I happened to be staying with a friend while furiously (pun?) reading BREAKING DAWN, the fourth and final book in the Twilight series, which meant I didn’t really see much of my friend. In one of my brief pauses in reading, though, at about 4 AM, he asked me why I thought vampires are all the rage.
I gave him a very supply-side answer: Parts of the publishing industry are in crisis, I said. October was the biggest month ever for bookstores returning stock to publishers.* Some small presses are folding altogether. Borders is bankrupt but still operational, and massively cutting down on the number (and hence, variety) of books it carries so it can face more covers outward on the shelf.
“Midlist” authors (i.e., everyone who’s not the big bestsellers — nobody ever talks about “bottom-list”) are getting fewer promotional resources; if you don’t happen to have the backing of an enthusiastic small press that pumps their efforts into it, good luck getting a book tour as a smaller-name author.**
In this context, I said, we should expect a lot more copycatting. Publishers are desperate to find the next big bestseller. So once TWILIGHT was such a hit, the incredible vampire glut we’re in now was inevitable.***
Fine, he said, but why was TWILIGHT such a hit? Why vampires? Is there something about the craziness of right now, with its wars and economic insecurity, that gives young people a death lust, or what?
For that, I did not have a good answer. Hence, the Friday “Why?”. What do y’all think?
* Here’s an explanation of the completely insane system of bookstore returns the entire publishing industry operates under. [Caveat: I hesitated to link to this blog because the blogger has written some posts I found really offensive; specifically, at least two where she labels any criticism of the Israeli state, or support for Palestinian self-determination, as anti-Semitic. But it is a good explanation of what happened to the publishing industry in October 2008, which was the first big wake-up call of how this current economic depression may affect publishing. (Not the last word, though; Amazon's sales are up 18% this month... cheap entertainment and all?) So I'm linking it with this caveat so readers can decide for themselves whether they want to click.]
** Incidentally, everything I said above is all the more reason to support independent publishers you like, if you value diversity of ideas. Myself, I work with Haymarket Books (which, by the way, is one of the enthusiastic small presses that does tour its authors). Among other things, on a project you’ll be hearing much more about on this blog soon.