Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Writing Wednesday: Trends, how they happen, & what they mean to you, the author
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,