Sep 17 2013
A few weeks ago, I blogged about the power of comfort and habit when it came to readers’ buying practices. There was some perception, due to my inelegant writing, that I thought that a) the market of books wouldn’t change and b) that I didn’t want to it change. Au contraire my dear readers. (I’ve always wanted to say that in real life but have never had the opportunity.)
Market change is already occurring. The recent spate of self published successes have a lot in common. Not only are the protagonists fairly young – often in their late teens to early twenties – but the stories are told primarily in the first person and often in the first person present tense. Think back a few years. First person narratives were not sellable. No one wanted them. Not editors, not agents, not readers. Anna Campbell has a wonderful article here about the varying points of view used in romance novels but in 2009 when the article was published Campbell acknowledges the primary point of view in romances is third person, likely close point of view, as she terms it. (Another good POV post is by Chuck Wendig)
According to Heroes and Heartbreakers, “Elizabeth Mansfield acknowledged in an AAR interview in 2001 that editors discouraged first-person point of view because they believed readers disliked it, an assumption Mansfield found supported by many of her readers who confessed they found first person POV ‘distracting.’”
In this Amazon thread from 2011, an aspiring writer asks whether she should change her POV from first person to third and readers generally agree that they prefer not to read first person.
A popular series by Kelli Maine was even in second person (which is as crazy as it sounds and not something I could get into but thousands of other readers loved the series and Maine was eventually picked up by Forever). Today a book can be in any tense and readers aren’t dismissing it out of hand. But this change happened primarily in the last year or so. Whether the change occurred because of Twilight which used first person or whether it is because there has been a rise in pulled to publish fan fiction which is often told in first person, the fact is that first person narration is as popular today as it ever was and that is a turnabout that has happened quickly.
Another quick POV shift that is occurring is the dual POV. I think this has to do with the fact that many readers want inside the male character’s heads but want to enjoy the POV shifts inside one novel (rather than having to read a companion novel). When we discussed point of view in 2009 here at Dear Author, it was the general consensus that we want the male POV, no matter the tense or point of view used.
Readers who came to the genre via 50 Shades may not realize that male POV was a thing until they started reading more traditionally published romance. Now you see these same readers say that dual POVs are their favorite way of storytelling. And here’s the tie in to Charles’ Duhigg’s piece. There are so many stories with first person point of view right now, you can barely find a contemporary told in third person. Another shift.
The fact is with publishing is that change happens and with self publishing such a predominant player, change is happening at an accelerated wait. The current spate of books not working for you? Wait six months. Something else is hot. It only takes one or two big success of something different to jump start the writing of others. Just a few years ago, Sarah Wendell and I were banging are drums for more contemporaries and now we’re swimming in them.
Another article I wrote that ruffled a huge amount of feathers was my call to let the historical genre as we now know it die because the sameness of the genre was killing me. I’d read a decade of regency romances and couldn’t bear another decade of the same. But there are authors and publishers who are seeking to push the envelope. Harlequin has gotten behind Jeannie Lin. I’ve heard that both traditionally published and self published westerns are selling in solid numbers. Willow Aster, a self published success of the True Love Story, just released In The Fields, an interracial romance taking place in the 1970s.
Change happens a lot in publishing when one fearless author takes a chance of publishing something outside the norm. Colleen Hoover wrote a book with slam poetry in Slammed. Tracey Garvis Graves published a book featuring a far young man and a woman over a decade his senior, surviving on a deserted island and falling in love On The Island. Today’s release from Graves is about emotional infidelity in Covet. And while infidelity stories used to be verboten no one can argue with the success of the S.C. Stephens’ Thoughtless trilogy or Molly McAdams’ Taking Chances. Neither books were to my taste, but they appealed to hundreds of thousands of others.
My point? There’s an audience for nearly every type of story. It sometimes takes only one author to make that shift. One author who seizes the hearts and minds of readers and who inspires others. And yes, that one author’s story becomes stale in the retelling. And readers are ready for another new and bright and shiny thing. The pace of that the market turns is faster now because of the huge catalog of books available for readers. That might mean that the market shrinks for individual author but it might also mean that it is more stable as readers begin to gravitate toward comfort reads that they didn’t know existed.
For readers, while it is almost as hard for us to be brave, if authors are going to write without limits, shouldn’t we try to read without limits? Try it, and in the words of Yo Gabba Gabba, you might like it. ;)