I hate trends.

I was exchanging emails with my delightful client Saundra Mitchell the other day, and she brought up Flowers in the Attic, everyone’s favorite attic incest novel. Now, you can debate whether that book had any literary merit, but it was undeniably provocative and controversial and engaging. When I started to ponder it a bit, I thought, Why isn’t anyone out there trying to write the next Flowers in the Attic? Something dark and inappropriate. A gothic page-turner. How much fun would that be?

Because while I’m sure that there are some people writing that kind of thing, I feel like I’ve spent the past few months with a slush pile full of dystopian were-vampire steampunk young adult novels with adult crossover potential. Which I mentioned to Saundra (okay, I ranted), leading her to ask whether trend-chasing in the market is a new phenomenon or whether it’s been around for a long time.

It’s always like this. I think right now we’re stuck between a few. Certainly lots more people are writing young adult because they’ve heard that’s where the money is. That also explains the sudden presence of lots and lots more YA agents. Vampires/demons/werewolves and other creatures of the night still regularly show up quite a lot in my inbox; there’s also a lot of dystopian stuff trying to cash in on what’s happening RIGHT NOW; and there is a small but dedicated group who are still trying to make steampunk happen (ah, the trend that never was). But by and large, a solid half of everything is always by people writing to the market in the most concerted and obvious way possible. Whether it’s Jane Austen knock-offs, the era of chick-lit, The Michelangelo Doctrine, or as far back as the Y2K books when I started here in ’99, far too many people are too shortsighted to even aim for the next big thing because they’re aiming for the now big thing. No matter how often I tell people the biggest books don’t follow the trends but instead create them, there will always be someone who’s all “ZOMG, I wrote the next Twilight!”

None of this is to say that these are categories I don’t want to see. I still love vampire books and would happily take more on, but only if it’s something really fresh and different, and REALLY only if I believe the author is writing the book that they want and need to write, not trying to cash in on a moment. I just think there’s an authenticity about passion projects that can’t be faked. And while I certainly want to find things that hit trends at the exact right moment, I don’t trust projects written in an effort to be timely. So stop worrying about trends. Write the books you need to write. Authenticity and enthusiasm are priceless.

29 Responses to I hate trends.

  1. I am very happy to read this. I started writing a YA Paranormal novel when that seemed to be the type of book for which most new authors were getting signed by agents. I walked away from it, went back to writing a novel that is a mix of literary style writing and dystopian science fiction.

  2. Selene Coulter says:

    How about Stepford Wives meets Inception? *g*

    And why, yes, that should be its own trend…

  3. Daisy Harris says:

    Great post!

    I write erotic romance (not YA) but see the same things all the time. Cowboy menage is hot in the wake of Maya Banks’ Colter series. Male-male is huge.

    My first series was about shape-shifting mermaids, sea dragons and sharks. Why? Um, because that’s what I wanted to write about. Since then a lot of people asked me how I can up with such a fresh idea, to which I reply, “I didn’t know any better.”

    And yeah, you just can’t fake enthusiasm. Or guess what’ll be the next big thing.

    Cheers, Daisy

  4. June says:

    “…a small but dedicated group…” This made me chuckle..lol…too cute. Forgive me, but sometimes when I hear about new stuff coming out, it does make me roll my eyes just a tad. So many people are trying to cash in…*shaking head*. I mean if you have a passion to write something, that’s cool, just write it because it’s your passion, not because you’re being a copy cat.

    I’m aspiring to be a published author myself and my story does have some supernatural elements in it, but I’m writing a story that’s been on my mind for a while, not because I’m trying to be the next Twilight–of course if that were to happen–well yay me, but it has to occur organically, because people connect with the work, not because I’m trying to force it. Even successful writers of adult literature are writing YA. I find it hard to believe they’ve always had a passion to write teen books. It’s all about what’s happening now.

  5. JGStewart says:

    Oh man… you mean I shouldn’t have spent the past month writing all those vampires into my manuscript?

    I’m always a bit baffled by the idea of writing to cash in on a trend… do people not understand the time lag writing a book and having it published?

  6. Cyn Ical says:

    Agents are always saying they hate trends… and then offering representation and getting huge advances and marketing money to the newest dystopian paranormal YA romance.

    I have several author friends who hit the big time only after they switched from the contemporaries they were publishing to paranormal YAs. I don’t think they suddenly became better writers. I think they hit the right trend.

    • June says:

      Good point. It’s hard to argue with what seems to be working for people. The stories with these elements do seem to be sucking up all the attention and money these days.

  7. I imagine it’s because so many of the sites writers turn to for advice–agent blogs and the like–are hammering it in that you have to write for the market, that your book can be good but the agent won’t take it on unless they can sell it, and vampires et al. are what’s selling big right now. YA is selling big right now. There’s a fear that pushing the boundaries too far means your book will never be sold or widely read.

    There could be people out there trying to write the next Flowers in the Attic, but:
    1) they’re introducing a supernatural element because paranormal is selling,
    2) they’re trying to get their paranormal/YA manuscript sold first, thinking that will put them in a better place to sell their dear-to-their-heart Flowers-type novel later, or
    3) they’re downplaying the controversial aspects of their Flowers-type novel in their queries for fear of scaring agents off.

  8. Michael G-G says:

    I think Kristin Laughtin is wise.

    I often think that publishing advice is schizophrenic: “write what you love, write for the market. Rinse, repeat.” The only advice that gels is “practice your craft until you’re the best writer you can be.”

    Daisy Harris is cool, too: “you can’t fake enthusiasm.”

  9. I suppose one could always look at it this way: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the desks of agents and publishing houses all over the continent are groaning under the weight of queries and partials dealing with the paranormal. And, I can imagine that it must be highly frustrating to wonder if a writer’s dedication to the project was borne out of the success of One Very Big Vampire Novel — and not because he/she was passionate about his/her m.s.

    I’m a freelance writer by trade. I deal with the same topics over and over for different clients, but my demographic groups remain consistent. Trend sells — it’s what The People want. Another thing I can say about the crossover success of many of these YA vampire books into the realm of adult readers is that they’re written to the appropriate level. Americans read at an eighth-grade level, at mean. I would also not be surprised to find out that adult readers who would otherwise rarely pick up a book were drawn in by “Twilight” and its various flankers! :)

  10. Monica says:

    One thing I think happens to some people who are adding to a trend is that a new popular series (Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc.) comes out and it increases interest in a genre. Reading those stories may have gotten the cogs working for some writers. I think those are the ones who write in a trendy topic but write in it well. They aren’t forcing it. You can’t force a story or it will show in the final result.

  11. Eric Christopherson says:

    “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the vampires.”

  12. Type Faster says:

    I hate trends, too. I’m still seeing a lot of lawyers writing CIA thrillers starring swarthy ex-military ladies men in the slush I read. When will THAT one cease?

  13. Lookit.. Doesn’t that just mean it’s Time-Travel’s turn? Huh?? ehh??

    I loved meeting you at DFWcon this weekend. You were such a gentleman to a terrified new writer. Bless you for that.

    P.S.–I’ll change your mind about Time Travel, yet. You’ll see..

  14. Nice to hear this.

    I think those stories are out there but harder to find, which is kind of your point. I loved How I Live Now, and while it was no Flowers in the Attic, I thought it was dark, compelling, and atypical in the best way.

  15. Ciara says:

    See, I write YA and posts like this worry me. Far from chasing the trend I worry that I’m much less likely to get published because the market is sort of saturated right now and agents must be sick of seeing YA.

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  17. pooks says:

    Meyer didn’t know she was writing the Next Big Thing when she wrote Twilight. She just had a passion and a dream.

    Nice post.

  18. Tyhitia says:

    I received some awesome advice from published authors, and they almost all said to “write what you love, and don’t write for trends.” And I don’t. I’ve always been a fan and a writer of horror, fantasy, and a little sci-fi. And I’ll stick to what I love, whether it makes me a published author or not. :) Well, see what happens.

  19. Steampunk Hero says:

    All I hear about on twitter anymore is how the hot new Dystopian is the next Hunger Games, and everybody is excited about that fact.

    Kristin Laughtin is right on the money. Not many agents seem excited about bucking the trends, so it’s easy to see why few writers would feel the need to do so, either. I keep hearing “Don’t write to the trend – write a fresh story!” while the undercurrent seems to be, “…but if you could make it a (dystopian or paranormal romance), that would be great.” There’s totally a double standard in writing advice from agents these days.

    I also agree with pooks’s sentiment: sometimes, writing what you love means you are writing within a trend.

    As long as you’re writing a good book, what should that matter?

  20. Here’s something I think, from reading “new deals” at publisher’s lunch, might a trend you didn’t mention. Trilogies. I wonder what happend to series in some areas of fiction and why the dew is off that rose. Do publishers not have the patience to do a series any more.. wait three or four years for the pofit, unless they buy three books to begin with? I certainly don’t know. Solely as a reader, it is easier for me to start reading a series than it is to start reading a trilogy and mentally commit to three books by agreeing to reading the first one.

    It’s like being asked out for the first time by someone who asks for three dates instead of one. Well, you know, forty dates is on my mind, if it works out. If it doesn’t, that’s what bathroom windows are for.

  21. Annie says:

    Thank you. That was spot on and exactly what writing should be – authenticity and enthusiasm. I will make sure my book is full of both of these.

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  23. Jason says:

    So stop worrying about trends. Write the books you need to write. Authenticity and enthusiasm are priceless.

    This is absurd.

    First, one agent’s trendy knockoff is another’s authentic innovation. There is no consistency or objectivity in this area.

    Meyer’s vampire books were (in my opinion) directly inspired by season two of Buffy… but that fact is quite lost on her audience, most of which never watched Buffy.

    Second, literary agents aren’t literary and they aren’t agents. They are salesmen, and they want what all salesmen want: something that’s easy to sell.

    This being the case, forget incest-filled Gothic novels. Instead, give any “literary agent” a whiff of a memoir to be ghostwritten for Sarah Palin six months from now.

    I predict it will get snapped up in a blue blur, never mind the fact that not a word of it exists yet and therefore its merit can’t possibly be judged. What matters is the certain, easy, and lucrative sale.

    Agents who encourage new writers to “be authentic” or “write the books you need to write” are just wasting everybody’s time.

  24. I co-sign with JASON (Mar.19th 2011)!

    When I read these types of blogs by agents I often find myself wondering “why” they’re complaining about too many YA paranormal stuff, zombies,vampires, wolves, ect. Or they complain about paranormal romance, and now it sounds like YA dystopian is going to be the next complaint. I don’t understand because…why would you be complaining about what is SELLING? I thought you would be happy. I liked Flowers In The Attic, too, but I don’t need to be an agent to know the book came out in a time when incest and stuff was SHOCKING. Not anymore. I think to encourage a writer to tackle something like that now …is silly…and weird, really weird. Why would an agent suggest that, knowing the market these days?

    I’ve been reading blogs like these and kinda enjoyed ’em a little, but some of the messages are confusing, like the others said: “We need something that SELLS”/”Write from your HEART”. I guess the trick is to find a balance?

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