One of the most popular past-times at writers conferences is discussing the latest trends in publishing. People want to know what genres are hot, what’s not, and who should be arrested by the book police.
Of course we agents answer the question dutifully — they do, after all, want to appear as if they know what in the heck they’re doing.
But here’s the thing about “what’s hot/what’s not” trends in the publishing industry: they’re kind of pointless to worry about.
Let’s say, for instance, that today you looked at Publisher’s Marketplace and saw that lots of books have been sold about monkeys. Monkey fiction, monkey nonfiction, monkey memoir and, of course, monkey romance. You go to a Writer’s Conference and hear an agent say, “I’m looking for historical fiction, narrative nonfiction.. oh, and monkeys are really hot at the moment, so if you have a great monkey book come talk to me.” You think to yourself, “Hey! I should write a book about monkeys!”
So you sit down to write the book and a year later you have a finished monkey manuscript. Then you try and find an agent, and that takes six months. Then your agent sends around your monkey manuscript to publishers, and that takes another couple of months. Your book comes out a year later. That’s THREE YEARS from when you first heard monkeys are hot. Three years for people to get really really tired of monkeys. And, wouldn’t you know it, by the time your book comes out monkeys are like so totally over and everyone wants books about jackrabbits.
If you try and write your book according to trends you’re playing a risky game. It could be that the industry has moved on to the next thing by the time you’ve even completed your manuscript. So don’t worry about the fads and don’t follow the trends.
You know certain genres are going to be around for a while — science fiction as a whole isn’t going anywhere, spies and thrillers are going to be around, fantasy will be around. Within those genres though, and when you’re choosing plots and characters, don’t take your cue from the hot new thing of the moment.
Be original, write what you love. Who knows, maybe you’ll have the book that starts the next new trend. A monkey trend.
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Art: The Æsop for Children illustrated by Milo Winter