Daily Archives: January 8, 2010

Trendy Titles and Novel Ideas

I’ve noticed around the blogosphere that writers are concerned with writing toward trends or, conversely, shying away from them. 

Years ago I had a pair of not-so-gorgeous, baby-blue bell bottoms jeans.  Then came the clogs and leg warmers, followed by skanky, off-the-shoulder sweaters and leggings.  When bell-bottoms returned (disguised with the new name “flare legged jean”) I vowed I would never put a pair on, so hideous were the baby blues from thirty years ago.

Yet I did.  And now I’m vowing to never tug a pair of “skinny legs” past my hips.  Of course, it could be that my hips no longer fit the skinny leg definition, but that’s a whole ‘nother post you don’t want to hear. 

The point is this: trends come and go with great regularity.  Only the names change.  This is true in fashion and in literature.

Chick lit made a huge splash a few years back.  Books flew off the shelves faster than stillettos and Coach handbags.  Markets changed and publishers pulled back, making it harder to sell the quirky life of the twenty-something, spunky gal next door. 

Next, Twilight captured vampire lovers and stole the hearts of young ladies (and their mothers) across the world.  Writers, wanting to cash in on the blood lust, buried agents and editors beneath piles of vampire manuscripts.  Some hit the shelves and sold next to Bella’s newest adventures.  Others lacked originality and never made it past the shredder. 

The market quickly saturated and vampy books are now being tossed like yesterday’s tuna sandwiches.  Acceptance rates are lower and standards are higher for this genre.

A writer cannot follow a trend.  By the time one is recognizable, the door of opportunity is already closing for most manuscripts of similar ilk.  It just takes too long from idea to publication to make trend chasing easy. 

Currently zombies are all the rage.   In the best case scenario, if I wrote a novel today–okay, in thirty days like a NaNoWriMo novel–it would take me at least three months to polish, another three to query and another three to get a contract.   Add twelve to eighteen more months for the publisher to place it on the shelves and my zombie story is already two years too late. 

And that is best case scenario.  Reality is closer to three to five years for a debut novel.  Or more.

This makes the obvious route to be a trend setter rather than a trend chaser.  Right?  Right.  So pull out your novel idea–novel in the sense of unique–and get cracking.  On the unrealistic same time line as my zombie book, your giant earthworm invasion novel will hit the shelves in two years.  Chances are another writer will have written, pitched and published a similar book in the same two years. 

Viola, giant earthworms are the next fashion statement.  A novel idea?  You might think so.  But like bell bottoms, they were in decades ago.  Mongolian Death Worms made a debut in the 1959 sci-fi Land of the Crimson Moon followed in 1961 by the ever famous and unforgettable James and the Giant Peach‘s blind earthworm.

There are no original ideas.  Only original ways of writing them. 

Four years ago I penned a piratey chapter book.  At the time I wrote it, the Carribean Craze was not quite crazy and I never put two and two together.  I simply wrote the story that begged to get out.  By the time I mustered enough courage to send out a few queries, Pirates of the Carribean was so popular the market was saturated. 

While my book has nothing in common with the movie, the ripples will influence the marketability of my book.  But that’s okay.  I know pirates will come back into vogue.  And when they do, I’ll be waiting–in skinny leg jeans if I have to.

Are you a trend setter or a trend chaser?  Or do you simply write your heart and let the market find you? 

~ cat