This week we're discussing trends and how they may or may not influence what you write.  We've all heard the advice that you shouldn't write to trends, but then we've also seen the PW announcement for yet another big deal in a hot area of the market.  And it's so easy to think, why not us?  And, it's hard not to be influenced by market factors when choosing what to write next. 

Fair warning:  I don't have the answer to this dilemma.  I understand both sides of the equation and I think there are pros and cons to each.  I've written to a trend.  I've tried to avoid trends.  I've come up with what I thought was a wholly original idea, only to be told that it felt too much like another book or was not commercial enough.  Ultimately, I've decided to try to strike a balance by not trying to write to a specific trend, but not completely ignoring the market either. 

Your mileage may vary.  The decision to write (or not) to a particular trend is something that only you can decide.  The purpose of this post is not to tell you what you should do, but to give you some things to think about that might help you make your own decision.  Keep in mind that the opinions expressed are my own, and are based on my limited observations and not on any real data.

Trends are like Ponzi schemes:  There is only room for a handful of books at the top of a trend.  As more and more similar-sounding books hit the market, there is a law of diminishing returns.  I like to think of trends as pyramid schemes with a few blockbusters at the top, a larger number of strong to moderate sellers below it, and a LOT of under performers at the bottom.   If your book goes to market early, just as the trend is catching fire, you have a better chance of success.  The later you are to the trend, the more likely your book will end up in the bottom of the pyramid.
The race to market leads to a lot of sales: When one or two books do really well in a particular space, and a trend starts to really take off, there's a kind of feeding frenzy that occurs.  Every publisher wants to snatch a piece of the pie while it's hot.  The result is that a lot of similar books get bought and published in a short period of time.   A writer can certainly benefit from the frenzy.   But the downside is that this kind of frenzy eventually results in a diluted market.

A trend leads to a diluted market: When a lot of books in a similar vein are published at once, it becomes more difficult for readers to find your book.   If your book looks and sounds like fifty other books that came out in the last six months, how do you get readers' attention? Your book may be better than 90% of what's already out there, but it doesn't matter if no one finds it.  The race to market can also lead to lower quality of books as publishers try to get their books out before the market is too saturated. 

Trends lead to comparisons:  Sometimes comparisons are a good thing- a publisher knows exactly who your target market is and how to position your book.  Sometimes comparisons are a bad thing- especially if readers feel like your book is too similar to a book that is very popular.  The later you are to a trend (and keep in mind that publishers buy books 2 years prior to publication) the more likely it is that your book will feel derivative- not because you tried to write a book like X- but because there are so many books in your subgenre that there are bound to be similar elements in other books.

Trends lead to reader fatigue: Readers get bored with seeing the same kinds of books over and over again.  When you write to a trend, it can become more difficult, not easier, to catch the eye of an agent, editor or reader.  I had a friend who couldn't get an agent to even look at a funny and well-written vampire book.  She was told there was no market for it, because editors were openly saying NO MORE. 

Trends end:  All trends eventually end.  This is the eventual by-product of reader fatigue.  Readers want to discover the next  big thing.  And who can blame them.  As consumers, we don't want to feel like we're being sold the same product over and over again.  We want something new, something fresh.  So do editors.  When a market gets really over-saturated, the pendulum can swing so far in the other direction that even an excellent book with a new spin can't get read.  No one can predict how long a trend will last.  But with digital publishing gaining a larger marketshare, publishing is moving at faster speeds than ever before.  I suspect that trends will have a shorter shelf life- not longer, as the saturation point hits faster.

I am not anti-trends by any means.  Trends are awesome.  They sell a lot of books.  Like so much of publishing, there's a lot of luck and serendipitous timing involved.  Selling the right book at the right time is not an exact science, or any science at all, really.  And, I think it's natural to be influenced by the market, by books we love, and by concepts that tap into a community consciousness.   But I've decided that it's ultimately more important to discover what's unique about my own work, my own voice, and write a book that comes from my own heart, whether it fits into a market trend or not.

And then write another one.

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