Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Writing an inspirational, erotic, young adult, romantic suspense with paranormal elements?

In Atlanta, like every RWA conference I’ve been to, there was a lot of talk about trends—what’s hot, what’s being bought by editors, what’s flying off the bookshelves at the major chains.

While I understand why my fellow aspiring authors quest for this kind of information as if it were the Holy Grail, if I’ve learned one thing over my writer’s journey to date, it’s that writing directly to trends is not necessarily a good idea.

Why not?

Well for one thing, trends are what the publishers are buying now—today, yesterday, next week, if you’re lucky, next month. Depending on how fast you write, if you start writing what they’re looking for now, by the time you’ve finished it, polished it, found an agent and said agent submits it to the same editors who’d been begging for it at last year’s conference, they won’t be buying it any more.

Another problem I’ve noticed with trends is that when a book breaks out and does well—for example: Kelley Armstrong’s “Otherworld” books (werewolves), Susan Squires’ THE COMPANION (vampires), BRIDGET JONES' DIARY (chick lit), THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS (YA), to mention a few trend inspiring books of the past five or so years, every publisher (even the ones who were lucky enough to have published those break out books) wants to publish more books in the same vein. This is great. New markets are opened up, other writers get to coast on the wave, some big advances get paid.

Great for writers, yes? Problem is, all this activity can glut the market, messing up that whole supply and demand business. Worse, because of the publisher feeding frenzy, some of the glut will be populated with substandard books not nearly as strong as those they were attempting to emulate—books bought by houses hoping to capitalize on whatever wave was carrying the book-business-boats when the manuscripts crossed their desks.

But the book buying public ain’t no dummies. After reading a number of copycats that didn’t live up to the originals—or didn’t add anything new or fresh—readers, bored and/or soured by a few bad apple books, give up on the whole trend and the trend becomes, well, deader than a non-trend.

At the Dallas RWA conference in 2004, all the editors could talk about was chick lit—and this to a group of romance writers. (In my opinion chick lit and romance are two different animals—or at least, I believe chick lit is not a sub-genre of romance. But I digress, once again, perhaps to a future topic…)

Two years post-Dallas? It’s hard to get anyone to even look at a chick lit book.
Which brings me back to trends. You need to be aware of them, but writing directly to trends—especially if they aren’t your thing—can pull you into a frustrating tail-chasing cycle.

One of my fiction writing instructors told me it takes 3 things to get published: luck, persistence and good writing and that often any 2 of the 3 is enough. Words to live by, I think. During the Agent Cartel panel in Atlanta, agent Pam Ahearn added a new twist to this wisdom. She says it takes Persistence, Luck, Observation and Talent. (PLOT. Cute, huh!) By observation, she means having an awareness of the market and trends.

That, instead of writing directly to trends, is smart.


Sinead M said...

Maureen is so smart. Don't write to trends, but know about them.

Smart, smart, smart.

That throws wrench into my sweet, erotic inspirational...

Oh well.

Molly O'Keefe said...

sweet erotic're hilarious.
This has actually been a topic of MUCH discussion among series authors right now and the unanimous vote is write what you want to read but you have to write it WELL. A good book is a good book. We just have to figure out how to write them...keep knocking on doors with them and eventually get lucky with them. Easy.

Sara Hantz said...

Maureen, that makes such sense.

Hahahahaha on the sweet, erotic, inspirational - though it could work if you threw in some paranormal!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Maureen. I so agree with you and Pam Ahearn makes sense, too. Trends are great if you happen to have a ms or two tucked away that fits but unwise to start writing to trend just because you heard it's hot.

Louisa Edwards said...

Maureen, I love your take on this. I think Pam Ahearn is smart, too, although I have to say, it makes me twitch a little to think about exactly how much weight the 'L' portion of her PLOT achrynym (is that the word I want?) has. I don't like how random luck is. Sigh.

Maureen McGowan said...

Louisa, since you're a former editor, I'd love to hear your take on the whole "L" element...

How much do you think luck comes into it?

(While the randomness of luck is a frustrating idea... I've taken solace in the idea that just luck and persistence can get you published, when I see books out there I don't think are as good as mine and/or my other unpublished friends' books....)

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