What’s In, What’s Out

Many of my blog readers have expressed frustration about current trends in publishing.

Memoir is out unless you’re famous.

Chick lit is dead.

Literary fiction doesn’t sell.

Nobody wants books over 100k words.

Yep, these are all trends. And if you send me a query for a book in any of these categories, I’ll probably send a pass letter saying, “Sorry, I can’t sell this right now.”

Those are the breaks. You might need to wait until the trends cycle around again, or… write something else.

BUT: There are always books that buck the trends. Memoir might be “OUT” unless you’re famous… or unless you write a book that knocks my socks off, and I decide to represent it against my better judgment because I love it so much.

Same with literary fiction, or chick lit, or very long books… or whatever else that is trending “down.” In general it might not be popular or selling well; but regardless of the trend, if I love the book, I just might decide to represent it.

I might not be able to sell it. I might do a lot of work for no paycheck. I’d be doing it for love, for the sheer hope and joy of getting a fantastic book published. If it doesn’t work out, the author and I will both be deeply disappointed, but at least we tried.

Unfortunately there are very few hard and fast answers in the publishing journey. Everything always has an exception. That’s why it often seems we’re giving conflicting advice:

“Know the market.”

“Don’t worry about the market, just write your book.”

It’s up to you to figure out how to walk the line between these two pieces of advice. There are trends. But there are exceptions to trends. There are market realities, then there are always surprises.

Keep doing what you do. Eventually, you’ll find your market or you’ll figure out something else to do with your time and talent. Just try to enjoy the journey, okay?

(By the way, memoirs aren’t really “out,” they’re one of the most popular genres. But because so many people write them, and they’re difficult to do well, the bar is high and the competition tough.)

P.S. Don’t forget the Blog Challenge is still on until this Friday!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Scott Thompson on September 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM

    >Now that I'm wrapping up my last revision I'm hearing that memoir is "out." I'm not too worried as my memoir was something I had to write before writing the books I want to write. Even if the memoir is never published that's ok as my soul is now ready to write other works.
    …But of course I would love to see my memoir in print:)

  2. Poppy Smith on September 5, 2009 at 5:35 PM

    >As I struggle to write a book on spiritual disciplines for the not so disciplined woman, I appreciate the reminder of what I've already concluded–just enjoy the process. There are no guarantees of publication, but I'm being blessed in all my research, growing closer to God, and have lots of material to share through my blog, one-on-one, speaking, and in other settings. Poppy Smith

  3. Kimberley Payne on September 5, 2009 at 5:08 PM

    >Great advice. I'll continue to write my 100,000 word memoir that reads like a chick lit novel. 🙂

  4. Shanester on September 4, 2009 at 10:15 PM

    >Here's a strange video (reading from my book) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvTrliaHbGo


  5. Shanester on September 4, 2009 at 10:11 PM

    >I remember being told that humour didn't sell. A sign of the times? Dark is in and humour doesn't sell. That's ONE of the reasons I write thrillers, scare people and they'll be happy. Odd but possibly true.
    A director friend was once asked to cut Les Miserables down to a two hour movie of the week. When he asked "How" he was told "Tear PAGES!!!"

  6. <br>Sherri Woodbridge on September 3, 2009 at 6:35 PM

    >Ditto Anne L.B. – you're marvelous. You say it like it is. Thanks.

  7. Rachelle on September 2, 2009 at 11:46 PM

    >Anonymous 10:39-I'd love to hear about your Janet E. type books with feisty heroines. Email me!

  8. Anonymous on September 2, 2009 at 11:39 PM

    >I'm with you, teacher! I dislike the trend towards thrillers and violence in mysteries so prefer to read and write fun, fast-paced novels with feisty heroines and little bloodshed.

    Don't worry, I know there's a huge market for those mysteries–that's why Janet E. is so popular!

  9. Amber Argyle-Smith on September 2, 2009 at 3:47 PM

    >Wow, I'd love to hear more trends. For instance, I've heard that no one's selling fantasy trilogies right now.

  10. Rachelle on September 2, 2009 at 8:56 AM

    >In answer to the questions about "what's in" right now: The best way to keep up is to "keep your ear to the ground," i.e. read agent and editor blogs, attend conferences and listen to what they say, read trade magazines when you can, reading writing magazines like The Writer and Writer's Digest… and visit your local bookstore regularly, paying attention to what's being promoted on center tables and end caps.

    What's in? Good writing is always in. No, I will not be more specific, because I want to see the best writing out there, regardless of trends.

  11. momishome2 on September 2, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    >Thanks for the info. I'm trying to get more informed about the publishing world, and your blog is definitely at the top of my go-to list. Does it mean that we as readers are out if we like to read chick lit?

    I'm echoing a few other comments here by asking what is actually in right now. Could you please give us a few hints?

    Bethany LeBedz

  12. Anonymous on September 2, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    >It's sad to hear that nobody wants books over 100K words. My 13 year-old daughter doesn't even want to touch books less than two-inches thick! – Lance

  13. teacherwriter on September 2, 2009 at 5:37 AM

    >oops, sorry… outdated not undated. too early in the morning 🙂

  14. teacherwriter on September 2, 2009 at 5:36 AM

    >This is troubling to me. If publishers really act based on trends, then what about the reader? As a reader I enjoy mysteries, especially cozies and those with a female lead and definitely when it's humorous. I have enjoyed this for YEARS and will continue to do so. And I love fresh, new voices in that genre. It's not like fashion trends where you almost have to go with the flow or look totally undated! In any case, great post, Rachelle.

  15. Jeffery on September 2, 2009 at 12:50 AM

    >I heard you don't read or want thrillers, either. True?

  16. Cheryl Wyatt on September 1, 2009 at 8:12 PM


    Do you know how contemporaries are trending against historicals right now?

    And, say if there's a trend right now toward historicals, when would you anticipate(ballpark figure) statistically that the pendulum might swing back to contemps?

    2 years?



  17. Bert Johnston on September 1, 2009 at 4:47 PM

    >Thanks for the update/reminder of trends–what's not selling. I'll keep a wary eye on that list as I move on.

    Thanks also for the Margot Starbucks post a few days back. I'm soon to give a first book reading for Parson Campbell's Breakthrough, and the "4 or 5 excerpts" plus questions sounds like a winning format.

  18. Anne L.B. on September 1, 2009 at 3:24 PM

    >Rachelle, I think you're absolutely marvelous. You make us crazy, but you're marvelous.

  19. Sharon A. Lavy on September 1, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    >Thank you Rachelle, for telling it like it is.

  20. Liesl Robbins Shurtliff on September 1, 2009 at 1:14 PM


    "Know the market."
    "Don't worry about the market, just write your book."

    This is exactly what I want to expound on for your guest blog, including the wonderful contradictory advice from this post.

  21. David A. Todd on September 1, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    >Good post Rachelle. Thank you for it. Notice I never queried you with my 155,000 word Biblical fiction novel. I learn fast.

  22. Jungle Mom on September 1, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    >Do you think an Autobiographical Novel would be an easier sell than a straight forward memoir?

  23. Roxane B. Salonen on September 1, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    >I'm still thinking about the advice you gave the other day on the "lucky" breaks. Our part is to do the work, take in advice then sort through which of it to heed. I think we writers need to trust ourselves more. We are so fragile at times, we creative types, and if we weren't we probably couldn't write that well. We are open to all the senses and we brood and release. So by our very nature, we've entered into a business that has both compelled us to it, and is ready to eat us alive if we don't thicken our skins a bit first. I'm rambling here, but hopefully making some sense. Bottom line: do the research, do the work, then just trust. If God wants it to happen, He'll help us keep the fire alive long enough for us to make the right connections — in His time.

  24. Cassandra Frear on September 1, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    >I agree with you whole-heartedly about enjoying the journey. I was thinking about it last night. I want to enjoy each step of the way. It's very hard for us to do something well over a long period of time if we aren't enjoying it. We need joy — it's just the way we're made.

    Still, it doesn't hurt to know about what's happening in the market. So my question is: What genres are doing consistently well? What topics or types of books are most popular?

  25. Teri D. Smith on September 1, 2009 at 10:40 AM

    >I loved the "always a market for awesome" comment. This should encourage us to continue studying the craft and keep those creative juices flowing.

  26. T. Anne on September 1, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    >Rachelle, I write YA for the Christian market. There definitely is a need, yet not many christian literary agents represent YA. What's a girl to do? And yes, I am praying hard.

  27. Rebekah on September 1, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >Memoir is one of my favorite genres to read, but I can see with all the blog/FB rage and me centered processing that everyone thinks they can write one when maybe they really can't. Interesting thoughts.

  28. Cindy on September 1, 2009 at 9:37 AM

    >I love that you said, "I'd be doing it for love, for the sheer hope and joy of getting a fantastic book published."

    It makes me swallow my doubt and endeavor to work even harder at writing the best book possible.

    Thanks for your encouraging post.

  29. lynnrush on September 1, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >"just enjoy the journey" — that's what it's all about as far as I'm concerned.

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle!

  30. Heather Sunseri on September 1, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >I believe for every opinion post you find, you can find its opposite on another blog. I've always liked the advice to write what you have passion for and write it well. Trends come and go, but excellent writing is always in.

  31. Rachelle on September 1, 2009 at 8:55 AM

    >Jennifer–that's true! There IS always a market for awesome!

    Heather Lane–People ALWAYS ask that question and it just can't be answered definitively. Totally depends on the project, the agent, the writer. Yes, it's possible, that's about all I can say.

  32. Jennifer on September 1, 2009 at 8:51 AM

    >The best publishing advice I got recently was: There is always a market for AWESOME!

  33. Heather Lane on September 1, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    >Rachelle– I'm wondering, if trends turned around, would you resubmit a client's ms a few years after being rejected by publishers, or is done really done, once a ms has made the rounds?

  34. kdrausin on September 1, 2009 at 7:57 AM

    >I just wanted to say thank you for the constant reminders that if I'm making sure my novel is the best it can be,going to conferences and reading blogs like yours, I'm on the right track. On the days when I start to question myself and ask myself why I'm rewriting a completed novel, I read your words and remember I'm on a journey. Thank you:)

  35. Marla Taviano on September 1, 2009 at 7:40 AM

    >Still giddy.
    Here's to trend-bucking!

  36. Krista Phillips on September 1, 2009 at 7:01 AM

    >The scariest thing for me is when someone reads my book and says, "You have an almost chick-litty voice."

    And I come back, stomp my foot and say, "No. I write 3rd person, past tense, in POV of hero AND heroine. DO NOT say the C word."

    But in reality, I think they're saying my voice is just fun and upbeat (until, um, they get towards the end…) which is totally cool. That's what I'm going for. Is it selling right now? Romance is… and that's what I write. So I have decided to stay true to my voice, write my fun romances with a dash of suspense, and let the market/Agents/Editors/GOD decide when the timing of it is best.

  37. Lisa Jordan on September 1, 2009 at 6:25 AM

    >If you follow the market and write a book that fits, there's a chance the market will be saturated because others are trying to write what's hot. Write the story God has laid on your heart and wait on His timing.

  38. Little Ms Blogger on September 1, 2009 at 6:23 AM

    >What's considered in? Vampire stories?

  39. Holly Bodger on September 1, 2009 at 6:12 AM

    >Rachelle, this post is one of the reason's why your blog is a must-read for every writer. We search other blogs and tweets for information like this, but no one has come out and spelled it so clearly. Thank you! Thank you!Thank you!

  40. Tabitha Bird on September 1, 2009 at 4:44 AM

    >Memoirs are out? Okay, that's good to know considering I have written one. Maybe a bit depressing. Actually, if I dwell on that, it's down right scary.
    But I hold true to two things as a writer. Firstly, I have to write what bubbles and burns within. Learning to write from that raw and gritty place is messy, but satisfying. And secondly, trust that the writing threads I follow within are woven for a reason and a purpose. Is there anything more beautiful than writing seen and read in due season?

  41. Camille Cannon Eide on September 1, 2009 at 1:46 AM

    >THANK YOU Rachelle – I believe that's the one thing I needed to hear just now – just enjoy the journey. There's really no point getting all worked up over the 'product'. This is your art. Its beauty and value come from how truthfully it captures your heart.