This weekend, like so many of you, I went to see The Hunger Games. (It’s good; go see it if you haven’t already!)
The hype around this movie has been insane. It’s everywhere. Like with Twilight
, as big as the book was, a movie adaptation makes it even bigger
. Teens who don’t usually read suddenly pick up the book in anticipation of the movie. Adults who don’t read YA want to see what all the fuss is about. These types of readers are rarely changed for life. They likely won’t pick up another YA until the next HUGE THING gets optioned for a movie.
For writers, something similar happens. There are YA writers who suddenly decide to write in the movie’s genre or Adult writers who give YA a go because YA breeds the biggest hits right now. The problem with this mentality is that the book world and the film world are two different things.
There’s an episode of Scrubs in which, on a slow day at the hospital, the gang sees an announcement on the news for a Sars-like epidemic. Suddenly, the hospital is flooded with hypochondriacs who think they have symptoms of the disease. This is what movie adaptations of popular books is like.
It’s no surprise that I love Harry Potter
. I love it not only because the books are well-written and the story is timeless, but also because of what this series meant to literature. Yes, Young Adult existed – just barely – before Harry Potter
was published in 1998, and (as I’ve pointed out before
) there were certainly popular YA titles in the late ’90s and early ’00s. But it wasn’t until the overwhelming, Beatle-mania-level popularity of Harry Potter
that YA became a legitimate force in literature, complete with its own section in the bookstore and bestseller list in the New York Times
Unfortunately, there is one thing I can’t quite forgive J.K. Rowling for, and that’s her creation of “the trend.” More than in adult fiction – and perhaps because teens themselves latch onto trends more than adults – the YA market is often built around one huge concept
. Before Harry
, YA was full of stories about teens finding their voices. Some novels took more chances than others, some were darker, some were genre fiction gems, but for the most part they were contemporary stories that came of age with the term Young Adult itself.
Harry showed the world that YA could go beneath the surface of what being a teen is like. Taking us to a land of magic and showing us the powers of family and friendship, YA was able to become a more nuanced genre. The formerly quiet Young Adult market needed a while to get a hold of what Harry did to it, and once it recovered the timing was right for Twilight to take over. In the book world, The Boy Who Lived was so five minutes ago by 2005. While the rest of the world enjoyed our wizards, we book dwellers found vampires. Not the vampires adults were used to. YA needed their turn with them, so enter Twilight. For better or worse, YA was all about cute dead boys and the girls who loved them. As followers of the publishing industry, you don’t need to be told what happened next: Paranormal Romance Overload.
After a few adaptations of the books that started our obsession with vamps, werewolves, and all those paranormal dreamboats, the book industry was once again ready to move on. So in the midst of the later Twilight books and the early Twilight movies, readers moved on to the next next big thing – The Hunger Games – and it’s been all dystopia all the time ever since.
Which brings me back to the The Hunger Games movie. Despite claims of following agents on Twitter and reading industry blogs, it seems every querying writer who writes in a trend consciously ignores our insider knowledge that the market is too saturated for them to join the club. The justification that I most often see in queries is “because of the success of the movies…” What trend-hoppers don’t realize is that the popularity of a movie does not effect their likelihood of getting – or not getting – published. That’s not to say movies don’t help immensely with sales of already-published books within the genre. They also can help start trends within the movie industry. But, we don’t work in the movie industry.
When a book like Harry
, or The Hunger Games
becomes so big that it single-handedly creates a trend, the next logical step is for that book to become a movie. Writers should think of film adaptations as the equivalent of your parents joining Facebook. Millions of people were already enjoying it, but anything exclusive or cool about it is over the second it crosses over to a different audience. Books start trends; films end them.
Twilight wasn’t fantasy and The Hunger Games wasn’t paranormal romance. The Next Big Thing won’t be in the same genre as the current trend, so jump off the train, start something new, and be what’s next.