Pave Your Own Path: Why You Shouldn't Write to Trends
If you’re anything like me, you gobble up articles on YA like they’re leftover Valentine’s Day candy (no judgment please). What is the YA community loving this week? What’s the big buzzy book that everyone is excited about? And what YA genres and themes are trendy right now?
It feels like there’s a new YA trend popping up every week. Vampires. Sirens. “Sick lit.” Dystopian. Near future. Speculative fiction. Vampires again! Mermaids. Oh, hi, vampires, you’re back! It can be really, really hard to keep track of what’s hot and what’s not.
I’m here to let you in on a publishing secret: these trends don’t matter.
Yes, there are genres of books that get popular and genres that cool off. Pitching a book about vampires to a publisher now might be harder than it was during the Twilight years. But that doesn’t mean that if you write a GREAT novel about vampires, it’s impossible to sell.
Trends come and go, but great novels get published because an editor falls in love with them, and that can happen whether you’re writing the Hot New “Trend” or about a timeless, classic theme that countless authors have tackled in the past. We don’t sign up books because they follow a trend; we sign up books because we cannot get the book out of our minds and we MUST HAVE THEM.
I’m going to let you in another secret. We don’t know what books we want until they’re right under our noses. I don’t go around saying, “I’m looking for a book about a Black asexual protagonist who loves cartoons and can’t cook and falls for a hot Japanese-American library worker.” Nope. We aren’t psychic (at least, I’m not). We don’t know what we love until we read it, so writing to a trend because you think that’s what’ll make your book stand out to an editor simply won’t work. We fall in love with books because they have a strong sense of voice, because the dialogue is snappy, because we can’t stop thinking about the characters, because they make us FEEL things, because they make us laugh or make us cry (or, in the case of Let’s Talk About Love, described above, BOTH!).
And we want stuff that’s different, stuff that we’ve never read before, stuff that comes from diverse points of view about a diverse set of characters and topics. We don’t want to publish the same thing that’s already being published; we want to publish something new, something that breaks the rules. And maybe those books will start a “trend” that everyone talks about.
You’re probably asking yourself, ‘If trends are a bunch of baloney, why do we hear about them all the time?’ Well, our jobs as editors are to help our authors build a career and build on their strengths. So if an author has had a lot of success writing fantasy, it’s not surprising that the author’s publisher will want even more fantasy books so the author can continue to build their brand. But just because an author has sold 10 fantasy novels to their publisher doesn’t mean that you should edit your book to make it fit this mold. Each author’s brand is totally individual, and what’s most important is finding your own audience and writing books that your audience (and you!) will love.
So write what your heart tells you to write. Write vampire books! Write mermaid books. Write zombie books. Write dystopian books. You can’t predict the ever-changing tides of “trends,” so write what you love, and that’s what will make us love it too.