Chip MacGregor is a “book guy” by his own admission, and he runs the MacGregor Literary Agency. He was asked recently: “Can you tell us the latest trends you’re seeing in fiction?” Here is the (abbreviated) answer from his blog:
The continued growth of romance — particularly historical romance. Let’s face it, last year the publisher who saw the biggest growth was Harlequin, and they did it in a down year for most publishers. Readers in a bad economy like to escape by reading romance novels. You can roll your eyes if you want to, but it’s the truth.
Thrillers aren’t selling like they used to. James Patterson and other bestselling novelists can still move large quantities, but once you move away from the bestselling authors, it’s much slower (and, frankly, much harder to place a new novelist).
There is a renewed interest in Americana, particularly during sunnier days. We’re seeing interest in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, for example (assuming it’s fair to use British terms for American history). That seems to be a trend away from seeing so many wartime sagas — perhaps a reflection on our fatigue with the never-ending war in Iraq.
We’ve seen a lot of growth with fiction that surrounds historical events. Not a retelling of the events, but of stories that touch on history. So, for example, we’re not seeing novels that re-tell the assassination of President Lincoln, but we ARE seeing novels that have to do with people who were in the vicinity, or who knew John Wilkes Booth, or who were at Ford’s Theater, or who were part of the chase to catch the conspirators, etc. Again, not so much focused on the event itself, but on characters who were influenced by the event.
Literary fiction is definitely a growth category in American publishing. Take a look at any bestseller list, and you’ll see a lot of literary fiction. Not only that, but many of the books have a clear spiritual thread — something I don’t see many people recognizing or reporting on.
One of the most-reported growth trends has been in paranormal fiction.
I see mixed signals in the horror category. Some think it’s up; others think it has run its course. I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other.
Of course there has been huge growth in the Christian/inspirational category over the past 7 or 8 years. The incredible growth has slowed, making some think religious fiction is hurting, but that’s just not true. Christian fiction is still a HUGE category, and there is still growing interest from those houses who were late to jump on board during the heyday. So while, yes, we’re not seeing the big growth in titles that we did a couple years ago, compare the number of titles and the number of genres and sub-genres to what we saw just three years ago.
One of the most visible areas of growth in the inspirational category has been Amish fiction (or “bonnet novels”). Some people have said that it’s going to fade out, but I don’t believe it. I think it has established itself as its own sub-genre. What Bev Lewis started and Cindy Woodsmall followed has turned into its own category of fiction. That sort of thing happens sometimes — consider Louis L’Amour creating the giant interest in westerns, or Edgar Allan Poe basically establishing horror fiction. People are still buying it, so it has clearly found its audience.
He goes on the mention the growth of small presses (including those who specialise only in the production of e-books) and the growth of e-books themselves. He continues: “I don’t think ink-and-paper books are going away any time soon — most every reader still loves printed books. But I’ve got three kids in their 20’s, and all of them are comfortable reading a book on a screen — even an iPhone screen. That tells me when their generation is in charge, the e-book will be a core business, not a side business. It will be a major part of every publishing decision, not simply a sub-rights discussion.
I can comment on two genres mentioned above: thrillers, and spiritual literary fiction. Five of the soon to be seven books I’ve published are in these two categories. The three thrillers I’ve written are all pretty gripping, and realistic. But, I’m beginning to feel ‘been there, done that. Sable Shadow & The Presence is spiritual literary fiction, and it has won eight (minor) awards to date. Writing it and the reaction I’ve had to it have motivated me to (nearly) complete my seventh novel, which has a definite spiritual dimension, and is set in the Middle East. In spite of the fact a tremendous amount to research was required, I greatly enjoyed the experience. I’ll tell you more about it as soon as the publishing contract is signed.