One of the more interesting aspects of reading thousands of queries over the course of the year is seeing the trends. You’d be surprised at how many queries I receive that use the same plots, the same titles, and use the same pitches (the alleged Harry Potter “void” being the most prominent sales pitch). Taking a look at queries in broad strokes gives me a bizarre, fleeting (and possibly misleading) sense of the writerly and cultural mood of the moment.
The trends fall into three categories. The most obvious and prevalent one is the copycat trend — a book is popular and I see a bazillion queries imitating what was popular. You name a popular book, trust me, I’ve seen 50 queries that were more or less exactly like that book only slightly different. Currently in vogue for imitation: Eckhart Tolle and THE SECRET.
The second category is the ripped from the headlines trend — whatever big events have recently occurred, sure enough, I’ll see projects that are trying to capture that lightning in a book, whether it’s a straightforward treatise on the subject or an allegorical tale that plays out our current dramas (often in outer space). First it was terrorism, then came the religion/theocracy projects, then the totalitarian government work, now I’m seeing a lot of Obama-esque stories. Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily knocking pulling stuff from headlines as they are a rich vein of material that we’re all experiencing. It’s all about the execution.
The third category is a bit more inexplicable and tantalizing. And this is the “simultaneous thought” type of query that doesn’t necessarily have a root in a popular book, but nevertheless keeps showing up again and again.
My favorite example of this third category is the glut of vampire queries I began seeing around 2005-2006. Around that time, all of a sudden I got a ton of vampire queries, and there wasn’t quite an explanation for it. Yes, there was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Laurell K. Hamilton and Christopher Moore and Anne Rice and all the other successful vampire projects that were already out there, but there wasn’t a particular project that had quite risen to the level of success where it could have prompted so many query imitators. I kept telling my friends that vampires were going to be the next big thing.
Then THE HISTORIAN came along, and I thought, “ah ha!” You see! People love vampires! And, well, then it kept right on going, possibly cresting (or maybe just continuing its crescendo) with the TWILIGHT series. So in this case, I really think the glut of vampire queries was actually a harbinger of a cultural moment.
So what am I seeing double and triple and quadruple of these days? Would you believe Mayans and overweight women?
First, I’ve received at least a dozen queries that somehow involve the fact that the Maya calendar ends in 2012. The particular horrors unleashed by this event vary, but this is the starting point for many an adventure novel. The calendar is ending and boy are those Mayans pissed!
Second, all of a sudden I’ve been receiving a whole lot of women’s fiction with overweight protagonists. “Ugly Betty” maybe? Has there been a successful book that went under my radar? I don’t know!
Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone who has written a book in these molds should necessarily chuck their laptop out the window — you actually might be onto something. I’m also not automatically rejecting a query just because I’ve seen the idea before — like I said, it’s all about the execution.
But I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of these two. While the Mayan calendar is part ripped from headlines, part DA VINCI CODE meshing of current adventure with past history/conspiracy, ultimately it’s somewhat explainable as a trope. Apocalypse, danger, Mayans… what’s not to like??
It’s the overweight chick lit/women’s fiction that really intrigues me, particularly since it runs so counter to the normal chick lit mold where women tend to desire mainstream/elite brands, lifestyles, and self-image. Sometimes these queries do fall into that aspirational category as a makeover story in which the overweight woman creates a new, improved self, but other times they stay proud of who and how they are.
So are these coming cultural moments? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’m going to be looking closely to see what happens.
The wish fulfillment element probably comes from the aspect that we wish it didn’t matter – that women can have glamor, excitement, boyfriends, and the rest regardless of weight.
That’s not “wish fulfillment”–it’s absolutely true.
The phentermine side-effects is the most important cause that saw the end of this very effective and one of the first weight loss drugs. Though even the modern weight loss drugs contain certain side-effects that phentermine had, still their effects were much more acute in case of phentermine.
What about global warming novels, with sci fi theme, year 2500 or so.
there is a book here. mebbe.
contact me if interested in chatting. i am thinking of sci fi novel and movie rights. but this is not about money. i am dying. this is about future of human species, if anyone cares….
Something funny: I have been wanting to read a women’s fiction novel with an “overweight” (because most of them are actually just average-sized women!) protagonist – so there’s definitely a market there! Also — what about Bridget Jones? And a famous romance novel with an “overweight protag”: Bet Me – which was loads of fun!
Anne Douglas says
“My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”
There’s a reason why they sell so well with ePublishers – you can’t find them anywhere else. Urban fantasy, paranormal, chicklit, suspense, contemporary, scifi… you name it and you can find an eBook featuring a plus sized heroine, who’s pretty happy with herself the was she is.
Personally I’d be all over something that’s NOT chicklit featuring a heroine who is besides all the other things plus-sized. As in sized 14-20 plus sized. Not the Hollywood 6-12 version.
The Adipositivity Project says
A little over a year ago I launched an online photography project featuring a growing collection of images I’ve made of fat women. The hope was to change minds about a narrow and exclusive beauty ideal. I’ve since gotten over half a million hits, and I hear daily from women who’re moving from body shame (far more widespread than I’d previously believed) to self-acceptance, and even embracing their unique beauty. It appears to be a struggle which requires a buttload of support materials. People are hungry (sorry) for fat-positive imagery, and if I’m late with a site update, I get concerned e-mails. So I’m not surprised at the fat heroine query trend you note. Additionally, recent press coverage of the fatosphere has sent agents and publishers farming its rolls to sign bloggers.
I very much look forward to the result.
(And I’m with Tom Geller on use of the word ‘overweight.’ It’s a judgement word, and in enlightened fat circles, its use is generally thought to be uninformed.)
Fig Taylor says
“…do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”
Well, Nathan, I fervently hope so, because I have written just such a book and am hoping one day to become obscenely rich on the proceeds, assuming someone out there can summon up the cojones to publish it. (Sample chapters, jacket blurb and/or synopsis available on request).
In my view the fact you feel the need to pose this question at all is an indication of just how deeply rooted fat phobia is in society – as are some of the comments that have appeared in the light of it. Firstly, fat women aren’t some curious subspecies; we’re p-e-o-p-l-e. Lots of us buy chick-lit, some of us read your blog, and many of us are writers – or even agents. What’s more, if Globesity hysteria is anything to go on there are millions of us. Why wouldn’t we want to escape into a world where happy, confident women who share our physical attributes get to wear manolos; ride in sports cars; sip Mojitos and have hot, rip-roaring sex with cool men for a change? Duh?!
Practically every existing novel in this allegedly escapist genre boasts a heroine with a Hollywood-approved single-digit dress size, or else a very slightly larger one who can be relied upon to bewail her imaginary and inherently unlovable blubber throughout. Viz to wit Bridget Jones, a neurotic, self-obsessed ninny whose chronic self-denigration makes me want to whack her upside the head with her own bathroom scales. Actual fat heroines are as scarce as hen’s teeth and seldom permitted a happy-ever-after until epic tragedy or Weight Watchers whittles them down to a weight more palatable to the likes of anonymous and Jana Lubina. Forgive me but thus far I’m having trouble seeing anything that transports me away from the mundanity and frustrations of my everyday life – one of which is having to endure people making egregious presumptions about my “unhealthy lifestyle” based on my weight.
I suggest the reason the infernal Bridget is so damned popular is because, depressingly, she actually is most women, if not Everywoman, a fact I find infinitely depressing. Of all the women I know the ones most likely to give their bodies an even break are the ones Ms Lubina seems to find so odious – those who work towards self-acceptance in a world that consistently mistakes aesthetics for health and health for morality. Precious few of my average -sized female friends like their bodies; in fact most of them actively dislike them. I fail to see anything remotely healthy about that, though I will agree with Ms Lubina that books that are purely polemical can be rather tedious, and make better non-fiction reading – for those open minded enough to read it, obviously.
Fat people, as anonymous casually mentions in passing, are generally invisible – in books; on stage and screen; in the media and to the fashion industry – all outside influences that shape our view of ourselves and of others. It is, I would suggest, the cumulative effect of this, combined with the fact that fat is equated with a list of negative character traits as long as your arm, that leads to the ill feeling and bitchiness anonymous experiences. Perhaps, if fat people were portrayed more frequently in fiction – and as the regular human beings they are – fat, thin and aspiring-thin alike would cease to be so defensive and censorious.
In other words, Nathan, take on some fatchick lit. You’d be doing a public service.
Angela Verdenius says
Hmmm…I've just written two romances featuring plus-sized heroines. Each character is different – one shy, one fiery, and I'm currently writing the third in the trilogy. I've found a very favorable response amongst readers. Yep, I reckon it's simply that plus-sized readers want to read books that they can relate to!
Yes, after having 18 novels traditonally published through a smell press publisher, I did these two myself. And loved it. The market is there, if only the big publishers would take a punt on it – and us!