Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Movie Creates a Reader?

Whatever you might feel for Twilight: deep abiding love, disdain, jealousy (if you're a writer), or whatever, you have to consider the possibility that it is, indeed, serving as a "gateway drug" to further reading. So there's that. The movie may even be responsible for getting people to pick up books. Robert Pattison himself may be responsible! Such is the case with my thirteen-year-old niece, who has been an indifferent reader up till now. My mom took her to see Twilight and she was smitten. Bella (as my niece happens to be named, though I still call her by her kid name "Izzy") turned to my mom during the final credits and said in a kind of hushed whisper, "Nona, that was the best movie I've ever seen." (i.e.: "Nona, I [heart] Edward Cullen.")

And then she read the book. And then the next one. And then the next. And yeah, then Breaking Dawn. Which, all told, probably surpasses her sum total pages read to date. In one month. And that's awesome. And what's more awesome? She's now, reportedly, reading the books I gave her for Christmas (Dream Girl and How To Ditch Your Fairy) because, you know, she's run out of Twilight!

I lovvvvvve hearing this, not just because I adore my niece and the only thing that could make me adore her more is her becoming a reader, but because I had wondered if this might be happening. I had wondered if Twilight made readers, as reportedly Harry Potter did. I've had conversations in the supermarket line with grown women who've read the books 5 times each but have not, then, taken the next natural step of seeking out more YA (just as too many adult Harry Potter readers don't go on to read other YA/MG fantasy). I didn't know what the story was with teens. Are they rereading Twilight to death, or are they picking up other books? (Librarians and parents out there? Any anecdotal evidence?)

There is one more thing I want to mention that ties in here, albeit in a sucky way. Having drinks recently (my good old fizzy water cocktail!) with some writer friends, I heard something very unsettling: a book by an author I don't know has been pushed by her publisher from this year to next, which is something that happens sometimes. Books get pushed. The reason this one did is because Barnes & Noble didn't pick it up. You may or may not know this, but Barnes & Noble is god and devil to writers, because: there is basically one national buyer for each category, and if they choose not to buy your book . . . well then, the chances of your book finding its way to readers diminish sadly. With the domino-like disappearance of independent bookstores, writers are increasingly dependent on chains to sell their books, and we are deeply, deeply grateful when they do. However, with one buyer for all the stores, and limited shelf space, there are books that get left out on a much larger scale than if an indie store here or there doesn't order it. There's no inherent evil at work: chains are certainly not out to stifle writers, but there's no getting around it: the death of independent book stores means: less choice for browsers.

But the reason any of this old news is relevant is that in this particular case, the rumored reason that B&N did not pick up this title was because they only want dark, edgy YA, a la Twilight. Eeeeek!

Okay, this is total gossip-hearsay. I may have it all wrong. It may not be true. There's room and desire for every kind of book, right? Light humor romance, heartfelt historical, contemporary lit fic, sports books. Whatever. We need it all!! But if the story of my niece is an epidemic, if there are hundreds and thousands of teen girls who've run out of Twilight and need more, and they're going into bookstores and libraries asking what to read next that's like Twilight . . . maybe bookstores are responding to that.

It's a trend-driven business. Of course. It's the readers' fault, not the bookstores', right, at the root of things? The stores are only responding to demand. Publishers are consistently valiant in the way they go on publishing untrendy good books as much as they possibly can, though I think they often have no choice but to put their promotion dollars toward the trendy "hot" titles, which nowadays seem to be the dark, edgy, supernatural YA. (I ought not to complain about that trend just now, as Lips Touch fits that description!) Thank goodness for libraries, who will support a wide range of titles. But publishers and writers can't depend just on library sales, and besides Amazon, B&N has to be the single biggest book channel out there, yeah? I think?

Anyway, this is all just interesting as a good news/bad news scenario. Great that new readers are being "minted" as teens, too bad that trends make or break good books. I suppose that's nothing new, but in our increasingly corporate, chain-store world, perhaps trends have more influence than they ever did before.



Laela said...

I can tell you as a Teen/Childrens associate for a large library system that Twilight is a gate way book. We can't keep the "read alikes" on the shelves. In fact I read all the Vampire books I can get my hands on so I can have more things to recommend.

tanita✿davis said...

I'm always reminded of Gail Gauthier giving a copy of Twilight to her hairdresser, who self-confessed to never having read a whole book. This is the same woman who proudly called her mother to report that now she HAD read a book, and wanted her to read it, too.

That makes me so happy. I have my own opinions about the series, but that someone was able to find the gateway that is a good book and go through it to somewhere else -- and to think new thoughts -- is such a great thing.

As for B&N...

I do know the horror of the chain; basically I was told that for a second book, B&N would only buy the number of books that sold from your first one, which I took to mean that if they didn't carry you at all, well, chances are, they never would. That depresses me somewhat, but I'm not in this to be popular or trendy. It's just that I had a story or two I wanted to tell... and I have to sort of adjust my expectations. Or something.

Kunegond said...

My 14 year old daughter is rereading the last tome of Twilight at the moment. I will be looking forward hearing your niece's favorite list of lecture to offer some of it to her. Problem is for some books she has to wait until french edition is published. Shame.

Stephanie Perkins said...

Um. That dark, edgy thing better not be true. Because if it is -- I am SCREWED.


But okay. Here's the thing, from a former librarian and bookseller's point of view. Yes. Right now, that's absolutely where the market is. I DID get teens and tweens -- girls AND boys AND adults for that matter (including men!) -- requesting more books like Twilight, and at an insane rate. And I gave them the obvious choices like Melissa Marr and such, but I also handed them quite a bit of contemporary fiction with a romantic bent, and they came back in love with both.

The stores are filled -- PACKED, OVERFLOWING -- with new Twilights, and the thing is, the market will die back from this severely. Soon. Because people get tired of reading the same story over and over, and often in a "lesser" form (because, let's face it, no matter what you think about it -- NO. THERE IS NO OTHER BOOK LIKE TWILIGHT). And I'm confident about this because I saw the same thing (when I worked for B&N!) with Harry Potter. There was a huuuuuge demand for wizarding/magic books, the market was flooded (some good books, some horrid), and it crashed and burned a few years later. To an extent, there's also been a bit of this with dragon books because of Eragon.

Anyway. I know this is rambly, but the market will swing the other way again. And I'm happy that this whole thing means paranormal will always have a niche now -- which was pretty freakin' rare ten years ago -- thanks to Twilight, just like Harry Potter cleared the way for a new generation of fantasy fans.

And one last thing -- THANK GOODNESS for Harry Potter and Twilight! For getting non-readers reading! They have been such a wonderful thing for so many people, and I've seen it time and again, both in my own career, and in my mother's. My mother teaches children with learning disabilites who HATE reading, and Harry was the very first book in her entire career that her children actually asked her to read. EVER.

So big big big heartfelt weepy thanks to Jo & Stephenie for creating a new generation of readers. Who will read to their children. Who will read to their children...

(And yay for your niece! And Robert Pattison.)

Shari Sherman said...

Like much of life, the trends come in and go out like waves. Not everyone can catch the same wave. So for those who aren't writing edgy and dark, it just isn't their wave. Tell the story, if it's good, if it resonates, your wave will come. The beauty is that word of mouth travels much faster these days, and sometimes it takes no time at all for the tide to turn. I have no idea why I'm making all of the surfing references...channeling my inner surfer girl, I guess.

I think it is wonderful when everyone is reading the same thing. What a conversation starter with perfect strangers, and is the case with Twilight, what a connection between generations...and one that lasts longer than the 2 hours to see a flick.

Charlotte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
persnickety_jen said...

I agree whole-heartedly. TWILIGHT, whatever your feelings about it, is introducing tweens and teens and adults to a different kind of fiction. And I think it's only natural that other publishers and writers will try to capitalize on this trend, just as they did with HARRY POTTER. And in the end, trends like this help a lot of unknown writers out there get some recognition. Which is a very good thing.

Anonymous said...

What is your opinion on how Costco plays into the publishing world? I notice sometimes that they will pick up local writers. The books that are at Coscto are always the least expensive. They even beat Amazon with their prices.

Q said...

I think it's really sad that they're focusing on that kind of YA, but at the same time I can see their perspective. They're a company, and companies need to make money. Twilight sells. Regrettable, but understandable.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Stephanie, I keep thinking the same thing. At some point the market WILL be saturated. I think anyone trying right now to write something like Twilight may be too late. Those who did it a couple of years ago and have books on the shelves right now, perfect timing.

And those who wrote something very different a couple of years ago and are trying to get it on the shelves in this Twilight day and age, not-so-great timing. It's sad!

Just goes to show what I've always said - so much of this business is plain old luck. Right place, right time.

And Laini, would you please stop teasing us with LIPS TOUCH mentions? I cannot WAIT to read that book!!!!!!!!

Laini Taylor said...

Lisa, you have no idea: I can't wait for people to read it!!! Here I sit with my one lonely ARC, and only a few people in the world have read the book. It's killing me!

And yeah, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the trends. Personally, I think this one is sticking around for a while. It's like with comic book movies. People are still waiting for that "trend" to die out, but it shows no sign of doing so. I think comic books and supernatural romance both tap into something that readers and viewers can't get enough of. I don't expect to see it dwindle for a while. However, too close of "rip-offs" are another story. In a broad genre sense, I think supernatural romance is on solid ground. Maybe not vampire-werewolf-human love triangles though :-)

Lexi said...

It's scary how true all of this is (in a good way)! Girls at my school who hadn't read anything before Twilight are now reading NEW BOOKS! They've discovered Sarah Dessen, Harry Potter, and one girl who is FAILING ENGLISH is reading The Book Thief.
So yes, Twilight is a good thing. Awesome to the five bajillionth power.

tone almhjell said...

It's the best thing in the world, when kids discover that there's love and beauty to be had between the covers of a book. Sigh. I'm pregnant and weepy. Sniffle.

But the Barnes and Noble thing is disheartening. I do understand that they are there to make money, and that really just want to feed the apetite of YA buyers, and if they're hungry for dark and edgy, that's what they'll serve.

But don't they ever want to discover the NEXT big thing? And though Christmas dinner is good, who wants to eat turkey every single day? (I once read a graphic short story by Goscinny (I think) about a girl who only got turkey for dinner every day, and I tell you, she ran away in the end, just to get a taste of bread).

It's quality and variety that everyone REALLY craves, even when they think theyhave a weird hankering for marzipan gateau, as I do these days.

But I'm pregnant and weird.

Laini Taylor said...

Tone, hurray for pregnant and weird! However, marzipan? How funny. That's so not an American craving!! :-)

Charlotte said...

Breaking Dawn just made it onto a shortlist (determined by kids votes) for an award over in the UK. Along with two books with underpants in the title.

I just deleted my earlier comment, because I see now that you clearly said that Lips Touch is dark and edgy...

lkmadigan said...


Zombies are the new vampires.

Anonymous said...

Adults and teens both come into Annie Bloom's asking for books like "Twilight". I have been selling a lot of Cassandra Clare's "City of Bones" and Patricia Briggs' "Moon Called" because of the Twilight phenomenon.

tone almhjell said...

Uh, yeah, I'm not sure it is a Norwegian thing, either. One day, I'll have to splurge and get a piece.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laini,
I can both sympathize and rejoice here . . . 'on trend' is such a broad term and yet it applies to nearly every consumable entity out there. Like fashion, published works are subject to the inevitable 'holding up against' what's being devoured by the GP. If polka dots are hot, they are literally (no pun intended), EVERYWHERE! Until . . . we gorge ourselves to a degree that we drop them, little bits still dripping from our chins, as soon as the next thing catches our limited attention.
The difference I see is that fashion trends begin on flashing European runways before we here in the states can even comprehend why anyone would ever buy them.
Where do publishing trends begin? As writers, it would be an exponentially fab lightbulb if we could dial this in.
Movies? Fashion, societal media? All of the above? And then there's the proven answer: The Classics! Yes! They are always hidden within the trends someplace.
Thanks for your wonderful prompting and amazing posts!

jaecy bells said...

Twilight IS awesome. And, yeah, people will be asking librarians what's "LIKE" Twilight, and maybe the darker stuff will come into play. I personally think they're wasting their time. I am, and have always been, a mega-reader, and after the Twilight series was devoured I went out in search of more. I had done the Harry Potter route already. I have not found one book that was "like" Twilight. However, in this process, I have found many good books that are not "like" twilight, but still they are good books in their OWN WAY. I think that's what people should think about-- each book is individual--or in this case, the series. And, yeah, there will be books about vampires and love and stuff, but there will never be another Twilight. But if they browse and browse, they've gotta find some books they like. So even if they don't get a Twilight clone out of the deal, they still get more books.

Kiirsi said...

I realize this is an older post and may not be read, but I haven't visited your blog for a few weeks and just read this entry.

I wanted to add that at the website the Twilight Lexicon, a couple of days ago they had a news entry about French readers of Eclipse, the third Twilight book, creating a huge demand for Wuthering Heights--because Eclipse is sort of modeled after Wuthering Heights.

So I thought that was pretty cool--a whole country getting turned on to the classics.