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Chasing Trends

softballSince I reopened to queries last week, I’ve been going through the flood of letters that arrived, trying to keep up. One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is how — even after a query break of almost six months — I’m seeing some of the same things over and over again. The girl who’s an outcast or loner, who’s told by a unique boy that she’s special. The flood of paranormal romances, i.e. “Our love is so difficult because we’re so DIFFERENT!” The vampires, ghosts, wolves, guardian angels, and mermaids.

Yes, mermaids — perhaps you read the recent trend pieces that mermaids are the hot new thing?

Well, they may be, but here’s the problem with that: by the time that article was published, agents and editors have already seen dozens of books on similar topics. To try to continue to be successful with an idea that’s already seen a creative flowering is tough. As an aspiring writer, you not only have to be better than 99% of the other queries an agent is getting, but you have to compare favorably to other books like yours that have already been published or sold.

Now, sometimes, I admit, it’s hard to keep up with what’s being sold. And that’s fine — I think authors are better served concentrating on their writing and not trolling the deal reports posted by Publishers Marketplace, as wisely recommended by author Gayle Forman.

Where you need to spend your time isn’t chasing trends, but making sure your novel is that 1% in someone’s inbox, that something utterly and totally new. Agents, for the most part, aren’t looking for the next “__________”, because we don’t know what the next “__________” is. We’re looking for creativity and originality. We’re looking for STORY.

Is that going to be found in your mermaid story, or your retelling of a Greek myth? Maybe — if you can find a way to do so that’s completely original! That’s where the real challenge lies, not in chasing trends but in illuminating them.

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