So today, this happened:
I fully admit to not being a Cassandra Claire fan, and my dislike of her goes back to my Harry Potter days. But honestly, that’s neither here nor there. Although I can’t fathom why people like her books, I do understand that many people them fun. So fun, in fact, that they’ll vote her to victory in the Good Read’s 2014 best YA fantasy poll.
So what’s the big deal? It’s just a popularity contest.
That is exactly the problem.
At the end of the day, publishers are seeking to make money off the book they sell. Like any rational business, they look for books that will all but guarantee that it will be a profitable run. The publishers have no sure-fire method to this, so they need all the help they can get. Looking at who is popular is one way of doing it. It tells them what people are reading, and they’ll either look for books similar to what is popular (think Twlight and Fifty Shades of Grey clones) – or in the worst case scenario they’ll even get authors to keep writing the same story over and over again. The Infernal Devices retold The Mortal Instruments retold Draco Dormiens. Kiera Cass somehow got the go ahead to write The Heir which is basically The Selection trilogy all over again, only starring America’s twins.
Popularity is a problem when it leads to more and more of the same being produced, which automatically results in fewer challenging or unique works going out due to the finite resources of a publisher.
There is absolutely room for fun/light/so-bad-its-good books in the marketplace, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of books that dare to wander outside the established tropes, or even more, shun them.
Would Clariel – a book about an asexual girl that has an absolutely downer (though 100% fitting) ending really have gotten published today if Nix hadn’t been established for twenty years ago? I kind of doubt it and I’m honestly curious to see how the upcoming Zodiac is received, it’s a wonderful book that too eschews many of the YA tropes, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle because it d ares to be different.
Ultimately publishers do still take SOME risks, but as long as these are the books that are winning the “best of” polls they’re going to limit those risks, and that’s just an all-around shame.