Monday, April 7, 2008

What's Hot and Why You Shouldn't Care

The feature article in the latest issue of Writer's Digest is about what's hot in pop-fiction. It has a rundown of the genres, with discussion from industry insiders, publishers, authors - the usual - and if you ply your trade in genre work, then I recommend checking it out. Concise, informative, and current, you can never know enough about your chosen profession.

However, all of this advice comes with a caveat: don't write what you think people want to read. Of all the Golden Rules and that nonsense - 98% of which you can safely ignore - this one is immutable.

First of all, write what you want to read - always. If you are writing something that you do not really care about, your impassion will show, no matter what. I don't care how well you research it, how much time you spend working at it - none of it matters; if you are not passionate about what you are writing, it comes through. This little rule comes with its own caveat: just because you want to read a fantasy about a boy who finds a dragon, for instance (trite, but time-tested), if you don't know much about the genre, or dragons, or little boys; if you have spent days researching the subjects involved and just don't find anything that sparks your creativity; if you really want to write a hard-bitten crime novel about a whore with a heart of gold (again, trite but true) but you started this a few months ago and are determined to see it through - don't bother! Even if you would like to read a story about a boy who finds a dragon, you might not be the best one to write it.

Do not go by what the market says is "hot." You'd be amazed at how far behind the industry tends to be on what is really "hot." Interview with the Vampire was sweeping the underground horror fiction scene years before The Industry called vampire fiction The Next Big Thing. The fact that it was a best-seller didn't mean much more than that; it was years before The Industry realized that novel's staying power and meanwhile, its popularity as a cult-classic was steadily increasing across school campuses and amidst fans of the genre.

Further, "what's hot" is just another way of saying "what's trendy." Fads come and go just as quickly across the literary landscape as anywhere else, and with the current Web-focus on social networking and online journaling, they now come and go quicker than ever! If you stop developing projects you are currently working on - projects for which you are passionate and knowledgeable - in favor of something "hot" that you think people want to read, that you're pretty sure will sell, you are not only likely to find that the market has cooled significantly by the time you finish, but that you've lost ground on your other projects along the way.

While I suggest this article if you work in any of the genres listed, or hope to, keep in mind that you never want to let The Market dictate your work or direction. Stay true to yourself and your craft - write what inspires you, what you would like to read, and what you are comfortable with. While it's always good to stretch your limits and try new things, your intentions should always be to improve yourself and your work, not just sell it.

If you absolutely have to have more money coming in, consider taking on a part-time job, starting a website, or investing more time promoting the work you've already published. A lot of times, you will find that by adding more income streams - even if those streams bring in minimal returns - or putting in more effort marketing and promoting yourself and your work that's already out there, you can maintain your work's integrity, as well as your own, and still make enough money doing what you love to survive.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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