get out of your brain. Don’t worry about what is supposed to be The Next Big Thing, focus on the thing right now that gets under your skin and won’t let go. Maybe that book you’re telling every person who will listen about will become the next every-human-must-read-it-and-watch-the-blockbuster-movie book, and maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is getting excited about books and spreading that excitement. The rest will work itself out. And if you end up feeling blindsided by that garden gnome trend, don’t worry about it. Most of the rest of us will be scratching our heads and wondering where it came from, too.
Thanks to Miss Tammy for sharing your insights. Tammy Blackwell is the Young Adult Services Coordinator for a public library system in Kentucky. When she's not reading, writing, or cataloging books, she's sleeping. She is the author of the YA Novels - Destiny Binds
, Time Mends
, and Fate Succombs
You can follow Tammy on twitter: @miss_tammy
or check out her website: www.misstammywrites.com
Tammy has a special treat for fans of her Timber Wolves Trilogy - From January 4th to 6th, At First Sight: A Timber Wolves Companion
will be available as a free download for Kindle on Amazon. It is a wonderful peek into her fabulous characters.