Ask any writer, agent or editor and they are likely to tell you not to follow trends. Fairies, zombies, angels: these are all creatures popping up in YA books like mad and the agents are saying: NO MORE! You might have heard that cyberpunk was all the rage a year or two ago, but that’s moved to steampunk, now, and were you able to keep up? It’s important to be well read in your genre (see Kaitlin's post, below) and know the trends, but are you guaranteed success if you follow them?
No. And here’s why not.
First, writing is a labor of love. You aren’t getting paid to sit in your chair and write that first novel. You likely won’t get paid for the second and maybe the third, either. Writers write because they love it. Sure, we hope to make it big someday, but there is a learning curve just as in any serious endeavor. However, you are cheating yourself and you are cheating your future readers if you aren’t loving what you’re writing. Just because steampunk is the it girl right now doesn’t mean you should jump on that bandwagon and begin your re-telling of Around the World in Eighty Days if steampunk is not your true love. The writing will be harder, the work will be sloppier and it will show. Having said that, perhaps your first novel ever was steampunk. Does that mean that this is the time to dust it off, give it an overhaul and ship it off to agents? You betcha. Take advantage of the trends – do! – but only if it’s something you already love to write.
Second: lead time. Are you aware that it takes between 18 and 24 months to publish a book? Yes, that’s after you write the book (3 months to ad infinitum), land an agent (one day to one year) and after your super agent has sold the book to a publisher (a week to many, many months). Publishing is a notoriously slow business and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You want buzz to build for your work, you want the book to be featured in magazines (and they need your book 4-6 months in advance), you want your work to be as polished as possible. But, a lot can happen in two years. Fairies and zombies will be dead (yup, even the undead will die, promise). The things agents are looking for today will be filling the bookshelves. And you’ll be left holding a manuscript with a timer that has run its course.
So, what’s exempt from this rule?
Anything you write with a blind eye to trend but a genuine love is exempt. Things completely off the radar are exempt (hey, you might just start the next tread!). And (sigh) vampires are exempt. Trust me. Stephenie Myers was not the first to write vampires. Neither was Anne Rice. And no matter how many agents say no more vampires, what they really mean is no more type-cast vampires that are 100+ year old, uh, men in a teenager’s body falling in love with a clumsy, modern teenager. Give those vamps a unique twist and you just might appeal to the verifiable sub-genre that is vampire lit.
In the end, you want to be ahead of the trend, not behind it. Would you show up to a party wearing last year’s style? Don’t leave your book to the same fate.
p.s. For a little bit of fun, here are some of YA Highway’s YA trend predictions. What are yours?:
Kristin: The return of the classic vampire: evil, but sexy. And family sagas.
Amanda: Goblins! The return of Labyrinth! And alternate universes.
Kristin Jr.: Mermaids and/or sirens.
Kaitlin: Obscure mythology. Norse gods and such.
Lee: I'm gonna say the next big thing will be Bigfoot-I was a Teenage Bigfoot-Bigfoot Prom-
Bigfoot at Twilight.
Michelle: More boy MCs with high-tech gadgets.
Kirsten: Back to basics - contemporary takes the stage.