Thursday, April 26, 2012


Footnotes in Fiction 1

1 and Nine Other Trends in Publishing 

by Sara Rosett

Marketing folks would classify me as the classic “late adopter.” No first generation iPod or iPhone for me. No color blocking or printed pants going on in my closet—been there, done that with Guess jeans in the late eighties. 

Yes, by the time I pick up a trend it is usually well into the mainstream, sometimes it’s even on the way out. In contrast to this “lagger” tendency (awful name, but it is a real name applied to late adopters) in most of my life, there is one area where I’m often aware of and possibly even ahead of the curve:  books and publishing. I thought I’d take a look at a few of the popular trends of the last few years in books and publishing as well as some of the possible trends on the horizon.

1. Footnotes in Fiction – What is up with footnotes in fiction? I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster, and the Spellmen books by Lisa Lutz. Personally, I find footnotes a bit distracting. I feel obligated to drop to the bottom of the page, read the note, then find my place again in the narrative. Slightly jarring.  Have I missed any other Footnote Lit? What side are you on:  Team Footnote or Team Parentheses?

2. Supernatural – I’m lumping all witch, vampire, zombie, troll, and mythical figures together (Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson, et all). This phenomenon is the zombie of trends. It defines the accepted rule:  publishers overdo successful trend, flooding the market, thus digging their own graves. However with supernatural lit it’s been years and it’s still going. The upcoming release of Johnny Depp’s new movie Dark Shadows indicates the stake hasn’t been driven home yet.

3. Nordic NoirThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started it and now there is a plethora of gritty books set in cold climes by authors whose names have dots above or dashes through consonants.

4. Chick Lit – Bridget Jones, Sex in the City. DOA or still kicking? The debate rages, but there sure are a lot of articles about Chick Lit out there for a dead trend. Chick lit authors also report brisk sells of their ebooks.

5. Buggy Lit – Girlfriend Karin contemplated this trend (Amish Lit) in another post and I have to agree with her puzzlement. Is this evidence of a collective nostalgia for simpler times? A reaction to the Supernatral Lit trend?

6. Non-fictionalization of  Mystery (i.e. Hobby/Craft Mysteries) – Every mystery must have a theme nowdays: knitting, couponing, scrapbooking, cooking, decorating, vintage clothing, and even beekeeping. It’s the “added-value” concept of non-fiction brought to fiction. Go ahead and by the book, you’ll use it. It has recipes/patterns/tips. My first book came out six years ago when this trend was taking off. I wrote about a professional organizer and I suggested I could include some tips, if that would help the book sell. Eight books later, I’m still including tips. Apparently no end in sight for this trend at least from publisher perspective. I’d love to hear what readers think. Do you like the tips and the hobbiest focus of mysteries or would you rather read a magazine than read about a sleuth whose hobby is, say, ice fishing?

7. Futuristic Dystopian – With the success of the Hunger Games there are sure to be more of these themes. Uglies and Cinder are two recent examples of the trend as well.

8. Historical People as Main Characters in Fiction – Another blend of non-fiction and fiction, this trend involves using a historical figure as a main character in a fictional story. The unsinkable Molly Brown has a mystery series as does the ever witty Jane Austen. The Paris Wife (Hemingway and his wife Hadley) and Clara and Mr. Tiffany are two examples of the trend in general fiction books.  

9. Fan Fiction Goes Mainstream? 50 Shades of Gray is the latest sensation. It grew out of fan fiction based on Twilight. Following the success of the fan fiction, the author rewrote, revised, and “repurposed” her story. Trend of the future?
10.Bookstore Morphs into Gift Shop—a funny thing happened to my local B&N. It’s become a gift shop/electronics/café, at least on the first floor. Refitting is going on at most major bookstores. Paper books are out, ereaders, cards, puzzles, and games are in. People are actually reading more according to some research, but many of those books are ebooks, so bookstores are shifting the physical stock they carry in their stores to reflect the changes.

What’s your favorite publishing trend? Which trend do you wish would go gently into that good night? What trends did I miss?

Sara Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Library Journal says, “...Rosett’s Ellie Avery titles are among the best, using timely topics to move her plots and good old-fashioned motives to make everything believable.”
Visit for more information or connect with Sara on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, orPinterest  


  1. Cool post, Sara! Now if only I could figure out which trend will help me sell more books!!

  2. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Although, I think it's better to write what we want and maybe some day we'll get lucky and catch a trend on the first wave--we can dream, right?

  3. Oh, these are all so spot on! I find myself rebelling against some of them (perhaps to my detriment). So now we just have to deconstruct these trends and turn them on their heads to create the new big thing. Hmmmm...that gives me an idea....

  4. The trend-tangent--I like it, Jess!

    There have been some great mash-ups of trends, too, like Austen Lit + Supernatural Lit = Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  5. One other book that had footnotes is the Jasper Fford "Thursday Next" series - but there they had a purpose, as there are many literary allusions in the book. I've not seen that in other fiction, but it does sound distracting.

    And, yes, I was going to add the mash-up trend. That one kind of bothers me - it seems like a lazy way to go as a writer. "I'll just take this plot and these characters that are already fully-fleshed out & throw in..." But I guess readers love them. I actually tried to read P&P&Z, but then 1/2 way through I realized I was more caught up in Darcy & Elizabeth's story (it had been a long time since I'd read P&P) and couldn't care less about the zombies (that seemed stuck randomly into the story) so I stopped reading. But, clearly he made a ton of money w/ the idea, so what do I know.

    All I do know I guess is that I can only write what I want to write. It wouldn't work for me to try to chase a trend. Sings, "I gotta be me!"

  6. Hard not to get caught up in the Elizabeth/Darcy story!

    I guess the mash-ups show how much people love the original. And I completely understand your thoughts on how they seem like a short-cut. Seems most of the hard work has been done. I've thought the same thing about some of the novels about historical figures...just sayin'.

  7. Wow. I LOVED this post. I haven't noticed the footnote thing but I'll be looking for it. Sounds really annoying. Off to tweet about this.

  8. Thanks, Karin! Appreciate the tweet!

  9. Funny, I was checking out "The Brief Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz and "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace and noticed the use of footnotes and thought, while interesting, that it became an annoying distraction from the narrative flow. It also seems a bit self-congratulatory in fiction, more of a statement of "Look! I did my research! Let me enlighten you sad sacks," rather than something truly necessary to the story. DFW took it to the extreme with his footnotes making for nearly 1/5th of the entire length of "Infinite Jest".

    For my money, I would rather read a novel of more modest length (300 to 400 pages) that tells a compelling story without the use of narrative gadgetry (footnotes, a million narrators, every-changing tenses). Steinbeck crafted memorable stories, some of which barely made it over 100 pages.

    Of course, lengthy novels can be enjoyable, too. But I agree with all of these trends.