What’s Hot by Sara Megibow

I took some excellent notes at the [RWA Spring Fling Conference] conference this weekend. Here’s the insider scoop —directly from workshops and the bar. (You have to guess which is actually the better source for “what’s hot” info.)

  • Middle grade (all kinds—contemporary, historical, paranormal, fantastical). This is fiction aimed at the 10- to 14-year-old reader and runs in the 30,000 to 60,000 word count. Want an example? Follow Stefan Bachmann’s debut for THE PECULIAR at http://scathingjellyfish.blogspot.com.
  • For contemporary romance, I heard people drooling over cowboys, westerns, and anything with a cat.
  • Victorian historical romance (historical romance set in the later 1800s instead of the typical Regency time frame of 1814-1816).
  • Anything and everything funny (like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and since I’m biased about it, like Tiffany Reisz).


Sarah Megibow is an Associate Literary Agent at the Nelson Literary Agency. This post was taken from their most recent newsletter. To get more great industry news, subscribe to their newsletter.

Literary vs Commercial Fiction

I know this is going to make me seem clueless, but what the heck is literary fiction? Or Commercial fiction? Admittedly a dork.

Literary fiction is generally more serious in tone and message. It makes you think. The content is more about thought and feeling than plot and action (although there is plot and action in it). It is character driven and deals with emotions and experiences that are universal to the human condition. The writing style is also elegant, picturesque, descriptive.

Examples of literary fiction are: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Poisonwood Bible, and a lot of the titles you read in high school English classes. Or books that win The Pulitzer Prize for fiction and other literary awards.

Commercial fiction (also called mainstream or genre fiction) is generally more plot driven, faster paced, often deals with current social problems. Look at any fiction best-seller list to find examples of commercial fiction.

Nathan Bransford talks about it HERE.

Great article HERE.

Juvenile vs Traditional Fiction

I’m suspending Writing Tip Tuesday for a bit because 1) I’ve got lots of questions in the que, and 2) I can’t think of a tip today.

What’s the difference between juvenile literature and traditional fiction? I swear that some books I read could be either.

Juvenile literature, more commonly divided into the two categories of children’s literature and young adult literature, is primarily defined as “material written or produced for the information or entertainment of children and young adults.” (Library of Congress)

Most often juvenile literature is characterized by a younger protagonist (under the age of 18), simpler vocabulary, shorter chapters, fewer plot lines, lower word count, and lighter subject matter. Picture books, beginning chapter books and middle grade books are usually easy to identify as juvenile fiction, even if adults like to read them. For example, the early Harry Potter books are clearly intended for middle grade readers, although many adults enjoy them too. The same can be said for Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series, Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series, James Dashner’s 13th Reality series, and J. Scott Savage’s Farworld series.

The line between the YA classification and traditional “adult” fiction is a little fuzzier. A YA book may have a young protagonist dealing with mature subject matter. Many YA publishers these days seem to feel that it is not only acceptable, but required to have protags over the age of 16 involved in intimate physical relationships. Clearly written for youth, the subject matter is too adult for us to feel comfortable letting our teens read them. For example, many of the current paranormal fantasies that are popular now have teens behaving in ways we’re teaching our children is improper and immoral. Therefore, while the world defines these books as YA, we often define them as adult.

On the other hand, you have YA books that are clearly for teens, but adults love them as well, such as the later Harry Potter books, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series (although some readers may put them up in the previous category).

The publisher determines whether a book falls in the juvenile or general fiction category, but most often, if the character is 18 or younger, it gets the juvenile classification.

Memoirs—To Write or Not to Write

I’ve been asked to comment about memoir. Keep in mind as you read this that other publishers will have different opinions on this. I have published memoirs over the years. None of them have made money. None of them have even recovered the costs.

Also, in the many years that I was an acquisitions editor, the absolute worst of the worst submissions that crossed my desk were memoirs. Personal stories that “needed to be told.” And their query letter often started with, “After fasting and praying for quite some time, the Spirit told me that YOU were the publisher who would bring my memoir to those who really need it and bless their lives.”

These were also the people who were most likely to send me nasty letters when I rejected their book.

So, keeping in mind that this is a touchy topic for me, I’m going to do my best but I’m probably going to be more negative than say Knopf or Scribner or whoever published Tuesdays with Morrie.

The first thing you have to ask yourself is WHY are you writing this? Most of the time, memoirs start as a healing effort for the writer. They put their lives in perspective as they write, come to terms with the bad, find little treasures of good, and feel a huge release and empowerment when they’re done. Sharing this with their friends and loved ones is a good thing. It’s a testament to the human spirit and can often help others struggling with similar issues.

If you’re writing a memoir like this, congratulate yourself when you’re done. Find a POD company who doesn’t charge and arm and a leg to format and publish it for you. Give copies to family, post links online so interested people can buy it if they want. Then celebrate that you’ve completed something wonderful.

If you want to go bigger than this, know ahead of time that you’ve got your work cut out for you. You must have a unique story and a unique voice.

As I see it, there are three types of memoirs that sell well:

  1. Celebrity: Political figures, movie stars, sports heroes, buisiness tycoons, and even our own General Authorities. These memoirs sell pretty well, even if they’re not the most well-written books because we’re interested in these people. We want to know what makes them tick, how they got where they are.
  2. Train Wreck: These are memoirs of those people who just can’t get it together. They’re accidents waiting to happen and we can’t tear our eyes away. These are often people on the edge, the fringes of society. Their lure is because they are so different from most of our realities.
  3. Healing: The most common, and yet the hardest to sell. This is the personal story of recovery and redemption. For this to sell, the author has to take the events of their life and use them to uplift and inspire others who are enduring their own challenges. It must be well-written. It must be unique.

If you think your memoir falls into one of these three categories, and it’s well-written, then do some homework. Go look at the memoirs that are selling well. Find some that are similar to yours. Look up their publishers and submit to them.

And good luck to you.

What qualifies a novel as "historical?"

If I want to write a “historical” novel, everyone tells me there needs to be a purpose to setting a novel in that era.

I’m currently reading a book titled: “What I Saw, and How I Lied,” by Judy Blundell. It’s a National Book Award winner. It’s about a young high school aged girl, set in the early 1950s. It’s touted as a “historical” novel.

So, what makes it “historical” rather than “young adult?”

Yes, one of the characters is recently returned from WWII. The scenes and settings all depict how conditions were back then. But, in my opinion, it could as easily been set in 2009 with the soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. So, what qualifies this book to be “historical?”

I haven’t read the book you mentioned, so I can’t speak directly to that one. However, as a general rule…

Historical fiction, simply defined, is when an author puts fictional characters against a setting of real historical events. Usually, to call it historical, the fictional characters need to interact with real historical figures or take part in/be impacted by the actual events.

What defines a historical event? Some people would call a novel set in the 70s historical fiction. Personally, I’m offended by that. I remember the 70s. Sort of. The 1950s is borderline. By the time you get to WWII, it would definitely be classified as historical.

Just because you can take a plot from one era and make it work just as well in another era doesn’t mean it isn’t a historical novel. However, the more the story depends upon the actual historical event, the more truly “historical” it is.

Category Faux Pas

Would you be interested in publishing my non-fiction novel about my life as a Mormon in the backwoods of Canada?

No, because there is no such thing as a non-fiction novel.

novel: a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes. (dictionary.com)

non-fiction: the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality. (dictionary.com)

Admittedly, there can be some blurring of the line between the two, but for submission purposes and shelf placement in the stores, you have to pick one.

If your book is a how-to book (in your case, how to survive in the backwoods of Canada) but includes personal experiences as examples of the principles and concepts you’re discussing, it’s non-fiction. (Example: He Did Deliver Me from Bondage by Colleen C. Harrison)

If your book is about a personal life experience or event, is in story form and written in first person, and follows what really happened very closely, it’s a memoir (classified as non-fiction). (Example: Running with Angels by Pamela H. Hansen; Room for Two by Abel Keogh)

If it covers your entire life, it’s an autobiography (classified as non-fiction).

If your book is based on a personal experience or event, written in first or third person, some liberty is taken with the facts to make it flow better or to hide the identity of certain participants, it’s a novel based on true experiences (classified as fiction). (Examples: Torn Apart by Diony George)

*Updated 6/10: I moved Room for Two up into the memoir section. I thought I remembered it being advertised as a novel based on a true story. I have been corrected.

And this is why no one should feel bad when I use their mistakes as examples on my blog. Chances are I’ll make a mistake or twenty along the way too.

What’s With All the Fantasy?

I noticed in the Whitney Awards that not only is there a Speculative Fiction category, but all of the Youth Fiction category nominees were fantasy. What’s with all the fantasy?

Uhmm, that’s what is popular right now.

The Whitney’s, being a reader nominated award, is going to reflect the general popularity. Right now, fantasy is hot in youth fiction. That’s what everyone is buying and reading. (And by “everyone,” I mean lots and lots of people.)

Which is a pain for people who don’t like fantasy.

But eventually, the pendulum will swing back. The masses will get tired of fantasy and you’ll see more realistic novels coming back. When that happens, other genre fiction will show up in the Youth Fiction category.

LDS Chick Lit

Do you think there is a market for LDS chick lit? Do you think that labelling a manuscript as chick lit in a query letter will help or hurt with a publisher?

P.S. Thanks for keeping this blog up, hornet nests aside. It’s helpful.

Chick Lit: a genre of fiction targeted to, and written by or about, young and sophisticated urban women ( slang ) (Encarta)

Do we have young, sophisticated, urban LDS women who like to read?

Although chick lit, in general, is declining in the national market, I think there will always be a place for it. LDS trends tend to follow a bit behind the national market so we haven’t seen much of it yet.

Also, true chick lit has a bit of a sassy or sardonic tone to it and there’s not a lot of that in this market either.

You could pitch it as light, LDS chick lit, or just as women’s fiction targeting young, fun and fresh young women readers.

An example of LDS “almost” chick lit is Stephanie Fowers. Readers, who else might fit this category?

Top Three Genres

I have a question that might be interesting and useful to answer. Recently Candace Salima hosted a survey on her blog about what types of LDS fiction readers like most. She said that Historical Fiction came in as #1. Is there anyway to find out what are the top three best-selling genres in LDS fiction? If there is, why do you personally think the are ranked that way?

Love the blog!

Thank you.

Unfortunately, there’s no industry aggregate that collects and publishes those numbers for us. Each publishing company is going to have a slightly different take, depending on the quality of their genre, authors, marketing, promotions, etc. If we could get DB retail sales numbers, that would give us the best overall idea but they’re not giving those numbers to me. (If anyone from DB wants to jump in here and answer this question for me, go right ahead.)

Here goes my best guess.

If we’re looking at LDS publishing companies selling to an LDS market (leave Shadow Mountain out of the equation for now), the top three genres are historicals, romance, and suspense. I’d put historicals in first place because that’s where we’re seeing the blockbuster series titles: Work and the Glory, Children of Promise, Out of Jerusalem, Faith of Our Fathers, etc. My guess is romance is second because you have highly recognizable names like Anita Stansfield and Rachel Nunes. Suspense comes in third simply because there is less of it.

If you add in Shadow Mountain (DBs national imprint), Middle Grade/YA fantasy is going to knock suspense out of the top three, but I’m not sure where fantasy would rank when compared with historical and romance. They might be selling enough that it would take first place. Anyone know for sure?

What would I like to see more of?

What would you like to see more of in the LDS book market? Less of?

I think the market is heavy on romance. It’s not that I’d like to see less of it, but I’d like to see more of other genres to help balance it out.

We also have an upsurge of speculative fiction for youth. IMHO, you can’t have too much of that, but I’d like to see more for adults—something other than last days stories.

I’d also like to see more in YA and realistic fiction. (See this post. And sorry, Josi, I typo-ed your name in that post but I fixed it.)

Is LDS Fiction a Genre?

Dear LDS Publisher,

I recently put a question on my blog about the LDS market. It has been in my mind for some time, and I am really trying to find the answer. I had a few readers and authors give me their opinion, but I’d really like yours, too, if you don’t mind.

My question: What kind (in general) of books are the average LDS fiction readers and/or fiction publishers looking for?

My answer: In the past, I’ve turned to the LDS market because there is sleaze and untruth in my preferred genres, and I want books that fit my general interest but are “clean.” So, to me, I consider the competition for LDS books to be the National Market, not necessarily other LDS writers.

But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if this simplified understanding is incorrect. Do readers, and especially publishers, see LDS books as their own genre with specific rules and formats?

What you think?

You’re going to get opposing opinions on this question, but this is mine:

I do not see LDS fiction as its own genre. What sets it apart from clean national fiction is the setting—most LDS fiction is set within an LDS community and/or has LDS characters. LDS romance novels follow basic romance genre traditions and rules; LDS suspense uses general suspense techniques; LDS fantasy follows fantasy formats. Yes, LDS fiction is cleaner than most national fiction and often involves LDS characters and settings but to me, that is not enough of a difference to make it its own genre.

Therefore, when I read LDS fiction, I judge it against the same criteria and conventions that I judge national titles in the same genres. However, my expectation is that LDS novels will be cleaner, with less “on screen” violence and gore.

What’s Lacking in the LDS Market

What kind of a book would you like to see someone write? What’s lacking in the LDS market?

What I’d like to see and what will sell well are sometimes two different things.

Personally, I’d like to see more realistic YA that deals with some of the tough things in life from an LDS perspective, offering the youth positive models for dealing with challenges. NOT the pat-Primary answers for things, but reality.

I’d like to see the same thing in adult fiction, like what Josi Kilpack did in Sheep’s_Clothing. Tough topic, handled well.

Overall, I’d like to see more of everything—fiction for children, teens, adults, in every genre, but well written and high quality.

Straight or Not?

Do you think romance novels need to include mystery, suspense, or other elements to be successful in today’s LDS market or can a straight romance sell?

I personally prefer loads of a little mystery or suspense mixed in with my romance. But there are plenty of straight romance stories out there, with little or no mystery or suspense in them, and they seem to be doing fine.

Readers—what are your preferences? Do you want the straight stuff or a little sumthin’ sumthin’. Give us some specific titles of straight romance and/or romance hybrids that you really like. (Identify which category you’d put them in.)

P.S. This would be a really great time to leave a comment.