Monday, July 7, 2014

On Trend-Chasing and the Unpublished Novel

If you're aspiring to be published, you already know that the popularity of specific genres waxes and wanes with infuriating unpredictability.  While in the throes of birthing a new story, it can be tempting to jump on the what's-hot-right-now bandwagon.

"Oh!  YA Contemporary is the THING.  I will write one right now."

"Look at all these thrillers coming out!  Probably I should rewrite my current project as a thriller."

"My critique partner's friend's agent told her that MG Coming-of-Age Magicial Realism Mysteries are rushing to the top of every editor's list.  I'll get right on that."

And you know what I'm going to say next:  Don't do it.

The thing about trends is that they're sort of like tornadoes.  You're tracking them carefully as they gain speed and momentum, and then, without warning, they change direction, tearing up everything in a completely different path.

Trend-chasing will always set you behind the curve.  Why?  Because by the time you've plotted and written and revised and queried your manuscript, the trend will have changed.  Your query letter will only add to the agents' overwhelming sense of ugh-not-another-Divergent-clone, and you'll rack up more rejections than you'd like to count.

Now, there is definitely something to be said about taking the pulse of the industry, which isn't the same as jumping on the latest bandwagon.  Paying attention to what's selling consistently, but isn't, perhaps, at the peak of the mountain, will give you a solid sense of where your work fits and if it has a chance of flying.  This happens in more general terms, like "MG is enjoying a resurgence lately" or "Regency Romance seems to remain stable in an overall volatile marketplace".  Far better to understand what's out there and what sells than to throw your I'm-not-sure-what-I've-got-here project blindly into the abyss.

But.  Throwing yourself into the latest frenzy is only going to frustrate you.  So make sure you understand the difference.

Here comes the disclaimer:  At the end of it all, still write what you love.  While you're honing your craft...while you're learning the publishing ropes...while you're discovering your own, unique voice...write what you love.  Even if it is an on-the-rise trend.  Even if there are way too many wannabes clogging the pipes of your chosen genre.

Writing what you love isn't the same as chasing a trend on purpose.  If your heart is content, then pour yourself into your work and bide your time.

I know this all too well.  I write science fiction, and my favorite sub-genre is dystopian.  I know, right?  Because it's to the point where editors back away while waving garlic cloves and muttering curses.  I write straight science fiction, too, which has become an almost-as-tricky sea to navigate.  Recently, I received a rejection-that-wasn't-a-rejection on my YA SF.  It was glowing praise for my story from an editor who wanted to acquire it--but encountered an in-house impasse.  What can you do?  Nothing, really, but press on.

I printed out the Words of Praise and hung them on my bulletin board.  They read like something from a starred review, and I glance at them frequently to remind myself that, yes, I can write, and someone out there really, really liked it.

All it takes is one yes.

So don't try to be something you're not.  Don't try to write something just because it's the next hot potato, and you want to get ahead of the curve.  Chances are, you won't.  Write what you love, and work your tail off to become the best you can be.

The reward for your hard work will come in its own time.


  1. I wrote my YA dystopian two years before The Hunger Games came out and yet it was already out by the time I started querying it and no one was interested in it. I ended up self-publishing it. Same with a zombie book I wrote. I write what interests me but paranormal is not selling yet that's what I usually write and oh, yes I've written SF too. I agree to not write for the trends but you do have to keep in mind if your story isn't going to sell then maybe you should write something new that's out of your comfort zone, who knows, you might end up with a fabulous story.

  2. My dystopian is currently on a shelf, thought it is nothing like Hunger Games or Divergent. My agent hasn't even read it as the market is so closed. She's focusing on my other books.

    It's sad that a few popular books can shut down a whole genre from even being looked at by editors.

  3. I like to look at TV shows to see what's popular and then transfer it to book-form. I want to be influenced by trends, because I like commercial fiction. But I find that if I'm inspired by books, not only do the trends change, but my work is too similar to what's already out there.

  4. Thank you for writing about this. You hit on an important tension. Trends matter, because publishing is a business, a threatened one at that. At the same time, who can say an entire genre or type of character (e.g. vampires) is off-limits? These genres and characters have been around for a long time. They can't go away, but maybe they need to cool off for a bit.

  5. This is so true, so thanks for writing. I think the best thing for any writer to do is to write what they love and not jump on the "newest" trend. I love fantasy, particularly urban fantasy, which I know is a tough genre to sell right now. I'm going to keep writing though, because it does only take one yes, and I know it's going to happen to me someday.

  6. Dear Authoress, I had a middle-grade novel rejected by the marketing gurus at two different publishers because they had other horse-related books in the pipeline. So I tell myself, well the individual editors liked it and the editors in the board meeting like it, so to heck with those marketing types. I'll just keep trying. The right people will come along for all of us.

  7. Great advice, Authoress. Writing is hard enough without slogging through material that doesn't in some way make your heart sing, particularly in the early stages of a career, where only the writing will get one noticed.

  8. ugh, getting a pass from acquisitions, even though the editor wanted it is kind of the worst. I mean, still so awesome, but also just like "no! Please! You're making a mistake!"

  9. I never write for trends, but I'm scared of one popping up for my genre right as I begin writing or querying. It's a recurring nightmare! But, no matter what, I'll keep on writing what I love :D

  10. Sorry for the in-house impasse, but yay for writing what you love. Yes, it only takes one "yes." I hope you get yours soon. :)

  11. *sigh* While I loved your post, it made me face the realization that I also love writing YA dystopian and that my current WIP will probably have a hard time finding a home.