On Writing and Publishing Trends

Photo credit: Horia Varlan on Flickr
When thinking about publishing, it's hard not to mention the market and the various trends that inevitably appear in the reading/ writing world. With Harry Potter came various books about witches and wizards, with the rise of Twilight came the explosion of paranormal novels, especially those involving vampires and creatures of the like, and now more recently with the success of The Hunger Games , dystopian novels have become very popular.

So when slaving away at their WIPs and rummaging through bookstores, writers often wonder how much they should be paying attention to the market while they write their books.

While I think it's important for writers to be aware of what publishing trends are rising in the book market (and, conversely, what is becoming more difficult to sell), and while I think it's especially important for writers to be well versed in their genre, I truly believe that it's far more important for writers to write the stories they want to write regardless of what's going on in the market.

Hear me out. The state of the publishing market is something that is completely out of the writer's control. What's more, it's a well-known fact that what is popular today probably won't be the hot in-thing in five years. That's not to say it won't be selling then, but publishing trends only last so long.

Writing a book, meanwhile, takes an excruciatingly long time. Even if you're a ridiculously prolific writer who can pound out a first draft in a month and revise in three and you either a) self-publish four months after writing the first draft with a fantastically revised novel  done in record speed or b) manage to find an agent and land a publishing contract immediately (which usually takes time), in the case of the self-published writer it takes time to build buzz for your book, and in the case of the traditionally published writer it can take up to two years (or more, even) just to get that story on the shelves. By the time that novel is released (or really builds up buzz), who knows what the market will look like?

Then of course, there's the opposite problem of writers who write to a trend that already passed because they love the genre and spend time worrying about whether or not it'll be able to sell. Again, the state of the publishing market is something out of our control. The energy spent worrying about the trends could be spent bettering your book, instead.

Look, I'm not an agent or a publishing expert, nor will I pretend to be. But from what I understand, (and I could be wrong here) if you're looking to publish traditionally, very few agents are going to turn down an excellent story that they absolutely love just because you "missed the boat" so-to-speak, as far as trends go. And by the same token, very few agents (or publishing companies) are going to pick up a mediocre story that was written quickly just to fit the current market.

And I suspect it's not all that different for self-published writers: a good book is going to sell regardless of publishing trends and a mediocre book that fits the market, well, not so much.

In short, I think it's important for writers to be aware of the market, but it's far more important for writers to focus on writing a fantastic book. If you can manage that, your book will find a place in the market regardless of what the trends look like.

Now it's your turn: Do you think writers should write to the market? How important is it for writers to be aware of the publishing trends?


Laura Pauling said...

From what I can tell, the self publishing marketing allows for a lot more room. Even though agents aren't looking for paranormal romances anymore - guess what sells the best on Amazon? That's right. Paranormal romance. So the reader interest is still there.

That's what I like about self publishing. I don't have to worry about happening to hit a pocket where agents are looking for what I'm writing. And from authors I've talked to, it does happen that way. A manuscript of theirs will receive countless fulls, the trend changes and they barely get any. It's a very hard game to play. Of course, I'd like to think all that matter is that you write the best you can.

Ava Jae said...

I imagine there's a lot more room in self-publishing, which (as your example showed) that trends aren't nearly as important for self-published authors. As for traditionally published, I think it's definitely important to keep the market in mind, but the most important thing is to just write a great book. That doesn't mean that every fantastic book is going to sell easily, but the odds are certainly better for the writer that takes the time to write a wonderful book.

Terri Wallace said...

I don't believe in writing to the market, because by the time a books is written, rewritten, finds a publishing home, and makes it to the bookstores, the trend may well be old news. I started my book before Hunger Games was such a huge deal. Now, when someone askes what type of book it is (Dystopian Fantasy), I feel the need to somehow explain that...to justify it. Sigh.

Ava Jae said...

I agree entirely, Terri. By writing to the market you're betting that the trend you're trying to fit into will still be a trend when you finally get your book published.

Chihuahua Zero said...

I agree with the sediment that it's too late to jump onto the trend once it starts rolling. Yet, all of these trilogies are guaranteeing that we're be seeing these series all the way to 2014 or even 2015.

Still, the writer's forum I hang out with hates trends with a passion, while I'm...neutral toward them. Hey, they're out there. A book is a book.

Still, I also agree with the sediment that you'll never produce the Next Big Thing by chasing the bandwagon, so I might well build my own and hope it starts a pioneer wagon all the way to the big blue sea.

Ava Jae said...

I'm with you--I find myself in a neutral position as far as feelings and trends go. I think it's important for us to be educated and if you happen to be writing a book that could fit the current market, that's fantastic. But I truly believe that more important than chasing trends (or worrying about them) is just writing the book you want to write.

javacia harris bowser said...

I completely agree with you. I was at a writing conference last summer and Claire Cook (author of Must Love Dogs and other books) and Emily Giffin (author of Something Borrowed and other books) both said the same thing. Trying to write according to "what's hot" is not wise because, just as you said, the market changes constantly and you can't control those changes. The key is to write quality content and tell the stories in your heart.

Ava Jae said...

That sounds like a great conference. As someone who likes to be in control, it can be difficult to accept that there are some things that affect our writing journeys that are entirely out of our control, the market being one of them. The best we can do to deal with those variables is just do the very best at what we do have control over, namely, our writing.

Rainy Kaye said...

Great post, as always. :) I agree that
not only is it nearly impossible to predict trends, it's also too
late to start when a trend has already become obvious. I do have to
question whether the part about agents is entirely accurate though.
I've heard too many comments from aspiring authors that they have
received compliments on their writing style, but the agent isn't
convinced on the marketability of the book itself. The goal for the
agent is to sell a book to a publishing house, and the goal for the
publishing house is to take as few risks as possible. If statistics show a certain trend is no longer making money, are they really going to pick up a book that caters to it just because your writing is fantastic?

However, for everything we think we
know about publishing, there's always that one story that proves it
wrong. ;)

Perhaps equally important to all this is, if you write something for a trend and not because you truly love the story, it will show. Publishing may be a business, but fiction writing still has some art left to it. And if you don't make your million from it, hopefully you at least enjoyed yourself.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Rainy! I don't know for sure on the agent thing (like I said, I'm no expert) but I imagine it probably depends on the agent or publishing house. I've also heard of writers who were turned down because of marketability, but I've also heard of writers who were turned down from one agency because of marketability and picked up by another who thought the story was written well enough that it could overcome those challenges. Like you said though, for everything we think we know about publishing, there's always that story that proves to be the exception.

I absolutely agree that you need to truly love your story or it'll show. It doesn't matter how perfect for the market a story is if the writer isn't passionate about their work.

Melissa Sugar said...

I agree one hundred percent. There is absolutely no way to predict future trends nor can we be certain how long it will take to get published (especially going to the traditional pub route). By the time a book is well written, revised, polished and queried and by the grace of god taken on by an agent, trends will change. Sure, there will always be exceptions and some trends will last longer than any of us ever expected, but why risk it?

I think people will write better books if they write what they rare passionate about rather than trying to following the trend. This was a good post. I am a new follower. I am glad that I found your blog.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks for stopping by, Melissa! I'm so glad you found your way here. :)

I think you're right about people writing better books when they write what they're passionate about versus trend-following. I also tend to believe they probably enjoy the novel-writing process more if they love the subject, as well (which is important, IMO).

Hudson said...

First off, let me start off by saying I loved this post. It inspired me
to keep writing and stop worrying about what comes after I am done
writing my novel. It also made me think a bit. Like you said, there are
book trends and if you follow a certain ones you can see how often they
come back into popularity. Some genres pop up more than others, which still allows certain writers to be in luck.

My opinion though is write what you want to write. Whenever a story idea
pops into my head I ask myself two questions: would I spend $20 of this
book and would I read it more than once. If I answer yes to both these
questions I turn it into a story, if not, I it write the idea down in my
idea journal and forget about. Because I know that if I wouldn't want
to read it, I probably won't be too inspired to write it.

Those are honestly the only the two questions I ask. Whether or not it
is a popular trend doesn't matter to me, because I know one day it will
be. And when it is I know my story will be more than ready for it. Plus,
while you're waiting for your story to become popular, just get to work
on your next novel.

Sadly I believe this type of writing only works for people who are
writing, not for the money, but because they love to write. But if you
are only doing it for the money, why did you choose writing anyway?

Hudson x


Ava Jae said...

Thank you for the thoughtful answer, Hudson! I'm so glad you found this post inspiring. ^_^

I think your method for deciding whether or not to pursue the story is a smart one and I believe you're right--if you wouldn't read your book, chances are you aren't going to be inspired enough to write it (or read it until you've practically memorized it after all your edits and rewrites and revisions are said and done).

As for your last paragraph, I honestly believe that people who only write for the money don't often last very long. Writing isn't exactly a lucrative field with an average of ridiculously high salaries--in fact, it's very hard to make a living as a writer. The writers who are successful are the ones who keep writing despite the bad odds and despite the paltry royalties because they love the craft and can't imagine not writing.

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