If you’re a writer, you’re often going to hear people talk about the business of writing, and they’re going to say things like “you have to keep up with the industry” or “you have to keep on top of changing trends.” So, what does that mean? What exactly do you need to keep your eye on, and what do you need to look out for?
Well, the problem with “the industry” is that at any given moment, most of it doesn’t make sense.
When people tell you to “keep up” they usually mean figure out what’s selling right now. Okay, so you can go to the NYT Bestseller lists, and you can see what’s on top, how long it’s been there, and what sort of books are really flying off the shelves. That’s what’s hot RIGHT NOW, that’s what the “industry” is focused on.
But, there’s a problem with that.
Do you think those books resting all luminous and lustrous atop that list were picked up by a publisher last month? No, most of those books were acquired by an agent and editor, two, maybe even three years ago. Since then, author and publisher have worked together on editing, pre-production, and fitting the book into a publication schedule. So that means, if you want to be part of the current, hot trends, you had to write a book like that three years ago. By the time something is popular, it’s already too late.
Of course, you also see what happens when a particular book becomes popular–a million books with the same subject matter get published fast, through self-publishing and smaller publishing houses with shorter turnaround times. That leads to oversaturation of the market, and that subject’s sales plummet. This happened when the 50 Shades books blew up, the romance genre was suddenly glutted with BDSM. If you’re fortunate, you were already writing something that became hugely popular and you get to ride the wave too.
If you’re fortunate, you were already writing something that became hugely popular and you get to ride the wave too.
So, how do you end up being part of what’s hot this year?
- Get lucky.
- Be really, really good at predicting trends. However, trends can be insane and highly erratic in the book industry–I’m guessing no one in 2010 was sitting around saying “You know what’s gonna be really, REALLY hot next year? Graphic BDSM erotica!”
To top it off, the rest of the “industry” does nothing but argue with itself. This article from Forbes outlines the constant shouting match between the industry insiders who insist EBOOKS ARE DEAD EVERYBODY, and the industry insiders who insist NO, STUPIDHEADS, PRINT IS DEAD. All you need to do is take a look around you to realize neither one is dead, or really dying.
Does this paint a bleak future for us writers? No, not as far as I’m concerned. For as long as books have been published, all this confusion and uncertainty has surrounded them. Good books, regardless of content, still get to the top. Books about subjects no one saw coming get to the top. Writers who have been working hard for years get to the top and writers who are just starting out get to the top. Thinking too hard about it, and trying to figure out why, will give you a headache.
My advice is the same as it’s always has been, no matter the concern–write. Keep writing. Write write write. It’s the only thing you can control in this mad universe.