Ebook Readers Want Fresh Approaches to Genre Fiction

When it comes to genre fiction, dystopian young adult novels with a female protagonist caught in a love triangle might be wearing thin with readers.

That was one of many insights offered in our “What Are Ebook Readers Reading?” webcast yesterday moderated by DBW editorial director Jeremy Greenfield with Isaac Fitzgerald of BuzzFeed Books, Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot and Maddie Crum of Huffington Post Books, which co-hosted the event.

“Genre walls are coming down,” Fitzgerald said, discussing the relative decline in popularity all three panelists recounted seeing in dystopian young adult fiction.

Now that readers have experienced series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, they’re looking for something new, and they’re less committed to finding it in narrowly defined categories.

As Rebecca Schinsky put it, “there’s no silver bullet” for capturing readers’ attention–no one subject or theme (vampires, werewolves, post-apocalyptic cyborgs, what have you) that’s guaranteed to be the next big thing for the younger audiences who go to Book Riot, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post to discuss and discover new content. Compelling stories are compelling stories, and those readers are less likely to discriminate by author or genre. The field, in other words, is wide open.

That doesn’t mean there are no distinguishable trends, though. As the popularity of dystopian YA diminishes, interest in true crime, mystery and thrillers–which Crum links to the success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl–is rising. The challenge for authors and publishers, she said, is to find creative ways to reinvent those genres.

The same is true for characters. The idea that readers aren’t interested in characters that don’t resemble them, Schinsky said, “is a lie publishing has told itself” for too long.

Publishing more fiction with fully realized female characters and characters with diverse backgrounds isn’t just something to be pursued for its own value, either. Fitzgerald pointed out that it’s a potential source of revenue publishers are losing out on. All three panelists agreed the demand among readers is already there.

What else should we be looking out for in the months and years ahead? Here are seven other predictions from yesterday’s roundtable:

  • Ebook subscription services as permanent fixtures in the industry, with greater collaboration from publishers. Fitzgerald also predicts more experimentation in the kinds of content readers can subscribe to, from serialized fiction to work by specific authors.
  • Low-priced ebooks. Digital Book World’s editorial director Jeremy Greenfield, who moderated the discussion, presented data on the overall decline in the average price of a best-selling ebook. Schinsky agreed that trend doesn’t seem likely to reverse for the same reason she sees subscription services sticking around: “Readers like low-risk ways to try new things.”
  • More erotica and romance. Schinsky pointed out that Fifty Shades of Grey let readers “explore risqué content in language wasn’t strictly pornographic.” As a result, “people are less afraid of the fact that they are sexual beings,” Fitzgerald added. “You’ll see more people identifying with that.”
  • Crum predicts more literary fantasy of the Game of Thrones variety.
  • “We’re going to see more writers of color crack into mainstream literary writing.” –Schinsky
  • More opportunities for classics and back-list titles to find new readers. “Shareability often trumps immediacy.” –Fitzgerald
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen as the next blockbuster. If that pans out when the book is published in July this year, it would be a second smash for HarperCollins, still riding high on the Divergent trilogy. Emma Watson has already signed on for a film adaptation. “I’m calling it,” said Fitzgerald.

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