New writers and authors are told to know what genre they’re writing when querying agents or editors, but how many of the recent mega-bestsellers lately seem to defy genre categorization?
When Marcy and I were at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, super-agent, author, and writing teacher Donald Maass gave a short talk promoting his soon to be released book Writing in the 21st Century. Maass made 2 primary statements that had me sitting up straighter.
1. There’s a significant rise in cross-genre fiction
2. There’s a decline in straight genre fiction
One claim logically seems to follow the other, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maass pointed out the enormous surge of novels that seem to defy genre categorization. Is it literary fiction, women’s lit, romance, popular fiction – maybe a little of two or three.
I haven’t personally done the legwork of verifying this (feel free – let me know what you find out) but Maass claims that historically books were lucky to spend a month or 6 weeks on the bestseller list. That was a phenomenal showing as far as publishers were concerned. But within the last 2 years or so, there’s been these blips on the list – books lasting weeks and months at the top. Now, Hollywood has long poached the bestseller list for books to turn into screenplays, but being turned into a movie later doesn’t explain how debut books immediately shot to the top of the list, and stayed there long after the movie was released.
The following stats were taken from the USA Today’s Bestselling Books site:
Water For Elephants – 194 weeks
Twilight – 220 weeks
The Help – 144 weeks
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 145 weeks
The Hunger Games – 130 weeks
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 273 weeks
The Lovely Bones – 223 weeks
The Notebook – 215 weeks
And you contrast those numbers against well-known bestselling authors:
44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – 12 weeks
The 9th Judgment by James Patterson – 25 weeks
11/22/63 by Stephen King – 15 weeks
The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks – 55 weeks
Now – don’t get me wrong. If I had a novel on the bestseller list at all I’d be doing a happy dance right now. Maass’ point was to look at what made books last so long on readers’ lists and minds? He drew 2 conclusions:
1. In the 21st century, the concept of genre is dying
2. Genre is being replaced by high impact fiction – beautiful storytelling and powerful writing that touches your heart and changes how you think about things.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a thriller about a reporter and his assistant chasing a grisly serial killer. It’s about a girl who’s gotten the short stick all her life, but has managed to survive and live life by her own rules despite what society says. It’s about one man’s integrity and his stand against a bully.
The Help isn’t just a period novel about racial inequality, it’s about Skeeter taking the biggest risk of her life to achieve her dream, about Minny breaking free of an abusive husband.
Harry Potter isn’t just about a boy training to be a wizard.
According to Maass, that’s what sets these novels apart. I’m eager to read his new book and see what else he has to say.
Do you agree with Maass? Have you read any of those mega best-sellers? What do you think?
Some great posts this week from around the web: