Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chasing the Market

By Heather Moore

This past year I’ve been to several writers’ conferences and workshops. I’ve heard agents, publishes and NY Times Bestselling authors all say the same thing: Don’t try to keep up with the trends in your writing. So it was no surprise when my handy The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham also contained the same advice.

Why? You might ask. That’s what’s selling, isn’t it? That’s what the publishers are looking for, right? No necessarily.

By the time a trend rears its head, the market is already flooded with similar books. Not to mention that these books were contracted by an agent probably two years before, took months to find a publisher, and another year to hit the shelves . . . so today’s trend is what publishers were looking for two years ago.

Of course you must know what the trends are so that you do stay viable. But if you are a Suspense author, don’t jump ship to Chick Lit just because it’s selling (which, by the way, isn’t hot anymore).

If you're madly writing a novel about a werewolf or a vampire, by the time you start submitting, the “buying” market will have fizzled. On the other hand, if you're madly writing about a werewolf or a vampire because you love it, keep on. As long as you aren’t trying to piggy-back on a trend.

Recently, the Donald Maas agency did something that I think all agencies should start doing them (Bravo!). They posted what they are looking for. The exact premise. And they will update it each month.

 A Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.
 An African-American Lord of the Rings.
 A noir novel featuring a Muslim detective--not about terrorism.
 An American epic like Of Mice and Men about today’s underclass, illegal immigrants.
 A ghost story that’s truly contemporary.
 An historical novel that weaves in scientists and big ideas.
 A New York-in-mid-Century novel along the lines of Empire Rising.
 A dog novel as great as Call of the Wild.
 A literary romance with a heroine for all time and a tragic ending, preferably written by a man.
 The next The World According to Garp, about an idiot savant.

Hmmm. If you are like me, you can maneuver something you’ve written into one of these premises. Well, maybe I can’t, but it’s nice to see some straightforward details. Right now, I’m querying agents for a thriller I wrote. I’ve gone about it the traditional way—researching agents to find out who represents thrillers. You’d be surprised at how many return emails I receive that say, “Sorry, I don’t represent thrillers.” But it’s listed on their websites that they do. So hats off to Donald Maas for taking the additional measure to let writers know what they are looking for.

Meanwhile, the sound advice of Bickham rings true:
“The best books don’t follow trends; they establish them.”
(The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, 95)


Josi said...

What a cool thing for them to do. I love how it validates the fact that writing because your passionate about your story, is very different than writing something you don't love only because you think a book will sell.

Tamra Norton said...

Great points, Heather. And good luck on the agent search!

Anna Maria Junus said...

Yeah, I'm searching for an agent too.

I wish all agencys would do this, but then won't you get a whole bunch of people writing it and then they'll have too many?

Best to write what you love.

Heather B. Moore said...

The idea behind the monthly list, is that's what the agency is looking for THAT MONTH. So if you haven't already written it, it's too late. I'll be anxious to see their list in November.

Janette Rallison said...

I love Bickham. His writing books are great!