Today I’m delving into my archive of guest posts to share some advice I gave at this year’s WriteOnCon. If you’re not familiar with it, WOC is a yearly online conference for YA/MG writers and I highly recommend it. Whether you write for adults or children, you’ll find lots of relevant content from authors, agents, and editors in their 2013 archive.
Should Writers Worry About Trends on the Market?
Not necessarily. It’s all about your frame of reference. Are you sitting down to begin a novel? Or putting the finishing touches on it? Where you are in the process determines whether you need to think about trends and marketing and the like.
Publishing trends have no place in the beginning stages of your writing process. One reason is that by the time you finish your book, the trend will either have died down, or agents and publishers will already have seen a hundred similar pitches. So many hopeful writers will have jumped on the Hunger Games/Twilight/Game of Thrones bandwagon that the chances of your novel standing out are slim. Another reason not to chase trends is that your heart probably won’t be in it, and readers will smell a rat. It’s one thing to sit down and force yourself to do a writing exercise—that can be a great way to generate ideas or power through writer’s block. But pounding out a story just because you think it will sell is like turning your entire novel into a writing exercise. Sounds exhausting!
So my advice is this: write the novel that has been percolating in your head for years, or that came to you in a mind-blowing dream last night, or that was sparked by an obscure headline at the back of last week’s paper. These are the stories that come from that mysterious realm of inspiration that has nothing to do with logic or planning or marketing. And they’re also the novels that break out, because readers can feel the spark.
You’ve done that? Great. Now you can start thinking about the market. Does your novel have something in common with a brand new bestseller? Great—you just might be poised to catch that wave. The trick will be to show how your novel appeals to the same readership and yet stands apart—how is it unique?
Or let’s say your novel is not like anything you’ve seen in a book store or online. If you’ve mastered your craft and you have a big story to tell, you could be the one setting the next trend. But it’s best not to tell agents that (arrogance is not considered a virtue in query letters!). Instead, show your knowledge of the market by outlining how you will help promote your book once it is published. Nowadays, no matter how “big” a publisher feels your book is going to be, you’ll still be expected to do a fair share of self-marketing.
In the end, the thing to remember is that most agents don’t want writers who methodically churn out simply “marketable” work—that’s a recipe for average books with average sales. Every agent I know is looking for something quite different: clients who write with passion and originality, and who know the industry well enough to promote their work effectively when the time comes. If there’s a “secret” recipe for success, I’d say that’s it.