Friday, October 10, 2008

How to Write for Trends: Don't.

If there is more publishing in the occult topics right now, does that mean people have a better chance of selling it, or a worse chance? Will we hear there is too much of a topic so editors won't buy it right now? I ask, because I heard that from an agent at a conference several years ago.
Observing a trend in the market is like observing a trend in weather systems. How does a storm begin? When will it end?

Most trends are over in two years or less.
Zombies, for instance? Already dead. Trend timetable: 3 months.
Vampires? Still undead. Trend timetable: who knows?

And it's funny (and unpredictable) the way some trends are over before you can point at them and others build, and build, and build, and just when booksellers are rolling their eyes and wondering when it will finally be over, suddenly it gets really big.

People in the industry and outside of it get a great deal of satisfaction in talking about what started a trend (me included), but it's never really that simple—and whether you think it was Bram Stoker or Joss Whedon or Stephenie Meyer who started the vampire trend, not one of them knew when they were working on their vampires that they would be enormously influential.

So in terms of predicting trends: you can't. And in terms of predicting when a trend will be over: you can't.

But generally speaking, since trends are usually over in less than two years, and it usually takes publishers two years to publish a book, chances are that any trend you see in the marketplace right now is, in publishing, already rotting in its grave. With a stake in its heart.

18 comments:

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

yeah, well, trends are different for screenwriting. many screenwriters write what sell, but that's for screenwriting. in the literary world, it's different. writers should ask themselves: do they want to make art or make money?

me, i'd LOVE to make money, but literary fiction novels hardly become money-making bestsellers whereas commercial fiction like "Twilight" or anything by James Patterson become NYT bestseller hits.

eluper said...

I addressed this exact question at a speaking engagement last week. I described writing for trends like gazing at the stars. You may admire the beauty of a particular star, but the light from that star takes so long to get to earth that by the time we have the opportunity to admire it, the star might be long dead.

In publishing, if you see a trend and begin to write to it, the trend might be long over by the time a) you finish your book b) it goes through the editorial process and c) it makes it through all the other hoops to publication.

Sure, it's not the BEST metaphor, but it's what I came up with as I stood there in front of 50 people who were waiting for an answer.

I tell people that rather than writing to trends they should write so passionately about something that it starts a trend.

Miriam S.Forster said...

Trends, shmends.

Anytime I even think of writing to a trend, the idea comes out flat and stiff, like a road-killed squirrel. It has to be something I believe in. So, I'm kind of glad I missed out on the YA vampire trend. I like vampire books, but that's not where my heart is.

My favorite conversation is when I tell people I'm a children's writer and they say this: "That's really neat. You can make a lot of money that way, like (insert J.K Rowling, Stephanie Myers, etc) did. You just need to write that kind of book."

So I give them a polite smile and say, "We'll see." Which is the verbal equivalent to a pat on the head.

For one thing, writing for children doesn't make a lot of money, unless your career spans years, or you're J.K Rowling. For another, "writing a book like that" is a sure way to end up in the reject pile.

I'm still learning the business, but I'm pretty sure you editors are not looking for the next Harry Potter/Twilight knockoff.

Anonymous said...

deaf brown trash punk --

so genre writing is better at making money than literary, I think that's an accurate point. But do you have any idea how many writers are out there churning out James Patterson cheap knock-offs (odd, since his books are so cheap to begin with) and though they are adding nothing new -- their own twist and talent -- still think they are going to make that kind of money?

Guess what, they aren't. It's the name that sells, consumers are sheep. Even literary god Michael Chabon will put out a crap book now and then, but by his name, it'll be a bestseller anyway.

The bigger point to the post, I think, is don't follow *anyone.*

Maggie May said...

interesting blog! what a wonderful job you have. as a writer/booklover, anything to do with books makes me happy..

Deirdre Mundy said...

Anon--- I'd say that rather than "people are sheep," people know what they like.

For instance, I just ran out and devoured Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" because I know I like Gaiman. I like some of his books better than others, but if I'm in the mood for Gaiman, I read him.


Think of readers as pregnan women who go to the store with a craving. If someone is in the mood for a Hershey Bar and her whole essence is screaming "Hershey Bar Now" the best angel food cake in the world will taste no better than dust.

There are some readers who go to the bookstore thinking "Hmm... maybe I'll try something new"... but most look for favorites... so you need to write a book so good that it has the "try something" readers waving it in the face of their hershey-loving friends and saying "You have got to try this! It will blow your mind!"

In conclusion, Readers are PEOPLE--- write something they'll like If you write for sheep, you're SOL because they can't read!

Luciano said...

The Best Blog !!!

Colorado Writer said...

You rock, EA!

Kristi Holl said...

Since there is no guarantee of publishing, be sure you love what you write because you'll be working on it a long time. My published books that did the best in the marketplace were ones I loved personally, not ones where an editor said, "We need another series like..." I doubt I will ever start a trend, but I sure enjoy the daily writing.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

yeah, it depends. Obviously if you are a famous well respected literary author like Frank McCourt, Khaled Hosseini or Maya Angelou, you could write a "crap" book and still make money.

for me, I dont like to follow trends. in fact, i like to tell myself that Trends are THERE to be broken in the first place.

Rachete said...

My mom wants to do some writing. I'm going to try to teach her to use the internet so she can keep up with your blog. Very informative.

http://apaintersdiary.blogspot.com/

lotusloq said...

I always felt that I was better off just writing what makes me happy. I think if I were trying to coerce something from an outside influence it would come out flat and uninspired.

Thanks for the advice.

Brian said...

Nice blog. I like your presentation of information. I also agree that following trends in writing is the same as anything else in this world; it will last only a short time and then what?

Like you said "don't follow anyone" but I will add - be yourself.

I have a blog that you and your readers may enjoy. It's for authors by a beginning author.

http://the-new-author.blogspot.com

Alicia PadrĂ³n said...

I understand what you mean.. I personally don't see why people would follow a trend.

I've always done exactly the opposite. If people are talking, writing, painting even dressing the same way I go straight in the opposite direction. I guess it has to do with finding my voice. Being different is a good thing, in my opinion.

The person that starts a trend, probably does it without been aware of this. They are trying to be different and come up with something new. The problem comes when people want to copy and follow that same thing... a trend is born.

I really enjoy your blog, it is honest, straight to the point, funny and super informative. Oh, and I love your header picture. I always imagine you are like the kid on the middle book, anonymous peeking through :o)

Joanne said...

Rather than write for the trends, it seems more important to put a fresh new spin on a subject, or write from a new, untried angle, maybe starting the next trend, rather than following!

Toboss said...

sometimes, trend become a God, but be the pioneer to make a different one and become a trends ( in the future) is more than God :)

Juliette Dominguez said...

Great post, EA. I think one needs to write whatever you feel deeply passionate/compelled to write, regardless of whether it happens to be a current trend, or not. I find myself in a position where I'm working on a YA novel with a theme that hasn't ever been a trend (yet -- to my knowledge) and I've also been asked to collaborate on a screenplay that happens to sit squarely in trendville...

Anonymous said...

I love you so much I cannot say. Truly both sides represented fairly. Thank you!

Teri Hall
The Line
Fall 2009
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt