Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chasing the Trend

Chasing the trend

How many times have you heard a beginning writer ask the questions: What genre should I be writing?  What is the hot trend in publishing? 

Of course, both of those questions are meaningless.  Take the first one.  What genre should you be writing?  My answers are also questions. What genre do you like to write?   What genre are you comfortable in?  What genre do you like to read?  

If you don’t like a genre, why write in it, hot or not?  This is not an assignment or a punishment.  Now, if a publisher gave you an assignment, that would be a different story.  If you liked the publisher, liked the arrangements, had the time, then take the assignment, cash the check, be happy with that genre.

I know a writer who frequently gets a call from an editor who says, “I need a 40,000 word book on such-and-such a topic.”  My friend considers the topic and accepts it or not. 

 But that’s non-fiction.  We’re talking about fiction today.

The second question is frequently asked of editors, agents and publishers at writers’ conferences. What’s the hot trend?  One problem with this is timing.  For you to write a book, get is polished, submitted, and accepted is going to take a year.  Then, with most publishers it is another year or more before it’s in print.  So, you’re looking at two years or more down the road.  Today’s hot item might be absolutely dead by that time.

You have to write what you like to write.  You have to write what you are comfortable writing.  You have to write in some area that you know a little about, or at least be willing to do the research necessary to find what you need to know. 

Write a great book, and you set the trend.

There were no techno-thrillers when Tom Clancy wrote The Hunt for Red October. He made the trend with a great book.  J.K. Rowling didn’t decide that the trend was witches and magic. But she did okay, even though a dozen publishers turned down the first book before it found a home. And certainly there was no trend for Jeff Kinney to follow when he wrote The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.   He made the trend, first by posting daily entries on his website, gaining millions of readers.  There are now seven books and three movies.   His fourth book was the bestselling book of 2009.  Now the lay down for his books is in the millions.

They didn’t look for the trend.  They made the trend.

Now, you might well say you don’t have such a great idea as Clancy or Rowling or Kinney had.  Probably true.  But you have an idea for a book.  Make it the best book you can.  Make the characters memorable.  That’s the theme of my book Character Development: the Heartbeat of the Novel, soon to be released by Oak Tree Press.  Memorable characters make great books.  People will talk about memorable characters, and word of mouth is your best advertising. 

So, if you’re looking for a trend, let the trend be writing a great book with memorable characters.  That’s a trend that will be around forever.

 James R. (Jim) Callan




D.R. Ransdell said...

As a writing teacher, I too have often fielded the question of "what genre should I write in?" To me that's sort of like saying, gosh, I'd kind of like to play in a symphony, but I don't know which instrument I might like to play.

While some writers can't decide on a genre because they love different genres and can't stand to pigeonhole themselves, people who are truly unsure of which genre to approach might consider some famous words of Lawrence Block. In a column he wrote years ago for Writer's Digest, he said that "if you want to write mysteries, read 500 first." The same goes for any genre.

So, that beginning writer should ask him or herself: do I WANT to read 500 romances (etc.)? If so, then the answer is easy.

Julie Luek said...

I spent last year writing a book of a genre and style I would never read. Now how ironic is that? The idea wasn't bad, but my heart just didn't feel the joy of it. A year and 300+ pages later I put it down, did a lot of introspection and am striving to follow my heart more. I asked myself:

What do I like to read?
Where do my writing talents lie?

The caution-- it's easy to stay in our comfort zone when answering these questions and it's OK to try genres and styles outside our norm.

Thought-provoking article.

Sally Carpenter said...

You're absolutely right--write you you love. Some people crank out the flavor-of-the-month books but it's formula fiction with no soul. I started my own trend with a different kind of amateur sleuth and readers love the book. Writers should follow their heart, not the marketplace which, in the day of e-books, can change in an instant.

Douglas Danielson said...

Great advice, Jim. Write what you know and are excited about. If you are a good writer, the rest will follow. ‘Can’t wait to hear you at the Puerto Vallarta Writers Conference in February. Billie Johnson will be there too. Oak Tree Press will be well represented.

James R. (Jim) Callan said...

Fifty seems a bit tall, but D.R. Ransdell and Julie and Sally and Doug are absolutely right. You need to write what you like - like to read, like to write. If you aren't happy doing it, how can you expect the reader to be happy reading it.
I'm looking forward to seeing Doug and Billie at the Puerto VallartaWriters ' Conference.

Holli said...

I remember in an undergrad fiction writing class years ago a student telling the teacher he wasn't sure what he wanted to write yet, because he wanted to see what was going to be hot. The teacher told him he might want to consider dropping the class because he wasn't actually a writer.

I don't know if I would have been that harsh, but it seems if you love writing, you would already know what you enjoy writing. Not that writers can't evolve or expand or even be exceptionally talented in different genres, but I don't think of writing as a conscious choice.

Lorna Collins - said...

I am faced with a huge issue: I write in several genres. My latest book defies classification. It's a fantasy/mystery/romance. Unfortunately it contains all of these but isn't primarily any of them. My other books are nonfiction/memoir, cozy mystery, and sweet romance. We end up being our brand.

Waiting to see what the next big thing will be seems self-destructive.

Write what you love, and maybe someone else will love it, too.

James R. Callan said...

Amen, Lorna. Write what you love. If writing is a pain to you, it likely will be a pain to the reader as well.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I started writing children's stories for my grandchildren and found I enjoyed it. Since then I have become more and more interested in kidlit, reading other author's work and collecting children's stories from other countries that are published in English. I may decide to explore writing for older children but for now, writing for youngsters up to the age of eight is keeping me busy. Beryl