I’ve written about writing to trend before, but as I’ve waded through query trenches and gotten an agent and now am looking forward to the submission process, I’ve observed some things and seen the issue of market trends come up over and over again.
Agents will tell you not to worry about trends, because by the time you are aware of them, they are over, and you should just write the best book that you can. I think this is the most pragmatic advice that an agent can give, but as a writer, my advice differs. Out in the contest and query trenches, I’ve seen a lot of people with manuscripts written in dead genres, over-saturated genres and premises, and also derivative premises that are almost identical to already published (or soon to be published) books. Sometimes it happens that you write the book of your heart and-blast!-someone else beats you to publication with an annoyingly similar premise. It sucks, really. But it helps no one to cling to that now-done premise and continually trot it out.
Honestly, a lot of the time I don’t think the authors of these books KNOW that they’ve written an over-saturated premise or something too close to an already-published work. While you can’t be expected to be a psychic, you do have to read widely in your genre and it would behoove you to stay on top of book news. A crafty author can write in an over-done genre if they take an original spin on things–but how do you know how to spin if you have no clue what else is out there?
Let me use an example I have seen in the past six months: parallel universe YA. EVERYWHERE. I’ve seen multiple contest entries, people on the Write On Con boards, etc. with parallel universe/multiverse/doppelganger books. The problem is, the YA market is already beginning to hit a saturation point on these books, which these authors might note if they visited their local Barnes and Noble, or kept up with book deal announcements. I went to the book store three weeks ago and saw at least five parallel universe/multiverse YA books. Then I caught up on the Publisher’s Weekly rights reports going back to August and saw deals for at least four more. I also know there are several being published in 2014, too. Clearly some of these books are still being bought, however a lot of these sales were not for debut authors, but for established authors selling a new book. If you’re trying to make your debut on a parallel universe book… you may have missed the boat.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you what to write, and your book might be the exception, but the problem with “special snowflake” thinking is that everyone thinks they are the exception. Statistically, most people won’t be. So while writing the book you are keen to write is creatively cathartic, if your end goal is to actually publish your book, keeping an eye on market trends and making pragmatic decisions about it is wise.
And there are several ways to stay informed so you can make these choices–this project or that project, etc.
1. Go to your local book store at least once a quarter, and make note of trends happening on the shelf. I personally find that in-person browsing enables me to see trends I otherwise won’t see via online browsing. Which books end up in bookstores and how they are positioned is important; this is how you can really see what publishers are buying and putting their marketing dollars behind.
2. Keep up with Publishers Weekly’s rights reports. These do not reflect all the book deals, but they give a nice slice of big YA/MG deals. You can definitely get a general sense of trends by reading several months of reports.
3. Follow the biggest deal-making YA agents on Twitter. When their clients sell books, they’ll usually tweet about it… I’ve had several books on my radar because I follow certain agents.
4. Keep an eye on all the agent contests. This may not explicitly tell you what the sales trends are, but it does give you a good idea of what agents are getting in their query box. After you follow long enough, you’ll see which contest entries get agents and book deals, and you can start to piece together market analysis.
5. Read the books that ARE similar to what you’re writing. If it is your heart’s desire to write a parallel universe book (or ghosts, or cancer book, etc. etc.), read all the ones that are already on the market, and then figure out how to spin your book so it stands out. It might not work if you’re writing a truly dead, stone-cold trend like vampires, but it’s better to be smart about it than not.
6. Pay attention to what agents are saying. Agents are asked about trends all the time, and they give pretty honest answers. Right now, they can’t sell vampires, most dystopia, paranormal romance, bog standard sci-fi, portal fantasy, etc. etc. Trust them, they know. Look at what agents are saying isn’t selling.
So once you’ve done these things, and you have the best picture possible of what’s going on, you need to decide what to do. If you haven’t started your book yet and you have a couple different ideas kicking around, do the one that isn’t in a saturated or dead trend. If you are seeing a lot of books on topic X *now*, in 1-2 years when you are done/have an agent/your book is on sub/coming out, it might will be dead. The dystopias coming out now were written years ago, probably as far back as 2010. You have to think 2-3 years ahead when you’re writing. (unless you are the world’s fastest drafter and can revise your book in like a month; in that case you could theoretically jump on a trend wave and I say more power to you)
If you’ve already written your book and haven’t queried, well honestly I say why not–query it, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. If you’ve been querying and not having success, I would shelve the book and move onto your next project.
Now, don’t write something just because you think it’s the next trend and it could sell. You still need to organically come up with book ideas and write them with passion. If all your heart really wants to do is write dead genre books, well, just don’t set your sights on selling and hope for the best.