Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What's Not To Write?

I wonder if Children's publishing is the branch of literature most beset by trends. It certainly seems that way. Over the last decade a stream of themes and archetypes have burst onto the bookshelf only to be dropped in the 'No-no' box a few years later – the point at which only the very well-established can get away with writing something new about them.

By my reckoning the contents of that box is very rich and becoming richer by the year, but how long before those themes become fresh again? A generation?

New writers, looking for their first book deal, obviously need to be aware of the contents of the 'No-no' box, even as they also opt out of the fools game of trend-chasing. It's a fine line to tread, especially as tastes amongst editors, agents and readers (in that order) can change while you're still beavering away at the keyboard. And what do you do if your favourite subject has become deeply unfashionable? The answer to that, I'm afraid, is write about something else, or self-publish and hope.

So what's in that box right now? What should an aspiring children's writer, hoping to attract the attention of agents and editors in 2011 and 2012, be avoiding like a plague of vampires?

Well, boy wizards must be somewhere near the bottom. Along with anyone else who discovers they have powers and need to go away to a special school to learn how to use them. Unless, I suppose, they have powers we've never read about before.

Somewhere just above magic would be pirates. I learnt just how unpopular they had become the hard way. Alongside pirates are similar historical archetypes such as highwaymen and Vikings. In fact, historic themes as a whole are a hard sell now, precisely because they were rumoured to be the 'next big thing' about eight years ago and weren't.

Just above pirates are all those supernatural creatures we've been seeing so much of. If a supernatural creature isn't there, it's because we haven't been seeing much of it, so get writing quick! You're too late for werewolves or hunky fallen angels, but you might just get away with a yeti with dreamboat eyes.

Then -- and last to go into the box -- we have steampunk, partly because there’s been a splurge of it in the last 18 months (and there's still a lot more in the tube), but also because it’s a dead end. A glorious, wonder-filled dead end, but a no-through-road nonetheless. This airship sailed last year.

And then... well, I don't know. Can anyone think of anything else? My guess is that zombies and demons are due to be dropped in the 'No-no' box pretty soon, though to look at the bookshelves they are still enormously popular. But that's precisely the point.


  1. Have you ever thought of trying to self-publish your pirate novel? It may be in the no-no bucket, but you may get some sales - and you'll have that good feeling deep down inside of it being published.

  2. Matt, self-publishing is very, very difficult to do well, and while some people go ahead and try anyway, I can't imagine I'd ever feel good about it. I'd rather leave it as my 'bottom drawer' novel (most writers have at least one of those). Having said that though, perhaps it could be a good way to experiment with e-publishing...

  3. Maybe I could be the first to write about an ice skating Yeti. Hmmm...

  4. Can these things even be predicted? The next big thing will probably be what sells really really well, despite agents & editors saying it's stupid and/or old hat. Then someone will take a chance on it to explosive success, and there you have the next big thing.

  5. I left a comment and then left too soon - always doing that! Erm, well, it was only to say that I have a really good suggestion about what's top of 8-9 yr old reading requests...but it's such a good idea, I'm hoarding it!

  6. Anita, an ice skating Yeti might just work! Though maybe skiing would be better...

    Karen, I have picked up a few hints and rumours about 'the next big thing', which I'll be spreading around shamelessly in my next post.

    Rachel, is 'hoarding it' a clue, I wonder? Dragons are ever popular with 8-9.

  7. Fascinating. Maybe it's best just to write what you want/need to write, and if that's out of fashion, either wait for it to become fashionable again or even get it out there somehow and start a new fashion.

    Pirates are bound to come around again soon. Why? Because they Aaarrrr!

  8. Oh no - pirate jokes!! ;-)

    At least my WIP isn't included in your list :-)

  9. Simon, I agree about just writing the story you have to write. But it is tough if publishers won't even look at it because of its subject.

    When will pirates be popular again? I've no eye, deary...

    Kate, is your WIP a children's book? Actually, I'd love to know more about it. Are you planning to say more on your blog? Or is it too soon?

  10. Yes it's a childrens book, a thriller for the 10+ age group. I'll say more if my agent manages to sell it ;-)

  11. Okay, Kate -- fair enough:) Good luck with it!

  12. Hello sir! My name's Jonathan Queen, and I'm a huge fan of yours. I know you get this alot, but I loved your work on The Philosophers Stone. I live in the US, so I had to buy a copy off Ebay, but I got it mainly for the artwork.

    I know this may be alot to ask, but it would mean so much to me if I could get an autograph from you. If you charge, I would gladly try to pay whatever it is.

  13. Hello, Jonathan. Thanks for stopping by and for the compliment. I do sometimes sign the cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (though not the others in the series, obviously). If you you click the 'United Agents' link above right, my agent, will let you know how to go about it.


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