Tuesday, September 15, 2020

How to Surf a Trend

La horde - Surfers riding a wave in Paea, Tahiti
Photo by Brigitte Bourger / CC BY-SA, WikiMedia Commons
Have you ever been tempted to drop what you're currently working on and instead try and catch the latest trend for... zombie apocalypses, sparkly vampires that stalk women decades younger than they are, epic alternate-history fantasies with dragons and excessive violence against women, epic alternate-history fantasies with Highland tartan and excessive domestic violence, mainstream bondage erotica with excessive abuse of one particular woman..., angsty teenagers leading rebellions against dystopian governments, etc., etc.?

If you were able to rub shoulders with acquisitions editors, agents, and traditional publishers, and ask their opinion of the ideal time to jump into a trend, they would probably tell you, "Five years ago, unless your name is [insert bestselling author popular in the trend you're talking about]." In the traditional publishing industry, when something is already a trend it is already out of date (because those books were optioned a year or more ago). Nobody really knows how long the wave of any one trend will last, but publishers can't take that risk on a brand new author.

It's a little different on the Indie side of the fence. If you have gone through the publishing process a few times and know the ropes, and if you know you can write quickly and write multiple books, then you could very well succeed at catching at least part of that wave. But sometimes that's all you need. If you like the type of story you chose, and you manage to find your loyal audience, you could set yourself up for a decent run. If you end up hating it, you can quit and pick up a new pen name and start something completely different.

Genre has a longer shelf life, although you'll find popularity of different genres will wax and wane according to what genre the latest bestsellers fit into. But each genre will always have fans, and they will always want books that adhere reliably to the genre tropes they love. In some instances you could bring elements of the latest trends into your books without having to stop and fully commit to chasing one that might ebb just as you launch.

Write as well as you can, edit carefully to make your writing crystal clear and readable, and try to build an audience by putting out some samples, testing, asking questions, and using their feedback to give them what they want. You might soon find you no longer need to worry about trends because you have fans who want just exactly what you write, whatever that turns out to be.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or check our her programme for new writers at Fully Booked.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography


  1. "You might soon find you no longer need to worry about trends because you have fans who want just exactly what you write, whatever that turns out to be."

    Isn't this what it's all about? I never buy a book based on genre. A good read for me has only to be compelling, be well written, and make me think. Some other criteria also apply, but these three are on the top of the list. Great post, Elle. :-)

  2. I've never been much of one for following trends. But I haven't been writing either other than blog posts. I guess I've always been marching to different drummers than most when it comes to cultural trends.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  3. I'm a contrary cuss who avoids jumping on bandwagons or following trends. And writing, for me, is about satisfying that creative itch. Most trends, like vampires, have come and gone before I even realize there is a trend. :D


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