Friday, December 04, 2015

Being Trendy: Should You Write What's Hot?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I hear writers ask all the time about trends, a'la "what's hot right now?" These questions always end up with the answer "XYZ, but don't write for trends because by the time your book comes out, the trend will be over."

Good advice.

We see those trend starters all the time--a hit book comes out and suddenly editors are looking for ones like it to reach (and cash in on) folks who want more of them same (which is just good business). Soon the market is flush with that idea, so publishers (and readers) start looking for variations of that idea. The "twist" that makes it new again. Before long, all the twists are played out and readers are over the trend and looking for the next fresh, hot book.

This is why writing for a trend has always been considered a bad idea. In the past, it was impossible to write a book and jump in (publishing moves at a glacial pace), but with indie authors, it's much easier to write and publish fast enough to take advantage of that trend. 

Trends move faster these days. It used to take longer for the various permutations of a trend to surface. Vampires turned into different takes on vampires and then different takes on paranormal in general, etc. Zombies seemed to hit and explode within a year. The trend played out faster than usual, and they went from being brain eaters to boyfriends and misunderstood souls in a flash.

I think trends unfold so quickly these days because writers now know a hot topic needs a new twist, so as soon as that hot book hits, writers are immediately jumping on the twist idea. Either it's something they've had in their heads for a while, or a book they had in the wings. Writers are more market savvy, so we plan ahead.

(Here's more on why you should ignore trends and write what you want)

Trends and Indie Publishing

One of the benefits to self publishing is taking advantage of fluctuations in the market. I think the old advice still applies--writing something you don't care about just to capitalize on a trend rarely works out--but for those writers who can write well quickly, and have the ability and infrastructure in place to write-proof-edit-publish a book in a matter of months, it's a real option.

However, putting out a book you were going to write anyway is different from chasing after a trend to make a quick buck. If you treat trends like get-rich-quick schemes, odds are you'll lose like everyone else. If you're smart about it, and produce a well-written book that fits your brand (even if you create a new brand or name for this book), you have the potential to surf a trend and gain some benefits from it.

Carefully consider chasing a trend before you race after it. If it's going to hurt your overall career and force you to put out an inferior product, it's not worth it. But if you can publish a great book that serves your career goals, it could be worth the risk.

(Here's more on the freedom of indie publishing)

Trends and Inspiration

Writing for a trend is rarely a good idea, but plenty of folks are inspired by great books that also happen to be hot books. I myself have a trendy novel I started because my husband gave me an idea that was too good not to write.

I don't think there's anything wrong with letting a hot trend inspire you, but I do think it's important to understand that if you're writing a hot trend, the odds are even more stacked against you than normal. But if that's the story you need to tell, tell it.

However, if you're just looking at ideas and planning what to write, I'd probably stay away from trends. Who needs that extra pressure when publishing is already so tough?

So, how can you tell which idea is "the one" to write? If you figure that out, tell me (grin), but I have some questions I always ask myself when picking the next project.

(Here's more on trends and following your heart)

1. Which idea do I feel the most excited about?

One of them will be in my head more than the others. I can't stop thinking about it.

2. Which idea is the most original?

An original idea is still the way to go in my opinion. Agents, editors, and readers see the same old same old every day, so something new stands out, even if it needs a little work.

3. Which idea is the most formed?

I have files of ideas in various stages. Some are nothing more than a premise, others have outlines and are ready to go when I am. If I have two that I really like, and one is more fleshed out, I might start that book next.

4. Which one would I want to read?

This is probably the deal breaker here. If there's an idea that just tickles me to no end and I'd pick that book up right now if I saw it, I'll write it--even if it's only a premise and will take months of work before I can write the first line. (You can always tell when you've found one of these books, because you get all excited just thinking about them, and you find yourself doing work on them even if you're writing something else.)

In the end, write the book that's in your heart. If that's a trendy book, that's a trendy book. But wouldn't it be much more fun to write a book that sets the trend?

Do you have a trendy book in the works? Have you ever written for a trend?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. Great advice. And by the time most of us wrote and polished a book based on trends, the market would be way flooded. At least for me. I think it's better to write what you're inspired to write.

  2. You have a lot of great advice here. Like you said, at the end of the day, writing the book that's in your heart is what's important.

    Great post!

  3. Zombies was a trend? O_O I seem to have missed that. I thought the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was part of a trend to, um, adjust classics. I've seen far more people claiming zombies are/have been a trend than I've seen zombie books.

    I also factor in "Do I have the skill yet to accomplish what I want to with this idea?" There's one that I'm not sure. I still tried my hand at it, last NaNoWriMo, and learned the hard way that a novel full of sociopaths should NEVER be a primary project for long spurts.

    That said, I have written to trends... but more because I wanted to see something else within a trend, and decided to write it. Those things still haven't been done, that I've found, so I figure I'm okay.

  4. Those are excellent points. I confess, I think there is probably less scope for zombies than for vampires, so perhaps that's why the trend arced more quickly? But I will definitely be giving this more thought.

    I love Carradee's point about factoring in skill-level. I think so few writers consider that when they approach an idea. I've been struggling with a story that was way out of my skill level, but being stubborn, I've been trying to raise my skill level to do it justice. I think I'm on rewrite number 47. If I'd had the brains to put that one on the back-burner, done a few more to get some distance under my belt, and then come back to it, I'd probably be be less neurotic right now. Or maybe not. As you said, we have to go with what we're passionate about.

    Hope you don't mind if Marissa and I include this in next Friday's weekly round-up of best articles for writers!

    Thanks for the food for thought!


  5. Feel free, Martina, and thanks!

    Zombies are definitely a trend. I'm not sure how many have hit the shelves yet, but I see both folks talking about them and deal announcements all the time.

  6. I'm not a trend person. I don't think I would ever write something because it was a trend, but I wouldn't not-write it because it was a trend either. I guess it is because writing is something I do because I love it rather than because I want it as a career so I write what I want and worry later about whether anyone will ever actually read it.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  7. Love this post! Thanks so much for sharing it...and I totally agree. The list on how to choose between several ideas was great! THANKS

  8. So true! It takes me so long to write a whole novel the trend would be over long before it hit the shelves. Even IF you finished a book in two months and sold it, by the time it's pubbed, another 18 months may go by.

    Good advice to keep close to your heart.

  9. Tere, exactly! Better to just write the story your love.

  10. I would rather write the story in my heart- trend or no trend. However, knowing myself I have not yet developed the momentum to follow trend for the purpose of making quick money.

    1. Chasing trends is tough. And you can't count on making any money at all, let alone quick money.