Hey how have you been? 😀 Don’t tell me you didn’t get that TLC Reference?
Unfortunately, being a PhD English student and Writer sometimes means you’re away in your cave writing and doing a bunch of work. Dissertation writing, article writing, journal editing, and of course reading, researching and finding time to work on your creative stuff. Well, thankfully I’ve been getting a lot of writing done, on the academic and creative writing side. And actually getting some of my academic stuff accepted! It’s a relief to get validation, ANY kind of validation for your hard work once and a while, so this is something I’m proud of.
I do want to take a short recess from my endless parade of work to talk a bit about trends for a second. Just a bit of a rambly post spurred on by other discussions that have been happening lately. I can’t say everything is 100% accurate, but these are just threads of musing I’m actually still thinking through.
TRENDS: What’s a trend?
Okay, we all know what trends are. It’s that thing that gets popular, and so everyone rushes to do it. In the fashion world, trends are the thing that cynical corporate executives pay attention to because that’s where (as they believe) a tonne of their profits are gonna come from. So their employees start hunting for it, which makes trends a very scary thing, even in the publishing world. I’d venture a guess and say trends are one of the scariest things writers have to worry about. Trends-logic tells us that because X book was popular, everyone will ONLY want books from that genre, or everyone will ONLY want books that feature the tropes/relationships/ideas that were featured in X book – the same kind of romances, same kind of settings, same kinds of conflicts, same kinds of heroines, same kinds of plot twists. It goes on.
TRENDS: What have been the trends lately?
Post-Twilight, editors and publishers began hunting for whatever they considered to be like those YA book series that were selling like hot cakes. First, it was paranormal romance thanks to the success of Twilight. Twilight gets big, everyone starts writing books like Twilight because they like the story and want to write stuff like it (or because they see that stories like that are popular). Editors and agents acquire these stories because they saw how popular Twilight was, see that there’s a market and an opportunity to sell to book readers. Same thing happened when The Hunger Games got big, spinning off the Dystopian YA genre (tropes and all).
However, after that things got a bit murky. People started guessing at trends, trying to create them rather than following the natural popularity of a big book – because there were no big books, really. That is to say that there was no Next Big Thing in the same vein as Twilight and THG. Because of The Hunger Games, people decided that sci fi would be popular, since THG kind of had some sci fi in it. Genetically enhanced teens running from the government, cyborgs, time travel, space opera. All of that kind of came with the sci fi boom. Then thrillers, horror and mystery were absolutely going to be the next big trends, though none of them really became the next big thing. Of course, with the success of John Green’s TFIOS, readers and pubs started to ask for more contemporary. Articles were written about how contemporary was the new thing and dystopian was absolutely OUT (ala Project Runway) and contemporary was absolutely IN *hair flips*, but I don’t know if this ever became a trend per say, since contemporary always sells rather consistently.
And now… now, I don’t think there are any trends. Officials at the Bologna book fair this year mentioned that there were no big books, no trends that people were chasing this year. No witches, no dystopian revolutions, no sicklit. Just books. Seems like great news, really. Maybe this means people are allowed to be more original and take more chances with their storytelling? But there has definitely been a bit of blow back from years of trends chasing and that’s kind of what a lot of writers seem to be feeling right now.
Everything is a hard sell. This is what many people are saying these days, and it makes sense. Because publishers bought up a lot of books in hopes that this trend/book or that trend/book will be the next big thing, now it seems that the market is over-saturated. The problem with trends is that once something’s Totally Out, it’s Totally Out for a good long while (unless you’re already an established author in which case you can write what you want). So when people ask about this genre or that genre, what a lot of writers are hearing now and days is ‘well, that’s a hard sell’ ‘well that’s kind of over.’ That’s the conundrum: technically there are no trends trending, but there are now entire genres that the industry seems ‘burned out on.’
It is really scary to hear editors and agents talking about how ‘fantasy is a hard sell’ or ‘sci fi is kind of over.’ Really sit down to think about this. Fantasy. Sci-fi. These…
THESE ARE HUGE GENRES.
Seriously, these are genres that have been around for YEARS, established genres that are so huge with so much diversity and possibility WITHIN them. What happened in the Young Adult market that a huge, ginormous and diverse category of books called SCIENCE (friggin) FICTION or FANTASY or whatever else can be declared ‘over’? But it seems like after a couple of short years of everyone writing, consuming and acquiring X genre, X genre gets used all up and it’s time to move on – but how long until there’s nothing to move on to?
The thing is there is so much possibility within these genres for different, unique stories. So what happens when a genre is declared ‘over’ or ‘a hard sell’ when only about 10% of its storytelling potential was ever realized in the mass market?
The thing is that even though articles might be written about how there are no trends and originality is what everyone wants now, the reality is that things are a lot more restricted for writers now and days. Over-saturation of the market due to trends-chasing and/or overbuying means that writers are stuck in somewhat of a paradox. Because on one hand, certain tropes and ideas and story lines have been so overdone that you really need to think outside the box in order to be noticed. That’s great! On the other hand, because of over-saturation and a lack of clear trends, nobody really knows for sure what readers will like or respond to (it’s much easier when you can say X is on trend and totally hot right now). So instead of taking a chance on a good, fun book, many writers feel that they are almost encouraged to write what’s ‘safe’ so as to give their work a chance at getting picked up.
In other words, you have to be totally original, but totally safe too. That’s a fine line to walk.
TRENDS: Is it all bleak? Are we as writers DOOMED?
No. Because looking at the books that are being acquired these days I do see a lot of publisher’s taking a chance, and I KNOW from personal experience that there are a lot of writers still willing to take a chance even if it means they may have doors slammed in their faces. I do think that even though a trendless era means, ironically, more caution, it also has opened up the door for more possibilities, more courage, more difference – and from all the readers that I’ve talked to, the industry NEEDS to take more chances now more than ever.
People don’t want to read the same kinds of stories over and over again. They don’t want you to give them a book that’s the same damn book they’ve read again and again, marketed to them as something totally different because of some imperceptible twist. They want something new, exciting and different as much as they might want quieter, more dependable stuff. People want something different to sink their teeth into – and not just Malibu Stacy with a New Hat, but something actually different. This is just what happens whenever something in the market gets over-saturated. People start getting bored and looking elsewhere for something new.
It can become paralyzing to writers, trying to figure out what to write and when to write it – what’s the window of time you have to write this story before the entire genre you’re writing in is declared ‘over’ and you have to write something else? How unique is too unique? How safe is too safe? And there’s really no clear answer as to what writers should do at any given time, because telling someone to write what they love (while being my personal philosophy) doesn’t really reflect the nature of the business, and telling someone to write to trends doesn’t take into account the present ‘trendless’ era we’re in (even as genres are being burned through and thrown by the wayside). I guess it’s up to each author to decide for themselves where they want their career to be and what they’re willing to write to get there. As for me, I’m going to keep doing what I love, because that’s what I write. And I truly believe that there are lots of people still willing to take a chance on what’s different!
All I know is that this is truly a confusing time, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet. Probably a bit of both? 😛 Let’s just go with it tbh.