by Stephen L. Duncan
I recently stopped by a Twitter chat with DGLM agent Michael Bourret to pilfer some of that publishing mojo he was slinging and while I was there, ended up sharing in some mutual hate with agent Lauren Abramo for our detest of Manchester United.
Really? You like the Reds? How original. How trendy.
What many of the tweeps (who’d eagerly stopped by for more serious reasons) wanted to know from Michael was, what was next? Basically, what’s going to be the next Hunger Games? His response in tone had a little more in common with my conversation with Lauren—understandable from someone in his position. Imagine getting five hundred dystopian pitches on a Tuesday afternoon when all you really want is a dirty tell-all on Dan Cathy.
I’m kidding. (Sort of.)
Obviously I don’t speak for Michael, but I imagine his point in advising his tweeps to not worry about what's next is that by writing to trends, an author misses an opportunity to tell a story that’s original and, more importantly, inspired. There’s no heart in stories written because it's the new hot thing. There's no drive. No passion; their author merely another American in a Manchester United shirt. A literary tourist.
While I share in his distaste of trends, at the same time I think it’s important to be aware of what is selling in the marketplace, and sometimes more importantly, what isn’t—if only to temper your expectations of the fight your manuscript will face to get to a bookstore. Maybe you’re contemplating a cyborg mermaid romance in space, but it just so happens that there are several cyborg mermaid romantic space books out there on the shelves. If that idea is competing in your head with a quiet historical story about a boy in the War of 1812, which story do you think the market would better support a year or two from now when the book gets released?
Hint: There isn’t a right answer.
The weird thing about the market is that there’s room for anything, and there’s room for nothing. You play the odds and hope that your brilliant mastery of language and pace of plot carries your idea to the next level and gets published, regardless of what the market will bear. It is likely, though, that if your manuscript involves a subject matter that is currently saturating the market, it will have a difficult time getting attention from agents, editors, and ultimately, readers. Do we need another love triangle-bad boy–good guy–pushover girl romance? No. Would one sell to a house right now? Possibly, if it was told really, really well.
Now, look. I’m not suggesting that you let the market dictate what you write. I mean, I kinda, sorta just did, but that’s not really what I meant. The reality is, the gravity of inspiration rarely lets us writers choose which story grabs hold of our imagination. Instead, we tend to free-fall toward ideas, subjects, and plots, unable to pull out of the dive until we’ve either finished writing the book or our inspiration breaks apart and crashes into the ground.
So, let the market be persuasive if you like, but never binding. Learn what you can from it, but don't let the market overrule an idea choice that carries with it your passion of the moment. Because lacking passion is why following trends will only yield a hollow endeavor.
And for the love of Alan Shearer, take off that Manchester United shirt.
Stephen L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.