Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Following the Trend

by Elizabeth

I always read the author articles in my morning paper. There are reviews every Sunday, and then on maybe-regular-Wednesdays and maybe-when-the-tour-is, the odd profile of either local or visiting writers. A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting article on a woman who has just published the first in a new dystopian series aimed at kids my daughter's age, and I expect to hear little girl and her friends discussing it soon. They all adore The Hunger Games and Divergent, and this is (according to the article) along those lines but in the water. Mermaids! Or really, humans who've been altered and are among those likely to survive the altered world.

What really struck me, though, more than the fun premise and great story of the writer, is what she said. I had to wonder if she was misquoted, or maybe underquoted, because the gist of why she wrote this was to be saleable. The article explained she'd written "about 20 novels" (five of them published) and had concentrated on middle grade historical. Not always finding a publisher. (Gee, I wonder what that must be like?) And so she thought about what might be more likely to get sold, and she decided to write this. For that reason. Because it is doing well, this genre, and she figured she could sell the book.

If you read agent blogs (as most of us here do), you will absolutely and very soon come across the recurrent advice to not follow the trends. Don't write a book that is chasing what's popular, is standard (and in my opinion good) advice. Why? Because there's a decent chance publishing trends will change by the time you are done, and not only that, because you have to write what is authentic to you so that it's authentic to your readers. A fake voice will be heard as fake, and therefore won't be heard. So the wisdom says.

Now, it's entirely possible this writer with 20 books and five contracts under her belt very well understands and knows this, and what may have been left out is that the world she created is one that she already inhabited in her writer's heart. But that's not really what the article conveyed unless you were, as did I (to give the benefit of the doubt), extrapolating that this was just the next organic step in this writer's journey. Instead, though, I worry about the average Joe and Josephine reading who might think, "That's a great idea! All I have to do is create the next Katniss and fame and fortune will follow!" Which, the blogs will tell you, is not the way to go.

I have nothing but respect for anyone who writes a book, published or not, and definitely this woman has the stuff. Twenty novels? My hat's off, and the publication some great whipped cream and juicy cherries on top. But the idea that following a trend in search of publication is good advice...that's where I have some trouble. I don't think for a second that's what she is suggesting to others, either, and since she's already completed and sold the second in the series (working on the third), my guess is that the book is good, and I sure hope so. I love to hear about fellow North Texans finding success. But in this case, I wonder if the newspaper article did a bit of disservice to would-be-writers by suggesting that all you have to do is hop on the back of a trend and a nice contract will follow and you too will soon be down at Barnes and Noble with your sharpie and a gaggle of little girls crowding your book-stacked table.

Yes, it's a business. Yes, certain kinds of books enjoy the hot spot for a while (vampires, anyone? which was the trend for a good stretch, but it would seem to be finally over--though there are no doubt thousands of finished and half-done manuscripts under beds and languishing in laptops all over the country). Yes, they get sold. But they still have to come from a place of authenticity. I assume this one did, too. The newspaper just failed to mention that critical little fact.

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