Becoming the Trend
Posted on October 25, 2012
When Hunger Games became popular, a part of me got sad. As much as I liked the concept and thought that author Suzanne Collins pushed the limits in a good way, I actually got a little depressed, and I expressed a little of my frustration in one of my first blogs. Why? Because one of my novel concepts was very similar. I created a dystopian world with a female protagonist with limited movement in the world. She was also a rebel-at-heart who encouraged others to buck the system controlled by those with money who were disconnected with the reality of life outside their space. While it wasn’t the same story, surely the way I told it and how I wrote would help get it published, right?
Cut to today, and I have not given up on the book idea. But it does sit on my virtual shelf waiting. I’m considering the possibilities of how to put it out in the world, and whether or not I want to considering that I don’t want it to be labeled a Hunger Games wannabe. Right now, young adult dystopian fiction is big. Another great series that I love is Divergent by Veronica Roth. It’s been nabbed already for a movie adaptation as well. So why not continue with the concept, finish the manuscript, and get it out there for the reading? If I wanted to do that, there are two possible ways.
As said before in my blog, I constantly research and keep up with publishing both in the traditional world and in self-publishing not only to be able to give clear information to potential clients for my editing business (WordFalls Services) but also for my own writing. In terms of traditional publishing, I heard many agents and editors say not to follow the trends of what’s popular. In fact, one agent said directly that if it even smacked a little of dystopia, they wouldn’t consider it at all. Another agent said that they didn’t want girl protagonists because there was nothing for young boys, or the reluctant readers, out there (this is a topic I will address later in terms of girl vs. boy protagonists right now).
In a panel at the James River Writers Conference, in the YA Explosion panel, an agent made the statement that if it’s trending, they can’t sell it. As a writer, you have to find what’s new. Several of us muffled our groans since most of the inspiration for what we write comes from what we read. So now, we’re being told that because our writing is similar to the popular books, it won’t sell. So now what?
First, the lesson I took was that there’s no truly new idea. What’s new is how you deal with the idea and how you present it in your writing. Realizing this made me change and redirect how I created my pitch with the agent so that I found and highlighted what made my manuscript different. Second, I took to heart what I already conveyed from author Malinda Lo – screw the trends, write for yourself. It’s a great sentiment, and one to embrace before sitting down to write. But is it realistic?
Another great option afforded to me and you as writers is self-publishing. Once the ugly stepchild of the big bad parent of traditional publishing, self-publishing continues to challenge the business world of publishing. In the article “Self-Publishing Sees Triple-Digit Growth Since 2007” in Publishers Weekly, there is empirical proof that self-publishing is here to stay. Publishing houses are making small movements towards compromise (not nearly enough), but there’s still an “us” versus “them” attitude. Many writers choose to self-publish, and many traditionally published authors are choosing to go the self-published route. It has its benefits.
One of the biggest benefits is that instead of having to go through several gate keeping exercises on the multiple-year journey to take a book from finished manuscript to on the bookshelves in a store, a self-published author gets the product directly to the reader. Now the reader becomes the ultimate consumer. There’s nothing standing in the way between me and hooking a reader with my novel that hits right where the trend is except my own marketing. In terms of writing to trends, self-publishing seems to be the best route as long as I’m willing to put in the work to get it seen and noticed in order to attract readers.
I’ve given some thought as to whether or not trends exist in other genres as much as they do within YA literature. It seems that there are tropes that exist in other genres, but they don’t get marked and noticed as much as in YA lit. I don’t think an agent will turn down a mystery just because there’s a detective in it. Trends and writing are tricky companions. The good news is that there are options to taking advantage of the trends if you find your work falls within them. But probably the biggest lesson to take is that no matter what you write, even if it fits the trends, you have to do it the best you possibly can and make it stand out from the rest. And really, isn’t that what all of us writers strive to do in the first place?