Last week, I saw a bunch of kids excited at the teen section of a well-known bookstore downtown.
I wish you'd seen them. There was this one boy, age ten or eleven, who found a book he liked and ran to show it to his mom. Sadly, I couldn't take a peek at the cover.
There was a girl who squealed when she spotted on a high shelf a book she didn't know had already been released. She was so happy, and her happiness filled the entire bookstore. It was like she had won a ticket to go to a wonderful place. "Help me reach it?" she asked her mother. But, before her mom could help, she was already on tiptoe and managed to get the book herself.
I saw, also, another boy sneak up to take a look at the MG books they had displayed as best-sellers. He murmured the titles to himself, savoring each word. His mother called up his name from behind a bookshelf covered with text books, and he went back to her shuffling his feet. I think he preferred an adventure with dragons and wizards, rather than one with mathematical formulas. I can only pray he'll remember not to squirm if he falls on quicksand in the world of Euler, Descartes and the rest of the gang.
Watching those kids made me wonder what MG and YA books kids are reading in Brazil these days (this probably sounded very random if you didn't know I currently live in Brazil). This is really important to me, because I read in Portuguese, too, and as a writer and as a reader I'd like to keep track of what's trendy here these days, what Brazilian readers like and dislike in fiction, and what foreign books are popular here.
The year 2000, if I remember correctly, marked the beginning of a massive flow of YA and MG fantasy books into the Brazilian publishing industry. Back then, I think the most popular books were the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Narnia books. I have a feeling kids went to Tolkien and Lewis looking for support to alleviate the pain of waiting for another Harry Potter book-- and, what was supposed to be just a casual affair, turned into a torrid romance.
Jo Rowling opened the gate for a world of possibilities in fantasy fiction that didn't exist before. I feel as if before Harry Potter, we mostly looked for Monteiro Lobato's folkloric stories, which are amazing, by the way. But, other than his stories about a farm constantly visited by Brazilian folkloric creatures, we didn't have that many choices in fantasy fiction. Growing up, actually, I feel like there were more contemporary books around than fantasy ones. It's very interesting to see how things change in publishing.
That visit to the bookstore left me with the impression that fantasy books continue as popular as after Harry Potter showed up, but now I feel that MG books are getting more popular than YA books in Brazil. That is, the MG section was much bigger than the YA one. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books were there. Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell was there, too. The Monster High books seemed very popular, too, and many epistolary MG books. I think stories about kids with diaries are getting more and more popular in Brazil, which is really cool, because I love journals!
The YA section wasn't as neatly displayed as the MG one, but I looked closely at the binders and even with my myopic eyes I found a few gems. Christopher Paolini was there with Eragon. Spotting Marie Lu's Legend also made me smile. I always look for the books I learned to love in the States. I like looking at the way they translated the titles. I like seeing the authors' photos, too, because I feel as if they're visiting me in Brazil. I know, I'm so silly.
Watching fantasy books become so popular in Brazil, and still finding them trending after a few years abroad (MG books are getting more and more popular compared to YA ones), leaves me with a clear feeling of what Maggie Stiefvater said in her recent blog entry, Publishing Does Not Want to Eat Your Heart. She claims that publishing is run by readers, and that really is the case. Like she said, publishing is trying to give people books that they want to read. Brazilian readers want to read more MG fantasy books, because they fell in love with them when these books appeared. So, they are getting more fantasy books-- and how nicely displayed those books are at bookstores. It shows their importance these days. Those kids squealed in joy at the sight of the books they liked.
I can't help but reinforce, though, that although we, writers of the world, want to stay updated and know what sells these days, we should feel free to write the stories that we love, instead of tailoring books that follow what's trendy now, as if there was a recipe for success in the publishing world. If you don't like writing MG fantasy books, don't make yourself write MG fantasy books. It will turn your life into a nightmare. And, really, if you don't love your story, no agent will. No publisher will. No reader will. And, if they don't love it, they won't represent it.
Like Maggie said, there must be love in publishing.
I wouldn't be too worried if you didn't follow trends. Rowling's style was nothing like what Brazilians were reading before the first Harry Potter books showed up here. We were reading contemporary books. We desperately wanted books about kids traveling to small towns. We wanted books about siblings going on adventures together. And orphans living at orphanages. And, now, there's magic everywhere and stories that are set at school. And, since Twilight, there's a good deal of romance. And, thanks to Suzanne Collins, we want to see strong girls in fiction. And... and... and... the list goes on and on. That doesn't mean we're not open to other genres. We just want good stories, no matter what they are about, and will stick with them if we like them.
Last year, NA fiction was considered a difficult sell. Wasn't it? I can think of a writer, in particular, who kept writing NA despite what everyone said about it. She could have worked on a story that already had elements that made it likely to sell, but she didn't. She loves NA stories and sticks with them (I'm looking at you, Juliana Haygert). Well, it seems readers are starting to recognize and feel the love those writers put into their craft. There are so many agents looking for NA books, now. Or, really, it's just that readers are getting more and more intrigued by NA books and wanting to read more NA stories.
Write what you love and readers will read it. Isn't that all that really matters in the end?
Have a wonderful Thursday!