Monday, September 24, 2007

Writing to Trends

Let me preface this email by saying that I have tried repeatedly to read a Harry Potter novel . . . and couldn't . . . I know, I know . . . and just recently I picked up the third volume of Stephanie Meyer's vampire/werewolf trilogy, Eclipse . . . do I feel the page-turning need to burn through 625 pages of coming-of-age angst . . . not really . . . although I know these books are sweeping the marketplace, movie deals, bestseller lists . . . I am at odds. As an adult fiction writer should I be addressing my ideas and/or creativity and toning down my writing to attract this obviously viable market. I remember feeling so "adult" when I slipped up the hidden stairway at my local library to steal glances at adult literature when I was nine and ten years old. This felt special to me. Catch 22, Midnight Cowboy and Such Good Friends were read before the age of twelve (I know, I'm dating myself), secretively, I might add, but devoured. There was never a YA section in my library, only a children's section, which I quickly grew out of. Just curious if others are feeling the same way?

From an agent’s perspective I do think I can understand your feelings. I read the first two Harry Potter books and really enjoyed them, but I haven’t yet read the rest and they didn’t inspire me to go and search for the next J. K. Rowling (although her sales should).

I was asked by a client recently if I would represent young adult and why I don’t. My answer was that if a client approached me with a YA novel, I would be willing to take a look and let her know honestly if it was something I thought I could sell, but really, I’m not sure I would be the best agent for YA primarily because, like you, I didn’t read commercial YA. I stuck to the classics. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a constant companion and I wanted nothing more than to be Betsy from the Maud Hart Lovelace series. Anne of Green Gables was my hero (and yes, all of them were writers) and to this day I think A Wrinkle in Time is one of the best books written. I suspect that someday soon Harry Potter will join these heroines as a classic children’s book and I do embrace that, but I don’t think that because YA is so hot right now I need to jump on that bandwagon. Based on my reading preferences and what I really love, I don’t think it’s a band I belong with. This is a trend that feels really hot right now, but chasing this market is no different than chasing any other market. It’s never going to work if you don’t believe in it.

But I don’t think you really wanted to know what an agent thought with this question, so I’ll put it out to the rest of you. Does the hot Harry Potter trend make you feel like you should jump on the Hogwart train or are there other trends or other things happening in the industry that are making you question your own ideas and creativity?



Anonymous said...

wow, am I first? kewl.

Anyway, when my paranormal romance failed to land me representation(despite multiple requests for material), the experience made me take a hard look at what I wanted to write next, since without really meaning to I had written to a trend.

When I dug into my idea box, I extracted an idea I'd had for several years, added a romance, and voila, I ended up writing a science fiction romance. Very few authors are doing SFR right now (Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, and Susan Kearney seem to be the main ones--and I'm talking about a 50-50 split, not SF with romantic elements), so there's a bandwagon I'd be honored to join.

My hope is that this time, I'm anticipating reader interest in this romance subgenre rather than playing catch up. SFR may not become a trend, but even as just a reader, I'd like to see more books published in this category.

One agent has already requested a full. So we'll see.


Anonymous said...

As with trying to find the right agent who is going to be as enthusiastic about my work as I am, the same subjectivity applies to readers. Someone who has bookshelves full of vampire novels and the memoirs of Paris Hilton sitting on the nightstand, probably isn’t going to find my writing entertaining in the least. And that’s fine. I just need to find the agent who sees the potential for my work and knows there are readers out there who want the kind of books I write. It is daunting though, when I know people enjoy my work but there are so many agents that go with the trends and what seems to be ‘in’. Not to take away from the vampire novels and fantasy some people enjoy, but it seems the rest of us, or me at least, have a harder time getting in the door if there isn’t some sort of ‘trendy hook’ in our work.

I have self-published, and the reviews I get from people I don’t know are raving and wonderful. One reader said she was so into one of my books that she had it open on the seat in her car and read it at stop lights. This tells me I’m doing something right, and yet there isn’t anything paranormal in it. No vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters (which I honestly don’t even know what they are except I saw a cover once and the explanation led me to believe these are things that take life, such as a statue or something). I’m sorry, and again, I don’t want to take away from these types of books for some people do find them enjoyable, and maybe it’s just that I’ve never read one, but I’m the type of person who wants something a little more down to earth. Something at least close to reality. I just can’t get into a love story with a statue. Just doesn’t seem right to me. Then again, that’s just me.

I could probably try to jump on the Hogwart train but they’d surely just throw me off. I wouldn’t be too good at that genre because I don’t enjoy reading that type of material, so surely I wouldn’t enjoy writing it.

And I’m glad there are others out there and I’m not the only one who just doesn’t get it sometimes.

Kate Douglas said...

In a nutshell, when I quit writing "to trends" and wrote a book I wanted to read, my agent liked it and so did an editor. I'm currently working on the 13th story of 18 contracted. It all comes down to writing what we love, because our passion shows through in a manner it never would in something we write for someone else.

thewriterslife said...

Not at all. Trends come and go. Everyone is out there imitating Harry Potter while the smarter ones are coming up with something more unique. I think Harry Potter just came with good timing. I think the world was ready for it. There was not another book out there like it and Rowling really had a good idea and ran with it. I'm Harry Potter'd out. Actually, I never read any of them, but I did see the movie which I thought was pretty good. I pity agents. Looking for the next best thing and the majority is people imitating what's been done before. I give you my kudos. ;o)

Beverley Kendall said...

Wow, I'm not the only one falling all over Harry Potter and every fantasy type children's movie coming out? What a relief! But in the genre I currently write in (historical), I see the same thing going on. Paranormal is really hot. I've tried numerous times to read one and I just am not interested in those types of books. Intrigue and suspense elements (you know, where there is a very explicit external GMC about saving orphans, spying for the Crown etc)is something else I rather not have in my romance novels, but are hugely popular with the masses. I really just love a romance story which is all about emotions and internal conflict (for the most part) and unfortunately for me, those are the kinds of stories seem harder to find on the shelves of the bookstores. They are also the ones I love to write. If I tried to write what's popular right now, the book wouldn't have my heart in it, so I won't. I'll keep writing the kinds of books I love to read.

bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bob said...

After writing the book I wanted to write and being in the process of trying to sell it, I began to wonder if I should have put a vampire or a real live dead person in it.

I didn't but still had that fleeting feeling that maybe I should have.

I agree write the book you want to write and don't worry about the trends, sometimes easier said than done though.

Mark Terry said...

Frankly, I don't chase trends... I chase any damn thing I read... or I'm tempted to.

I'm always reading something and thinking... that was fun, I should write something like that. Even though I seem to already have a "Mark Terry Type Book."

I was inspired enough by Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson YA novels that I decided to try to write a YA fantasy novel. It started as a lark. Then my 13-year-old started reading over my shoulder and wanted me to keep going. Then I sent it to my agent and she loved it. Then we threw it out to the big bad world of publishing and it's been a hard sell. Why? What does the BBW of P have to say?

YA fantasy is a crowded market and, blah, blah, blah...

I had a hell of a good time writing it and I'd love to write the follow-up, but who knows?

What did Shakespeare say? To thine own self be true?

kris said...

I think there's a distinction to be made between writing something similar to whatever, just because it's hot, and writing something similar because reading the original work has awakened you to new possibilities. I'm sure many of us have experienced that moment when we pick up a book and say, WOW! You mean people write this stuff? I thought I was the only one who was into shapeshifting YA alien nuns! So sometimes it's not a matter jumping on a trend. It's a matter of having new possibilities and ideas and options opened up to you, just because your eyes were opened.

Anonymous said...

Every single day, I see MS descriptions on Publisher's Marketplace and wonder who is going to buy half the books being sold these days. I just don't get the appeal of most of them, to be honest. Hopefully good stories told well will never go out of style. At the same time, those of us who write contemporaries can only hope that SOMEDAY SOON werewolves and vampires will run their course!

Anonymous said...

I think paranormal is with us to stay this time, but it will evolve into a more mainstream-less cartoonish fixture.

I love vampires and other creatures, but some of the books that are released in the wake of a trend (i.e., any successful run of books) are just dumb. They definitely seem to have been published in response to demand, versus a true book of an author's heart.

The trend stops when the dumb books outnumber the good books and readers stop reading. It happened with chick lit, and it will happen with paranormals.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll stick up for Harry Potter. I devoured all the books. I absolutely loved them and couldn't wait for the next one to come out. The point is, though, that's not what I write. Authors need to know their voice and their strengths. There's nothing wrong with reading anything that is in print, but know who you are when you sit down at that keyboard.

Anonymous said...

As a published YA author I have no interest in following trends. I did read Stephenie Meyer's vampire triology to see what the fuss was about, and felt like they were great fun. But as a writer I like contemporary and why write something if your heart isn't in it? Plus, isn't the "trend" already over by the time that type of bestselling triolgy gets to book number three?

What irks me lately, though, is other writers who've never given YA a second glance and now all the sudden "have to write YA" because its "HOT". I won't name the auhor, but he's always got an adult bestseller out there, which are nowadays "co-writen" by others. And the YA section of bookstores are now piled high with his "bestseller YA."

Ewww. Ick. What lucky, lucky readers those thirteen year-olds are! Gag.

Kids deserve the best, not a greedy writer who is trying to make a buck off them.

Stephenie Meyer more than likely wrote her vampire books out of her own passion. To take that purity and skew it around to try and cash in on someone else's orignial idea makes my skin crawl.

Anonymous said...


I also need to say thank you for not jumping on the YA bandwagon just becasue its "hot."

The YA market right now has more writers trying to get into it than ever before and YA writer's don't need agents that are only putting a toe in the water because it's a hot market.

What happens to these writers when, after their new agent has been rejected by the "two" YA editors they know?

The writer gets screwed, that's what. I can't imagine the time it takes for agents to cultivate relationships with different editors -- to think you should take on YA writers because everyone else is -- that is exactly the kind of agent YA writers don't need.

Anonymous said...

I guess I never thought of YA as a trend but rather as an underdeveloped market that is finally getting the spotlight it deserves. Yes, I think that means that a bunch of authors are looking to jump in, but the same thing happens with romance and SciFi: people who think it's easier to start a writing career in one genre or another.

I don't think that anyone should writing in a genre or sub-genre they don't love -- I think it's clear in their writing that they don't love it or get it and it's hard to sell a book that way. At the same time, as someone writing YA, I think it's very important that I read the bestsellers, even if it isn't a book that floats my boat, to see what's floating other readers' boats.

Gina Black said...

There wasn't any YA when I was a YA. I'm not sure I see HP as a trend as much as a series that opened up a demographic. My son was just the right age as the HP stories began to come out. Harry and the gang have gone through adolescence with him. (In fact, my boy remarked one day that he was lucky to grow up with HP; this made me laugh because I can remember thinking how lucky I was to grow up with the Beatles, but I digress.)

At any rate, I'm now writing a YA with lite paranormal elements (that I can't sub to BookEnds, more's the pity) but I don't think it has anything to do with the HP bandwagon. I think it has more to do with having adolescents in my life and remembering my own adolescence, and having a story come to me fairly whole and needing to write it out. At the same time, I'm grateful for the market for YA, and it's very possible that I would not have pursued writing this book had the marketplace not been so hot, hot, hot.

Anonymous said...

I am a long time reader, and more importantly, book BUYER. I have bought fewer books this year than ever before.

In the romance genre, it seems every author I love has stopped publishing. Vampires aren't my thing. Neither are poorly researched historicals full of anachronistic howlers and "Regency" dialog that would fit right in on "Desperate Housewives."

I'm told that editors and agents are trying to appeal to a younger reader (I'm 59), but I'M NOT DEAD YET!

More importantly, I and my friends have much more time and disposable income to invest in books than do the 20-somethings that the publishers seem to be pursuing.

Will editors ever wise up to the fact that one reason for declining book sales is that the trend chasing has gotten out of control?

I have another 30 years of book buying ahead of me. My mom still reads 2 or 3 books a week at 92.

If someone would discover the "trend" of publishing big fat delicious reads for us long-time readers, they might get a very nice surprise!

Anonymous said...

Hey Heather,

I'm with you! I love SFR, and there isn't nearly enough of it, which is why I'm writing it too. LOL

I've got one now that I really believe heart and soul in. That is a fantastic thing, because it is a great story, and I'm glad to hear there are others like me who want to see more of it on the shelves.

As for HP, I love the series and if anything it forced me away from YA because I feel like Rowling took a great idea, and I couldn't possibly do better. I guess I have to let her have it.


Diana Peterfreund said...

I think if you're trying to write HP or Twilight because of sales, it's going to show. As another poster said, Rowling and Meyer write to THEIR passion. And yes, I do get frustrated with all these writers who think they are going to write YA as the hot new trend.

I also take issue with the idea that modern YA is NOT the grandchild of A Wrinkle in Time and Anne of Green Gables. Those books pretty much formed the core of my YA reading, along with classics by Louisa May Alcott, etc. Catcher in teh Rye? Please -- it doesn't get much more YA than that, Read King Dork or Looking for Alaska or Speak or How I Live Now and see what kind of amazing, incredible, mind-blowing work is available in the YA field right now.

I worked for two years to break into the YA market, and rewrote my book half a dozen times because I believed in the story so strongly. It's coming out in 2009.

Anonymous said...

The really smart people on Wall Street don't chase the market. They invest on the basis of sound fundamentals and their own knowledge.

I think that's a good way for writers to behave as well.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely frustrating to see writers jump on the YA bandwagon because it's hot...but it's rare that they sell. It comes when they've already built a name for themselves elsewhere.

As for those of us just starting out, as so many have already said, we write what we love to read. I love HP, but not TWILIGHT. I don't 'do' urban fantasy at all -- and yeah, I've had friends say, "Have you thought about adding such-and-such element to your story?" But why would I write something that I wouldn't even pick up and read?

I write fantasy/thriller type stories, and whether or not there's a strong market for that, that's what I love :)

Christie Craig said...


It's a great debate subject because everyone has their own thoughts. I'm not sure there is one right or one wrong answer. I think it differs from person to person. Some people can simply push their voices to fit more than one genre easier than others.

I think the best plan, the ideal, is that we should write to our own voice. If something truely feels forced, it probably will sound forced. But that said, is it wrong to learn to sing a new song? Perhaps practice singing in a different key? I don't think so, and I think it can be done.

In my years of working as a freelance writer, to earn a living I had to learn to take my voice and write for a varying types of magazines. In other words, I found way to make my own style/voice fit in different tones.

I've published in the down-home folksy magazines. I've published in the high brow artsy publications. I wrote a humor column for two years, I've published five bring-a-tear-to-your-eye stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Was I more comfortable writing in one tone than the other? Yes. But did it stop me from being successful in that arena? No.

I think some people get lost in the idea that writing is more art than craft. That you can only write to your muse. Yes, I know writing is an art. I believe it is best when it comes from within, straight from your heart to the paper. But is painting, photography, and sculpting not an art? And when an artist of these types of mediums are asked to produce pieces outside their original master pieces, they can do it. They may not want to do it. They may not be totally inspired to do it. But their talents and knowledge of the craft will allow to do it and they can do it well.

How many of the painting that we marvel at in museums, how many of the churches with painted ceilings that we study for inspiration were done for pay or commissioned?

That's my two cents.


April said...

I didn't even know there were trends. I mean, I know all about the Harry Potter books though I have no interest in reading them. That isn't my style, so why would I write about it just because it's a trend? I want to write something that I would enjoy writing - something I would enjoy reading if I found it on a book shelf. I love to write, but not something that I don't like. Ever try to write an essay for your English teacher on a topic that you either hate or don't agree with? It's just like that.

Anonymous said...

Okay. So let's just say a client presents you with a YA that's totally publishable, but just not up your alley. What's your policy? Do you let her know that she's free to find other representation for her YA work? Do you help her with that? What's the industry standard policy for those clients who write multiple genres?

Aimlesswriter said...

Harry Potter was never really my kind of book but i think there is always a minute of "Why didn't I think of that first?" when you see a hot trend. You know you COULD do it but you didn't/won't and I think its for the passion. You, Jessica, don't feel the passion for the YA books so you don't handle them. I don't feel the passion of the Harry Potter theme so i'd never do my best job in that genre. The story wouldn't come from my soul.
I think it all boils down to where your passion is.

David Ebright said...

As usual - I'm the square peg in the round hole. I haven't paid attention to trends, haven't read HP, had not heard YA is 'Hot' etc. I've read several YA books only to compare with my own YA work for reading level comparison & to get an idea of which agents are representing books that fall into the same category as mine. Writing the story was easy - it flew in fact. Then came the editing & modifying - 6 maybe 8 times so far - line by line - page by page - a process that I've actually enjoyed immensely. During this 'editing' process, which is not, in my mind, 100% yet, I was struck with another idea (like a sledgehammer) & now I'm well underway with another book - this one falling into the adult suspense category. Maybe that's not a good thing??? I'm a history fanatic - living at the beach (in a town noted for being haunted no less) - so mixing threads of history & paranormal activity aginst the backdrop of 'nautical' settings makes my brain race with all kinds of ideas. I've found that I'm more critical when I edit after letting the story sit for 3 or 4 weeks & the resulting improvements become most obvious, BUT - is it a mistake to fill in that 'down time' working on another project??? Should I pick one specific genre & stick with it??? The 'stories' themselves dictated the genres but is crossing over a mistake??? This is a great blog - very informative from all sides & this post in particular was a real eye opener. I'd be interested in any feedback. Thanks all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:51 AM - I totally agree with you. I have disposable income and I love to read, but just as I'm not attracted to reality TV, I'm not interested in YA or chic lit even though many agents, especially the twenty and young thirty-somethings (not BookEnds) believe the public's taste parallels theirs.

I'm not a senior citizens yet, but I'm also not into the club scene shoe brands and the goings on in the 212. Yawn.

Give me a wonderful story, great writing and I'll read just about anything. I do want to read the Harry Potter series. Just haven't had time.

Maureen Child said...

Just my opinion, but chasing trends never pays off. By the time the trend train is well on its way, all you manage to grab hold of is the caboose! Not a good ride.

I love reading YA (Harry Potter and Twilight and many others), but I don't try to write it.

Following your passion is surely the best way to go about finding what you're meant to write.

Anonymous said...

I'm always glad to see other people who weren't caught up in the Harry Potter craze. I had to read the last one for work, and have to admit it was the best, but I am nowhere near in love with that series the way it seems the rest of the world is.

I've never set out to write anything 'trendy' it just so happened that my tastes happened to coincide with what was popular. I wrote a few paranormal books that got some agency requests but ultimately no representation, but it's been my book that I thought would be a tough sell because it is so offbeat and against trends that has agency and publisher interest. And the book I'm writing currently is against the trend, but I'm hoping when it's finished it will be just that offbeat, that fresh that it will garner attention.

Karen Duvall said...

YA is different from what it used to be. I read YA as a young teen and loved it, but the books were too short so I turned to the "forbidden" adult stuff. I know that if I'd been introduced to the YA that's out there now I'd have devoured it like candy.

Many YA books are not books for pre-high schoolers. Well, some are, obviously, like those old Goosebumps (my youngest daughter loved those things) and now Lemony Snicket. Definitely for the less mature audience. But I tell you what, the YAs that tackle serious issues teens are dealing with today are knock-out fabulous reads! And they're written far better than most of the adult books I've read recently. Sophisticated, sensitive, emotionally gripping tales that tear your heart out no matter what your age. Honest, give some of these books a try. It will change your perception of "kids" books.

There was an enlightening YA workshop at a conference I attended 2 weekends ago. It was facilitated by YA author Lynda Sandoval and Simon Pulse editor Sangheeta Meta. Wow. It was fantastic. They did an excellent job overviewing the market and read outloud some examples of new YA books. I was floored by the intensity of these stories.

Trend or not, this genre opens up some amazing possibilities for writers who are looking to reach the next level of storytelling. Go to your neighborhood bookstore and scour the shelves in the teen section. Read a few pages. Because if you think YA is kids stuff, you just might change your mind.

Stacia said...

Oh, I looved Betsy! But I wanted red ringlets just like Tacy's.

Anonymous said...

Trends develop because the powers that be in the industry have a difficult time evaluating what is in front of them.
So they go with something that feels safe and likely is a bit safe.
This is understandable human nature but isn't terribly courageous.

Anne-Marie said...

Anon 9:51, I'm with you as well! And hopefully I can find an agent that will agree that the boomer and gen-x readers are worth going after as much as younger ones.

I completely agree with writing with genuine love and passion for what you do. Everything else will show, as someone else said.

When I was a teenager, I adored Paul Zindel's "The Pigman", and Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War". I still think they are classics. I also have loved reading the HP series. However, Anne Rice's work aside, I have not been a fan of vampires and fantasy, and so would never even dream of writing anything of that genre. It would be dreadful, I think.

Anonymous said...

You have to write what you have to write--whatever it is. If you don't, what's the point of slaving away at it every single night and during your kids' naps and whenever you get a free moment? A book deal? Right. The need to write is an affliction. If you write for a trend that's where your stories will end up. And everyone knows what happens to a trend--blip.

JDuncan said...

I admit to toying around with trends. I hear what sort of thing is hot, i.e. demons, witches, vampries, or whatever, and think, "Man, if I could just write a good one of those." Easier said than done of course. What I have found in doing this, is that I inevitably don't find the story very compelling, or perhaps, like all things in writing, the timing just isn't right.

I've had several 'trendy' ideas bouncing around in my little notebook of ideas, and every so often I visit them and see what's there and what I find interesting about the story or characters, play around with it some more, and then set it aside once again. But a funny thing happened recently. After several months of lying dormant in my little notebook, sitting there as little more than an interesting setting and a fun character, the story began to speak and take shape, and suddenly, I found it compelling. I wanted to write that story.

Whether it will be 'trendy' still when it is done remains to be seen, and I can't really concern myself with that. The important thing is that I like the story and characters and want to write it. Thingd cycle around in this industry, but one thing never goes out of style. A compelling, well told story. Hopefully this will be one of those.


Anonymous said...

Sorry. I don't feel Harry Potter is a trend. It is a smashing commercial success that people are trying to emulate- and hopefully NOT trying to pitch the boy/girl wizard kid series.

Good writing is just that. Good writing. You just have to find what style/genre suits you...and create your own trends.

Vicki said...

I only read the first three HP books, but my husband and, more importantly, my son devoured them. Harry Potter was the first book my son ever WILLINGLY read.

Elementary school students are very gender conscious, and unfortunately most schools now push a gender neutral reading curriculum that left my son cold, very, very cold, to reading. Even so-called "boy" books were Goosebumps or sports-related. My son was into drama, theater, and music. Try to find a middle grade book about that directed at boys!

Though I currently write paranormal romance (more vampires & werewolves!) because of my son's reaction to HP, I've started researching middle grade books, ages 8-12, with a focus on boys. I have a new folder in my idea drawer .... a series based on my son and his best friend who met doing children's theater. Will there be a market? Maybe not, and I'm not sure I care. It's just important to me now to write it. For him.

For my son, he went from HP to the Twilight books, and the Eragon series, with a Stephanie Plum books thrown in (he heard me laughing). Now he's writing his own fantasy epic with visions of becoming another Anthony Paolini.

I'm thrilled and exited for him, and it was spurred by a boy named Harry. He wasn't a trend to my son, he was an inspiration.

Laurie Wood said...

Here's a trend I'd like to see - a return to books with more description, more depth in the writing, and more development of the plot - I'm talking about those huge doorstoppers we used to devour in our 20's; Barbara Erskines' "Lady of Hay" etc., "Forever Amber", anything by Anya Seton. No one writes books like Daphne du Maurier or Mary Stewart anymore. (JMHO!) They were rich in their descriptions, complexity, and depth of plot/characters. In this age of "get it done quick", we don't sit and read long books. Most authors I know would die before they wrote a 120,000 word book, never mind a "Clan of the Cave Bear", "Cleopatra", etc. edging in on 250,000 words.

We're supposed to be "prolific" as writers, the reading audience supposedly likes "quick reads - action-oriented", and kids don't have the attention span of a gnat anymore. I didn't read YA either growing up - my reading was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Frenchman's Creek. I'd blown through the Nancy Drew series in grade four.

Aside of writing with our passions, I'd really love to see a trend in publishing books with some length and complexity. And while historicals tend to be better in this area, I still think contemporaries could use some dipping in a "literary" approach to wordsmithing.

Okay, no tomatoes, plse! :)