How to Survive a Publishing Trend Cycle, Part 2

Last time, we talked about how a publishing trend cycle works, generally speaking.

Given that snapshot, you might ask yourself:  why would anyone in their right mind try to chase the trend?

There are a number of reasons people chase a trend cycle.

For some authors who are intent on either breaking into traditional publishing, or trying to jump start a self-pub career (and perhaps quit a day job,) the decision to “cash in” on a trend might seem too tempting to ignore.

In the “race” portion of the cycle, you’ll hear about agents and editors slavering for material, offering inflated advances and often buying on proposal and the barest of partials.  Or you’ll hear about the Johnny-come-lately who had been struggling with his own writing for years, only to “bang out” a series of short novels in said hot new sub-genre…  and suddenly he’s writing full time and pulling in five figures a month.

A writer can then rationalize:  this genre isn’t too different from what I’m writing… I could totally write something that fits this… I even have some fantastic ideas that I’d love to write!

So the chase begins.

If you’re intent on diving into a trend…

There is nothing inherently “wrong” with chasing a trend cycle.  (Anything you decide to write shouldn’t come with a moral judgment, in my opinion — as long as it’s yours.)  Depending on your goal, however, there are pitfalls you need to keep in mind.

1. Research the genre. 

When a genre becomes “hot” people invariably describe it in simplistic terms.

“Chick lit?  Oh, it’s those dates-and-drink books.”

“New Adult?  That’s YA with bondage.”

“Everybody’s looking for the next Game of Thrones.”

The thing is, those are very simplistic… too much so.  If you’re perhaps thinking “oh, I have this old contemporary romance, I’ll just make the protagonists younger and thrown in some scenes at bars” you’re not writing a Chick Lit, which is really more coming-of-age or coming-of-consciousness and always about a woman’s journey, whether or not a romance is included.  If you pitch or write a novel based on the faulty assumption, you will have wasted your time.  Further, you risk writing books that are cliche and stereotypical simply because you’re not aware you’re treading well-worn paths.

Take the time to read books in the genre.  See what you enjoy, and what you wish was represented.  See if it’s something you could enjoy reading in the long haul.

2.  Respect the readers.

If you can’t enjoy the genre, and respect the readership, you have no business writing the books.  Period.  This seems self-evident, but trust me — after hearing several well-meaning writers say, “oh, you write romance?  I’ve been thinking of taking a long weekend and writing one of those, they make gobs of money,” or “the idiots that read those kind of books, I should write one and show them what real writing is,”  all I can say is…

STOP IT.

Don’t assume that the genre needs “elevating” or that the teeming masses of readers need “educating.”  Don’t assume that the people who write it are hacks, churning out crap that you could do in your sleep.  Those penmonkeys you deride might not be the most polished writers, but they often have a deep understanding of story arc, and they create an intensely emotional satisfaction with their readership.  They connect with readers on a personal level.  Ignore these facts at your own peril.

3.  The hole and the hook.

Depending on where the cycle is, you’re going to want to do two things:  satisfy the inherent qualities of the genre (thereby satisfying the readers), and differentiating yourself from the oncoming “glut of meh.”  There are going to be a lot of mediocre books out at the same time, with similar covers and book descriptions.  You want to stand out.  You want to have something that’s noteworthy, something that isn’t being addressed that would be of interest to readers of the genre.

In short, you’re looking for the hole in the market.

You don’t want to out-niche yourself, mind you: there are some sub-genres that are underrepresented  simply because the readers interested in them are too few.

For example, historical romance set in Greenland in 1927.  Not to say that it wouldn’t be fascinating, but if there’s a slew of romances set in the Roaring 20’s, odds are good they’re not looking for the experiences of a fisherman’s wife in Greenland simply because it’s, you know, still in the 20’s!  

Instead, you’d look for something with similar qualities:  in your research, you find that the key draw is the flappers, the speakeasies, the liberation, the lingo.  You’ll notice that most of them are set in New York or Chicago.  So — why not Paris?  The Lost Generation!  That would be a hole in the market.

(Note:  this is something I’d recommend for any genre, whether it’s “hot” or not.  This is the “same, but different’ thing that editors keep going on about.)

The “hook” is something memorable, something intriguing.  Ideally, something readers would talk about.  So The Hunger Games isn’t just another teen love triangle.  It’s “a story where these twenty-four kids battle to the death.”  (Yikes!)  Melissa Marr’s brilliant Wicked Lovely series is another YA paranormal with a love triangle… but if the girl chooses wrong, she’ll be condemned to being numb forever, essentially.  J.D. Robb’s In Death series isn’t just another police procedural — it’s set in the future (Also, her characters — the uber-sexy Roarke, the hard-as-nails Eve Dallas, and the entertaining secondaries, are usually what superfans love most, and speak of often.)  Jim Butcher’s Dresden files aren’t another Urban Fantasy series – it’s Buffy meets noir mystery.

You can always try to break in via a “hot” genre.

If it’s something you think you might enjoy, trending genres are good places to get discovered.  If you catch the cycle early on, you may even get the promotional benefits as a traditional publishing house “pushes” the title to booksellers and readers with additional publicity.  (I love signing on for new lines for that.)

If you don’t become a break-out-of-the-box success, and you get shaken out when the cycle closes, it’s not going to irrevocably damage your career.

If you do break out wildly, keep in mind:  you’re going to be building a readership in that genre.  Your audience will want more of the same.  You can shift gears and write other genres, but you will essentially be starting from scratch if it’s a genre that does not fulfill the same emotional satisfaction for your readers.  (See:  J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy.  She sold a good deal to her Harry Potter fandom, and gawkers who wanted to see what she’d do with something adult.  That said, she got raked over the coals and nobody’s clamoring for her next “adult” book at this point.)  

As always, your best bet is writing what you love.

I know.  It sounds trite, doesn’t it?  But ultimately, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with the novel — and with the readers who love that novel.  You may as well make your writing a home you’re comfortable living in.

Click below for some related posts:

Promote Your Book:  Lessons from Cinderella

Writers Are Not Readers

Why Genre Blends “Don’t Sell”

2 Replies to “How to Survive a Publishing Trend Cycle, Part 2”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with every word of this post. It’s so tempting to jump on the hot new genre, but it’s really important to think long-term about what it means for your writing and what direction you want to go. Trends may come and go. The core of who you are as a writer is the most valuable thing you have. If the “trend” is exciting and interesting to you, great. If not, it may be better to spend your creative energy elsewhere.

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