Catherine McCredie, a senior editor in the Books for Children and Young Adults department at Penguin Books, says she has lost track of the number of vampire books on the publisher’s front list from the last 12 months alone.
“And we’ll keep publishing those books as long as we keep getting the material and as long as there are the readers for it. At the moment, the trend is definitely there,” McCredie told the EWF Town Hall Writers’ Conference ‘Trends in Publishing’ session.
Okay, so the vampire trend is not so surprising.
To be honest, I just led with that because a writing pal has written the start of a compelling vampire novel with a few startling twists (and not a sparkly vamp or lovesick teen in sight) and won’t bloody finish it. This is distressing to me because it is exactly the kind of book I would stay up all night to read. (You hear that Cunningham? Give us more ‘Isabella‘!)
Back to McCredie and the ‘Trends in Publishing’ session, in which she identified current trends – vampire/paranormal, dystopia, steampunk – then addressed the question: “Is it better to surf the trends or follow your heart?”. The answer, it seems, is ‘yes’.
“I wouldn’t say one is better than the other,” McCredie said. “A publisher like Penguin has both sorts of books on its list.
“I think what that question’s really about is, how does your voice get read among the cacophony of other voices clamouring to be heard? And I think that writers need three attributes. They need a distinct voice, relevant themes and mastery of the craft.
“I was reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and he mentioned that it requires 10,000 hours to master any art or craft. So, if you’ve made a decision to be a writer, that is a big commitment – 10,000 hours where you could be doing anything else.
“Without that you are unlikely to have mastered the craft and I think everyone in this room acknowledges what a vast amount there is to learn about writing.”
“(They) are both idiosyncratic, both follow their hearts, both have had great success,” she said. “Both actually fairly recent recipients of the Astrid Lindgren award, which is the richest award for children’s writing, worth I think about $880,000 Australian. Shaun Tan was awarded that this year and Sonya Hartnett was the first Australian writer to win that award.
“One of the fantastic things about being a writer is that you can do what you want to do. You can surf a trend and then you can follow your heart. You can do a bit of both. You can do anything in between. You can be inconsistent in your career.
“Publishers love writers who are consistent in their career but you don’t have to follow that if you don’t want to.”
Another example of success without following trends was Paul Jennings. His 10-year-old son hated reading and Jennings saw a gap in the market, an opportunity for easy-to-read yet compelling stories that could hook his son and other children like him.
“And Paul Jennings is Australia’s top-selling author,” McCredie said. “I think a great area for any writer to consider is where are the opportunities and the gaps in the market.”
One of those gaps was the digital sphere. “It’s exciting and new and I think anyone with a bookish concept that sits within the digital space – and I have no idea what I mean when I say that – will find that publishers and government grants-funding bodies are interested in a strong concept.
“There are real opportunities out there. No-one’s necessarily expecting that area to make money straight off but they are willing to put money into it to watch it develop and grow.”