Query Trends: I’m Seeing Triple

by | Jul 21, 2008 | Literary Agents | 108 comments

One of the more interesting aspects of reading thousands of queries over the course of the year is seeing the trends. You’d be surprised at how many queries I receive that use the same plots, the same titles, and use the same pitches (the alleged Harry Potter “void” being the most prominent sales pitch). Taking a look at queries in broad strokes gives me a bizarre, fleeting (and possibly misleading) sense of the writerly and cultural mood of the moment.

The trends fall into three categories. The most obvious and prevalent one is the copycat trend — a book is popular and I see a bazillion queries imitating what was popular. You name a popular book, trust me, I’ve seen 50 queries that were more or less exactly like that book only slightly different. Currently in vogue for imitation: Eckhart Tolle and THE SECRET.

The second category is the ripped from the headlines trend — whatever big events have recently occurred, sure enough, I’ll see projects that are trying to capture that lightning in a book, whether it’s a straightforward treatise on the subject or an allegorical tale that plays out our current dramas (often in outer space). First it was terrorism, then came the religion/theocracy projects, then the totalitarian government work, now I’m seeing a lot of Obama-esque stories. Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily knocking pulling stuff from headlines as they are a rich vein of material that we’re all experiencing. It’s all about the execution.

The third category is a bit more inexplicable and tantalizing. And this is the “simultaneous thought” type of query that doesn’t necessarily have a root in a popular book, but nevertheless keeps showing up again and again.

My favorite example of this third category is the glut of vampire queries I began seeing around 2005-2006. Around that time, all of a sudden I got a ton of vampire queries, and there wasn’t quite an explanation for it. Yes, there was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Laurell K. Hamilton and Christopher Moore and Anne Rice and all the other successful vampire projects that were already out there, but there wasn’t a particular project that had quite risen to the level of success where it could have prompted so many query imitators. I kept telling my friends that vampires were going to be the next big thing.

Then THE HISTORIAN came along, and I thought, “ah ha!” You see! People love vampires! And, well, then it kept right on going, possibly cresting (or maybe just continuing its crescendo) with the TWILIGHT series. So in this case, I really think the glut of vampire queries was actually a harbinger of a cultural moment.

So what am I seeing double and triple and quadruple of these days? Would you believe Mayans and overweight women?

First, I’ve received at least a dozen queries that somehow involve the fact that the Maya calendar ends in 2012. The particular horrors unleashed by this event vary, but this is the starting point for many an adventure novel. The calendar is ending and boy are those Mayans pissed!

Second, all of a sudden I’ve been receiving a whole lot of women’s fiction with overweight protagonists. “Ugly Betty” maybe? Has there been a successful book that went under my radar? I don’t know!

Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone who has written a book in these molds should necessarily chuck their laptop out the window — you actually might be onto something. I’m also not automatically rejecting a query just because I’ve seen the idea before — like I said, it’s all about the execution.

But I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of these two. While the Mayan calendar is part ripped from headlines, part DA VINCI CODE meshing of current adventure with past history/conspiracy, ultimately it’s somewhat explainable as a trope. Apocalypse, danger, Mayans… what’s not to like??

It’s the overweight chick lit/women’s fiction that really intrigues me, particularly since it runs so counter to the normal chick lit mold where women tend to desire mainstream/elite brands, lifestyles, and self-image. Sometimes these queries do fall into that aspirational category as a makeover story in which the overweight woman creates a new, improved self, but other times they stay proud of who and how they are.

So are these coming cultural moments? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’m going to be looking closely to see what happens.


  1. Margaret Yang

    There is a popular kind of romance novel with a plus-size heroine (The rubenesque romance) that is a steady seller. Could that be crossing over to chick lit? Or maybe it’s because so many Americans are overweight, and people want to read about people like themselves?

    If we see a big bestseller with a plus-size heroine, we can say we heard it here first.

    As for the Mayan calendar thing. Zzzzzz. I’m kinda sick of hearing about that already and it is only 2008.

  2. Lynne

    Mayan calendar prompted 2 of my friends to wonder what they should do with their retirement savings. Not.
    I echo Margaret’s analysis. Snore.
    Plus-size heroine? That would echo the trend on tv shopping channels to drag in beautiful, gorgeous, fantastic…women who are overweight.
    I guess if we’re planning to go out with clogged arteries, we’ll do it in
    ‘trendy’ clothes. THE BOOK THIEF arrived from locally-owned Book World. Cost $3.99. Looking forward to getting to know the narrator.
    In trendy, plus-size clothes.

  3. Anonymous

    Just today, I read on another agent blog that she had also received a high number of overweight/plus-size heroine queries. Must be something in the water. I would like to think that these books aren’t particularly focused on the weight of the character but a “real” story. I would like to relate to characters on some level, but I really don’t know if I care about their physical attributes all that much. Is the story compelling? Are the characters standing out? How’s the plot? That’s what I want to know.

  4. Mark Terry

    I don’t quite “get” the vampire thing, although my just finished YA adventure novel has a bad guy who thinks he’s a vampire.

    I suspect, especially as the current Stephinie Meyers (is that how her name is spelled?), that Stephen King had it right in Dance Macabre when he said the appeal of vampires is that it’s all about sex from the neck up.

  5. Lauren

    The novel said to be the original chick-lit book had a plus-sized heroine. Yup, Bridget Jones. Maybe now that seemingly every other possible type of chick lit heroine has been written, published, sold, pulped, imitated, etc., people have come back around to where the genre started in the first place? It’s an interesting cycle for a genre that people say is in its dying throes.

  6. Nathan Bransford

    Ha! Great point, Lauren. So many chick lit novels came after BRIDGET JONES that I forgot that that was the trope for the book that started it tall.

  7. Scott

    I remember a year or so ago (guessing, I don’t remember exactly), Jenny Rappaport blogged about wishing she could see books with an overweight heroine. I don’t remember whether she actually said “overweight,” really. It was more like heroines who were built like real women, with curves and real-woman dimensions, if I remember right. And I think she wanted these real-world women to be just as sexy as the playmate types.

    It stuck with me, for some reason. Was she foreseeing a trend? Did she inspire some of her blog readers to write about that kind of a heroine, and you’re seeing the results?

    Or is it just some of that weirdness that the universe throws at us once in a while.

    At least I think it was Jenny. Since I can’t find it, I’m not feeling as confident as I was when I started this comment.

  8. Susan Helene Gottfried

    Think, too, about Meg Cabot’s Size Twelve is Not Fat — she’s now got an entire series based on her Heather Wells character.

  9. Merry

    I don’t think the overweight heroines is such an odd thing… maybe it’s just the pendulum swinging back. Unhealthy thin is finally starting to be seen as a bad thing by a lot of women, maybe it just has to do with a lot of writers seeing negative impact from the impossible body image in media…

    The Mayan thing, I have no idea why so many, but you’d think it might be a little late to try selling that type of plot. Figure if the book was even picked up today, it would be slated for release in, what? 2010. If it took a year to sell it, it’s hitting shelves 2011 – what happens when the world doesn’t end? Won’t readers lose interest?

  10. Anonymous

    Note to self: Don’t query Nathan with your Overweight Mayan Vampire Novel, “Human Snacrifice.”

  11. Anonymous

    I know I know a fat vampire chic!!
    She eats the Mayan calendar and and
    this Mayan dude, he can’t stand it, so he wants to marry her so she’ll go on a calendar reduction diet, it’s the latest fad, and it really works, its a billion dollar a year business already!!! (go to our website and order nOW, two for one!) and then there is this concha line (something like that) of slimmed hot Mayans re-emerging into civilization (no heads rolling) and Simon Cowell (okay, some heads rolling) is giving them screen tests while Madonna is thinking about a lip-sync video where she adopts one or two of them in front of the nightly news and then and then the earth blows a gasket and these little green pods come out of the ground after fifteen million years. It’s a trend I tell you! A trend!

  12. Anonymous

    I think it has to do with the fact that with the explosion of agent blogs, the writers and agents are communicating more closely on what is supposedly marketable, which results in a herd mentality to copy the latest “in” thing.

    Query’s are posted for everyone to “critique” (ie check out the story idea), along with lists of agents who are “currently seeking books on xyz,” and the latest PW and Amazon rankings on given titles and genres.

    So because these blogs are all frequented by the same herd of writers, most of whom are willing to write pretty much whatever they think they can sell, you start to see a lot of the same stuff–it’s a distillation of the collective writers’ hive mind.

    To draw a parallel with a different creative field, if you’ve ever visited one of the linline stock photagraphy where they pay you a fee to include your photo in a stock database, and the more downloads it gets sby customers, the more you get paid…well, invariably what happens is the top sellers are imitated–if that week’s top selling photo is of a roll of toilet paper, there will be a run on photos featuring common bathroom items. In other words, these photographers are just out to make a buck any way they can by taaking pictures, they are not shsooting for themselves, but for the market; i.e., it’s a J-O-B.

    It’s pretty much the same thing with the genre fiction writers/wannabes who frequent the agent blogs. And I’m not saying that’s bad or good, I’m only making an observation. It’s much different than writing the things you truly want to write, and then hoping that you can sell them.

  13. Sam Hranac

    Ideas are air-born. “Simultaneous thought” bit me a while back. After requesting my full, one agent told me she thought the subject of tooth fairies must be in the air because she was seeing manuscripts staring them quite a bit (2 years ago). Each had a different slant (as did mine) but she didn’t want to try and pitch another one.

  14. Heidi

    I just read an article a few months ago about Jennifer Weiner’s new release, Certain Girls, which features a “festively plump” woman, apparently a sequel to her “festively plump” Good In Bed heroine. Much was made to do in the review about choosing the main character to be “a fat, middle-aged woman.”

    Maybe people are just trying to be different like Jennifer. You know, because copying something that is unique and defies the trends is different until everyone is doing it. Then it’s just trendy.

    (There was sarcasm there… I’m not sure that comes across with you seeing my eyes rolling)

  15. Anonymous

    I personally have been noticing a trend of the most un-spiritual people on the planet suddenly posing that they are going spiritual.

    I mean mean people. Really, really mean people are out there celebrating the solstice and sending e-amails about horoscopes.

    What is happening?

  16. Brian

    Define “successful book.” Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Odelia Grey mystery series has a solid fan base but it’s not a New York Times bestseller. It’s the one overweight female protagonist series I can think of with a degree of popularity.

  17. Nathan Bransford


    Tricky question. Usually when I’m getting similar queries with a very regular frequency, the books people are imitating are on the level of HARRY POTTER or THE DA VINCI CODE or Eckhart Tolle or something on that level of popularity. That’s not to say that there aren’t other people out there imitating other successful books and authors, but for something to be common enough for me to notice it as a query trend it usually is a massively successful book rather than something that is merely successful.

    So getting back to the overweight women trend, there are definitely some possible influences, but nothing that you could point to and say THIS is what is driving it. It’s probably a combination of the factors that people are mentioning in this comments thread, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

  18. Heather B. Moore

    Funny about the Mayan stuff. I have a book coming out in a couple of months that has Maya people in it (but it’s during 100 BC), so there’s no mention of any calendar. I guess I missed the boat. LOL.

    The TWILIGHT series was probably the first vampire books I read. It didn’t really convert me to read more vampire books, just to keep up with what everyone else is reading.

  19. pjd

    I see an opportunity for a series here. The heroine starts off as a size 1, and each book she gains a size. Not sure what the plot is yet, but by the time she’s a size 12, it’s a sure-fire best seller bonanza.

    On a more serious note, the “simultaneous thought” phenomenon is not limited to literature. It is not a reactive, “herd mentality” thing–that’s for the unimaginative people who fall into the first two of Nathan’s categories. Anyone who was involved in technology in the 80s and 90s witnessed the simultaneous thought phenomenon over and over again. One really creative idea (or treatment of an existing idea) would surface in three or four wildly different locations at the same time.

    And this phenomenon goes back a long time.

  20. Julie Weathers

    “Would you believe Mayans and overweight women?”

    So, a book with an overweight Mayan heroine is probably the next big thing. Wonder if I can do a few revisions here and there with mine.

  21. cc

    Scott Smith’s horror book, THE RUINS, had Mayan people in it, as four American tourists in Mexico venture off to find some ancient ruins and all hell ensues. Great book. Haven’t heard of any other Mayan stuff, though.

    Trend of overweight heroines? Maybe its the natural reaction to the cultural overload of the skinny heads-on-a-stick Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie vomit inducing entertainment coverage?

  22. Anonymous

    Steve Alten’s DOMAIN series deals with the Mayan 2012 prophecy.

  23. JohnO

    Imagine my smug comfort in knowing that my manuscript is nowhere near any of those … now imagine my smug comfort in knowing it may be so original as to be (neologism alert!) unagentable.

  24. Lynne

    Some truly great analysis going on here. Vampire fat chick on a calendar reduction diet, Mayan conga line, and
    series potential, as per pdj. Starts tiny, gains a size every book. All worthy of applause. Thank you. I shall change my outlook on life and re-write my sad, thin little book.
    Crikey. Where do we get: ‘I can’t believe this is extra-calorie butter!’

  25. Anonymous

    Paranormal thriller, 75K words (comment if interested in rights)

    On the Mayan Doomsday in 2012, one vampire learns that he will have a chance to become mortal again. While the world faces prophesied disaster, the Undead get ready to live….again.

    But when an American archaeologist leading an excavation to the Mayan ruins discovers a shadowy link to her own haunted childhood, she must overcome her growing eating disorder to keep the Mayan prophecy where it belongs: in the past.

  26. Erik

    The trends are fascinating, I have to admit, but what percentage of queries are starkly original and fit into none of these categories?

    And what percentage of them really got your attention?

    Just curious. I know no one has a plot like mine (which is why I’m doing it!)

  27. Tom Geller

    Side comment: Could we please use a word other than “overweight”? “Fat” is fine — it’s true, descriptive, and non-comparative. “Overweight” is like saying Eminem is “underblack”.

    Back to your original point. I think there *is* a social change that’s resulting in more fat protagonists. Changing definitions of “overweight” mean that a *majority* of people are in that category — or, at least, believe themselves to be.

    If a 12% (black) or 5% (gay) segment of the population can be a market force, then certainly a majority slice will make a difference. Don’t you think?

    Add to this the effect of “the fatosphere” — fat bloggers tracking lies and absurdities within the diet industry, and the futility of changing one’s body type — and you get more people willing to identify with and accept fat protagonists. IMHO, natch.

  28. Jackie

    any Cultural Anthropology intiugues me. Although ancient civilizations seem quite crude, I can understand their desires to understand and express the super natural. ie Mayan, Aztec, Egyption, European…

  29. Anonymous

    Re: Tom Geller —

    Eminem is “underblack?”

    Oh, hell, I’ve just choked on my ice tea.

    What a hoot! 🙂

  30. Mark D.

    Hey, correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t the Mayans already had their doomsday?

    I mean their callendar was off by about 500 some years, no?

  31. Anonymous

    Instead of "overweight":

    corpulus, big-boned, obese, chunky, chubby, plus-size, full-figured, large, big & tall, big, hefty, meaty, porker, pig, "stastistical outlier with respect to weight distribution"

  32. Jackie

    @ ANON glad I am not fat, I get the feeling you would not approve??? lmao

  33. Anonymous

    How about: Living Large? Literally.

  34. Jackie

    I would prefer to have the perks of “living large” but not the weight…lyposuction, lots

  35. Jackie

    take that fat belly (I use to be fat), squish it together and what do you have? It looks to be a babys butt

  36. Anonymous

    Now I know why I haven’t gone out of the house in over forever, ordering delivery and huffing and puffing to that darned do-it-or-it’s-your-head-
    Mayan weightloss nazi on that video
    (I got two for one for $19.98, two easy payments).
    Dear oh Dear, but someone Loves Bridgett Jones!! There is hope after all! Nice properly dressed English solicitor.
    I will not eat any more calendars!
    I will not!
    Authors write!!!!!
    Nathan hold your nose. We need this stuff!
    Oh dear, I am bleeding. That darned vampire snuck in the house again.

  37. Chris

    To be fair to those authors who are querying about “copycat” novels, it should be noted that copycat novels sell. They get on bestseller list’s. they get made into equally bad movies.

    Both the publishing industry and the film industry seem to have the same quasi-divination cum water witch dowsing ability. Which is to say virtually none. And so we all get a lot of similar books, a lot of sequels, a lot of otherwise unimaginative crap.

    After the Da Vinci Code came out there were several “copycat” novels that then hit the best seller list, to say nothing of the cottage industry of books about the stupid Da Vinci code.

    Writer’s are trying to do the same thing the industry does, hedge their bets by coming up with similar books that can ride on the success of others.

    Don’t blame the player, Nathan, blame the game.

    That said, I actually didn’t write one of these Xerox books, but I’d bet I’d have better luck getting mine read if I had.

    And yes, I do know the lag time between writing and publishing but you still seem the same cycles of popularity. The key is to be a copyist, but one about five minutes behind the curve. Then, perhaps you’ll have the right clone for the right time.

    I’m willing to bet vaguely spiritual pseudo-philosophy fiction such as The Celestine Prophecy will soon become popular again.

    Write yours today!

  38. Jackie

    @ Chris a couple decades before The Da Vinci Code there is The Knostic Gospels…The Da Vinci Code is a spin off

  39. Nathan Bransford


    Don’t blame the game, blame the people who buy books and go to the movies. If copycat books are bestsellers it means people are buying them over all the books that are published, including the ones that are wholly original. Which means publishers are just giving readers what they want.

  40. Jackie

    personally, I don’t think blame should be placed anywhere. Each person is on their own, entitled, path of life. Each journey, wether it be a copycat book or anything, they have the right to the journey with or without anothers approval. Nothing can be learned in life without living it

  41. Joel Sparks

    It’s 2012, and the Mayan overlords have returned to restart the world — by destroying civilization. Then archaeology student Chandra “Chunk-Style” Stevens learns that the Mayan lords will only obey a “Great Queen” who weighs more than their sacred calendar stone — and it’s made of solid gold!

  42. Simon Haynes

    “If it took a year to sell it, it’s hitting shelves 2011 – what happens when the world doesn’t end? Won’t readers lose interest?”

    And if it DOES end, there won’t be any chain stores to sell it from.

    (Personally I’m in the ZZZZ category with the whole 2012 thing. I enjoyed the Graham Hancock books but I don’t think I’d be lining up to watch the movie. And hey, maybe the Mayans just thought 2012 was a good place to stop. Or maybe with leap seconds it’s actually ending tomorrow and it’s too late for everything now.)

  43. Sprizouse

    I just wrote a manuscript about an overweight female vampire. She was too heavy to get a date with other vampires (most male vamps look like Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt, so she was definitely SOL). She ends up going on vacation to Mexico and burying herself in human necks to overcome her sadness.

    Unfortunately she’s vacationing in an area of the Yucatan where the last remaining group of Mayan heritage Mesoamericans still live.

    She ends up wiping out the whole village… very sad 🙁

    But what’s more sad is that I’ll have to toss the whole ‘script in the garbage… stoopid copycatters!

  44. Jackie

    Nostrodamus; fate can be changed

  45. Erik

    Chris and Nathan:

    Yes, people apparently do want copycat books, and there’s no reason the industry shouldn’t give the buyers what they want.

    However – there has to be an investment in the Next Big Thang as well. What’s the best balance? I sure don’t know.

    What it comes down to for the writer is what they want to do with their writing. If you’re in it to be a writer, then you probably stay safe. If you have something to say, as I do, you go for the next trend rather than the last.

    As a publisher? Not my job, but if they aren’t investing in new stories and new voices I’d say the industry is dying. Given the way sales and profits are going, they appear to be less likely to make that investment all the time. That smells like a death spiral to me.

    I know where I’m at in the big picture. I only hope there’s room for me. We’ll see.

  46. Anonymous

    I read a commentary by some presumably tuned-in Native American shaman type, who said that the Mayans divided time into these big long and accurate astronomical chunks, but that the end of that specific calendar had about as much meaning in the big-picture as the end of a standard 365 day Julian calendar. That is, when one calendar comes to its end, the next kicks-in. Big Deal.

  47. Erik

    Anon, you are completely correct about the Maya Calendar. I didn’t go into it before because it’s so ridiculous to even talk about it. We are indeed doomed, but it has a lot more to do with Citi’s derivative position than the Maya.

  48. abc

    Funny that you bring up the overweight women thing. I was just watching Denise Richards proclaim herself “fat”. Wha? I felt depressed after that. For all of humanity.

    Man, did I just admit to watching It’s Complicated?

  49. incaseanyonesinterested

    Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone,” featuring a fat protagonist (though she does lose weight in the course of the novel) was published in 1992, preceding Bridget Jones by four years.

  50. Monkeys' Mom


    Do you have any suggestions for anticipating book trends? I read on Aprilynne Pike's website how her agent was trying to sell her book but it wasn't working. And then she read how Barnes & Noble was forecasting faery stories to be the next big thing after the vampire stuff starts to die out so she wrote a faery story and it was much easier to sell to a publisher.

    I've been querying a story and have had many requests for partials, but then it seems to die out. So I wonder if the story isn't what agents/publishers are "looking" for. I've been scouring the internet trying to find out what the forecasted trends are in book publishing, but no luck yet. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks! Love your blog! Very informative and entertaining!

  51. Adaora A.

    I honestly thought of your – fall over laughing funny, but true – post ‘Harry Potter is not walking through that door,” when I was watching ESPN do a 1 hour (brilliant, mind boggling, skin tingling) special on the 20 Greatest Dunkers of the NBA. Everyone from your ‘favourite’ Kobe Bryant, Vince, his cousin, Dr. J, Magic, Larry Bird, Wilkins…..ahem. Back on track!

    I really couldn’t get into Eckhart Tolle. I tried to get into it, but it just wasn’t form me. I really find it hard to believe that you aren’t in charge of your own destiny; rather you must find a pre-set one, or whatever. I prefer THE SECRET. Amazing how so many people can query you thinking that they’ve got a new thing. Something so new that you’re going to fall out of your chair and call immediately. A lot of stuff is re used and recyled. You’ve got to find a way to make it fresh, in order to attract who you want to attract.

  52. pjd

    Don’t blame the game, blame the people who buy books and go to the movies. If copycat books are bestsellers it means people are buying them over all the books that are published, including the ones that are wholly original. Which means publishers are just giving readers what they want.

    This is both a cop-out and defeatist logic. And it’s what TV and music execs have been spouting for years, while critics of those industries decry the declining quality and originality of both TV programs and pop music.

    To a certain extent, the public purchase what is made widely available to them. And to a certain extent, The Man provides what the public is buying.

    Market research consists essentially of asking the sheep what they would like to eat. “Um, grass is good!”

    The Market is notoriously bad at predicting what it might like because on the whole, The Market has no imagination. That is why visionaries must light the way, and visionaries very, very rarely come from the ranks of people who try to anticipate the market. Visionaries try to anticipate what the market can’t yet conceive.

    Yet copycats of visionaries almost always succeed for a short time because The Market desires to repeat the feeling they got from the original. And you can fool all of the people some of the time, which is what happens when a sub-par copycat succeeds and flames out.

    Beware falling into the “just giving the market what it wants” trap. You’ve got more imagination and wits than that, my friend. But your point about the market being largely to blame is not to be thrown out with the bathwater either.

  53. Nathan Bransford


    I’m going to blog about this at some point and I think you raise some interesting points, but I feel like people have this sense that publishers determine what becomes a bestseller, when in fact publishers have way less power than people give them credit for.

    Yes, to a certain extent, a publisher can decide how resources are allocated, they decide what gets published, etc. etc., and that has some influence. But they don’t decide what becomes popular. Readers do. There are books that crash and burn despite a massive investment on the part of the publisher, and there are books that are wildly successful despite being neglected. The market does ultimately determine what becomes successful.

    I think when people are on the outside looking in it seems as if publishers are like King Midas sitting around arbitrarily deciding which books turn to gold. Not the case.

    I personally urge authors to avoid copycatting and trend watching because it’s counterproductive. If you happen to hit the timing, good for you. Otherwise I really believe it’s best to write what you love.

    And finally, while this is kind of aside from what I was posting, I really dispute that most of what is out there and sells is derivative. The biggest successes are the ones that bring something new to the table. People might try and chase that success, but it never ultimately works that well.

  54. pjd

    But they don’t decide what becomes popular. Readers do… I think when people are on the outside looking in it seems as if publishers are like King Midas sitting around arbitrarily deciding which books turn to gold. Not the case.

    The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more it seems like any other industry where there are a gazillion aspirants, and a few key players that have their hands on the money spigots. Ultimately, you are right–the market will buy what they want to buy regardless of the publishers’ investments. But The Money has a significant influence on what reaches the market in the first place. This is the reason nearly every agent you ask will say, “Self-published does not qualify as a publication credit.” Because it shouldn’t, unless it’s a spectacular, unusual success.

    The biggest successes are the ones that bring something new to the table. People might try and chase that success, but it never ultimately works that well.

    This is exactly right and what I was trying to say.

    The decline in quality and imagination occurs when The Money starts making all their decisions based on past successes and the artists start creating their art based on what The Money is asking for. Eventually The Market will wise up and wander away from the mainstream in search of something better. (Wonder why cable shows are winning all the Emmys?)

    What’s interesting is to juxtapose this discussion with last week’s free-for-all on why people write. It’s all part of the same jambalaya of ideas. If people are writing just for the money, they are likely to want to copycat the big successes, and as you point out, copycatting rarely leads to big success.

    Then throw in the potential democratization of the industry through e-publishing, and the whole mess becomes very interesting indeed.

  55. Sprizouse

    It always bothers me when people think the quality of TV is declining but they fail to actually go back and re-watch those shows (and fail to take into account any one of the myriad cognitive biases affecting their memories).

    Most often people compare low quality shows of today (The Hills?) to the best shows from the past. Which is a total ‘apples to oranges’ comparison.

    Frankly if you went back and watched an episode of Hill Street Blues (a supposed groundbreaking timeless masterpiece), you’ll find it has a glacial pace and a plot that lacks the intricacy you’re used to today. There are more plot lines, characters and active brain work involved in ANY episode of The Wire, Sopranos or Lost than Hill Street. Not a single show from the past can hold a candle to any of those three as far as plot complexity.

    Reminiscing about old shows and remembering how much you LIKED them isn’t the same thing as comparing them side-by-side. Tell me again, how many of the shows on either of these lists (1970s and 1980s) stands against the three I just mentioned?

    Also… I’m with you on the guesswork of the publishing industry Nathan. You guys are playing guesswork with successful books as much as the banking industry plays guesswork with loans (it’s just an inverted business model between the two). I actually wrote a highly-researched, graduate term paper about it… and posted a condensed, jargon-free version here. I know it’s shameless to pimp one’s own blog, but it IS relevant and I’ll bet you (and your readers) find it interesting.

  56. Sheryl

    Cool post! Great info.

    LOL at Human Snacrafice! and Eminem is ‘under black’!! Too funny.

  57. Anonymous

    I really grow extremely tired of being told by writers that I am not NORMAL or not a “real woman” because I’m a size 6, and not very curvy.

    I am not Reubensque. Even when I was thirty pounds heavier than I am not I was not Reubenesque (I gain weight in my stomach). I am a B cup.

    I do not have round hips; I’m fairly straight up-and-down. My butt has always been rather small.

    So even heavy, I was not a curvy, “real woman”. And I’m tired of being made to feel inadequate because I’m not a size 12. Like there’s this exclusive Real Woman Club I’m not allowed to join. (Believe me, life is hard enough for us small-busted ladies, without this rampant “Real women have bounteous bosoms and are very soft and curvy” crap from other women too.)

    Be proud of your bodies, at any size, by all means. But quit telling me there’s something wrong with ME, please.

  58. markalders

    So an overweight Mayan Vampire story would be hot now then?

    Mark Alders

  59. Jana Lubina

    Hmmmm, how about a thin, attractive heroine who is neither anorexic, shallow, nor evil; possessing a healthy sense of self-esteem and a healthy mindset when it comes to relationships, facing troubles that go beyond men, sex, or shoes?

    I'm not writing it, but maybe someone should. Or point me in the direction of this mythical character.

    I'm heartily sick of overly neurotic women with neurotic mothers, or Sex and The City clones, where the biggest problems faced are getting some loser in bed, or being able to afford a hideous pair of D&G shoes.

  60. Anonymous

    anon 1:52-

    But size 6 ISN’T the norm. Size 14 is. And for yrs, in books, movies, tv only size 6’s (or less) were portrayed, considered beautiful, etc…look how people here are picking on the concept of overweight people as MC’s still…

    But I totally agree with you- I think for years women have been told they aren’t good enough because they aren’t size 2’s or have big boobs or a certain body type. Shouldn’t we be happy books are starting to depict women in all shapes and sizes to better reflect reality?

    Maybe, just maybe, this is a reflection not of authors chasing publishing trends, but a backlash against these stereotypes. And readers are BUYING them. Which says something important.


  61. Nick Travers

    Have you thought, Nathan, that by declaring vampires to be the next big thing, you may actually have created that trend? The time-lag certainly fits. There is an easy way to check this: declare something really outlandish to be the next big trend and see how quickly you start receiving queries for it. I tried this at work a few years ago: I created a false rumour (some trivial speculation) and within 24 hours it had come back to me from the other end of the country as fact. Even better, wait until you have my manuscript then declare that to be the next big thing and we can ride the crest of the wave together.


  62. Anonymous

    Judi, whether size 6 is the norm or size 14 or size 23, the point is, nobody should tell anyone else they’re not a REAL woman because they don’t have a particular body shape or weight issue.

    Just because the average size is 14 doesn’t make me abnormal.

    It’s not the sentiment or the idea that women can be beautiful in all shapes and sizes. It’s the implication that because I’m careful about what I eat, I somehow fail as a woman.

    I know you’re not specifically saying that. I’m just pressing my point. Nobody tells those size 23s they’re not real women. They may tell them they’re unattractive, or invisible, or whatever. But at least nobody implies that they’re hiding something funny in their pants, or something.

  63. Erik

    And finally, while this is kind of aside from what I was posting, I really dispute that most of what is out there and sells is derivative. The biggest successes are the ones that bring something new to the table. People might try and chase that success, but it never ultimately works that well.

    We did drift a bit, but your post about what people are copying was a bit too thorough to leave us much to add! Besides, what should aspiring writers query? That’s what’s on our minds.

    Thanks for this statement. I don’t entirely believe you, but it gives me hope. 🙂

    My original question was, “What percentage of your queries are quite new and aren’t part of the trends – and how many of those original ideas really seem to work for you?”

    Let me put it this way: Accepting that what’s new is ultimately better, assuming it catches on, how well is that recognized among publishers and, back at the production level, writers?

    But these trends are fascinating. I can’t help but wonder how much of it you have to wade through for every new idea that really strikes you as gold.

  64. Anonymous

    I suspect as a culture we are trending toward a backlash against the unattainable ideals we see in television and advertising.

    Dove soap and Playtex bras, over the last year, have made a point of featuring women of different shapes, sizes, heights, and hues in their ads.

    When you can create an ideal figure in a computer animation that looks almost true-to-life, reality becomes the novelty.

    I stopped reading much chick-lit because all the skinny heroines annoyed me.

    Jennifer Crusie had an excellent book that featured a not-fat but not-thin heroine who thought she was fat (compared to her size four relatives). The hero liked her just as she was and convinced her to quit trying to change. I loved it.

    There’s something to be said about acceping yourself as you are, and about books being available that have heroes and heroines you can relate to, who have the same struggles and insecurities you do.

    I hope this is a trend that continues…

  65. Jana Lubina

    Size 6 is not “normal” in North America.

    For centuries a fleshy and abundant (I like those words) form was the ideal femenine beauty; in some cultures, it still is. Over the past century, that ideal has changed, as society has. And as a slender woman, I’m all for it.

    The pendelum will swing back the other way eventually — after the apocolypse when food scources are again, scarce. Maybe after the world is destroyed for the 5th (or 6th) time in 2012.

    But regardless there will always be an “ideal.”

    And I think mentioning the Dove marketing campaign is funny, because it’s a marketing campaign and not some new revolution. The same style of marketing that sells those unnatainable bodies. I don’t think big business will be the one who brings about a shift in our thinking. If they do, there’s a larger social problem lurking here.

  66. Jeff

    In 2006 I noticed a similar trend, but it was in short fiction. I’ve written a bunch of short stories and I usually have 30 or so in slush piles somewhere or other. During one week in August 2006, I sold three stories. Two were about the end of the world, and one was about after the end of the world.

    These three stories were the only end of the world stories I had out, and all three of them snapped up in less than 7 days. It made me wonder if some kind of psychic harmonic weren’t taking place.

    Then Cormac McCarthy’s The Road came out and it all made sense.

    Last week I sold two stories, but they have no connection other than both are slightly silly.

  67. Jeff

    I wonder how many copycats really are copycats and how many just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

    When the DaVinci Code came out I had been toying with a similar idea for about ten years. If at some point in those ten years I had actually written the damn thing, I would have been perfectly positioned to take advantage of Teh Market’s interest in All Things Templar and Leonardo. Alas, it was not to be.

    So if Publisher A gets this new book from Dan Brown about bloodsucking Mayans and says we think this will be bigger than DaVinci Code, then all those agents out there getting Mayan vampire queries will snap them up and by the time Teh Blood of teh Mayan Calendar Code is published, they have eight more Mayan vampire novels already in typesetting.

  68. Anonymous

    Nope size 6 isn’t the norm and yes it good to hear that in some books the heroines aren’t variations of a ‘celebrity’.

    I have never heard the idea of someone who is size 6 not being a ‘real woman’. If this has been said, it is a obvious backlash of heavier woman getting sick of being look down upon (which is the case when the media insists on not portraying larger women at all)…. Is this backlash right? NO.

    Within my group of friends the woman range from 0 to size 14… and we all have our little issues with our bodies…

    The point is: If even one of these books can help a ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ feel more confident in themselves because they can relate to a character who is ‘overweight (fat) (or whatever you want to call it)…then good. Because let’s face it, the media does shape our view of beauty, etc…and why should our children grow up hating themselves because they aren’t the body shape of some celebrity.

  69. rabblerouser

    I’m sorry, y’all, but size 6 is indeed “normal.” You all are confusing the mathematical meaning of “normal” with the biological meaning of “normal.”

    It is perfectly normal to be a size 6 or a size 16! Just because something isn’t dead average means it’s not normal? Come on! Does that mean you’re “not normal” if your IQ is 130 instead of 100?

    Why can’t we all just accept each other, fat or thin?

  70. Adaora A.

    I agree with annon 1:52 and I was working up the stuff to say it. Good on her. All of these stats and labels are nothing but tools to organize society into neat little boxes so those stuffy folks up high in office can remember it all. God forbid that something isn’t easily explained or understood. Put the fear of whatever you believe in the basin. Size 6 is normal, size 10 is normal, size whatever you are is what you’ve got. It is quite an insult to people who aren’t fitting the category. And FYI: The average size of folks has been steadily increasing due to change of lifeystyle. ‘Normal’ is constantly changing in society in absolutely every area. That’s why it seems futile – in my opinion – for people to constantly trying to say “THIS” is normal, and “THIS” isn’t.

  71. Anonymous

    I’m Anon 8:02:
    I use the word “norm”, but I apologize. It wasn’t the ‘right’ word to use… I was only trying to say that the average size of a woman isn’t size 6.

    Again the point is that we are seeing variations in publication…and that shows a change in ‘ideas’ in both the writer and perhaps the reader who buys the book.

    At the same time, as a reader I’m not going to buy a book because of the ‘size’ or ‘look’ of the heroine, I’m going to buy it because the stories captivates me. But I can’t speak for the many variables that causes a ‘reader’ to buy a book.

  72. Nathan Bransford

    I don’t want to wade into this discussion of normalcy and weight, but getting back to books, one thing that’s interesting to me about these novels, or at least the idea of them, is that the chick lit genre is basically a wish fulfillment genre. Hence the expensive brands, the makeovers, the boyfriends, etc. etc. They’re usually about average characters getting closer to an ideal.

    And most of the chick lit genres featuring overweight women still fit this mold — they get a makeover, they lose weight, etc. etc. It’s still a conformist, wish-fulfillment genre in which the ideal is rich, thin, beautiful, betrothed, etc. etc. That’s the basic formula.

    My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?

  73. Kristi

    As for the Mayans, don’t forget that the new Indiana Jones movie takes place in Peru. (Inca, not Maya, but in many minds they’re probably the same). Funny, I’ve started doing a little research into Aztec and Mayan culture myself for a fuzzy book idea I have.

    There was a nice History Channel special a few months ago about the fall of the Aztecs, complete with beautiful computer generated renderings of what Tenochitlan looked like (where modern day Mexico City sits), and there was a Adventures in the Underworld (or whatever the name is with the archaeologist who likes to dive in headfirst into dark holes) special on Mayans.

    Mexico is very accessible to writers in America, and there is a huge Hispanic population in the US (clearly, even more in the world as a whole). Writing about them taps into a potentially huge ethnic and global market.

    It sounds like I ought to start writing, if I hope to catch that cultural wave and get myself published….

  74. Susan

    I’m very sad to see that nobody’s blaming Indiana Jones (at least partially) for a new burst of Mayan. Am I the only fan…or did I miss it?

    Anyhow, thanks for this post! Every conference I attend or newsletter I read seems to encourage writers to pitch with the “Just like [insert current bestseller here], except [insert fresh twist here]”. Then I see over and over that agents and editors are tired of seeing just that.

  75. Anonymous

    Anon 8:02 here again:

    “My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”

    A book sells ideas. You are very right about that. I think the plot, the charactization (personality, actions of the characters, etc), and good writing sells books as well. To answer the question will these kind of books sell in a escapist genre? Maybe not… but in genres where the focus is not on ‘body image’, being thin, rich and dating a ‘hottie’, yes they would sell.

  76. Anonymous

    Nathan, for me it would depend on how overweight she was, frankly. I loved the part in Bridget Jones where she lost twelve pounds (or however much it was) and everyone told her she looked sickly and too thin. A heroine who is twenty or even thirty pounds overweight and figures, well, whatever, I look fine and I love my french fries and desserts so screw you all if you don’t like it, would appeal to me quite a bit. A heroine who is over sixty pounds overweight–the point where it becomes a real health issue–probably not, especially if she was strident about it. “Real women look like ME! Skinny girls are disgusting!”, that sort of thing–I’ve had that said to me more than once in real life and (obviously) it bugs me.

    But again, assuming the writing is great and the story great, yeah. The heroine’s weight wouldn’t keep me from buying the story, necessarily.

    And thanks to those who understood what I was saying. The fact that the average size in the US is 14 doesn’t make me abnormal for being a size 6. It doesn’t make me less of a woman because my hip-to-waist ratio is less than ten, or because I barely fill a B-cup. Size 6 is perfectly normal. I am 5 feet 3 and weigh 115 pounds–right where the health charts tell me I should be.

    What gets me is, the women telling me I’m abnormal, in some cases (not saying anyone here is doing this specifically) are the same ones who get angry for being judged for their own weight.

    –Anon 1:52 (also 5:48a)

  77. Jana Lubina

    “My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”

    If the book is about her weight and unapologetic obesity – No. God no. That sounds horrifying. Not interested. I have no interest in angry-yet-witty writers pushing their “self-esteem” teachings at me.

    If the character happens to be obese and it’s not dwelled upon, and there are no preachy saccharine messages about “acceptance” or “loving yourself,” then sure.

    And “normal” or healthy sizes and people aside — unhealthy lifestyles should neither be accepted nor glamourized; much in the same way that smokers are being Hitlerized currently.

  78. Anonymous

    I have a short story out with an e-publisher who does erotic romance, and the main character is a full figured, pear-shaped woman in her thirties who is seduced by a thin, attractive young man in his twenties. He loves the dimples on her knees; his tongue wags when he sees her thick, white ankels.

    She is his boss, she is bright, strong and has all the power, and the story is selling quite well. All I wanted to do was write a story about a strong woman who does not fit into the “mold”, but is just as sensual (if not more) than what we typically see.

    And I’m a man.

  79. Sam Hranac

    Nathan wrote: “do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character?”

    I think the wish fulfillment here is, I can be ME and still be the ideal. I don’t have to be THEM. So, yes, I think it works.

  80. Wanda B. Ontheshelves

    “And FYI: The average size of folks has been steadily increasing due to change of lifeystyle.”

    Change of lifestyle:

    increase in commute distance + high-fructose corn syrup (more eating out, bigger restaurant meals, indulgence-encouraging advertising for food, etc) = viola! increased average size

    A great book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan


    Note: Men are gaining weight too – do guys want a wish-fulfilling fat guy superhero (parallel to wish-fulfilling fat gal super(model, shopper, girlfriend, fill in the blank).


    I hate “plus-size” terminology – why aren’t the supersmall sizes called “minus-size.” I think I will institute this terminology immediately. Maybe I’ll think of some way of working this into my novel. Yes, a bride, and she describes herself as having a “minus-size bridal gown” because she is so petite (self-deprecating humor in the face of her plus-size bridesmaids, who hate the poufy-sleeved dresses she picked out: “well they looked good when I ordered them off the Internet…”).

  81. Adaora A.

    the chick lit genre is basically a wish fulfillment genre.

    That is so true. It’s got that prototype of women going after SOMETHING (whether a person, career change, weight loss, etc or whatever), that’s going to make their lives better. Self-empowerment, and geting things going.

    My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?

    I think they will if there is something that everyone can get out of it. The big picture. There is always something that you can latch onto outside of the face value stuff. Size 2, size 6, size 12 is all face value. The main thing that folks get out of reading books of the chick-lit genre (with the main thread that you pointed out as being ‘fulfilment’), is a women going after what SHE wants. A woman who is working actively to change her life for the better, no matter who might be in her way. Look at Bridget Jone’s Diary. You had her kind of insecure and stiffled (the common women’s anthem theme supposedly), and then she kind of breaks free. She listens to CHAKA KHAN and other empowering female artists. I think it will sell because there is something that all women can grab from it. If it was just about her struggles of being overweight (morbidly or by 20 or so pounds), then it could go – in my opinion – one of both ways: 1. Women who are (naturally or work like hell at the gym)thin might be facinated and give it a go. 2. Only women who are as big, or bigger then the protagonist in the story would find a ‘kindred spirit’ in the story and hold onto it like a bible of sortts. But then again, I could be wrong. The book might shoot it out of the park and become the next big thing.

  82. Wanda B. Ontheshelves

    Re: “the chick lit genre is basically a wish fulfillment genre.”

    This Chick’s Wish Fulfillment List:

    1) Murder rate of 0 in Detroit! Woo-hoo! Number 1 on my list of wishes.

    2) Federal funding for massive undertaking – creating infrastructure (i.e., “a station on every corner”) to support clean (0 emissions, woo-hoo!) fuel for transportation. More mass transportation (SE Michigan birthplace of Model T – nope, no regional cooperation and no mass transit (just barely) to speak of. Racism big part of problem.

    3) Peace in the Middle East – translation: Democracy, jobs and less SEXISM.

    4) Oh yeah, bring good-paying manufacturing jobs back to US in “green” industries.

    5) Independent trade unions (free of government intervention) in SE Asia.


    When I think of “escapist” women’s fiction, I prefer something like “The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard,” about an “ordinary” woman who becomes prime minister of UK. Loved it!!!!

    Moral of the story: There are millions of women who “don’t give a shit about chick lit.” Don’t find it escapist at all. Makes them feel like a pinch of tobacco being tamped down into some guy’s pipe, so he can have a good smoke and mull things over in a manly way. (I get this pipe metaphor from a poem by Sylvia Plath I believe.)


    Re: “The main thing that folks get out of reading books of the chick-lit genre (with the main thread that you pointed out as being ‘fulfilment’), is a women going after what SHE wants. A woman who is working actively to change her life for the better, no matter who might be in her way.”

    For many women, it’s not “working actively to change HER life for the better,” it’s “working actively to change THE WORLD for the better.”

    Ambition: It’s a beautiful word.

  83. Wanda B. Ontheshelves

    Having said all of the above, the main character in my novel is an architect turned wedding cake designer. I thought it would be fun (in a stealthy feminist kind of way) to create a faux chick lit type character, who’s kind of Bella Azbug (obscure 70s feminist reference), Martha Stewart and Yoko Ono (for a concert she once threw dried peas out of a bag, and the sound of the peas hitting the floor was the “music”), all rolled into one.

    At least I am amused. Is my character the feminist version of a Mary Sue? Only time (and a pile of rejections) will tell.

    Back to the manuscript…

  84. Ulysses

    “My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”

    Echoing your earlier post, Nathan: this is all premise. What’s the plot?

    I believe a book with convincing, engaging characters and a great plot would sell whether the protagonist were big, small or vampiric.

    Of course, writing those characters and that plot is always the hard part…

  85. Julia

    My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?

    They already do sell. Meg Cabot is cleaning up with the Heather Wells mysteries (Size 12 Isn’t Fat, Size 14 Isn’t Fat Either, and whatever the new one is).

    Jennifer Weiner’s heroines range from “curvy” to “plump”, and she’s all over the best-seller lists.

    Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan is a best-selling detective who wears size 12. Nobody’s ever called Tess “overweight,” though, until her latest adventure with murder on a TV set–Tess is an avid rower and quite tall, so I imagine her as kind of Venus Williams-shaped.

  86. Anonymous

    I am a 6′ tall proud Mayan Princess warrior
    and so what if you think I look down at you? I do.
    I do take exception over being lined up as a vampire and have you ever seen a 6′ Mayan warrior who weighed a mere 120 pounds?
    You need muscles to survive in this jungle!

  87. Erik

    Chick Lit and Romance are basically forms of Comedy, and they have to adhere to the fairly rigid constraints of comedy. That’s where the whole “wish fulfillment” part comes in. Something has to be gained at the end.

    Bridget Jones’ Diary had to play off of Austen to get some humor out of the tight constraints, for example. It’s not easy to expand the formula without getting away from what has to be done.

    Having said that, winning over the cute guy or finally being comfortable with being independent are among the possible outcomes with an overweight protagonist. Just remember to make use of the outsider status, as in Jones’, as a big part of the plot advancement.

    In fact, I’d say that any good comedies with a geek girl in them would be acceptable starting points.

  88. koreymartin

    The pubescent-vampire soap–it’s many clones and suddenly popular predecessors included–currently sweeping through the general female audience with no prejudice for age causes myself laughable slights.

    It seems like what was once a literature taboo for women is now popular. Especially with this latest installment featuring aliens of the body snatchers type.

    How did this happen?

    I don’t even bother with concern about the Mayan deadline for life.

  89. Adaora A.

    But the theme in BJ was that she won over the good guy – the one she over looked before – being who she was before (overweight, overworked etc and so on) – and that when she had the choice (having finally ‘worked over’ the ‘goodlooking Daniel, she went for the ‘right’ guy anyways. There is that (to some) pesky self-fulfilment thing again. What looks good on paper, and what works in real life. That point you make about Austen in BJ, I can see a bit. That line about ‘one person having all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it,’ which Lizzie makes about Wickham and Darcy (and ironically Colin Firth plays Darcy in Bridget Jones and in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice). The whole thing leaps to mind. And the good guy character is named after the good guy Austen character. Then you’ve got the Daniel Cleaver who mirrors Jane Austen’s Wickam who (as Mr. Bennet says) “smiles, and makes love to us all.” Lots of bouncing off of previous sucess and hopefully putting your own spin on it. Last thing we all want is a broken record.

  90. Maris Bosquet

    A fine discussion, Everyone. (Love the Human Snacrifice concept!)

    For what it’s worth, the trouble with trends is that they can so easily become cliches.

    I won’t read anything hyped as something “like” or “in the style of.”

    I frown on somebody writing somebody else’s coattails to success–or, in this case, “suckcess.”

  91. Jeff

    an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character

    Sounds like a niche. I imagine it could be done if the story didn’t focus on weight, if the wish fulfillment were something else and the character happened to be overweight with other priorities than weight loss. Unapologetically overweight sounds too militant.

  92. Julia

    Also, for heaven’s sake, people, BRIDGET JONES WASN’T “PLUS-SIZED”!!! She was heavier than she wanted to be, but unless she was 5’1″ or shorter, the highest weight she records in her diary isn’t even in the “overweight” range.

  93. Julia

    ironically Colin Firth plays Darcy in Bridget Jones and in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

    It’s not “ironic” at all–that was Fielding’s intention all along (and made the second Bridget Jones movie a little complicated, since Bridge interviews Colin Firth about what it’s like to be confused with Mr. Darcy).

  94. Adaora A.

    @Julia – OK, it wasn’t ironic. And did you agree or disagree with the rest of my post out of healthy curiousity?

  95. Anonymous

    The next big trend: the vampire diet. Simply drink 8-12 ounces of blood before every meal. Lose pounds and inches and your reflection.

  96. Wanda B. Ontheshelves

    “…nobody ever thought of looking there…”

    Re: “The next big trend: the vampire diet. Simply drink 8-12 ounces of blood before every meal. Lose pounds and inches and your reflection.”

    The next next big trend – women can not only make thousands selling their eggs – now they can sell their menstrual fluid as a diet supplement. Move over Ensure, here comes Mblood!

    Hey, there’s a company offering to freeze the red stuff for stem cells (for a fee, of course):




    Hilarious quote from health care professional:

    So the prospect that “the curse” might be a source of stem cells to sustain life was a surprise to some experts.

    “All the years I’ve been working in cell therapy, nobody ever thought of looking there,”

    Yeah, I bet 🙂

  97. Anonymous

    Will it sell?

    I think your answer is yes. Start with She’s Come Undone, proceed to Bridget Jones, Good in Bed, and In Her Shoes (although the movie version didn’t emphasize it, as I recall the heroine liked shoes because they were the only wardrobe element she thought looked good on her), and follow with Jemima J, Size 12 is Not Fat (and the rest of that series) and The Next Big Thing. All of these are off the top of my head, happen to be on my own bookshelves, and are written by well known chick-lit/women’s fiction authors. They have all been on the front tables in my local Borders (whether or not that makes them big hits, I don’t know). I think this is not a trend that is “coming”; it is a trend that is here.

    The wish fulfillment element probably comes from the aspect that we wish it didn’t matter – that women can have glamor, excitement, boyfriends, and the rest regardless of weight.

  98. Julia

    @ adaoraOK, it wasn’t ironic.

    Sorry, Alanis Morrissette has left me oversensitive to this. 🙂

    And did you agree or disagree with the rest of my post

    I think that the obsessing about her weight and lusting after the office cad were part of the same problem, yes.

  99. Julia

    The wish fulfillment element probably comes from the aspect that we wish it didn’t matter – that women can have glamor, excitement, boyfriends, and the rest regardless of weight.

    That’s not “wish fulfillment”–it’s absolutely true.

  100. Kelvin

    The phentermine side-effects is the most important cause that saw the end of this very effective and one of the first weight loss drugs. Though even the modern weight loss drugs contain certain side-effects that phentermine had, still their effects were much more acute in case of phentermine.

  101. dan

    What about global warming novels, with sci fi theme, year 2500 or so.
    there is a book here. mebbe.


    danny bloom
    Tufts 1971

    contact me if interested in chatting. i am thinking of sci fi novel and movie rights. but this is not about money. i am dying. this is about future of human species, if anyone cares….


  102. Kvly

    Something funny: I have been wanting to read a women’s fiction novel with an “overweight” (because most of them are actually just average-sized women!) protagonist – so there’s definitely a market there! Also — what about Bridget Jones? And a famous romance novel with an “overweight protag”: Bet Me – which was loads of fun!

  103. Anne Douglas

    “My question is (and put on your agent’s cap): do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”

    Like hotcakes.

    There’s a reason why they sell so well with ePublishers – you can’t find them anywhere else. Urban fantasy, paranormal, chicklit, suspense, contemporary, scifi… you name it and you can find an eBook featuring a plus sized heroine, who’s pretty happy with herself the was she is.

    Personally I’d be all over something that’s NOT chicklit featuring a heroine who is besides all the other things plus-sized. As in sized 14-20 plus sized. Not the Hollywood 6-12 version.

  104. The Adipositivity Project

    A little over a year ago I launched an online photography project featuring a growing collection of images I’ve made of fat women. The hope was to change minds about a narrow and exclusive beauty ideal. I’ve since gotten over half a million hits, and I hear daily from women who’re moving from body shame (far more widespread than I’d previously believed) to self-acceptance, and even embracing their unique beauty. It appears to be a struggle which requires a buttload of support materials. People are hungry (sorry) for fat-positive imagery, and if I’m late with a site update, I get concerned e-mails. So I’m not surprised at the fat heroine query trend you note. Additionally, recent press coverage of the fatosphere has sent agents and publishers farming its rolls to sign bloggers.

    I very much look forward to the result.

    (And I’m with Tom Geller on use of the word ‘overweight.’ It’s a judgement word, and in enlightened fat circles, its use is generally thought to be uninformed.)

    Substantia Jones

  105. Fig Taylor

    “…do you think people will buy a book in an escapist genre with an unapologetically overweight character? Let’s assume it’s totally well written, the protagonist “owns” her overweightness — do you think a book like that would sell?”

    Well, Nathan, I fervently hope so, because I have written just such a book and am hoping one day to become obscenely rich on the proceeds, assuming someone out there can summon up the cojones to publish it. (Sample chapters, jacket blurb and/or synopsis available on request).

    In my view the fact you feel the need to pose this question at all is an indication of just how deeply rooted fat phobia is in society – as are some of the comments that have appeared in the light of it. Firstly, fat women aren’t some curious subspecies; we’re p-e-o-p-l-e. Lots of us buy chick-lit, some of us read your blog, and many of us are writers – or even agents. What’s more, if Globesity hysteria is anything to go on there are millions of us. Why wouldn’t we want to escape into a world where happy, confident women who share our physical attributes get to wear manolos; ride in sports cars; sip Mojitos and have hot, rip-roaring sex with cool men for a change? Duh?!

    Practically every existing novel in this allegedly escapist genre boasts a heroine with a Hollywood-approved single-digit dress size, or else a very slightly larger one who can be relied upon to bewail her imaginary and inherently unlovable blubber throughout. Viz to wit Bridget Jones, a neurotic, self-obsessed ninny whose chronic self-denigration makes me want to whack her upside the head with her own bathroom scales. Actual fat heroines are as scarce as hen’s teeth and seldom permitted a happy-ever-after until epic tragedy or Weight Watchers whittles them down to a weight more palatable to the likes of anonymous and Jana Lubina. Forgive me but thus far I’m having trouble seeing anything that transports me away from the mundanity and frustrations of my everyday life – one of which is having to endure people making egregious presumptions about my “unhealthy lifestyle” based on my weight.

    I suggest the reason the infernal Bridget is so damned popular is because, depressingly, she actually is most women, if not Everywoman, a fact I find infinitely depressing. Of all the women I know the ones most likely to give their bodies an even break are the ones Ms Lubina seems to find so odious – those who work towards self-acceptance in a world that consistently mistakes aesthetics for health and health for morality. Precious few of my average -sized female friends like their bodies; in fact most of them actively dislike them. I fail to see anything remotely healthy about that, though I will agree with Ms Lubina that books that are purely polemical can be rather tedious, and make better non-fiction reading – for those open minded enough to read it, obviously.

    Fat people, as anonymous casually mentions in passing, are generally invisible – in books; on stage and screen; in the media and to the fashion industry – all outside influences that shape our view of ourselves and of others. It is, I would suggest, the cumulative effect of this, combined with the fact that fat is equated with a list of negative character traits as long as your arm, that leads to the ill feeling and bitchiness anonymous experiences. Perhaps, if fat people were portrayed more frequently in fiction – and as the regular human beings they are – fat, thin and aspiring-thin alike would cease to be so defensive and censorious.

    In other words, Nathan, take on some fatchick lit. You’d be doing a public service.

  106. Angela Verdenius

    Hmmm…I've just written two romances featuring plus-sized heroines. Each character is different – one shy, one fiery, and I'm currently writing the third in the trilogy. I've found a very favorable response amongst readers. Yep, I reckon it's simply that plus-sized readers want to read books that they can relate to!
    Yes, after having 18 novels traditonally published through a smell press publisher, I did these two myself. And loved it. The market is there, if only the big publishers would take a punt on it – and us!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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