Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Trends, how they happen, & what they mean to you, the author

Hello beautiful people

A friend of mine and I were recently talking via email about trends and how you just see them popping up everywhere. At times all you see is vampires, at times it's shifters, at times it's erotica. Haven't you always wondered how this or that seems to be a 'craze' right now? Is it simply a 'craze', a result of demand and supply laws, a result of hype? Or is it just plain no-reason?

It's a little bit of all these. Browsing through some really good articles/blog posts I had saved on my computer, I came upon this blog entry and thought it was spot on for the topic today. (Post appeared on CynthiaSterling's Market News for Week of September 20, 2009 - Focus on St.Martin's Press RWA 2009 Spotlight).

Jennifer Enderlin of St.Martin's Press deciphered the 'Anatomy of a trend spiral' in there, as such:

Anatomy of a trend spiral
1. Someone writes a really great book.
2. Readers snap up anything remotely like that 1st book
3. Publishers and authors sense a trend
4. More people write in that area and publishers buy in that area.
5. A few of those books sell well also.
6. Publishers start to creates lines and imprints in this area.
7. It becomes easier to sell in this area. The temptation is so strong to sell your soul and write in the area that people think is hot at the moment.
8. Publishers have slots to fill and lower their standards.
9. The quality of the books goes down.
10. Readers catch on become cynical and jaded.
11. Contracts aren’t renewed and authors become bitter.
12. Lines fold.
13. No one is happy - publishes, authors or readers.
14. Readers look for anything new and different.
15. Someone writes a really great book.

See anything logical in there? Indeed. It all builds one upon the other.

But here's how it starts - someone writes a really great book. How to know if your book could be this next best thing? Ms. Enderlin adds another line beneath her analysis: [Quote] “Once you see someone creating lines around a certain book, I, personally would head for the hills.” [Unquote]...
...and this one just before she details the trend spiral: [Quote] You shouldn’t pay too much attention to trends. [Unquote]

Your conclusion should be - if you want to break out, don't write the 'trend', or what's already out there, or for a newly debut-ed/hyped line.

How to make your book the potential next best thing? Think out of the box, out of the trend, spin, flip, and twist - but first and foremost, write a darn good story! (I'll have more on these in future WW posts).

Now we know the temptation is big to be the 'thing' all readers are bragging about. As authors, we write for pleasure, for love, for publication, but a huge part of the process is for our readers. We should give them what they want, but do you think folding yourself like flour in the cake batter of a 'trend' is how you'll endear yourself to them? Maybe for one book, you will. Maybe for two books, you still might. Maybe too, by Book 3, the readers will be going, 'this author writes the same thing, I want something new!'
What do you do then, and where does that leave you?

Something I learned in my economics lessons is that Demand and Supply form a cycle. There will be ups (where say, you are selling your 'trend' story and the 'trend' is there, hot commodity) just as there will be downs (where no one will want to even touch the 'trend' with a pole). Result for you - write for a trend and run the risk of tanking out. Or wait for the next demand cycle to hit, and no one has clear ideas when that will be!

Of course, you may tell me that some authors are really that good as to keep producing 'trend-generated' stuff even when the 'trend' is dropped faster than a hot potato. True - but are YOU this author? Maybe, maybe not. You wanna take the risk?

So you are an author and you write stories. Fine. To readers, agents, editors and publishers out there, you are just one drop in a sea of writers. Why will you stand out of the crowd?

Find who you are, what you write, how you write, what you're good at. Then build upon that. This is what will set you out from the swirling mist of hopefuls just like you out there. (More to come on identity and branding in future WW posts).

Another thing to ponder - You see a trend. You start a story. You even finish story. You query and submit story. Time elapsed in between - let's say 6 months.
If someone buys it, great! If not, and let's say a further 6 months have passed, not many will still want your story. Why? Because the trend might no longer be 'hot stuff' by then.

By the time a trend actually hits readers, it has taken close to (even over) a year between when that 'really good book' was submitted, acquired, and put through its publication paces. The trend hits when the 'really good book' releases, and that's when you as the author notice it. Publishers, editors and agents, among themselves, will already be in tune with the trend, because that's insider stuff they are privy to. When the book comes out, over a year could have elapsed then, and the wave is really at its peak. You can crest it right away, but sooner rather than later, the wave will hit the water and die out on the shore.

Take all this into consideration when you spot a trend. If you do decide to follow it, be very quick on your toes (or fingers, to the keyboard!) to get that book out and accepted before you end up with a hot potato on your hands.

Ending note, which leads us to - Stage #14: Readers look for anything new and different. Is this a clue...? Maybe authors should go right out to the readers and ask them what they want to see next...

Any questions, just holler!

With love from Mauritius,

Zee

7 comments:

Scanner said...

Maybe, but what defines "good"? Movie goers often scoff at critics who dis movies they like, but not everyone likes the same movies.

The same goes for books... and tv shows... "24" for example. With some exceptions, people typically are either are/were practically addicted to it, thought it was stupid, or didn't understand what the hype was about. I'm noticing the same thing about Twilight. People either love it, hate it, or don't get it. I've read articles about Twilight that say it's the worst anti-feminist trash ever. I know my niece thinks it's the best thing since High School Musical, and I'm pretty much in the "I don't get it" area, though I think it's watchable.

I don't read books based on popularity or trend... with a few minor exceptions I'm a specific genre reader... Star Trek, Time Travel, some vampire stuff (but limited, especially lately with tons of it out there), etc. Haven't read the Twilight books, heck I haven't even read Anne Rice's stuff. But what really classifies as "good"?

I used to like Stephen King. Mostly, I still do... but The Dark Tower books never interested me, and the only recent item of his I've read in years was CELL. And it was just 'ok'. But his "IT" is my number one favorite book of all time, yet some don't "get it", much in the same way I "don't get" Twilight.

Are book trends just "follow the crowd" popularity? I don't really know... if it was, wouldn't it end when the reader reads the book and likes or dislikes it, or do they like it because their friends do?

So many unknowns. My reply probably doesn't address ANYTHING in your article, but thought I'd voice an opinion in a vaguely similar direction. :)

J Hali said...

Sounds like it all starts with "writing a good book." Then word of mouth, publicity--all the other things--come into play.

Zee Monodee said...

Scanner,

I love your reply! Food for thought indeed.

Define 'good' story... Not easy. Basically we approach writing a 'good' story through several elements - plot, pace, characterization, conflict, among others. All of these build together and add up to create a whole that (hopefully) delivers a 'good' project.
Then plays in aspects of the market - you might have written an amazing story but right now it doesn't 'fit in'. Take for example the TV hype around series such as 'Rome' and 'The Tudors'. These types of gritty, over-the-top historicals didn't have their place on the TV charts not so long ago. Was it a trend? Maybe. What I'm saying is, trends come and go, and it probably takes a special alignment of the planets to get your 'good' story noticed.

But this I do know - the planets might be aligned, but if your story is crap, you won't be noticed. So it all starts with a 'good' story.
Just like 'Rome' and 'The Tudors' had good concepts. Even '24' was innovative when it came out.

'Twilight'... Well, it appeals to its intended demographic. There is that certain 'over the top', 'larger than life' feel that YA strives upon (notice how Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Bridge to Terabithia, all have that feel too. They were 'noticed'.)
I don't get 'Twilight' either, though my teenage niece swears by it!

Generally, agents and editors have a pretty good parameter for 'good story'. It's nothing written in stone, but it involves all the elements I mentioned (characterization, plot, pace, conflict, etc) that comes together as a whole and plays well within the writer's voice.
Yes, lots of variables indeed. :)

As to reading books for the trend - reading, reviewing, commenting, talking about it - what are you doing other than feeding the hype in the process?

Your opinion was very welcome! It's the sort of creative and analytical debate I wanted this blog to provide a platform for.

Thanks and hugs!

Zee Monodee said...

J,

That seems about right. Everyone's idea of a good book might be subjective, but some core aspects of a good book are universal.

Then, lol, yes - the hype plays in!

Hugs

Sandy said...

I would never write to a trend. I just want to write the best book I can and hope to sell it.

Scanner, your comment was very interesting and thoughtful.

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks for coming over, Sandy. Missed you!

I think a lot of authors think like you - write the story of their heart and hope to sell it.

Scanner's comment was very good indeed! He brought up some good points.

Hugs

Zee Monodee said...

@Scanner

I thought some more about your comment, and this is what came to mind as well.

Twilight - might not be the best book written (and that too is very debatable as to how 'bad' it is) but what it did do (and probably the queried agent/editor realised) is that it fed a section of the market that was unexploited. Think famous YA of late - Harry Potter, Percy Jackson. Male protagonists, action/adventure. Where was the YA read for girls? No one was doing that, and Twilight cashed in on that oversee. All previous YA for girls was the kind of Sweet Valley, the really cute and girly stuff. Where was the adventure for girls? What could be more adventurous than falling for a vampire? There you have it - young girls gobbled it up.

24 - Did you notice it came around a time when the 'trend' was the ultra-Alpha, anti-hero type main character? That's what Jack Bauer is, and he is no John Maclaine clone. He isn't excatly a good guy, he isn't exactly bad. He's all in shades of grey. Notice The Shield too - Vic McKay is one such anti-hero too. He's despicable but he gets the job done (the episode where they used his brand of tough and violent interrogation to get a pedophile to confess where he hid his kidnapped victim). Another anti-hero is House.
Notice that shades-of-grey heroes dominate now (Don Draper of Mad Men). Is that a trend? Most possibly. Yet what got it started? A move away from the clean John Maclaine types?

We notice trends when they are here, yet few can pinpoint how they actually got started.

It could be too that a certain story that didn't fit was with an agent. The editors/pubs go, we need/would like to try something different. Agent jumps up and says, I got what you want. So thus a story that had been conceptualized a while ago gets its break, and could start a trend.
Inherently, there must've been something worthy/good/of note in it for the agent to have stuck with it.

Lots of questions, ifs, perhaps. It takes a special planetary alignment... :)

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