Friday, April 19, 2013

YA Epidemics #6 - Bestseller Bandwagons

YA Epidemics is an original feature in which I rant about discuss a different one of the
numerous trends and cliches plaguing the YA genre. The Epidemics are posted most Saturdays.
Comments and discussions are encouraged!

This week, I'm discussing something I've been thinking about for awhile now.  It might not read like a typical YA Epidemics post, and you may disagree with it, but I really wanted to work this subject into a post.
 

Harry Potter brought us schools for magicians.  Twilight brought us romantic vampires.  The Hunger Games taught the world what the word dystopia means, and Hush, Hush and Fallen proved that even an idea as kickass and cool as a fallen angel could be made cheesy and unoriginal.  These are all powerhouse YA books.  They all opened the door for their respective genre...and a whole lot of crap walked through it.


I love books.  My room is overflowing with them, hundreds of them, lining shelves, stacked in boxes, on tables, even in empty drawers.  Sometimes I get so caught up in my obsessive adoration that I forget that the publishing industry is, like all other industries, a business.  That at the end of the day, their prime objective is to make money, and to make as much of it as possible.  Quality isn't nearly as important as sales figures, and in this age of instant gratifaction, what sells is what's been successfully done before.  Which is why it (usually) takes an amazing book to start a trend, but a dozen mediocre ones can fuel it.

Is there anyone who can argue that the quality of YA fantasy has gone down since Harry Potter?  That what was original and fun in Twilight is now eye-rollingly annoying?  Few dystopian settings have captured the chilling realism and brutality of The Hunger Games, and fallen angels are largely considered the laughing stocks of YA mythological creatures.  Trends are being discovered and monetized on at an alarmingly increasing rate.

What does this mean for the future of YA? I won't name titles or point fingers, but is there a single one of you who hasn't read a book that you just know was published to cater to a trend or two? (Or five?)  I know I have. From forgettable to hair-pullingly bad, these books have topped bestseller lists and sent GoodReads and bloggers into a frenzy of 5-star ratings and gushing reviews. Is it just a case of one-woman's-five-star-is-another-woman's-one? Or the beginning of a spiraling descent into bestseller bandwagons, trading substance for sell-outs, chemistry for cliches?

Let's face it; quality has gone down as sales have gone up.  With the publishing crisis, publishers have figured out how to print what hooks and sells, for better or for worse.  This is an Epidemic that isn't going away any time soon, but there will always be quality amid the quantity. There will always be authors who never disappoint (Laini Taylor), debuts that shine (Everneath), and writers who know stepping outside of the box can still be the right way to go (R. J. Anderson with Ultraviolet).

In the meantime, it's important for us bloggers and reviewers to always be honest.  To not skip the negative review and only write about the positive.  It's important to be that trusted reviewer that others turn to, because believe it or not, we really do have the power to shape the way books sell and to impact the future of publishing.

What are your thoughts? Have you noticed an increase in mediocre Bestseller Bandwagons?  Is this problem getting better through bloggers and reviewers, or worse?  How do you think the crisis publishers are facing impacts what they choose to publish?

And don't forget to Follow PaperFantasies through bloglovin to have your YA Epidemic posts available right at the click of a button. Because who needs Google Reader, anyway?

19 comments:

  1. I always love coming to your blog. Even if I disagree with you at times, you always express your thoughts so eloquently. Okay enough ego stroking now. Wouldn't want your head to get so big that no place in the entire blogosphere could accommodate it ;) Haha <3

    I mostly agree with you though. But I don't feel things are on such a huge down slide. It is true that once something hits big then for a while all you see is everyone trying to be that next big thing be it vamps, weres, angels, dystopia.

    That's good and bad. You wind up with quite a bit of suck but mixed in there with the boom of the trend of the hour, you sometimes find some gems. Diamonds in the rough to be cliche.

    Hunger Games was great. Yes. I obsessed over it pretty much when I read it and was outraged at the piece of crap they called a movie (Don't get me started) And it'll always be something I love for introducing me to the world of dystopia, but since then I've found stuff I like even better. Same with what Twilight did for me. Love it. Still do. But I've found so many better vamp books out there. Fallen got me to Unearthly...I mean I could go on and on. They're all like gateway drugs!

    So yeah. Sure we get bogged down with quite a few craptastic books that should have never been published simply for the fact that they can pass as YA. But I'll keep reading and keep trying to find the gems.

    Oh and I generally don't get influenced either way by the majority of review ratings. I do check to see the average consensus, but if a blurb attracts me I tend to go for it and form my own opinion. Oh yeah...I'm a rebel :)

    P.S. I adore Anna and the French Kiss so far (21%) :) Thank you!

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    1. Sheri, you do flatter me! I'm glad you can't see it, but I'm blushing right now. :p

      I agree with you mostly, and I totally see your point. At times, I wonder if I'm too picky. If I'm too bent on originality and the one or two flaws that I'm blinded to all the book has to offer. I also wonder if reviewing books has made me more jaded; the bad things always stick out more than the good when I'm writing a review.

      Regardless, though, what you said about there always being great books coming out is true. No matter how bad things get, if they even get that bad at all, I'll always be able to find a fantastic new book with a trip to the bookstore. I just also may find one or two that wasn't so great. :/ But it's worth the bad ones to get to the good ones, definitely.

      And yayayay!!!! I know you're going to go as crazy for St. Clair as me. That boy makes me want to go to an
      American bording school in Paris haha.

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    2. I think I have that problem too with thinking maybe reviewing has made me slightly jaded. Because even if I like a book on the whole, I find myself picking and pointing out stuff I found wrong when I review. Unless I'm fangirling then all you really see is "OMG!!!1!!! SO GOOD!!! EEEEeeee!!!" type stuff. Okay so it's not THAT bad but yanno...

      And I think I fell in love with St. Clair the moment I found out he was (sort of haha) British. I'm a sucker for that accent :D

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    3. I still do the "OMG!!!1!!! SO GOOD!!! EEEeeee!" fangirling in my head. All the time. Then I spend a day or two editing it into an actual review haha.

      St. Clair is just...perfect. Picture sighs and anime eye-hearts when I say that.

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  2. I think a lot of it is down to personal preferences. When I read a book, I'm very character driven, if I like the characters and the writing and the plot works for me then I'm happy. I don't think too much about the world building as I know you do, I tend to get lost in books and don't try to break the theories. Maybe that's awful of me but there I've said it!
    I rarely give out 5 stars though, a book has to knock me sideways and make me want to immediately reread to earn it's 5 stars. I do think too much hype (by the author, publisher and bloggers) can create expectations and influence you in to thinking I have to love this book! I don't buy into that, I'm happy to row my own boat and I just call them as I see them.
    Great post as always :)

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    1. Haha yeah, world-building is a big one for me. I think it comes from my tendency to over-analyze everything.

      Unfortunately, I've bought into the hype a lot more than I should have. After finding a group of trusted reviewers (of which you're one, of course), I'm able to form a more realistic picture, but I have to admit. I still get swept up when I see too many 5-star ratings and fangirl reviews. Haha.

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  3. I do like how you think outside the box :). And agree with your thoughts. Personally, I often find myself digging for the lower ratings on GR, because I want to know what didn't work in a book for those who read it before me. If it's a case of awkward worldbuilding or insta-love or love triangle - or the blurb refers to a bunch of worn-out stereotype creatures like vampires/werewolves/fairies->insert-endless-list-here - I stay away from the book. (Only vampire exceptions are The Last Vampire - now Thirst - by C. Pike and the WVMP saga by J. Smith-Ready, because they're original in some respect). The funny thing is, many readers seem to be fed up with trends, there are even discussions on GR about said stereotypes and many more ultimately being perceived as annoying...but the same old stuff keeps selling.

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    1. Thanks Roberta! My friend finally took pity on me and helped me haha.

      I also look for lower ratings with the positives. They're usually more honest, and both the critical reviews and the rave ones paint a much more realistic picture. I know not everyone is going to like the same book so I don't expect my experience to be the same as others', but indulging in reviews is usually a really helpful way to avoid too many of the bad-quality hookers.

      My vampire guilty pleasure is Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. The title will make you think of another Twilight rip-off, but it's really not. The later books aren't as good, but the first three especially are just so much fun.

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  4. As an older reader who's lived through many bestseller bandwagons, I can assure you that this phenomenon has been going on in literature in general for quite some time.

    Sherlock Holmes is selling well, write me an eccentric cerebral detective! Miss Marple is a fan favorite, bring me more snoopy old ladies! Lord of the Rings is a huge success, cry havoc and loose the fantasy trilogies!

    On and on like that. Some publishers have made entire careers out of being able to jump on bandwagons quickly...and knowing when to jump the hell off. Not knowing when to jump off the bandwagon is the curse of bestseller bandwagons, and where most of the crap comes from.

    That said, the decline in print profits has indeed made publishers ever more reluctant to bet on anything that hasn't got a guaranteed sales hook. While looking like a previous bestseller isn't sure-fire, it's attractive to publishers.

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    1. "Not knowing when to jump off the bandwagon is the curse of bestseller bandwagons, and where most of the crap comes from."

      Yes! That sentence pretty much sums my feelings up! We're still getting second-rate vampire books, wasn't that the YA flavor-of-the-month like 5 years ago? I'm not saying the good ones shouldn't still be published, but let's face it, the majority are average at best.

      I wonder if this is going to - or even alread has - make self-published books seem like a more viable option both for readers and writers. If the original, stand-out books seem to be turned away from many major labels, why not turn to indie or self-pubbeds? I've recently begun to read a lot more of these less-known books, and while the writing could use the strong editing of a publishing label, the stories themselves often seem better than a lot of bestsellers.

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  5. Yes yes yes! I feel like you've been rummaging around in my brain!

    In high school, I don't think I was aware of book trends. I only started noticing them when I started following book blogs. Sometimes because bloggers specifically pointed out a trend in a discussion post. Sometimes because I noticed reviews for books that seemed to have a similar storyline. After a while, I felt like the same books were being written over and over but with different character names.

    I understand publishing companies wanting to cash in on trends. I also understand readers and bloggers wanting to snag a book that is reminiscent of one of their favorites. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for books that revolve around boarding schools thanks to Harry Potter.

    What frustrates me is all the rave reviews for these bandwagon books. I can't be convinced that each vampire book (just chose a trend at random) is as good as every other vampire book they've ever read. And, I think this just adds fuel to the fire. I've been suckered in to a lot of mediocre AND terrible books as a result of a sea of the positive reviews that surface in my feed reader. As a result, I've become more critical of reviews. For every rave review I read, I actively seek out a handful of negative reviews. While some of the negative reviews deter me from picking up a book, many of them still encourage me to pick up a book.

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    1. Exactly. I judge books off of reviews and general ratings more than I probably should, and soooo often I just want to throw it against a wall and convince that 4.12 rating that it is wrong wrong wrong. As a reviewer, I make sure to be critical. If I give something 5 stars, it's because it was incredible, and also because I think others will love it just as much. Too many people are too free with their high ratings and rave reviews, and it can be very misleading at times.

      I've actually found a group of reviewers I always turn to. They seem to have the same high-ish standards and rating system as I do, so more and more I'll ignore the majority of reviews and ratings and put most of my trust in that handful.

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  6. If the general public keeps buying these books, couldn't one argue it's the responsibility of big publishers to keep putting them out? The books continue to fly off the shelves, so what does that tell the publisher? That people like them, and that it increases their profit. Now, I don't like these bandwagons, but I can't find a guilty party here. If there is one, it's the consumer. We speak with our dollar.

    Reviewers jobs can be split into two categories, depending on the style: There's the group who post purely subjective reviews, and their only job is to accurately state their opinion. On the other hand, there's the objective reviewer, who tries to take step back and analyze without their opinion effecting the reality of the situation.

    A subjective reviewer is far more prone to embrace a trend, and I'd say they are likely to pop up around a trend and create a cult. However, an objective reviewer may LOVE dystopians, of all shapes, sizes, and qualities, but will still give a negative review to a book they loved. Since the ideas they present are removed from opinion, trends have no hold on them.

    If the balance of objective reviewers versus subjective ever swung in the direction of objectivity, then yes, they would help kill negative trends. As it stands, thankfully I'd say, the world is run on subjective reviews, which I don't think impact trends. They are merely another platform to present opinions on. Online reviews are just the continuation of conversations the book community has off the internet.

    Did any of that make sense? Well, if not, I hope the next bit does.

    Bad books that ride a trend are given good reviews for a good reason. Readers who give 4 or 5 star reviews to bad books about vampires merely use a different system of valuation, putting more emphasis on idea than the execution of it. Nothing wrong with that either. It's like saying a reader who prefers character over plot is somehow a lesser person for it. Danger arises when they fail to communicate that in the review, but that goes with anything in a review.

    I know, this is a word wall of less than good opinion, but this isn't something that I have contemplated to any real extent, and this was written with only half my attention. Perhaps I'll tackle this idea at some point in the near future.

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    1. Haha it makes sense. And word walls are fine, means you have a lot to say. :p

      I'm not sure exactly how to reply.... You have very valid points, and I wouldn't actually disagree with most of them. I do think, though, that the "cult-followers" if you will love the really high-quality books more than the trend-holders. And I'm not at all saying that every book that fits in with a trend is bad, not at all. Just that the mediocre books are more likely to get published when they fit a current trend than when they don't. I guess I'm just saying that I wish publishers and writers alike would make sure there was a little more substance to some of the books they publish. Again, not all. Just the growing few that are noticeably, painfully bad.

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  7. *nods head in agreement* I've thought the same things..you write very eloquently, btw.

    Sometimes I do feel very sad at all the craptastic stuff that's out there-- especially when they're SO obviously emulating the last huge best seller.

    I must admit books that "everyone has read" and gushed over are intriguing sometimes. Like The Goddess test series, was recommended to me and perhaps I'll read it. More often though I see a book, like, The Summoning, and buy it bc I love the blurb, ad then go on GR to see it's actually really popular.

    As a reviewer, I find myself looking at the positives of the book. I rate 5 stars if I will re-read the book and recommend it like crazy. Which is more often than expected. But I rarely rate 2 or 1 star u less I don't finish-- bc I think to mysel f: what was good or what kept me reading despite the bad?"

    Still, I have always mostly read random things, as I have eclectic taste. I am not one to only read the best sellers, I've found so many great-- unknown reads since I started reviewing. I love it!

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    1. Awww, thanks Diamond! :D *blushes*

      I've heard a lot about The Goddess Test, but I'm not sure I'll read it. Doesn't seem like it'd be for me. I go by both; synopsis and reviews. This is where it helps to find a few reviewers in your preferred genre, because you know if they liked it, you probably will, too. I have a select handful that almost never let me down haha.

      I'm with ya on the good unknowns. Granted, most aren't completely fantastic, but a few just blow you away and make you wish you could sing their praises all over the internet haha.

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  8. i really enjoyed this post. I have to say i completely agree with you when it comes to talking about this subject. There are too many YA books that deal with too similar of a plot and breakdown of the story.

    In reality there are probably only about 7-10 original stories in this world but authors are supposed to write a fresh take on those and convince readers that it's an original story. For instance take The Lion King, It's basically an updated version of Hamlet. An uncle murders his brother to inherit the throne, a nephew seeks revenge and his rightful claim to the throne. But notice how by making some changes it convinces the audience it's a new story.

    So going back to this bandwagon subject. I wish publishers would take more chances on books with different themes.I've given up on Vampire and Angel books altogether. They're all the same and to be honest , how do you pick one amongst a vast sea of similar stories. Which is why i've recently gotten into Indie books. Lots have different themes publishers I guess see as risky. Some indie authors don't write well,but for the ones that do, It's a relief to start reading about something other than Vampires, Werewolves and Angels XD

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    1. Agreed. There's no such thing as a totally original idea anymore. But it's an author's job to infuse something unique into his/her story, and jumping on bandwagons by retelling the same story with different characters doesn't do that. At all. I like your Lion King/Hamlet comparison, I never really thought of that before.

      I mentioned in an earlier comment that I wouldn't be at all surprised if indie writers started to get more notice for that very reason. Maybe they don't have a staff of professionals to pore over their manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and fix any errors or inconsistencies, but if they write half-decent prose and offer a fresh story, I can imagine a lot of avid readers choosing their book over the latest generic title.

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As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3