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

20 responses to “Trendy Titles and Novel Ideas

  1. Great post, Cat! I’ve never been one to follow the leader in what I write. I don’t honestly know that I’ll find I’m a trend setter, either. It doesn’t matter to me, I guess. I’ve always played left field in a way.

    Wish I could fit in the skinny leg jeans, though. ;D

    Thanks for dropping in for the visit!

    • Hi Victoria.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. From what I’ve read, your writing definitely fits the unique category. I think it’s much easier to write on a less popular topic than to find stand out among the common themes. However, I believe that even a tired vampire/zombie/chick lit can be remarkable when given the right voice and slant.

      I still cringe at the skinny leg jeans and have been buying up my flare legs in hopes that they’ll survive until the next time they come back in fashio. Wonder what they’ll be called then?

  2. I agree. You can’t follow trends concerning the subject matter you write about. You can’t possibly remain genuine. You have to write about what is deepest in your soul, that which is begging to get out.

    There was a popular book out a while ago, “Do What You Love The Money Will Follow,” Maybe someone should write a book titled, “Write About What You Love Money Will Follow.” There are no guarantees you will become rich but someone out there will want to read it and buy your book.

    I like the famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay of Self-Reliance: ‘There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction: that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion;…’ You have to mine the field that is only given to you. We are all wired differently and have different concerns. That is all you can explore as a writer. The better you do it and the more genuine, the more people will want to read it, No one said you will necessarily become rich in the process but at least some people will care about what you write for it was you, you expressed.

    • Well said, Siggy. It’s a great quote and a sentiment we should all keep firmly in mind when slogging through the process. Our writiing is of us. When we try to cash in on something we aren’t passionate about, it will show us for a fraud.

      That said, tweaking can go a long way in shaping our writing to fit the needs and expectations of our audiences without losing our individuality and vision.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  3. Hmm…I wonder where that leaves my Steampunk novel…

    • I hear it’s a hot genre and not likely to go away anytime soon. Which is a good thing for my writing buddies who are trying their hands at it.

      Don’t they say the cream rises to the top?

  4. This is so hard, because as writers, we don’t really KNOW what’s going to be popular or trendy in 18 months. I mean, I suppose we can watch PM and see what’s selling (which I do), but that doesn’t dictate what I write. Nor what I read.

    I think there’s always a market for a really well-written book with compelling characters and a swift plot. So that’s what I try to do.


    • “I think there’s always a market for a really well-written book with compelling characters and a swift plot. ”

      Amen. This sums up how we should approach each project: by writing the best story we can with unforgettable characters.

      Thanks for weighing in.

  5. I just write the story that’s in my head at the time.

    Following trends is not the best way to get published, but so many people do it. For beginning writers, it’s not all bad. Any writing is good practice.

    • Good point, Patricia.

      Typically a first novel is not the one that finds a home on the book shelves. Therefore the experience of writing a story from beginning to end and editing is the benefit, regardless of topic. In writing about popular themes, writers can “learn” from reading the published works of the time.

  6. I fall under the “shy away from trends” category. AND, I’ll have you know, that there’s nothing skanky about off-the-shoulder sweaters! Unless the woman wearing it happens to be standing on a corner soliciting men for a good time ;p

    • Oh, yes, there is that perspective. How remiss of me to forget that attire has purpose…. I notice the shoulder-baring is starting to make a comeback. What next–big hair?

      Somehow I didn’t figure you for a trend chaser, Voidwalker. And that’s a compliment.

  7. Trend-chasing is as much the fault of publisher marketing departments as authors. A friend of mine was commissioned to write a novel by a major publisher. She stuck to the brief they had agreed. When she handed it in the editor said: ‘we’ve had a chat with our marketing department and wonder if you could put some time travel in it.’ Fortunately she had a tough agent, who went ape on her behalf.

    • Yikes. This is a great plug for finding the agent before the editor. It’s also a good reminder that writers can be at the whims of the powers that be. The bottom line is a pretty powerful motivator for every player in the publishing industry.

      Great post today, by the way.

  8. I think you need to either set the trend with something so amazingly unique that it MUST be published or try and make an educated guess at what the market might do.

    I sort of did that with steampunk. I realized there was an increasing trend and interest in Victorian clothing, and figured it might carry over to literature, which it did. Of course, it helped that I’d been reading Victorian set novels for decades, and love the flexibility steampunk offers from a traditional historical. It would have been nice to have realized the market trend just a little bit earlier, but I think I still might be ahead of most. *fingers crossed*

    • Cali, so glad to see you! I’m such a bad tweeter that I miss hanging with you.

      I think you can rest easy in knowing that steampunk is just building up steam. Most people have never heard of it yet (though once you get pubbed, everyone I know will know)–I hadn’t until I met you. Also, I’ve heard at two conferences I’ve attended that steampunk is way cool and they don’t foresee a down turn in that trend any time soon. That puts you on the leading edge. Way to pay attention.

      My fingers are crossed too!

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your two pennies.

  9. I take that as a compliment. I’ve always thought avoiding trends kept me “original,” even though I never fit in with the cool kids lol.

    Oh well.

    By the way, I want you to know I am giving you an award. Go check it out. You deserve it, but by no means are you obligated to put the thing on your blog 🙂

    • Thanks Void. I’ll stop by after I get the troops fed!

      As to trends…the cool kids were the ones wearing the clogs with their legwarmers. In hindsight, that makes them nerds! Originality rules!

  10. Great post, Cat! Trends are impossible to fathom and harder to chase.

    BTW I had at least 5 pairs of leg warmers. Loved them passionately. Black, grey, pink, blue, white… Sad, but true 🙂

    • Thanks, Jemi.

      I also had a pair of leg warmers. Having just moved from California to wintery Minnesota gave them added value in my book. They truely did warm the legs! Mine were striped.

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