It seems as if every week another explosive political book shoots up the bestseller lists—but these books are non-fiction. Politics in fiction?—not so much, according to numerous literary agents. While political junkies can’t get enough of Bob Woodward and the like, today’s fiction readers groan at the mere mention of Washington DC. Consequently, literary agents and the major publishers are avoiding fiction in which politics needs to be mentioned in the copy (novels by James Patterson and Bill Clinton being the exception).
The problem is even thornier for thriller writers: their plots could be outdated tomorrow. For example, three years ago what might have passed for a standard thriller setup, with US and NATO forces being attacked by a rogue state, may no longer be a reliably viable plotline: by the time a newly written book gets published in twelve to eighteen months, the US might have an entirely new set of allies and foes. Despite thriller writers’ penchant for violence and mayhem, real-life geo-politic turmoil is not their friend. They risk writing plots that current events make even more implausible. A suspense novel can’t restore order from chaos if it starts out with chaos.
Right time, right place
In a recent conversation, a prominent publisher and I discussed current book trends. She said, “Cults! Anything with cults.” Later that same week, I spoke with Career Authors’ own Laura DiSilverio, whose upcoming novel A Melancholy of Tombstones features a family entangled with Jim Jones and Jonestown. When writing the novel, Laura said she hadn’t known she was delving into a hot topic. Yet, here she is, about to publish an on-trend book. So perhaps the zeitgeist leads publishing trends.
Love to love you
There are publishing trends big and small. The mad rush for coloring books is over. All of us witnessed the tightening of fictional ropes after Fifty Shades of Grey hit the market. But who knew erotic gay men’s romances were selling like hotcakes among female e-romance readers? Answer: smart eBook publishers. Tracking numbers daily, the e-publishing format makes them much nimbler to exploit the latest trends.
As for the oldest trend of all, sex, it never goes out of style. Problem is, writing about it with convincing panache takes rare skills.
Ride the wave
A few years ago there was a sudden demand for Amish novels. Who saw that carriage coming ‘round the bend? Yet Amish romances rolled up bestseller lists with regularity. At the imprint where I worked, a house author between projects wrote a few of them for us, and we managed to get them onto bookstore shelves before the trend abated.
Ditto the “Girl” fad launched by Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My former mystery eBook imprint managed to work in a “Girl” title, with excellent results. With a tweaked title, an already terrific novel benefited from an extra boost.
Publishers jumping on a trend have a better success rate than individual authors because they’re able to get a book to market much faster, eBook publishers especially.
It’s tougher for the individual writer attempting to hop aboard a literary bandwagon. First, they must finish their trend-targeted novel, get it to an agent who sells it to a publisher, who edits, markets, prints and ships it. Eighteen months might pass and this enterprising writer’s trend-driven book may no longer be part of a trend. And nowadays we know how fast trends cycle.
In Gillian Flynn’s wake, a number of talented also-rans succeed. And the shadow cast by J.K. Rowling still tints bestseller lists. While it’s no easy feat to pull off, it’s true some clever writers prosper writing to trend.
All that said, a career author is better off writing the book they want to write, whether in a genre or not. If by happenstance, your book is part of an ongoing trend, all the better. But novels shouldn’t be faked. Rather than Machiavellian calculations, the best of them draw instead from the heart.
How many Dan Brown wannabes can you read? Trends can lead to market saturation. Are there book trends that have turned you off? Join the discussion on Facebook.