Following the Trends

Boeken Kringloop Woerden 02

On a recent trip home, my uncle asked me, “There’s no chance your pen name is E.L. James, is there? Ha, ha, ha.” (Yes, I know. Comedy runs deep in my family.) “I wish,” I answered sincerely, thinking of my mortgage. “Well, why don’t you write a book like that?” someone else asked me.

Yeah, I thought. Why don’t I write an erotic romance? Thanks to authors like Anne Rice, Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks, I’m very familiar with the genre. And it’s hot, hot, hot! right now, due to Fifty Shades.

But do I want to write a story because the genre is trending…or write the story most suited to my voice?

Which is not to say it can’t be both. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to write in a different genre as long as you are willing to abandon it if it doesn’t feel right. Like trying on a pair of skinny jeans, hoping they fit, but putting them back on the shelf because all they do is emphasize your muffin top. (Note: This has SO not happened to me.) You may discover a talent for an untried genre. Plus, learning to adapt your voice to different genres seems to be the best way expand your talent as a writer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner says the only way to make a living as a writer is through volume and variety. To think you’re going to write one book that’s going to sell millions of copies is unrealistic. Yes, it happens to a lucky few. But for the rest of us, we’ve got to learn how to write many sellable, marketable books over different genres. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t want to jump into every publishing fad that comes along, either. I would be hard pressed to ever write a paranormal, for example. Or an Amish romance (which I was told at RWA ’11 are very popular). My brain isn’t wired that way and that would be some Herculean flexing of my writing muscle.

It’s tricky. As newbies, we’re told, “Write a unique story that is riveting and polished, and it will find an audience,” but is that really true? Sure, self-publishing makes this idea slightly more plausible. But there are gatekeepers in publishing, whether it’s an agent or an editor, and they know what is selling and what’s still sitting on the shelves. You may have an outstanding vampire story on your hands, but no one’s buying it because the genre has been labeled as dead by industry insiders. (Pun intended.) Then what?

So in your writing journeys, how have you grappled with the trends? Let us know! Anyone who leaves a comment in the next four weeks will be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of the Femmes.

Leave a comment


  1. So true, Joanna, about finding the category(ies) that suit your voice. I’m with you on the Paranormal stuff. I think, for me, writing in the genres I like to read myself seems like a natural fit.

    Writing itself is a challenge…concept to draft to revising (ad nauseum) to finished product…and requires not a small amount of mental heavy-lifting. It’s exhausting and exhilarating, disappointing and rewarding all at once. For me, that’s enough (for now!), without worrying about writing to every trend that crops up. Like those skinny jeans and bell bottoms, vampire stories and erotic romance will go out of style, and then come back again.

    Good writing never goes out of style. So my advice is, write what you love, what feels right, and pray that those gatekeepers love it as much as you do.


    • Everything is cyclical, that’s for sure. And it helps to remember that even great books got rejected somewhere.

      Thanks for chiming in. Hugs.

  2. As a young writer, I am very suspicious of the publishing industry’s method of dealing with trends. And as an active member of my local writing community, I’ve seen the damage trends can do to authors. One author friend of mine wrote a YA dystopian novel, and managed to get an agent for it. When the agent ran up against dystopian overload in the market (I’m looking at you, Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth), he dropped her.

    The truth is, publishing is a business. It doesn’t care about how much heart or blood or sweat or meaning is in the work, so long as someone can make money off of it. Eventually we’ll all have to decide if that’s how we want literature to work.

    • Very good point. It is definitely a business, and I respect that. Publishers work with the numbers they have and buy accordingly. Therefore, agents can only do so much to get a manuscript sold. So it’s great that self-publishing and the e-pubs have made it possible for some “unsellable” stories to get out there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • True. Unfortunately, even as a business, publishing and bookselling are foundering. In my opinion, the goal should be to connect as many readers as possible with what they want to read (without necessarily making value judgments). How we do this in the current information age still remains to be seen–what are readers looking for? And how can we make it easy for them to find it?

    • I have struggled with the whole issue of writing to the market for several years. I write contemporary romance, and for quite a while it was a dead market (which shocked me). My then-agent told me she didn’t think I had a paranormal voice, so I didn’t attempt to jump into that market (a mistake, I think now, since I had an intriguing idea for a book about humans with psychic powers).

      Instead I decided to try my hand at romantic suspense, which was trending upward then. Well, it turns out I can’t write the kind of romantic suspense the agents/editors were looking for. They wanted blood, gore, and serial killers. I wrote a story about Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony (which doesn’t exist except in my imagination). Not a salable idea.

      Then the contemporary market showed a spark of life, except it was all about series set in small towns, not my usual bailiwick. However, I decided I needed to be a bit smarter this time, that I should find a way to write a salable book without selling my soul.

      I grew up in a small town in the mountains of West Virginia–and West Virginia is as exotic to some folks as Tahiti is to others. So why not use that setting in my next book? Why not make the setting conducive to multiple books in the same place? And why not throw in horses, something I also grew up with?

      Because I’ve learned that hooks sell books. So a small mountain town with series potential and horses gave me two marketing hooks, and yet also gave me plenty of leeway to write the kind of stories I love.

      Guess what? I sold that book. So am I writing to the market? Heck, yes! But I found a way to do it while still writing a book of my heart. So it is possible; you just have to put on your hooking cap.

      • I’m so glad you chimed in, Nancy! Your story is a win-win. I feel like you can do it all. Best of luck with the book this fall. I can’t wait to read it. Keep us all posted!

  3. Great topic, Joanna. It’s not just publishing that is looking for trends – or even riding the wave of an established trend. I’m seeing quite a few MODERN FAMILY – like shows programmed for the Fall. And, there is a show whose main heroine has a bow, and has to hunt for survival (i.e. HUNGER GAMES). The trick is to be at the head of the trend or even better, be the trend setter. If only my crystal ball would tell me if what I love to write (historical set in countries other than just England and off the cuff contemporaries).

    Like Nancy said so well, focus on writing what you know and love AND what other people can relate to.


    • Yes! I see you starting a huge trend, my friend. Good advice, too. I think that’s one of Fifty Shades’ biggest draws–that women who have never read that kind of story relate to Anna.

      And I have also noticed the Hunger Games-esque shows this Fall. Like they say, there are no new ideas…..

  4. hieubietusa

     /  August 27, 2012

    I have to agree, and this means my reply is brief…impossible!
    No matter what the trends…you must do what comes naturally. Better to lose the game by throwing your best pitch then giving up a homer with something you’re not sure of.
    I think?

  5. R.A. DeFranco

     /  August 27, 2012

    I always found the idea of writing for a trend scary. Given the time needed to write the darn thing, polish it and start the submission process that trend train could roll right out of the station leaving you and your newbie manuscript in the dust. Like you said, you have to write what your voice is suited for. Beyond that, you have to write the story that lives inside your heart. Otherwise doesn’t it become a labor of love instead of a product of your passion as a writer?

    • Right. But doing the same thing, spending ALL that time and energy on your manuscript, only to find out no one wants it is heartbreaking. Yes, writing is all about learning….but are some of us climbing up a never-ending tree with the genre we love, but a genre that won’t sell? Just food for thought. I do think there are markets that are more “in demand,” perhaps.

  6. R.A. DeFranco

     /  August 27, 2012

    I sort of wrote myself into a corner a while back…writing in a genre that I love – Contemporary – and trying to fit it into a pre-described industry mode. In the end, I stopped enjoying the process, and nearly stopped writing altogether. So I understand exactly what you’re saying. Recently I’ve been working on something that I love. In all honesty, I’m not 100% sure that it fits into a specific genre or mode to the letter, but I rediscovered my love for the process. Obviously, the goal is publication. But maybe instead of following a trend or a genre to the T, we have to step outside the box a little and write what is uniquely ours.

  7. Like many others have said, I believe you have to write what comes naturally to you. I write contemporary and can’t see me writing in a genre drastically different from this time period (like Historical). Kudos to those of you who can. I’ve briefly (very briefly) toyed with a YA, mostly because my 12-year old daughter loves to read and all the books in the YA section are geared towards the paranormal. She doesn’t like that and I see her struggle to find a nice book to read. But my heart & ideas are with Contemporary so I’ll stay there for now.

  8. jennablueblogs

     /  September 2, 2012

    Such a good topic, Joanna! It’s true that all authors are contending with so much, and getting loads of mixed messages, too. Success in this business is incredibly elusive. Lots comes down to luck–being in the right place or forefront of a trend at the right time, but you won’t find luck if you aren’t perservering in the first place.
    Certainly none of us should write anything that feels wrong or forced. On the other hand, trying something new or branching out a big makes loads of sense. Look at Nancy getting a small town series published, Michele and RoseAnne both trying new genres and already garnering so much positive response in contests!
    Thanks for the great post,


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