Writing to Trend: Should You? Can You?
I’m not exactly sure what started it, but social media was a flurry of “I hope vampires come back” recently. Some people were there expounding on how werewolves are in. Some people were bemoaning the lack of vampires in literature right now. Apparently, we’ve all been too shy to touch them since Twilight ended however long ago now.
We all know there are “trends” in publishing: A little while ago, it was vampires. Then it was werewolves. The zombie obsession has been going on long enough that we’re all pretty sick of it. We’re all jaded with dystopian futures (I mean, we seem to live in one now, so there’s that). People are wondering what the next trend is—I’ve heard a lot of “I hope it’s not mummies, that would be lame.”
We can talk about the trends to Scandinavian thrillers and mysteries, or even just Scandinavian literature at all. They all seem to have titles like “The Person Who Did a Thing,” which probably goes back to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Another one was The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed out a Window and Disappeared. The book club in my building is reading one right now: A Man Called Ove.
Erotic novels were briefly a thing, following on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. The long and short of this is trends do happen in publishing.
The Question for Writers
Out of this comes an interesting question for writers: Should you try writing to trend? If you’re writing a horror novel about the creature of the lake, but zombies are hot, do you suddenly rework your book to feature a zombie apocalypse?
The answer should be a resounding “no.”
Let’s consider the evidence for doing this first. You’re hoping to sell your manuscript. You know that this genre or this kind of storyline is a “trend” right now. After Fifty Shades of Grey blew up, everyone was churning out erotica in hopes of striking it rich. (Not me; I’ve been writing porn for ages, people, way before E.L. James took it into her head to pen some badfic.)
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy inspired a trend toward erotic fiction in publishing for a little while.
If you’re writing to trend, it may seem like it could up your chances of selling your novel. After all, if zombies are hot right now but your story features the passé vampire, most publishers and agents are going to take a hard pass on your manuscript. Switch it over to zombies, and they may want to reconsider that, since the market seems to want zombies. If you’re self-pubbing, you might consider this move too: you’re more likely to sell more books to an audience that is actively seeking out zombie fiction.
It Rarely Works
Here’s the problem: agents and publishers aren’t really looking for what’s “on trend” right now. They’re looking for “the next big thing.” After Fifty Shades of Grey exploded, yes, every publisher signed a few things that looked and felt like it, in hopes of tapping into the “trend.”
But immediately after that? They moved on. They started looking for the next thing—and yet they were still getting flooded with manuscripts for wannabe-Shades.
While it’s true that publishing is a conservative industry, nobody wants to be behind on the next trend. You want to discover the next trend. So if the market is already flooded with Fifty Shades of Grey and vampires and zombies, publishers have moved on. They may have more erotica or zombies in the pipeline—projects that may have been signed years ago—but the projects they’re signing now are attempts to find the next big thing. Is that mummies? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s the creature in the lake! Maybe it’s a saucy retelling of Robin Hood and King Arthur. Maybe we’ll all suddenly be into Regency era kings and queens or World War II dramas (featuring zombies, because of course).
What Goes Around, Comes Around
The vampire trend will, of course, come back around. I saw that evidenced on Twitter recently. Everyone’s sighing and bemoaning a lack of vampires! You may have missed the boat earlier, but now you’ve got a chance. Vampires are probably going to come back in a big way as people get nostalgic for them. “Man,” they sigh, “I miss vampires. Remember when you couldn’t look five feet in a bookstore without finding vampires? Those were the days.”
This is the problem in trying to write to trend: By the time you can see the trend and identify it, publishers are over it. The market is glutted; they don’t want it. So you’re better off writing the story you had in mind originally. Chances are you’re not going to convince an agent or publisher to pick up your “zombie-in-the-lake” masterpiece, and you may even shoot yourself in the foot in terms of getting the manuscript completed—that is, by changing a key element of the story to be “on trend,” you may actually hollow out other parts of the story, necessitating even more reworking or significantly weakening the story from the original version you had in mind.
So stay true to your vision. Unless your agent tells you to change your main character’s name, then totally sell out.
Why This Method Works Best
It’s tempting to write to trend. If you write quite a bit or self-publish many novels, it’s maybe not a terrible idea. If you’re just trying to get off the ground, however, it’s likely not the best route you could take.
One, writing, editing, and book production does take time. If you’re unsigned and shopping your work around, it can take even longer. You may not find someone to take up your manuscript before the trend winds down again.
That’s not to say you can’t still write an amazing vampire novel if you’ve missed the boat on the trend. If vampires are your thing, go ahead and write them! Chances are, if you’re passionate about your project, you’re going to produce a better novel–which has a better chance of getting signed than a half-hearted zombie-in-the-lake.
If you’ve already started your manuscript, don’t abandon it in favor of what’s hot right now. Stick to your guns. Write what you love. Even if it’s never trendy, there are people out there who love it too and will appreciate your voice and your take on a trope or genre. There might only be a handful of them, but they do exist.
Besides, there always has to be an originator. There’s always a book that sets off the trend. Twilight spawned legions of vampire novels. Fifty Shades of Grey had its imitators. And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sparked interest in Scandinoir. Now the market’s shifting: some people are saying we should look to Korean thrillers.
The Best Advice for Any Writer
Stick to your guns. Write what you love. You’re going to find more pleasure in the project. You’re going to be more passionate about the project, and that will help you slog through schlepping it between agents and publishers, weather rejection notices, and even survive the editing and production process. Book-making really requires you to believe in your work. If you’re not behind it a hundred percent yourself, why should anyone else be?
If you are writing to trend, that’s great, so long as it’s something you’re passionate about. If you’re not writing to trend, that’s great too. So long as you’re writing. That’s the important part.