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Eye on Industry



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Back when I was lunching with agents four or five times a week (which went a long way toward explaining the extra twenty-five pounds I carried with me then), a common question was, “What are you looking for?” I always answered the same way: “I want the best things you have, the projects you love the most.” I answered this way because I truly believed it was the only way to answer. I prided myself on having broad tastes, but more importantly felt there was no value in trying to jump on a trend, either one that was working for me or one that was working throughout the industry. The simple fact was that the rhythms of book publishing made trendspotting a futile option. Even if I bought a manuscript the day after the lunch, it would take at least nine months to get to market. In many cases, the trend would have been played out by then or at the very least the pipeline would be full. To me, it always seemed to be the better play to acquire something that genuinely excited me, because I always believed there would be an audience for a high quality offering. Certainly, this backfired on me numerous times, but some of my most successful acquisitions came from taking this approach.

Now, though, trendspotting might have some value, especially if you write quickly. After all, you can have your novel on sale the afternoon you finish it, if you really want. Even if you factor in time for copyediting, you could have it up in a few weeks. Book trends tend to last at least that long. If you look at the Kindle or Nook top ten today, you’ll see several “new adult” titles there. Do you have one of those in you? How quickly can you get it out? A few months from now, you might notice that faeries are hot, or female firefighters, or royals in exile, or maybe stories about women with magical powers who rescue a shamed duke from a blaze.

If so, does this resonate with you?

For possibly the first time in publishing history, it might make sense to seek inspiration in what’s hot. If your reflexes are good enough, you might be able to get something out there at the height of the trend. This could provide some nice cash and maybe even a career boost. This might even be a way to find your muse.

Trendspotting in this fashion can be used a bit like the writing prompts my seven-year-old gets in school: “my favorite thing about February break was....” It’s even possible that your variation on a trend might become distinctly yours and even extend the trend. One of my hobbies is writing and recording songs. Since I’m not a particularly original songwriter, the songs always start from some fixed launch point. One might start off with the goal of imitating Brian Wilson, another Coldplay, yet another a shameless attempt to replicate “Use Somebody” (best song of the century so far, in my opinion). The thing is, these songs never wind up sounding like their inspirations because I’m nothing like Brian Wilson, Chris Martin, or the Followill Boys. Maybe the same thing would happen if I decided to write an exiled royalty novel (not that I’m trying to make exiled royalty novels happen).

However, I will never be tempted to do this. I once wrote a novel in two months, but that was an anomaly.

Most of my fiction takes at least a year to produce. My novel Blue took six years. If I tried to catch a trend, I might catch it in time to appear retro. I’m also not convinced that seeking inspiration from what’s hot ever generates authentic work. Seeing a trend and saying, “I could write one of these” is very different from having an idea hit you (from any of a number of sources) and realizing “I’m supposed to write one of these.” But if the theme to this decade is “Everything is Different” (along with the corollary theme “Many Things Aren’t as   

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