Let me quickly say: I don’t believe any writer should be following trends. That’s not what this post is about. However, I do believe that writers who want to get published traditionally need to have their eyes open to what the market is doing.
Why You Don’t Follow Trends
- Trends are something that no one can predict–especially when they end and you don’t want to be on the tail end of something when the booksellers are no longer stocking that “thing.”
- Trends are established years before anyone knows about them. With the year(s) of writing, contract negotiation, and production, by the time a book comes out it’s either starting a trend or with a trend that you have no idea about until it’s on the market. Therefore, trends are started 2 years prior.
- Following a trend is a quick way to date yourself and risk unoriginality.
- Agents aren’t looking for trend followers; we’re looking for writers who have something unique to say about the world, even if that type/genre of story has been done before (romance, historical etc).
Why You Follow The Market
- To me, follow the market means reading industry news sites, going to the bookstore a lot, talking to librarians and booksellers, and/or joining a book club. Plus, reading a ton!
- Write for the market means to have your eyes and ears open to what’s selling and what people want to read. Do your own market research as I mentioned above.
- The market is the group of people that would potentially buy your book. Do you know who they are?
- The marketplace is where your book is sold. Do you know which books are being chosen as “staff picks” and “recommended reads”?
Why You Still Write For You
- If you write for trends, are you really writing for you? Is being a follower going to be the thing that gets you up in the morning? Is chasing something the right way to hone your craft?
- Usually, most writers I know, get excited when they’re doing something special to them. Something that’s unique to them.
At the end of the day, the special books are the ones that stand out in the market and start trends. The books that are well-crafted and speak to people like few books do. So, the bottom line is that you have to write for you because you have to work on that craft. You can’t move readers until you’ve understood how to exercise your talent.
For more on this, read a great interview between editor Lee Boudreaux and LitHub.
Q: How do you conduct your “market research” as a writer?
There are no magic formulas that agents are hiding from writers. Or secrets that published authors are hiding from unpublished authors. But there are a few things that can act like a key to unlock potential. I believe these three things are all it takes to make it in this business.
Time: Books don’t write themselves. Last week I asked people if they have a writing schedule. It was unanimous that while some people have strict schedules (up at 5am to write!) everyone believed you have to find a way to get the words on the page at a regular basis. While most people thought that a writer doesn’t have to write everyday to be a writer, they DO need to buckle down to get it done.
Fear: No matter how important it is to be fearless in your writing, you’re always chasing your fears away. For most writers, they never disappear. I encourage writers to write from a place of questions, not answers. What scares you about human nature? How can you persevere through those fears to write something meaningful? What makes you feel uncomfortable? Writers are also really good at wanting to improve with each book. Writing a thoughtful novel isn’t easy! If it was easy everyone would be doing it. Learning how to dig deep and think honestly about humanity and morality is the grit it takes to bring your writing to the next level.
Talent: It’s inherent, but it can also be taught to a certain extent. It’s also something unique that all published writers find their own way to discovering: their voice and their talent. Watch this video from Ira Glass on how you have to get through those early first ideas or first drafts to get to the raw talent on the other side…
Q: What do you think of these three tenets? What would you add?
Knowing how to categorize your work is one of the most important skills a writer needs to know–especially while querying. Here’s an infographic to help. It’s not perfect and there are many places that writers won’t fit into and that doesn’t mean it’s not a marketable book. However, learning how to market yourself starts with knowing where your book stands and where it will sit on bookshelves.
The number of pitches, synopses or opening lines I’ve seen like this is outstanding:
[Your character’s] life was simple, quiet and perfect…until it wasn’t.
I’m being dramatic, but perfection as a default is firstly boring, and secondly I want to know where the humanity is, not the godliness.
Think about these tips instead:
- I assume that we’re meeting your character at an interesting time in their life (or why else would you be starting the book here?): so get to telling us about it! Cut your opening line about perfection and ask yourself the tough questions: what is it the deep-rooted source of conflict for your troubled character.
- Instead of your character being perfect (because no one is!) tell me about their background in struggle. For example: what made them blind to asking questions about their life or blind to the conflict that’s about to come in the next 80k words? What makes THIS moment the moment when things changed?
- Just like people, we can’t assume characters had no life before we meet them. Your characters should feel so rich that they had lives before we start to read about them on the page.
- If you think your character’s life was perfect before the (real or metaphorical) asteroid hit their world then I don’t believe you’re thinking deeply enough about their backstory.
- Challenge yourself to think about your characters as living before and after the book is done. If you need help, use this blog post: 30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character. Or this funny one.