What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
I’m terrible at trends; take these with a grain of salt. I think we’ll see a resurgence of contemporary fiction in kids’ books, which have been so dominated by fantasy and paranormal in recent years. Thanks to the success of The Fault in our Stars and Eleanor & Park (in YA) and Wonder (in middle grade), publishers seem hungry for good old-fashioned “real-life” stories. I was pretty skeptical of New Adult when people were first buzzing about it in 2013, but see what I know? It seems to have taken a legit foothold in the market and will probably keep growing with more variety. What do Amazon, B&N and Apple have up their sleeves? I can’t begin to imagine. But I think that as they continue to battle for online domination, we’ll see independent bookstores making great strides in “real-life” retail. The bigger the online market grows, the more room there is for the nimbler, niche-ier stores. Most indies aren’t that niche in their offerings, of course; stores like RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., or Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C., or the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore pack huge stock in relatively small spaces—but what I mean by niche is how they have the home-court advantage by being invested in their local communities.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I love historical fiction of all kinds—especially novels that cross large swaths of geography or time. (Recent favorites: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert or The Dinner by Herman Koch.) A multigenerational saga or a story that takes a character or characters from one place to a vastly different other place. A contemporary novel with a great sense of humor that’s also a must-read. (I loved The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.) My narrative nonfiction list is smaller, but hey, I’m a sucker for a great story (like this year’s Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman). I’m always on the lookout for great middle grade and YA, especially writers who are also artists. In general, authors who add some kind of grander or surprising scope to their fiction—in time, in place, in conflict, in romance, in tragedy, in humor...those are the most exciting.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Onions on pizza. I really don’t like these!
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
One of my specialties as an agent is illustrated fiction—like my clients Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries, Stephan Pastis’ Timmy Failure and Amy Ignatow’s Popularity Papers. I’ve been interested to watch the growth of e-books in this market. It’s been steady but a lot slower than best-sellers in other corners of the industry. But I’ve also been fascinated to see kids books, in YA and even in middle grade, gain such impressive crossover foothold with adult readers and book clubs in the last few years. And overall, this year has introduced even more options for authors, both in where and how to exploit their works; so I think it’s becoming a particularly relevant time for literary agents, because authors will always need champions to look out for their rights, whether it’s a “traditional” model (how funny how we’re now using that word...) or a newer model.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Publishing is changing, and it’s hard as it ever was, but it’s also very much alive and vibrant and well. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated. Onward!
Daniel Lazar is a senior agent at Writers House LLC. He represents a wide range of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books. Recent books include: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis.