Chasing the Market

I was a guest speaker at the Write on the Red Cedar workshop last weekend, talking to other writers about fantasy and publishing and different aspects of the writing career … it was a fairly small group, so I ran it as more of an open Q&A. A lot of the questions were about what was hot in the market. What’s popular right now? What’s the next Big New Thing? What are agents and editors looking for? What do the kids want to read?

These are valid questions. Heck, the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency just posted an article about what sixteen American editors are looking for in 2014. It’s worth reading this sort of thing and learning what editors and agents are seeing too much of, and what they’re particularly interested in acquiring. But I think we place far too much weight on this sort of question, especially when we’re starting out.

What do publishers and agents and readers want? They want good, interesting stories.

That’s a total cop-out answer, I know. What does “good” or “interesting” mean? Was The Hunger Games the most interesting book to come out in its year? Was Twilight the best? Come on, Hines. Tell us the truth. Aren’t YA and Middle Grade hot right now, so shouldn’t we all be writing in those genres?

Okay, fine. You asked for it.

Remember, my opinion is obviously THE RIGHTEST, SMARTEST, COOLEST OPINION ON THE WHOLE INTERNET. However, I’m forced to acknowledge that plenty of authors with WRONG and UNCOOL opinions on how to build a career seem to have somehow succeeded as well, despite not doing everything exactly the way I think they should.

With that said, particularly for new writers, trying to write what’s hot probably isn’t the best way to go. For one thing, publishing is slow. For most people, it takes time to write a good book. If you publish traditionally, you’re looking at an additional few years of submitting your stuff, getting it edited and marketed, and so on, before it finally hits the bookstores. By which time you’ve totally missed the Sexy YA Were-Jaguar boat, which has now been replaced by Goblin/Leprechaun Romance. And sure, you could self-publish the book to try to speed things up a little, but you still need to write the thing. And if you’re trying to do it right, you still need to get it edited, get your cover art created, etc.

Another problem is that for most of us, the stories we write when we’re starting out are pretty derivative. We haven’t found our own voice and style. Which means if I see that Blue-Green Love: When Jig the Goblin got Lucky made the bestseller lists and decide to chase that trend, I’m a lot more likely to try to end up writing a weak imitation of that story instead of coming up with a truly new and original twist on hot goblin/leprechaun love.

My advice, for whatever it is or isn’t worth, is to write what you love. Write the kind of stories you want to read. Write things that excite you. Write what you’re passionate about. Chasing trends and writing stories you don’t care about just because you think they’re hot seems like a quick path to depression and burnout.

Goblin Quest [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] was the fourth book I ever wrote, but it was one of the first times I said screw it, I don’t care about the market, I’m just going to write something fun, something that makes me happy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Goblin Quest is in many ways the book that launched my career.

And as it turned out, monster-themed books were the Hot Trend in Germany when my goblin books came out. If I’d added David Hasselhoff to the story, I could have retired a millionaire. But even without the Hoff, I was able to ride that trend, not because of anything I had planned, but because I happened to have the right books at the right time, with an agent who could make that deal happen. It was awesome, and I’d love to catch another wave like that, but I don’t think that’s something I have a lot of control over.

My advice on writing for the market? Know what’s out there. Read what’s come before, and read what’s selling right now. Then go and write your own stories. Write something new. Tell stories that make you laugh and cry. Write the scenes that make you want to call up your best friend and say, “Holy shit, you won’t believe what I just did in this story!!!”

Those are the stories that will make you and your work stand out.

I’d love to hear other writers’ opinions on this one … even if those opinions are WRONG ;-)