Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Writing What's HOT...Or Not?

I go to a fair amount of writing conferences, science fiction conventions, and teach writing workshops. When aspiring authors ask me "what kinds of novels are editors looking for now?" or "what kinds of fiction are the hottest sellers on today's market?" I respond that there's not much point in trying to jump on the bandwagon of what is selling like hotcakes RIGHT NOW.

That's because trends can come and go quickly.

Let's suppose I decided to try and get in on the "paranormal romance" boom. (I think it's still booming...?)

I sit down and come up with an idea. Young divorcee with a child meets sexy werewolf, discovers she has the ability to tell who will die within the next 24 hours. Mix that up with an evil cabal of sorcerers who are kidnapping elderly folks out of nursing homes to use as human sacrifices. Then one morning she wakes up to find the "death aura" surrounding her little girl.

I get busy thinking, plotting, and scribbling notes. I outline it, research it, and then write three chapters and a synopsis. All of this has taken me maybe three months, maybe four, from first nibble of the idea to sending it to my agent.

(And I HAVE an agent. I don't then have to start an exhausting, frustrating agent search!)

Let's say it takes my agent three months to find a buyer. (I'm talking from the day I turn it in to the day the deal is finalized.)

Then I sit down and write the thing. Takes me five or six more months. I turn it in, and then it takes the publisher a year to publish it, which is not at all unusual.

That's two years. Will paranormal romance still be selling well? Or will it by then be a glut on the market?

What I tell my workshop students is that, as aspiring authors, they should write what's in THEM to write, and not try to write "to a market."

Usually I'm very hard-headed and practical about such things. My workshops are not about finding your muse, or how to inspire yourself, or any of that kind of thing. They're about practical skills and techniques in producing saleable genre fiction. How to create believeable characters that readers will care passionately about, how to stay productive, how to determine which POV to use within a given scene, etc.

But writing has also got to be its own reward in these highly competitive days. While it's fine to analyze what's selling and deliberately include elements that are proven favorites in your stories -- ELEMENTS THAT YOU, AS A READER, ENJOY READING -- it's a mistake for you, the aspiring author, to sit down and decide to write a hard-boiled police procedural type mystery, because those books are selling well, rather than writing a "cozy" which is what you really enjoy reading.

Or, worse, to decide to write a romance novel because that's what's selling well, rather than a high fantasy novel, which is the kind of story that you build in your head while you're scrubbing the bathroom, and devour eagerly every time a new one appears on the market.

So...even though it sounds kinda sappy, typing it out in black and white, you need to WRITE WHAT'S IN YOUR HEART.

Otherwise, it's just typing.

-Ann C. Crispin

17 comments:

Nathan Bransford said...

Amen!

Cathy in AK said...

Thank you! We've been told time and time again to see what's on the shelves, to research what's selling, and write it. You've illustrated the exact reason why we can't do that. I appreciate the moral support of writing what's inside my head, even if it isn't hot right now. Hopefully editors will be looking for something like my stories in the near future, and I'll be ready with a shiny new ms : )

Lisa Maloney said...

Great blog with a great message. I've added a link to it from my blog at http://writerinfo.blogspot.com/.

Red Pooka said...

Have to agree. I review books for a living. You can spot the ones that were written because of a trend. (All sorts of WWII romances in the last few years, for instance - note how fast they were forgotten.)

A recent book, "The Monsters of Templeton," which I gave a good review to, shouldn't have been bought, if you're following the trend model. It's very early and mid '90s in it's conceit. But the author had a fire in her belly, and took great care with every sentence. I couldn't put the damn thing down...

If you're not writing with a fire in your belly, don't bother.

p.n. elrod said...

I'll have to add yet another link to my website's FAQ writing page.

I get that trend question just as often, and I give the exact same answer ... though mine usually involves a lot of cussin'!

Thank you!

Miko said...

Excellent advice. I could not agree with your more!

Diana Castilleja said...

Have to agree too. I heard this early on and over three have watched whats on the shelves and see the wisdom in it, knowing how long it takes to put a print book out there.

You have to write what's in you right now. The market changed yesterday for trying to write for it today.

Linda said...

Several years ago, I ran across a writer who was having trouble selling her romance. When she described it, I thought it sounded like a romance novel from the 1980s--she actually called it a 'bodice ripper'! When I asked her about, she revealed that the last romance she'd read had been in the 1980s and the only reason she was writing one was because romance was hot and she thought she could sell something.

Anonymous said...

It works both ways. For some of us, self-included, the novels that beg to be written are books that agents tell us could have sold in the 1990s but not today for reasons that have to do with the dumbing down of certain genre audiences.

When over a period of three years most of my favorite "auto-buy" authors lost their contracts--authors who had been publishing for decades--and the imprint that published many of my favorite authors closed up shop, I knew that no matter how many books might be inside me begging to be written, I was out of luck.

The more editors chase the elusive young TV watching non-book buyer and abandon those of us who love books precisely because they aren't like TV and movies, the harder it is going to be on a lot of good authors to get published, no matter what they are writing about.

It seems to me sometimes that we are moving towards a mainstream fiction market that puts out ten prestige book books a year like The Kite Runner which "everyone" buys (and maybe even reads) 120 books that make it to Walmart, and not much else.

Robin Bayne said...

Great post!

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

oh, that is just fantastic advice. I couldn't agree more. :D

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, and I wish I'd seen this sooner. I spent about 5 years banging my head against the wall trying to write in a genre I didn't read, just because it seemed like the best way to "break in." Huge waste.

And, 9:58 Anonymous: I could have written your comment. The genre I was trying to write in was one I loved in the 80s but which had deteriorated since then. I foolishly thought the only problem was that the good writers had stopped writing!

Frank Baron said...

Yep.

Morgan Dempsey said...

Not related to the topic, except in passing:

I would totally read that book you described :)

(Normally I'd keep what I feel to be a useless comment to myself, but I was encouraged to share, with the urging of, "Tell her! Maybe someday she'll write it!" Which made me smile at the possibility.)

Kristi Holl said...

Thank you for such an encouraging post! I appreciate it--as do so many others.

Pam Halter said...

Anyone who doubts the truth of writing for trends instead of the fire in the belly needs to attempt it.

I've tried it. Just this year. Actually, it was an opportunity. An editor contacted several authors, gave us guidelines and asked for sample chapters. I thought, well, this is great! Even though it was not a genre I had ever written or was remotely interested in writing, I thought I'd give it a try. The editor HAD remembered me, after all.

It was horrible. I was frustrated because not only could I NOT write a sentence, I couldn't write on the book I had set aside to try this.

Finally, I wrote to the editor, thanked her for the offer, but passed on the project. Whew!

Yes, dear writers, write what you have a passion for, whether it's your own idea or another opportunity.

Low Power Radio Guy said...

Yes and no.

It's not often that I'm inclined to disagree with this learned and experienced group but I'm feeling like a false dichotomy is creeping into the discussion. Potboiling is a necessary evil and some writers really are uniquely positioned to exploit micro-trends - I feel those lucky folks should jump at that opportunity. I also feel quite strongly that writing from the heart does not absolve the author of the responsibility to be target market aware and macro-trend relevant. Its just common sense that a legitimate agent will be focused on reader appeal and sales potential - we must be similarly in tune with markets.