Are you suffering from Trend bandwagon-itis?

“Have you heard? DaVinci Code sold millions of books!”

“Have you heard? Vampire romance is totally in, baby!”

And so you set about writing these sub-genres, hoping to cash in on the feeding frenzy because publishers can’t get enough of it. Write, write, write, sell, sell, sell. It’s an exciting time until the bottom falls out and those hot topics grow as cold as the beagle’s margaritas. You jumped on the bandwagon and either rode it to great success, or you jumped on too late and are stuck with a series you can’t sell to the mailman.

Or you sold your book, and it went OP in a year or two. Ouch.

Welcome to the disease called Trend Bandwagon-itis. You loved the genre and hoped to make your mark – only no one is buying what you’re writing, so you’re left wondering what’s the next Big Thing. What’s going to be hot next year? Two years from now?

Ben LeRoy wrote a cool post about trends over at Dead Guy on this very issue. Ben eloquently states, “I have no idea.”

And he’s right. Not even Karnak the Great can divine what the next hot thing will be. Did anyone see DaVince Code coming? No? How ’bout Twilight? Harry Potter? Yet here they are, and many writers have jumped on the bandwagon with the hope they can make their own mark on the literary world.

The problem is timing. DaVinci Code came and went, making way for the next hot genre. To whit, I’ve been hearing agents and editors lament that they’ll stick their eyes with hot pokers if they see another vampire romance. They mirror my feelings when I see certain topics cross my desk.

My world of nonfiction is somewhat more stable, but we suffer from Trend Bandwagon-itis as well. A book hits the bookstores and authors jump on the bandwagon with their books about the economy, immigration, or the war(s). I’m not saying these aren’t valid topics, but those books won’t be as relevant in a few years because they’re dated with current information.

Our world of nonfiction plays host to a whole stable of topics – cancer, addiction, heart disease, midlife crisis, divorce, mental disease, sports, medicine, politics, celebrity exposés…I could go on forever. And I can tell time around what’s happening in the media how and how quickly I’ll see a bevy of manuscripts dealing with those very issues.

Many are cashing in on those Trend Bandwagon-itis books, which is perfectly fine, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how I question the quality of the writing more than once.

More importantly, will those books withstand the test of a few years? How quickly will those books (and the authors) fade into the backlist? That’s not a game I want to play, and I’m very happy to let others do it.

I’m in it for the long haul, meaning I want books that are valid now and twenty years from now. This not only keeps us viable, but it keeps our authors viable as well. I want a book that screams passion – that the author not only lived this experience, but the story is bursting from the depths of their soul. That’s what makes words leap off the page and worm their way into a reader’s heart and mind.

Building a literary career isn’t an unimportant consideration, and writers are smart to appreciate that what they write today will influence how successful they’ll be tomorrow. Will you be deemed passé if you write about young wizards going to magic school or a cancer story? If you love an impacted genre, then write it because your heart is burning to do so. Who am I to tell you otherwise? That said, you can be count me out as one who will entertain a Trend Bandwagon-itis story.

I believe in my authors’ books and advocate their place among the bookshelves because they focus on issues in a way that few others have considered and will always be a current issue.

When thinking about your writing career, consider whether you want to be part of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, or a meal that makes the headlines in newspapers and magazines because of its unique and distinct flavor.

8 Responses to Are you suffering from Trend bandwagon-itis?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I don’t even think about trends. The really successful people aren’t those who follow trends but those who start them. It’s better to write what you really want to write and hope it does well.

  2. Tom Brosz says:

    And yet, some bandwagons seem to be pretty darn roomy. I found this site on “vampire romances” with a list of authors that published under that category:

    When I was shopping the romance section with my wife, I noticed quite a collection of authors under that category. In fact, on some parts of the shelf it seemed like almost every other author was writing this stuff.

    Of course, few of these people are pulling in the numbers Stephanie Meyers is, but there does seem to be a lot of opportunity in popular genres if you have a good product and get it out there.

  3. I’m not saying these genres aren’t selling,Tom. What I’m saying is that the bottom will fall out, as it invariably does with all trends, and my question is where will that put the author who is eager to cash in on that trend?

    I encounter this a lot – authors who see what the current flavor is and write in that genre. I’d much rather see author write what they love – even if it is that current flavor. And no, I’m not contradicting myself.

  4. Kim Kircher says:

    Another great post Lynn. Trends are often started by a single success. Did J.K. Rowling set out to get on a bandwagon? No. She just wrote compelling books. Those wanting to ride the coat tails of other’s success should instead set out to write great books with a wide appeal. Not only will they be more successful, they will also be more original.

  5. Tom Brosz says:

    It would be interesting to survey a bunch of current authors in a particular popular genre, and ask them if the genre itself influenced them on what to write or if this was their favorite kind of book long before the genre heated up.

    I expect the answers will be mixed, or even “a little of both.” In fact, I bet it’s not uncommon for a new author to become an enthusiastic reader of a new genre, and then want to write things like it. No vulgar motives needed.

  6. danholloway says:

    I’d be intrigued to know what truth there is in the truism (it sounds like a truism anyway) that with (genre) fiction what matters is having the first book, whereas with non-fiction what matters is having the best book? Out of interest, are you flooded with “I lost my city career in the recession but now I’ve rebuilt myself and discovered I actually love pottery/helping the needy/saving the planet/baking better and along the way I discovered I had as soul” books? I know very little about non-fiction (other than books on art and rock music) but for a couple of years I’ve imagined that must be everywhere

  7. Heh, I’ve had a few of those cross my desk. While I’m glad people have found their bliss through the prism of hardship or loss, there is rarely enough red meat for me to throw myself into properly marketing and promoting this kind of story.

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    Thanks, Lynn. I love your blog! This is advice as sensible as warning your kids not to major in whatever’s hot and they think will earn them big bucks as soon as they graduate college (or grad school). Trends shift way too fast for anyone to keep up.

    I’ve always written looking ahead, to the long haul, but also into my heart and have only published the books I loved: mysteries, literary fiction, memoir, biography/criticism, a children’s book, self-help, historical fiction, even an Austen mash-up. When an idea seizes me, I explore it, I give myself to it and see if together we can go the distance. Some books never got finished because they didn’t have enough juice. Yes, I’m aware of the trends, but that wouldn’t stop me from writing a book I’m dedicated to writing and getting out there.

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