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Could The Hunger Games get published today?

8 November 2012

From io9:

The Hunger Games helped to transform the landscape of publishing, convincing a ton of people that young adult novels could be important, serious books. It touched off a huge boom in books for teenagers about dystopian futures, and spawned a hit movie, with more on the way. In many ways, booklovers are living in the world Suzanne Collins built.

And yet, we can’t help wondering: Could The Hunger Games get published, if it were submitted over the transom today?

. . . .

[W]e heard a lot of debate over just what you can get away with in a YA novel now — how much violence? How much foul language? Does a romance have to be front and center in a young-adult novel, for it to be commercial? What kinds of characters are people looking for in their YA books?

So we decided to ask some publishing professionals, including some top agents and editors, whether they think Hunger Games would be published if it came down the pike now.

. . . .

The main reason why Hunger Games might have a hard time today has nothing to do with violence, politics, or an unlikable protagonist, according to several people. Rather, it’s just because there are too many dystopias out there now.

“Editors are ‘dystopian-ed out,’ and dystopian seems to be the kiss of death right now,” says one agent who prefers not to be quoted by name. The Hunger Games wasn’t by any means the first dystopian YA book, but it did help to spawn a feeding frenzy. “The success of The Hunger Gamescertainly inspired editors to be open to dystopian, and, now that many great (and not so great) dystopian books have been published, they’re not looking for any more.”

. . . .

Two things have changed about young adult science fiction and fantasy in the past five years, according to publishing insiders: 1) Everybody is keenly aware that these things are being read by grown-ups, not just teens and tweens. 2) the books have become more like adventure fiction, and maybe a bit less introspective.

Link to the rest at io9


30 Comments to “Could The Hunger Games get published today?”

  1. I think this is true, but frustrating, because IT’S THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY’S OWN FAULT there is too much dystopia out there. They jump on the bandwagon, buy everything that is “on trend” (I’m sure ignoring many fine books that are out there), then ruin a genre for a while.

    I’ve always loved dystopian fiction, and it would be great if GOOD stuff could continue to get published. Instead, we get one good one that’s a hit, a glut of mediocre (and few other good ones), then nothing. So dumb.

    • I also love dystopian–not necessarily YA dystopian–but any good books in the genre, and I hate that they are limiting my supply. Good thing there are indie authors filling the in the gaps.

    • Like birds on a wire, editors. Just sitting there waiting for the first bird to fly off, then they all fly together.

  2. P.G.

    THG was a super story, and a wonderful movie. I was surprised at just how good it was. The scene with the entry of the Gladiators was worth the price of the admission ticket on it’s own:) A perfect translation of the words on the page to the screen.

    I reckon it would have found a market today.

    What surprised me was how lack luster books 2 and 3 of the trilogy were. They had the feeling of being rushed and as if the writer wasn’t sure about it.


    • I’d have to disagree on the movie; I thought it was forgettable, at best, and suffered from most of the same problems as ‘Battle Royale’. I suspect you had to have read the books to find the story world believable or care what happened to the characters; I haven’t read them, but people have told me they’re much better and explain a lot more about both those things.

      I’m sure the story would find a market today, but with so many similar books out there I doubt it would be anywhere near as popular. Certainly I’d understand if no publisher would want to accept it because they’d have to wait a year or more to get it onto the shelves and the fad may have faded out by then.

      • I didn’t read the books before I saw the movie. Thought it was one of the best movies I’d ever seen, and was rather disappointed in the books.

        I also have such a great thing to point to anytime someone wants to criticize what a character knows and doesn’t know in my book. Collins has Katniss describe a “smash cut” edit. More than once.

        Because we’re all pretty sure that a kid in a coal town who hunts her own food would totally know up-to-date script instructions for video.

      • I felt you had to read the books to fully appreciate the movie, and I prefer the books. So much happens in Kat’s head that you get a clearer picture of everything in the books.

        Brendan, I didn’t care for Book 2 as much as the first one either. And, for me, I would have left the epilogue out of Book 3.

        Dystopian fiction has never been a favorite of mine, but my daughter wanted to read them. I felt it best for us to read them together, so I knew what was in them. I was hooked, and eagerly anticipated the sequels as much as she did.

        • “my daughter wanted to read them. I felt it best for us to read them together, so I knew what was in them. I was hooked, and eagerly anticipated the sequels as much as she did.”


          Your daughter will never, ever forget that.

          I wish I was your son. 🙂


        • This is a common refrain – the movies are all too often made not just by someone who read the book, but loved it. In this way is too much taken for granted.

      • Actually, I haven’t read the books (though my kid has, and of course I’ve absorbed things from the Internet by osmosis), and found the movie entertaining — and had no urge to read the books, oddly.

  3. I totally think it would get picked up today. Those books just sweep you in. They’re near impossible to put down.

  4. I forgot to mention that I have an agent (ducks) who is shopping a book of mine, and she said that several editors have told her there is an internal ban within some big publishers on dystopian and paranormal.

    So, no, I don’t believe Hunger Games would be published today, which is a shame.

    • I bet this has a tendency to self-correct, though. If there is a reader market for exceptional dystopians (and the Hunger Games certainly is one) and some publishers are rejecting them without even looking at them, the publishers that ARE looking at them will get the exceptional ones and reap the financial rewards. This works as long as there are enough publishers out there to provide some market competition (and with self-publishing, there always will be).

  5. The Hunger Games was riveting from start to finish. Albeit too violent for kids.

    So, this question (sorry) is outdated. If a publisher didn’t pick it up, Collins would have indie published and made a huge success. Then Publishers would have stood in line.

    No book is barred from publishing now.

  6. The problem here is not that there have been too many of a popular genre published (even if there are too many, it’s not the problem).

    The problem is that the editors are dystopianed-out.

    EDITORS, not readers.

    This is one of the universal dysfunctions of the slushpile. Those who read slush get sick of things that the audience loves. It’s just like being a parent and having to read that same blinking picture book over and over and over to a kid. The kid’s not tired of it, but the parents are.

    This is just a natural phenomenon when there are gatekeepers. The choice of the consumer is limited because the gatekeepers get bored, or want to keep the price up.

    With self-publishing, if a lot of people want to read something, a lot of people are going to be writing it. And that’s all to the good. Sure there will be fewer bestsellers, but imho, that’s to the good as well. Better to have the variety.

    • I think the part about editors being dystopianed out is so true. I see something similar at my day job which involves advertising. We tire of of concepts and tags long before consumers. Also, I heard on blogs and elsewhere for at least two years that vampires were “over,” yet I kept seeing one vampire book after another.

    • Bartholomew Thockmorton

      When my son was quite young (30+ some-odd years ago), he would come sit next to me on the couch, hand me The Fox in Socks, look up into my eyes, smile around the thumb he was sucking, and laugh.

      Because he knew just how much I loved reading that book to him.

    • “The problem is that the editors are dystopianed-out.

      EDITORS, not readers.”

      I was just about to say this. How many times have we heard (insert random genre) is dead. Agents couldn’t sell my first book, because “funny chick-lit isn’t selling”. I’ve sold thousands of copies on my own.

      This is the biggest problem with corporate publishing–ignoring the reader. There simply is no such thing as flooding a market when the product is consumed within days and prompts more purchases of the same within that market. Cozy mystery readers devour book after book, week after week, because they like that genre. Same with sci-fi, fantasy,etc…

      Baffles the mind why publishers refuse to give readers what they want.

  7. I have not read the book or seen the movie but I simply would not put it past today’s editors to reject ANYTHING for stupid reasons.

  8. It’s this same old attitude from the trad pubs … the same old stuff being done today that has been done for decades, with zero recognition of the fact that what once worked before isn’t necessarily what’s working now; and that, surprise surprise, publishers don’t always know what will sell or what readers want to read. The successful bestselling indies whose works were turned down by agents and publishers alike are proof of that.

    I’ve been a fan of dystopian fiction since I was twelve. Twelve! Every decade has had a bunch of bestselling dystopians. A good book is a good book is a good book. If it’s a compelling story, I’ll buy it. I don’t care if the trad pubs think it’s no longer cool. As a result of this archaic reasoning (that once a genre has a couple of breakout series it can no longer sustain any decent readership), there will now be some brilliant writing done in this genre that some publishers won’t even look at because they feel it’s out of vogue, leaving the authors with only self-publishing as an option.

    My prediction? … Those indies will find that audience who loved Brave New World (1930s), Lord of the Flies (1950s), A Clockwork Orange (1960s), Ender’s Game (1980s), Hollowland (2010), Wool (2011), Apocalypsis (2012) (*shameless plug alert*) and many others; and they’ll sell the heck out of that book or series because now the only place the fans will be able to find new stuff in this genre is in ebooks on Amazon, indie published.

  9. Every time we hear a genre is dead, is goes away for a few years – vampires, space opera, zombies – and then it makes (yet another) comeback.

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