In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,
The blockbuster mentality that is rampant in Hollywood and in adult and nonfiction publishing has finally come to the kidlit market. We now know that children’s books can make money, so we expect them to. That is a change that writers must pay attention to.
“So, are you writing the next Harry Potter?”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get asked this question often enough to make me want to strangle someone. It’s maddening to tell a person you’ve just met that you’re a young adult novel writer and then get that common response. I truly do hear it all the time.
No, I’m not writing the next Harry Potter. And more importantly, I wouldn’t even know how to write the next Harry Potter.
That first book was a case of lightning in a bottle. Something incredible that came around at just the right time and became a phenomenon unlike any other. It simply can’t be replicated. Even if I go on to write another fifty novels, I’ll never write anything as popular as that series.
You might of course be compelled to write something that reaches even five percent of the popularity of Harry Potter. Something that can reach what’s known as blockbuster mentality.
And don’t be naive to think that people in the publishing industry aren’t looking for the next blockbuster, too.
Until Harry Potter, children’s books were never looked at as blockbusters. Some books sold better than others, but before Harry Potter, children’s books weren’t necessarily the go-to place for film and TV adaptations, it wasn’t the place for massive hits that both kids and adults wanted to read with equal amounts of enthusiasm.
But in the last twenty years or so, kidlit has been looked at as a place for huge blockbusters. Nearly every year there’s at least one break-out success, and people in the publishing industry are always looking for the next one.
Mary Kole is right: for those of us who write books for children and teenagers, we should at least be aware of the blockbuster mentality. And we should be aware that books in children’s literature are expected to make money.
That second part of course goes to books in most markets. That book you spend months or years on and revised with an agent and then sold to an editor is expected to earn everybody some income. You should be writing the book you want to write, but you should also be thinking about your market and your genre expectations.
At the same time though, don’t ever feel pressured to write the next blockbuster novel.
That’s a place no author I believe ever wants to be in. If you write your next book expecting it to be a blockbuster, odds are you’ll be disappointed in the end, and worse, your book will probably lack any heart because what was at the forefront of your mind while writing it was money.
Yes, you should want to earn income from your writing, and you should hope to sell your next novel. But to write a novel strictly for money, in the hopes that it might turn into some kind of blockbuster, is an illogical exercise. There are so many other ways to earn a living, after all. There are so many other things you can do.
Hope for the best with your writing career, always, but when it comes to the actual writing of your next novel, write the story that compels you. Tell a story you want to tell. If it turns into a blockbuster, then great. If it doesn’t? Then that’s fine, too.
Whatever you do, don’t feel that pressure. Just keep loving the process, tell the best stories you can, and eventually amazing things will happen!