Friday, June 3, 2011
Trends for the untrendy: Is time running out for dystopia?
Considering the fact that this post is illustrated with the titles of popular dystopian novels from as far back as 1932 (Brave New World), dystopian literature has been part of our social consciousness for a long time, and it's not likely to go away completely anytime soon...at least not until we're actually living in a dystopic world where books are not allowed.
I am biased, however. I love dystopia. Brave New World, 1984, and The Handmaid's Tale were three books I most enjoyed being forced to read in high school. Later, I feel deeply in love with Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and recently, much like everyone else in the world, I loved the Hunger Games trilogy. On top of that, my novel, Stormland, has a dystopic bent (although not a true dystopia), so I am personally invested in dystopia staying hot.
What makes me nervous is that most of the articles on the web about the trendiness of dytopia were written last year. On Aug. 24, 2010, Nancy Parrish, in a guest blog entry for the Guide to Literary Agents blog said, "Suzanne's Collins's Hunger Games series has ignited a craze for dystopian literature." Present tense. So at least then, we know it was hot. Most of the articles about dystopian literature I've found have been from summer of last year.
So did I take one year too long to finish my dystopian novel? Maybe. In a very blogged about article by Mandy Hubbard, The Epic Post on Trends (YA & MG), she states that, "the buying craze for Dystopians is waning, but new projects still incite bidding wars when they are really, truly original. A couple of editors said point blank that they have not yet bought a dystopian and would be happy to discover a great one, but they do think it needs to be relatively soon."
Of course, a year wouldn't really have made a difference, it would have needed to be more like three to four years. With the amount of time it takes to write and polish a novel, plus the two years or so for your novel to actually be published after it's accepted by a publishing house, how does anyone follow trends? Is it pure luck, or evidence of the ablility to see the future and/or time travel?
Honestly, I'm not that worried about my dystopian-ish novel and you shouldn't be either. Trends are good for novels who fall into specific categories of hotness, but if your novel is original, it won't be subject to the fickle desires of the public (and publishers). Mandy goes on to say that, "In general, editors love the projects which can’t be easily pigeon-holed into a "dystopian book" or a "paranormal book", but rather sort of blended genres (and/or "floated above" them). This is a REALLY good place to be, because an editor (and sales force) can adapt their pitching/spin depending on where the market is when your book, you know, actually hits shelves." Based on my research about the preferences of agents, this is very true. Many agents want to see manuscripts that transcend or straddle the genre line. In interviews, I often see comments along the line of, 'I still want to see a [insert trend here] novel if it is truly original and breaks out of the tropes of the genre.' So, all we have to do is write a novel that is different from the other million novels on the shelves and totally brillant and it will all be okay. No problem. ;)
I'm hoping that Stormland can be marketed as crossing genre lines. At least I know that I am very genre confused at the moment, so hopefully that's actually a good thing. One of the awesome commenters on my Made of Awesome contest submission said my entry reminded them of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I thought, "Stormland is nothing like The Road...unless it's The Road narrarated by Sookie Stackhouse." Lightbulb moment. How is that for a totally weird but hopefully memorable pitch?
In conclusion, I would like to say...in my completely unbiased opinion with absolutely no alterior motive...that dystopian novels are still cool. At least at this very moment. The Butterfly and the Flame, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and Wither, are dystopian novels that have come out in the last six months and more are coming. In addition, the Hunger Games movie trilogy is coming out in 2012 and let's be honest...some people don't jump on the bandwagon until after the movie comes out. I did that with Harry Potter. The movie version of Hunger Games could incite increased interest in the Hunger Games books and dystopia in general.
Dystopian literature is a part of our culture. Check out this list on Wikipedia for a well researched list of dystopian novels throughout time, and this more extensive list by blogger Amy Sturgis of recent and forthcoming dystopian novels. This untrendy blogger says that even though the trend might be waning, dytopian literature is timeless, and if written exceptionally well it can be popular now, next year, and in a hundred years.