Meet Mary. Mary’s a dew-faced twenty-something with aspirations of becoming an author one day. She reads all the time. When something she reads/sees at the movies excites her, she writes when the lights are out and the rest of her household is sleeping comfortably beneath their sheets. A lot of the time it’s fanfiction or self-insertion into existing universes, which is perfectly fine, because HECK. Writers have dabbled in those waters many-a-times, writers will continue to do so, and ALL THE POWER TO YOU, MARY.
Here’s the thing. Mary’s writer aspirations means she turns some of her dabbling into full manuscripts. They’re stories that make her tingle all over (and really, that’s what a lot of us do this for) but Mary wants to see those tingle-stories get on shelves. Only no agent’s ever biting. She’s always missing the boat.
You want to know Mary’s crime? Being too big a fan.
“How can this possibly be a bad thing, Hillary, YOU HIDEOUS JERK?”
Excuse me, just because I haven’t brushed my hair yet doesn’t make me hideous, just a little unkempt, BUT that’s not the point. The point is Mary tends to read OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF, GET EXCITED ABOUT IT, AND THEN GO OFF TO WRITE STORIES SIMILAR IN TONE. She’s latching onto coattails not because she wants to siphon success from genres/writers she admires, but because ENTHUSIASM. And enthusiasm is awesome, dudes. Writers want people to be enthusiastic, but if you’re an agent or an editor, why would you want to buy EMPTY STOMACH GAMES when you’ve already got HUNGER GAMES? See my point? Getting excited about another author’s work is one thing, but to go and rewrite the story with slight variations in world/characters/theme isn’t going to cut it. Sometimes the success of a mega-hit like TWILIGHT or HUNGER GAMES means that agents and editors are more open to acquiring things in a similar genre, but knock-offs will rarely be picked up. Originality in story/genre is key here.
Here’s the other thing – genre chasing is generally a bad idea. By the time you actually complete a book in the “hot” genre, it’s possible (and even likely) that all the slots for that type of book are taken. I know a lot of people like to read the ever-informative Pub Rants by Kristin Nelson because she’s a doll and puts up lists telling us what editors are looking for, but unless you have something on that list STAT, it’s not necessarily helpful. If it takes you six months to craft the book, don’t you think it’s likely an editor has found another YA Thriller by then? Because people write those fairly regularly. Sure, it’s possible they haven’t found THE RIGHT PROJECT, but it seems a bit risky to me.
A question I see a lot is, “If that’s the case and trend chasing is bad, what can I hope to sell one day? How do I know what to write?” The answer is simple and not simple at the same time. Write a good book. No, not good, write an AMAZING book. Write an amazing book with such an original twist, no one can accuse you of trying to publish fanfiction or chase someone else’s success. Genre won’t totally nuke you from orbit unless the market is absolutely glutted or there’s an agent/editor’s personal exhaustion factor to contend with, but even then, if you watch PW announcements, you’re going to see books purchased from all walks. Yes, even the glutted genre will get a bite here and there. Maybe it won’t be as many bites as it used to be, but it still happens.
Write the type of story you want, but if you get halfway through it and realize you’re accidentally shadowing someone else’s mega-hit and OH MY GOD, go back and rework it until it’s truly yours. I understand that things like 50 SHADES happen — yes, that was TWILIGHT fanfic where she changed the names — but that’s not a tactic any writer would advise you to duplicate. Because it’s an anomaly. A sticky, girl-porn, mega-selling anomaly.
In short? Don’t trend chase because you’ll be late to the game. Don’t rewrite someone else’s work because it shines through and won’t yield the results you want. Write strong. Write original. Keep trying even when you’re wracking up rejections like Lohan wracks up misdemeanors.
You got this, Mary. YOU CAN DO EET. I BELIEVE IN YOU.