Writing Trends! How Should a Writer Respond?

7 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh

 

Writing trends… the things of myths and legends.  Every writer has heard a story or two about an author who hits a trend just right, and their book, which might’ve been a moderate seller a few months earlier, explodes into a chart-topping bestseller.

Most writers who write for publication hope and dream that their manuscript will be a success.  And by “success,” I mean that it will find representation, win over an editor, and eventually appear on bookstore shelves.  (A truly awesome cover often enters into these writerly fantasies, as well, but I digress…)  But what if you really let your imagination fly?  Wouldn’t that bestsellers list enter into the fantasy at some point, if you were to really let yourself go and let your fantasy soar?

Discussions about “writing success” often eventually include words like “trends” and “timing.”  These two elusive terms, meant to describe some seemingly all-powerful phenomenon of pop culture that is far beyond any one person’s understanding and control, seem to come back to writers again and again, haunting us with their promises of success and their threats of utter failure.

How should we, as writers, approach the subject of trends?  Step into the bookstore and the power of the trend is undeniable.  So should we take trends into consideration when deciding what to write?  Or are trends simply the results of writing success, and not the cause?

Recently, we writers at LTWF got into a discussion about trends.  And well… I had a confession to make – I once wrote a novel in response to a trend.  Here’s my (sordid) story:

I wrote my first novel years ago, and started the querying process, but dropped it before I found an agent.  I wasn’t getting rejected outright; I was getting requests for fulls and it really felt like it would eventually get repped, but there was one key problem.  I wasn’t in love with the book.  I didn’t even plan to publish it under my own name!  I had written it basically because legal thrillers were hot, and I work in the legal field.  So I went with the trend.  And in the end, it wasn’t timing or the market that killed it; it was my lack of enthusiasm for it that killed it.

Okay, in other words, (brace yourself for a writing cliché…) “Write what you love.”  If you love it, it will haunt you until you see it published.  When I go outside at night, I look up at the stars and I say hello to my characters and I tell them I love them and they can count on me to get their story out.  That may merely prove that I’m in need of psychiatric help, but I don’t know if I could go through the heart-wrenching process of querying, revising, waiting on submissions, and REJECTION(!!!) if I didn’t feel like the stakes were really REALLY high.  So whatever you do, write something you are passionate about.  Because, at least for me, it’s not worth all the emotional strain if you don’t care desperately about it.

That’s my personal take on trends.  Let’s hear how the other ladies answered the question, “Should a writer take advantage of trends?  For instance, there is a current trend focusing on paranormal romance.  If a writer enjoys paranormal romance, should she write one now, considering the popularity the genre is currently enjoying?”

~~

There’s been a lot of talk about this on various blogs, and the consensus I read is that while Paranormal is ‘hot’ right now, writing paranormal can actually make it harder to get published, given the market saturation.

Additionally, the paranormal craze is, we might say, at its peak… and it could take you five years or more to actually get a book out. So, if you start writing based on what is ‘hot’ RIGHT NOW, you’ll be way behind when you actually are ready to get it published.

So, you can either try to predict the next trend, or write what you feel called to. Good writing will always trump trends, though it’s nice if you manage to hit the market right.

Savannah

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From what I’ve heard, it’s incredibly hard to chase trends. If you start writing something now, it might not get published until three years down the road, you know? And then how frustrated would you be if the trend had died by then, or the market had gotten over-saturated or whatever?

I think it’s hard enough to write a book that you really, really want to write–let alone write one that you’re writing because you think it will sell, but you might not have a real “Love” for it.

Kat

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I’ve got nothing to add that others haven’t said, other than how cool would it be to START a trend?

Biljana

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That would be super cool, Billy! I can’t really think of a trend to start, though.

And I have pretty much nothing to add but that a lot of agents seem to be sick of paranormal romance right now. It’s just gotten so saturated that it’s become a much harder sell. The new trend’s dystopian, isn’t it? I’m writing a dystopian now, too. But I swear it’s not about the market, haha. I really do love it 🙂

— (The mysterious) Vahini Naidoo

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Chasing trends probably is a pretty bad idea unless you see one developing and already have a novel written that fits it. Dystopian and steampunk are the two trends that people think are on the rise, and dystopian is a bit more ‘in’ right now.  I’m looking forward to the steampunk!

Jenn

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Additionally, our very own Mandy Hubbard, author and literary agent, posted a fabulous article on this over at her livejournal.

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What do YOU think of trends?  Do you think they can be helpful or harmful to a new writer?  Should they simply be ignored?  Or is it smart to try to predict the “next big thing”?

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

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42 Responses to “Writing Trends! How Should a Writer Respond?”

  1. Cassandra Jade June 7, 2010 at 4:55 AM #

    Thanks for sharing these opinions. I really think people should just write what they want to write because by the time you finish and get it out there, the market will have moved on anyway. Trying to predice the next big thing is probably as easy as getting rich on the stock market and even if you hit the right topic, if it isn’t something you love, the writing will show it.
    Thanks again for sharing this discussion.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

      Hey Cassandra! Thanks for the comment. I agree with your last point whole-heartedly, and it’s a point we didn’t mention in our discussion. The writing definitely will lack passion if it is written for the wrong reasons. A good writer could probably get away with it, but may never be truly proud of that book.

  2. Kelly June 7, 2010 at 5:46 AM #

    Thanks for such wonderful advice! “Write what you love” may seem very straightforward and obvious, but that’s something I always have trouble with. Take Fictionpress as an example: usually, no matter how good or how bad the author is, romantic stories will almost ALWAYS have the most reviews. Probably has something to do with the users being predominantly-female. Yet it’s so saddening when I see top-notch stories which just don’t happen to belong to the top genre, and thus are under-appreciated.

    And yeah, it DOES seem that dystopian is becoming a more and more popular genre. Methinks ‘THE HUNGER GAMES’ by Suzanne Collins really did set the trend! I totally agree with Billy (:D can I call you that?)

    Wonderful post, Julie!

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 10:43 AM #

      Hey Kelly! Thanks for the comment. Yes, it can be frustrating when good stories don’t bring reviews on FP simply because they don’t fit into the site’s favorite genres. Thankfully, although FP is in some ways a microcosm of the publishing world, there are many readers who just don’t look there because it doesn’t have a lot of what they want to read. One way to get a feel for what the wider reading public is reading is by reading about recent deals on Publishers Weekly (or even the bestsellers list!)
      I just started reading The Hunger Games. I do agree with you; I think Suzanne Collins should get some credit for fueling the dystopian fire. 🙂

    • Biljana June 7, 2010 at 6:45 PM #

      LOL what would say if I said no? Go for it! 😀

  3. Armith-Greenleaf June 7, 2010 at 9:46 AM #

    Really good post! I agree, it may sound obvious, but after observing the market an author may want to jump in on the trend wagon, because it’s bound to get him or her more readership. But in the end, the right choice is to write what you love, otherwise there won’t be any passion behind the work. :3

    Now, call me slow, but what are these two possible new trends about, dystopian and steampunk?

    Best Wishes from AG

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 10:34 AM #

      Hey, thanks for the comment! And LOL that question in no way implies that you’re “slow;” after all, both dystopian and steampunk are supposed to be NEW. I’m sure there are many opinions about how to describe them, but a good example of dystopian would be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Basically, these books are set in a generally near-future, sometimes post-apocalyptic world where oppression, totalitarianism, etc, are main issues of everyday life. Steampunk is a subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy, set in a world that often resembles Earth’s past, when steam power was still widely used, (think Victorian era) but with the addition of modern technologies such as computers and ray guns. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is a good example. Steampunk is often described as a form of alternate history, or as reflecting actual history with added technologies, such as those found in the works of HG Wells and Jules Verne.
      If anyone has anything to add to this, please do!!!

      • Kat Zhang June 7, 2010 at 10:56 AM #

        Julie has pretty much hit the nail on the head. I’d just like to add BRAVE NEW WORLD and 1984 as some of the classics of dystopian literature.

        • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM #

          Ooooh! Thanks Kat! Those also bring to mind the “false utopia” angle of some dystopians, i.e. the future that is supposed to be “perfect” because the totalitarian authorities have “made it that way.” 🙂

          • Armith-Greenleaf June 7, 2010 at 1:10 PM #

            Haha, thanks! Yeah, I think I’d seen about the dystopian trend already–only that I didn’t know, a) its name, and b) that it was a trend already lol. As for the steampunk, isn’t that like a derivate from sci-fi? One anime comes to mind about it: Cowboy Bebop.

            Lovely layout! ❤

            Best Wishes from AG

            • Vanessa June 8, 2010 at 12:08 AM #

              Can I just say how much I LOVE Cowboy Bebop? Brilliant!

  4. Joan June 7, 2010 at 10:32 AM #

    I agree with most of you, if you start a book on a trend alone, it will most likely take a few years for that book (if ever) to hit the shelves. By then, it will be a bit too late.
    As Julie said, I think you should write a book that you want to write! Something that interests you and holds you captivated. Then there will be determination to finish it, find representation and see it on shelves. There will be so much more love for your little baby that you created all on your own 🙂 than following a trend.
    And I agree with Biljana! How incredibly cool it would be to START a trend!! But I suppose, it would also make you feel copied or surpassed.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 11:04 AM #

      Hey Joan! Great point about the eventual reaction of the writer who manages to start a trend! You have to wonder how you would feel if someone else copied your new “trend” and you felt they wrote a better book. Of course, writers will forever compare their work to that of writers they believe to be “superior.” When friends ask me if they can read my book, I often start out by warning them, “Okay, but it’s no GREAT GATSBY” (which it definitely is NOT!) I guess my point is, writers always wish their books could be better. Thanks so much for the comment!

  5. priscillashay June 7, 2010 at 11:19 AM #

    I don’t people can actually “write for a trend” because a lot of the “trendy” books out now, or the paranormal romances that are becoming famous (Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter, The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward, Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer, The Vampire Diaries by L.J.Smith, The Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead..heh..in case you guys are interested..) have been in the market for a while and are NOW hitting their stride.

    I don’t think there’s actually anyway for anyone to predict a ‘trend’. You know you have a trend once it exists and it’s all over the place..kinda like a recession..you don’t know about it until you’re in the middle of it..

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 12:23 PM #

      Priscilla, that is so true; I LOVE the way you compare a new trend to a recession – they both sneak up on you! Hahaha! And some trends can seem to go on and on and on… just like a recession! 🙂

      • priscillashay June 7, 2010 at 12:57 PM #

        thanks 🙂 And I totally meant *I don’t think people

        • Armith-Greenleaf June 7, 2010 at 1:15 PM #

          Ooh, really good comparison! Like a recession, a lot of factors need to come into play for a trend to be set, especially when we take into consideration how many years it takes for a book to be written and eventually published. How can all these people write about the same topics at nearly the same time? Coincidence? Observation? Or is it simply that people write about the same subjects all the time, and the publishing houses get a fever for something at a particular time?

          And when will the stocks rise again? 😛

          Best Wishes from AG

          • Myra June 7, 2010 at 1:20 PM #

            I don’t know if it’s coincidence so much as the pub houses cashing in on the success of one popular novel, IE Twilight. There must be an influx of every sort of genre you could ever write, all the time, and the pub houses probably pick what to publish according to trends. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the impression I get!

            Not that something phenomenal and well-written and unrelated to the trend can’t be published. There have been so many successes outside the trends–like the Hunger Games. Which, in turn, may start its own trend….

            • Armith-Greenleaf June 7, 2010 at 1:25 PM #

              Actually, Twilight was published after the success (and torrential production) of other paranormal romances. It was a trend follower, rather than a setter. It did accomplish a larger success than most of its predecessors, though. But yes, that’s precisely it. In other words, publishing houses milk it for all it’s worth… or they try.

              Another trend: Fantasy books about wizards and witches. 😛

              Best Wishes from AG

              • Myra June 7, 2010 at 1:32 PM #

                I didn’t know that! I just kind of assumed, since it was the biggest commercial success and the vampire genre exploded afterwards (or reemerged, like the Vampire Diaries), that it was the first. Well, you learn something new every day. 😀

                Ahaha! I’d actually welcome books about witches and wizards again. But then, I love that kind of fantasy stuff, so that’s just me. :]

                • Armith-Greenleaf June 7, 2010 at 2:07 PM #

                  Actually, the ball’s been rolling since the Anne Rice time. Thanks to that a lot of semi-obscure writers decided to try for paranormal romance as well. These authors kept the sub-genre alive, even though they didn’t see much success until this century hit and others did. Maybe the publishing houses saw a gold mine in the making, or maybe it was simply the recycling cycle coming around again. Basically, Stephenie Meyer and others are seeing now the boom Anne Rice got some twenty something years ago.

                  Lol, me too. I love those. Fantasy, more like. 🙂

                  Best Wishes from AG

  6. Myra June 7, 2010 at 1:02 PM #

    Trends make me nothing but miserable, for the most part… as a reader, I am sick and and tired of seeing vampire/paranormal everywhere in my face. Please, can we have something else? No? No…? D:

    Then again, I’ve never much liked the genre, so that might be contributing to my dislike.

    And then there are trends you get your hopes up for–steampunk was supposed to be a trend, what, a year ago?–but it never really did explode into commercial success. So. False trends are also something to watch out for. :/ Makes it kind of hard to guess an upcoming trend, because it might never happen, even if it seems like it will.

    And as a writer, trends probably screw us over more than not… either we miss the trend (like dystopia. I write it and I’m definitely going to miss the trend, if it proves to be true) or we get incredibly lucky and hit the market just as the trend is in full swing. I think it’d be a gamble to try and guess an upcoming trend, though… so I’m just going to stick to what I love writing and reading. No way would I stick it out with something I hate… I tried contemporary YA in the vein of Sarah Dessen once and hated it. I can read those books, but I would never write them.

    • Myra June 7, 2010 at 1:08 PM #

      Oh, I forgot to add–I love the new layout. It’s gorgeous. 🙂 AND PINK! (One of my favourite colours. Heheh.)

      • Vanessa June 7, 2010 at 7:18 PM #

        Thanks so much Myra!!!!! Glad you like it!!! I was super worried about changing it! I didn’t want people to be thrown off with such a different-looking layout!

    • Vanessa June 7, 2010 at 7:21 PM #

      I think that, with the huge popularity of The Hunger Games, dystopian YA will start cropping up. As soon as one book gets ridiculously popular (like Harry Potter or Twilight), the market ends up saturated in it.

      But I LOVE dystopian books, so I might not be particularly bummed about it. Plus, there are so many different ways that a dystopian work can play out. It’ll be a much broader genre than paranormal (I hope!).

      • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 7:35 PM #

        That’s a great point, Vanessa! Dystopian YA should offer much broader possibilities than paranormal. Although I still like paranormal. You just have to sift through the choices to find the best. 🙂
        PS For the record, I LOVE the new layout, too!

  7. Marina June 7, 2010 at 2:12 PM #

    I kind of agree with Myra. I hate the current trend of the Paranormal genre, while I do like reading about supernatural, I’m annoyed that every time I walk into a book store I see a shrine to Twilight surrounded by other mostly similar vampire books. The Twilight obsession has pretty much ruined vampires for a lot of people, and now it seems no one respects that genre anymore. I see comparisons made all the time. So what are writers who’ve like that genre supposed to do now?

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 2:20 PM #

      This is a very good question, Marina! I truly believe that if you LOVE supernatural, that’s what you should write. If you pitch it well, you can (hopefully) get agents to read it. Just emphasize what’s unique about it, rather than how it’s like all the other books out there. If an agent loves it, it becomes the agent’s job to pitch it to editors, and your agent (again… hopefully!) would know how to get around a genre-based bias. After all, you certainly aren’t the only person who enjoys supernatural! There will always be readers, agents, and editors looking for it! 🙂

      • Marina June 7, 2010 at 2:37 PM #

        Thank you! That’s wonderful advice! You’re great, and love the new layout.

        • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 2:44 PM #

          OMGosh you’re welcome! Thanks for the compliments. It’s great to know that people are enjoying the new layout. 🙂

          • Marina June 7, 2010 at 4:43 PM #

            Also who’s this mysterious Vahini Naidoo?
            Am I the only who noticed 😀

            • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 4:47 PM #

              LOL very astute question! All will be revealed soon! (OMGosh I sound like a Jedi knight! Hahahaha!) But really, you’ll find out who she is very soon. 🙂

              • Marina June 7, 2010 at 5:03 PM #

                Okay, then, I shall wait patiently to the revelation, lol.

                • Vahini June 8, 2010 at 1:54 AM #

                  Julie’s lying. I’m the real secret agent, haha 🙂

                  • Vahini June 8, 2010 at 1:57 AM #

                    Ugh, by secret agent I meant Jedi Knight and not “secret agent” haha. I need to learn to think before I type 😉

                    But I COULD be a secret agent because I’m so mysterious.

  8. Aly June 7, 2010 at 3:48 PM #

    How should a writer respond?

    By NOT writing a dozen books about teenage vampires!!!! D:

    /rant end

    Seriously though, trends kind of stink. Harry Potter, for example, is one of my favorite series and I feel like it’s often written off as another dorky series about wizards because of all of the really bad magic novels that followed. Granted, there are always the fair few that rise to the top of a trend, but more often than not the entire genre/sub-genre suffers and drowns under the weight of the stinky books following along behind the big ones.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 4:02 PM #

      Hey Aly, thanks for the comment! I agree – great books/series are often overlooked because the industry becomes awash in poor imitations. But I truly believe that, when it all shakes out, the Harry Potter series will be recognized as a classic. 🙂

  9. Kaye June 7, 2010 at 6:52 PM #

    I have to agree with what others have said–trends annoy me for the most part. My local bookstore actually has a ‘vampire’ section, mostly covered in twilight merch. I do really like paranormal, I’m just sick of it EVERYWHERE.

    I hadn’t heard that dystopian and steampunk were the new trends before, but now that you mention it, I can sort of see it. I do adore both, so it would be nice to see some more. Randomly enough, I just wrote a dystopian short story for an English class last week. But really, I think you should just write whatever you like, trends aside. They’re far too hard to predict and it’s silly to make yourself go through all that effort on something you don’t love.

    And speaking of love, I adore the new layout!

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 7, 2010 at 9:33 PM #

      Hi Kaye! Thanks for the comment! I agree; it is WAY too much work to get a book published. If you don’t really love the work itself, it’s pointless. (As I learned the hard way…)
      Glad you love the new layout! I love it too!!! (We all owe our thanks to Vanessa. THANKS Vanessa!)

  10. Vahini June 8, 2010 at 2:04 AM #

    The good thing about the paranormal romance trend, imo, was that it paved the path for a lot of really great urban fantasy like The Demon’s Lexicon. Plus there’s some paranormal romance that I adore. Like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. The trends aren’t all bad.

    Apparently dystopian’s trending really big at the moment. Something like 18 YA dystopians scheduled for release sometime soon (or so I heard, but I can’t be sure because I can’t remember where), so we might be moving towards saturation with that soon, too. Which is sad, because my dystopian is my baby right now.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 8, 2010 at 8:10 AM #

      Hey Vahini, you mystery woman, you! I’m with you – Melissa Marr is really fun to read. I personally prefer YA romance to other genres, so if it’s paranormal or realistic fiction (or sci-fi *cough* Firefly *cough*) it’s all good to me! I do hope dystopian doesn’t turn on you before your “baby” is delivered LOL. Truthfully, I would think dystopian contains enough variety to hang on for a long time (IMHO!)
      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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