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A Market Update: What Publishers are Looking for Right Now. #MSWL

It’s been far too long since I’ve done a post like this and thanks to the recommendation of a reader, it’s time.

A huge part of our job as agents is to keep up on publishing trends. To be really successful we need to know which publishers and which editors are looking for what kinds of books. While that varies greatly from person to person and house to house, there are always some trends that pop up consistently across the board and usually, these trends align with our own #MSWL

#DiverseBooks and #OwnVoices are what we’re hearing the most about across all genres from picture books to adult. It’s also the one thing we at BookEnds want to add more of to our lists and our lives. For those who haven’t been keeping up with publishing news, #OwnVoices are books about diverse characters written by authors of that same diverse group. Most editors are saying they don’t want these diverse books to be issue-oriented (necessarily). They would just like great books with diverse characters.

In children’s book for all ages we are seeing requests for hidden figure narrative nonfiction, books featuring people we haven’t really heard about, but who are pioneers in their fields, like the first female Chinese physicist or the first woman of powered flight.

I’m hearing a lot of editors who want women’s fiction. What type of women’s fiction does depend on the editor, although most are leaning toward emotional and darker over lighter and funny. Everybody always wants that book club fiction type of book.

In picture books requests are coming in for books that play with form. This means books that aren’t just straight stories but consider how unique the picture book medium is. So they play with the relation between text and art.

Psychological and Domestic Thrillers are still hot. I think they go hand-in-hand with the desire for more women’s fiction. The two genres feel very tightly woven to me.

Now by no means is this an exhaustive list, especially since we don’t even cover all genres, but it’s a start to give you an idea of what the industry is hungry for.

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22 comments

  1. Women’s fic/book club/domestic thriller here…. and virtually every agent I’ve submitted to has asked for the full. Wish me luck!!

  2. These are trends I’ve been curious about. I have a novel which features a range of diverse characters (based on people I grew up with) and does have a bit of an “own voices” element. The narrator is on the autism spectrum (albeit undiagnosed, and this element is peripheral to the plot). I am on the spectrum as well. That said, I’m not certain that agents/editors are particularly interested in “neurodiverse” authors/characters currently, or if outing myself as an aspie in queries is actually a good idea. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights, Jessica.

    1. Hi! This is Kim Lionetti responding. Actually I think editors and agents are eager to see more neurodiverse characters in fiction right now. I recently sold a romance novel featuring a heroine with ASD, written by an author with ASD. The advance excitement for this book is very encouraging and I think more and more readers will be looking for representation of all types of diversity in the marketplace. I have a son on the spectrum, so I’m committed to getting more books out there representing neurodiverse characters. The hardest part is making the characters feel authentic. So I think you should definitely let the agent/editor know that you’re an aspie in the query. That will give them confidence in the credibility of your character.

    2. For what it’s worth, I sent out a batch of queries where I outed myself as being autistic, and I haven’t had success thus far. One of my main characters is a quirky guy who hates human bodies and despises hugs… and that’s basically me. And I mentioned that. It didn’t really fly. Oh well.

      1. Hi, Aron– Sorry to hear you haven’t had any luck yet w/your queries yet. Did you send these out some time ago, or around the time this thread started? If the latter is the case, this is a notoriously slow time of year for hearing back. Holidays, the NaNoWriMo deluge, PitMad, etc. Agents are more likely to take longer than usual. If your “out” queries were from before (say 3+ months ago), that is unfortunate. If you’re saying some agents explicitly articulated wariness re: your character, and the traits you share, you are better off not working w/anyone who harbors that kind of bias. Keep trying:)

  3. First person to pioneer the cure for a (normally) fatal disease was female, but only 16… She had to stand up to doctors, nurses, vets and even police… yet she succeeded, and in only 2 weeks!

    Is that something you’d be keen to see?

  4. Jessica, interesting post that comes with a question-how often can we expect publishers’ preferences to change? Are the trends shifting and transforming every month, or rather every year, or in longer intervals? Hugs, Ana

    1. I’m not sure the definition has changed so much as the world has changed. The issues and content that now makeup women’s fiction, or any genre really, have changed greatly over the years. Think of the things we didn’t have, or weren’t open about, 40+ years ago? Internet, gay marriage, cell phones, terrorism, school shootings, etc, etc.

  5. Jessica, you said “you still need to write whatever it is you write”, so if you aren’t writing to trends is it better to avoid reading lists like this? I know when I do and the genre I write isn’t mentioned, it kinda stresses me a little because I worry no-one will want my work.

  6. Publishers and editors are looking for diverse stories written by diverse authors, yet when we submit our queries to Bookends’ agents all we get is “not the right fit” or “didn’t feel strongly enough to request pages”. This dismissal of our efforts is based on a query letter only since we are not allowed to submit even one page of a manuscript. I really hope that publishers and editors are aware of this policy which does not help get diverse manuscripts into their hands.

  7. Well, that’s cool to find out they want women’s fiction. Lol, wonder if they want a (sometimes hectic paced) dark fantasy book with a female lead, with flaws, positives who doesn’t try to be what she isn’t. 🙂 Ah, I dream, it’s a long way off at least two more revision to fix the dialogue formatting issues, and several chapters that got somehow skipped and are still in a different pov narration I had tried out. *Rubs temples* Whew.

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