David Morrell, my fave thriller author, has a great piece of advice to aspiring writers: Be the best writer you can be, not a second rate version of a popular author. Don’t chase the market.
Sound advice, right? Well, here’s where applying it gets confusing: say you have been shopping your dystopia novel for years, and no bites. Suddenly it’s one of the hottest tickets in publishing. Great! You might get something! Only now you might come across as trying to cash in on a trend, or worse, an imitation of popular authors. You know it’s not so, but I can bet you or your agent will have trouble selling it to a publisher. Oh look, another dystopia novel with a teen protagonist. Yawn. Next.
It’s the hypocrisy of publishing that irks me. You talk to anyone in the business- writer, agent, publisher- and they all will stress originality, sticking to what you know, etc. So why is it that so many of the books on store shelves today are nothing more than carbon copies of a single, ridiculously popular novel? Because the public doesn’t want to spend money on something new. They want the familiar. This is why cliches and tropes still work despite having seen them a dozen times over. An agent may adore your take on a popular genre, but if it can’t bring in the cash, it’s not going to get picked up.
Depressing thoughts, I know. It’s any wonder most writers turn to self publishing. The problem with that is because anyone can do it, the chances of finding something worth your time is low. I have sampled some titles in various genres, and the overall conclusion can be summed up in one word: yikes. The same can be applied to the majority of traditionally published titles as well. I’m sure we all have come across a novel or two that earned a thumbs down.
Despite my frustrations with the subject, I am still going to write and submit stories. If something of mine happens to get swept up in a trending genre, I will make damn sure it stands far apart from other popular titles. That is something we all should strive for.