Dystopian-In or Out?

Hey all you Scribes fans, PJ Sharon here on this lovely Tuesday morning in the Berkshires. We’ve had a fabulous stretch of weather in New England which, as much as we’re enjoying it, has got to mean Mother Nature is lurking around the corner waiting to clobber us. I hate to be negative, anticipating the worst, but aren’t we all thinking the same thing and remembering those dark days during the blackout in October when we weren’t sure if the apocalypse was perhaps rearing its ugly head?

I bring this up now because I’ve just started a new project that has been roaming around the recesses of my mind for some time and won’t leave me alone. It’s a Dystopian trilogy called “The Chronicles of Lilly Carmichael.” If you want to get a peek at the premise and offer any suggestions for the title of Book 1 in the series, stop over at my “Extraordinary Stories of an Average teenage Life” blog, and weigh in. If I choose your title, you’ll get signed copies of each of my books, including the March release of Savage Cinderella. (Click on the title and scroll down if you want to read chapter one of Savage Cinderella.)

What exactly is dystopian and why is it so hot, you ask? Dystopian YA literature, also known as YA dys-lit, is loosely defined as stories about “post-apocalyptic” societies in which misery and negative conditions prevail, or a seeming utopia is gained at horrifying cost. Scott Westerfeld, Author of “The Uglies” series, has this to say about what draws teens to this genre in droves. Click here for his insightful take on this topic. Since the arrival of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, dys-lit has taken off like wildfire with teens and adults alike, and shows no signs of slowing down. Everyone seems fascinated by the fate of our future and imaginations appear to be drawn to the idea of destruction and chaos.

It’s not like this is a new concept. Books like “Farenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “The Time Machine” by HG Wells, “1984” by George Orwell, and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley were talking end of the world survival long before Westerfeld and Collins arrived on scene. Since then, however, hundreds of dystopian stories have hit the YA shelves. Some of my favorites are “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, “How I Live Now,” by Meg Rossoff, and obviously—the “Hunger Games” trilogy—can’t wait for the movie! If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s a MUST see. Check it out here.

What does the publishing world have to say about all this? Is Dystopian on its way out? Or is it the “new paranormal”? Publisher’s Weekly has this to say.

According to some buzz in the publishing world, there is a glut in the market, but most of the articles I’ve read disagree. Read here for another article from PW that speaks of “paranormal fatigue” and calls dys-lit “the next big thing.” I’m thinking those that are saying that Dystopian is on its way out are agents and editors who are getting inundated with dys-lit submissions and are trying to tone down the frenzy. They only have so many slots to fill, and it takes them eighteen months to get the books out. Perhaps they are anticipating that in two years, maybe the market will be saturated. I personally don’t see that happening. As an indie author, I like the fact that I’m under no such pressure to follow market trends or worry that I won’t be able to sell my story to a publisher who is trying to assess an ever-changing and fickle market. But just in case, I plan to jump in now and ride the wave while it’s big and running wild. I plan to have the first book out in July. And true to my other books, there will be a boy-girl romance and a hopeful ending.

Shifting from contemporary to dystopian may seem a bit risky, but it should be clear to you all by now that I’m anything but traditional, and my heart and my muse are telling me that now is the right time for this story. Besides, I have to follow my muse since she and Lilly are keeping me up nights. If I’ve learned nothing else on this indie-pub journey, it is that I have to trust my gut and follow my instincts. So far, they haven’t steered me wrong.

For more information on what various publishers are looking for in YA, check out this article.

What do you think of Dystopian? Here to stay, or doomed to fizzle?


26 thoughts on “Dystopian-In or Out?”

  1. Interesting post! I appreciate the points you raise. I find it interesting that publishers have to estimate the enthusiasm readers will have for a genre in two years or more. And it is a good question–how long will it last?
    I think Scott Westerfeld makes some good observations about dystopian writing dealing with control. I also think dystopian writing has been around longer, and perhaps will last longer, than paranormal writing, because the one deals with ideas, while the other with wishful impossibilities. That is, dystopias seem to look at what would happen if you take an ideology (such as the idea that people ought to be “pretty” or that keeping peace sometimes means deaths) and then take it to the extremes (making everyone undergo surgery or forcing certain children to kill each other to ensure peace for everyone else). Whereas paranormal writing seems to focus on the fantasy of enjoying powers and people outside of human experience. To me, at least, when the fantasy fades the ideas still stick around. But I don’t know…perhaps they’ll both die out in favor of something new.
    Thanks for the post!

    1. That’s a great way to look at it, Elena. “Ideas” vs. “fantasy”. I do think it is part of our nature to “imagine” ourselves as powerful beings. Teens especially, since they are in a place of having “no power” or control in life. Superheroes will always be around, which is why I think dystopian is so appealing. When you combine the fantasy of “what will the world be like?” and add to that a superpower of sorts (Katniss is an impossibly skilled archer and survivalist in Hunger Games), the end result is the best of both worlds. Pardon the irony.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Glad to help, Jamie. There are a few other definitions of Dystopian and it’s not always “post-apocalyptic” society, but the term seems to be interchangeable with YA readers and best fits the genre.

  2. Personally, I don’t think Dystopian is going anywhere. In fact, I think it’s more relevant today than it’s ever been. I know I’m concerned about where our earth is going to be environmentally in the future, where the U.S. is going to end up in the future world order, and whether Social Security will go broke before I’m ready to use it. There’s always room for one more unique take on the future, or one more paranormal, and there are always going to be people who want more of their favorite genre, whether or not that’s what they are being offered by traditional publishers. I say put on that red bikini and ride the wave, Wahini!

    1. I agree, Casey! Trends change so fast, who can keep up? And predictions aside, I don’t think anyone really knows what the “next big thing” is until it happens. No one saw “Harry Potter” coming and look how that turned out:-)

  3. I can’t wait for this story! I know you will do it justice, too. You are definitely the one to tell this story. Your keen perspective and insight will make it top-notch. I say write it and don’t worry about the market being flooded with dys-lit. Push your brand and people will know it will be a book that not only will entertain, but also inspire.

  4. Thank you, Jennifer. I’m totally terrified by the daunting task of writing a trilogy, but it’s the way the story rolls out in my mind and you know how I love a challenge:-)

  5. Hi PJ,
    I believe Dystopian is here to stay. Why, you ask? Because it is human nature to want to see the underdog rise up and win. Whether it is trying to survive while walking south a nuclear winter or seeking land in a world covered with water … it’s survival. We crave seeing our hero make it. I don’t think it will die. Not as long as creative authors come up with new and exciting worlds and adventures and giving us what we crave. Keep writing, girl.

  6. I hope it’s here to stay, at least for the next few years, since I just sold a series, lolol = P.J., you are so smart to write what appeals to you! Good luck!!! Savage Cinderella sounds awesome too!

  7. Congrats on the sale, Traci. That’s fantastic and I think the timeing is perfect.

    As writers, I think we have to stay true to what is right for us in our creative life. Otherwise, we end up resenting the work, and there is too much of it to do to not be enjoying it.

  8. Hi PJ, I looked up this Dystopian. The films cover such a rich and wide variation of themes that picking the top 15 is just about impossible. Pretty much every film in which the future is shitty is considered dystopian, so that means everything from post-apocalyptic to corporate control to biological viruses. Honestly, I think this kind of “poor imagery” of humanity is a forever topic. But, your writing is not for that audience, it is for the rest of us that enjoy a good life story. Thanks for giving me this challenge. I enjoy learning new words and “stuff.”

    1. You are exactly right Gail. The topic is pretty broad which is why it’s such a great genre to write. Imagining the future is something everyone is interested in on every level. What will our govenment, society, environment, etc. be like? There are so many places to go with a story about an unknown future.

      There is also a ton of research, and once again, my hubby is coming through in spades on the technology aspect of the story. He’s a great resource. You are also correct in assuming this won’t be a traditional Dystopian, because I don’t believe our future world will be all gloom and doom. In fact there will be some very bright spots to focus on and hopefully, I can create a world that doesn’t seem so scary to teen readers…or adults, who are fearful of the coming changes.

  9. I believe dystopian is here to stay, although it may change names, because it explores the possibility of reality, not fantasy. Much to our dismay, hunky hearthrob vamps and werewolves don’t exist, but government control looms and young adult readers love reading about their future counterparts beating the system and still falling in love in the future. Welcome aboard.

    1. Thanks Joelene. i think you are absolutely right and I can see I’m stepping into some very big shoes trying to write in the genre. From Suzanne Collins to Stephen King, there are some amazing writers tackling these stories. i’m suddenly terrified again!

  10. Hey PJ! I think you have to write what’s in your heart. That’s when the writing’s the best. As for any particular genre or subject, I think there will be readers for it all. Those true lovers who go back time and again and new readers just finding it. Some days it may be hotter than others, but it all cycles back around. I look forward to reading it. Heaven is for Heroes was awesome. I’m about to start On Thin Ice. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Rhonda. You have been so incredibly supportive. I really appreciate all of your help in getting the word out and I hope you enjoy ON THIN ICE as much as my first book.

  11. One question though, but what about dystopian that has hunky heartthrobs and pretty girls falling in love? My issue is not with dystopian per say, but rather that apparently to some people YA Lit has to have young lovers.<_< I'm still trying to find a good YA dystopian were the person is not currently out to look for a boy or girl. (As the main plot.)

    1. Hi Sarah. Good point. It’s very hard to find YA lit of any sort that doesn’t have a romantic element. I’m sure that’s because aside from food and water, our survival as a species is dependent on procreation. It is an essential part of our hierarchy of needs. Teens are hormonally predisposed to finding a mate and exploring their sexuality. Adults are drawn to the romance element of YA because we can totally identify with all of those forays and get to relive them through the characters.

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