Trendwatch 2011

So, this post comes with the caveat to NEVER bank on a trend when you’re writing. There are people in my submissions pile still writing vampire paranormal romance, fallen angels, and dystopian. The vampires, I’d say, are very much over and there’s no way for me to convey that nicely. The angels and dystopian will stick around for a while but, by now, with editors’ inboxes so saturated, your premise and writing quality better be unbelievably good in order to stand out. Steampunk and mermaids seem like false trends, unless that rumor about Stephenie Meyer’s next series being mermaid-related is true. But a lot of mermaid books are coming out now and not really hitting as well as I think a lot of publishers have hoped.

Publishers create books two years in advance, usually. With picture books it can take longer. With really hot ticket books that are sold in great shape, it can take a year or so. Still, the average is about two years. This means that if you’re just hearing about a trend or some books coming to market that seem to have a common theme, you’re about a year to two too late (Holy Homophone, Batman!). Don’t start writing to trend when you hear about it. Just don’t do it.

With that caveat, I do have an advance eye on these things, as I see manuscripts before most editors see them. I’ve been catching up on submissions lately and can spot something shimmering in the distance. Dreams. Not only have I seen some dream manuscripts for critique (for example, a manuscript that came in for my Do the Write Thing for Nashville auction) this fall, but now I’m seeing dream-related queries by the truckload.

What do I mean by “dreams”? I’m mostly seeing messed up dreams where people are screwing around with other people’s psyches. Is this a direct result of Inception? Probably. But that’s problematic because Inception is a movie and lives by cinematic rules, and books are fiction, with their own related-yet-different workings. Anyway, I feel like your dream manuscript, if you’re cooking one up, has to be really intelligently done. Inception was mind-boggling and very sophisticated. Dream manuscripts, since you’re dealing in a very freewheeling fantasy, are going to be difficult to believe and even more difficult in terms of world-building, right off the bat. Plus there’s the challenge of something happening entirely in the psychic sphere: it’s all mental. What is your real world, external conflict going to be? You still need one. Anyway. I don’t really envy those with this challenge. It seems tough, and I’m already skeptical. All ye dreamers, beware!

What other trends are you all seeing in your literary travels?

32 Replies to “Trendwatch 2011”

  1. Based in the recent deals in Publishers Marketplace and the success of Across the Universe, it seems like sci-fi YA is having a huge spike. Are you seeing a lot of those queries?

  2. I have noticed a lot of dream queries on forums lately and they all sound like they’re rehashing Wake. But you’re probably right about it being due to Inception.

    I would also say I’m seeing a ton of angels. I haven’t seen this much angelic activity since the Bible.

    I have to say I’m curious about sci-fi YA as well.

  3. I’ve been noticing more paranormal romance with the hero/heroine either dreaming about each other before they meet, or having visions about each other. I guess this is an offshoot of what you’re discussing.

    I think my main issue with this trend is that it all but eliminates the need for romantic development. It’s like another mystic form of “love at first sight”, but equally frustrating for me because I like to see romance created, as opposed to just there. But this is a trend I saw nicely subverted in UNEARTHLY.

    I also agree with Pam that I’m seeing a lot of sci-fi, which I think is a welcome change. YA has been pretty relatively devoid of sci-fi, and I’m excited to read more of it.

    One of the trends I keep seeing and is being overdone/I could totally do without is the normal girl meets mysterious broody supernatural boy. You’d think this would have phased out, I still see tons of queries with this as a very primary focus.

    There also seems to be a resurgence in contemporary YA. I’m a huge contemporary YA fan, so I’m really pleased to see this. Books like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and HEIST SOCIETY were a nice change amid the paranormal novels. I just loved them!

  4. Definitely the Sci-Fi angle seems to be a new trend and I have to say I’m not normally a fan but with Across the Universe having just been released I adored it and now have found myself diving into a new trend in search of the next great story.

    I stick with the method of writing what I know and that seems to be working just fine for me. If you focus on the trends I think you get washed up on the idea of just being published rather than writing what you love.

    Great post.

  5. You know, I’m sick of the whole vampire thing and have been for years. I agree that New York believes this trend is over, so people would be wise not to write a vampire book. But I don’t believe the trend actually is over–that the reader is fed up with it. For evidence I submit Amanda Hocking’s success as an indie author. You can’t argue with the sale of 250,000 books in ONE MONTH. My thought is that there are a lot of young girls out there who are never going to get sick of vampires. Which just goes to show that no matter what people might believe about the fortune-telling powers of the marketing departments of publishing houses, the folks in New York are guessing like everyone else. Not that anyone should write a vampire book. It’s unlikely to make it past an agent, let alone an editor.

  6. I love the concept of dreams, but I hope that doesn’t sweep through the YA category like vampires did. One, two, even three good “dream” books would be enough.

    I’m still a huge fan of the contemporary realistic books. Guess that goes without saying, since that’s what I write mostly.

  7. Wow!

    Wow wow wow!

    my debut novel, a supernatural thriller about time-travelling through the medium of dreams, is due out in June next year.

    I haven’t even seen Inception!

    It must be the Zeitgeist, which is funny too since I also write about ghosts…

  8. I still prefer paranormal over contemporary, but like to mix my reading patterns regularly. The ratio’s probably 4-1. I agree with the sci-fi comments and am pleased about the developments in this area. As a reader, I feel that faeries, werewolves and vampires are maxed out, but I’m very much open to steampunk and would love to see an epic mermaid novel (not that I’m biased!).

    BUT (and it’s a big but) I still think there’s room for fantastic stories in all of these areas. A great book is a great book, regardless of subject matter.

  9. Damn! I saw Inception a couple weeks again and there was a little yelling at the TV. It’s amazing to me that sometimes multiple people have the same idea at the same time independently. Grrr.
    Hey, Lee — good to see you here.

  10. If Inception was a book. I would have been so confused in the beginning I may have stopped reading. With it being a movie a though I was more inclined to watch it out. And you’re right Mary, the story was ingenious. Absolutely, loved it.

  11. Argh, I skip out of the country for a few days and way too much happens… Belated condolences for your Sushi loss. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Pets are family, no doubt about it.

    As for trends. This dream trend, if it is one, won’t get me buying/reading. I loved Inception but I just know it’d totally do my head in if I read that story in a book. It would make my brain hurt.

    Aren’t we due another alien trend some time soon? Or has that happened already? I’m thinking sexy hot aliens, not slimy strange scary ones. I have to admit, I’m having trouble picturing a sexy hot alien but I’m sure someone can do the idea justice!

  12. There were also a few unicorn manuscripts in the Baker’s Dozen auction over at Miss Snark’s First Victim. Both got full requests so maybe it’s a trend. Mermaids and unicorns- reminds me of my childhood.

    By the way, I loved your webinar yesterday. How great is it that I can make my 22 month old lunch, empty the dishwasher, fold a load of laundry and hear a great seminar on my laptop. I loved it when you read for the voice portion. It was the clearest teaching on voice I’ve ever heard or read. It just clicked for me. I bet kids love it when you read to them.

  13. I could easily become an SCBWI Conference addict, so was great to hear your perspectives on NY. I was there last year, and in LA last summer, and had to keep my credit card hidden whenever perusing the conference website. At least I have a few months until the next temptation…. Interesting observation on dreams; I do have a dream element to my manuscript, but it’s not the focus. Clearly I will have to go see Inception now – can you write off popcorn as a business expense?! Mary, I love your blog, and very much look forward to meeting you at the March workshop!

  14. I don’t think writers should cater to trends. They should listen to their characters, and write the stories their characters have to tell. If they are vampire stories, or dream stories, or unicorn stories, whatever, as long as they are vital stories that need to be told. My MC talks to me every night, and how could i not write about his journey, his trials, and his growth? maybe this sounds naive or unprofessional, but i’ll leave the trend hopping to the packagers, and hope my writing speaks from my heart.

  15. >>The vampires, I’d say, are very much over and there’s no way for me to convey that nicely.

    Maybe just say that the publishers already have authors in that area?

    That said, I’d like to put out the word that I’m being asked a LOT for ethnically diverse paranormal stories–of late, I’ve had teens asking for an African American vampire novel and (in even bigger numbers) wanting to know, where the vampire love stories are featuring gay/lesbian leads?

  16. Personally, I’m really starting to hate the whole vampire/werwwolf phenomena and would love to see more paranormal stuff about anything else. I’m currently writing a book (A YA paranormal) that doesn’t invovle faeries, vampires, or werewolves by a longshot.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love twilight but I’ve had enough of the vampire/werwolf drama. Period.

  17. It was an eye opener for me, when I spent time learning more about the publishing world and realized that it can take on avg. two years from a publishing deal to the bookshelf. That right there is proof (to me) that you should always just write your book and not try to worry about trends.

    I worried while finally writing my manuscript that fantasy adventure with magic was already passe, but I couldn’t stop from writing it… it had a life of its own after waiting in my head for years. (dreams are a big part of it too!)

    Excellent post Mary. To answer your question, I am seeing a lot of angels in my TBR pile, but seem to be grabbing all the sci-fi and dystopians first.

    I want more thrillers and more witches!

  18. It takes two people to make a trend: The writer who wants to write “Wake” or “Mermaid/Toe Rings” after reading it, and the the agent/editor who “wants another one just like it”.
    (I’d joked on another board that I’d read six agents in one day who said they wanted something dystopian “like The Hunger Game”, and I responded, “Uh, sorry, The Hunger Game’s already been written, can I write something else?” 😉 )

    We can’t do very much about the first type, because the young YA reader/first-writer latches onto a personal fantasy, usually about something in their own life–Maybe they’re just noticing their dreams, or maybe they like writing in metaphor, or maybe, yes, they just saw Inception and thought it was Wicked Kewl…Or maybe mermaids are a cooler way of Imagining You’re Different than all those gothy misunderstood fantasies of vampires. They’re not jealous of the money, they’re just wishing it’d occurred to them first.
    The second type really needs a little more professionalism, IMO–The very nature of chaos is one of the reasons I got into this business, because I wanted to GET AWAY from real people who had the exact same derivative dreams as each other. I don’t mean to be competitive, but we should be trying to top each other with just who can shake things up, and still be readable.

  19. Cyn — Good call. And I am *still* waiting for great LGBT fiction where coming out/being gay isn’t the central issue. I’d like to think that my multicultural pantheon of characters in Karsten Knight’s upcoming WILDFIRE will bring a great shot of diversity to the paranormal genre, but I agree that there can always be more. And thanks for the wording help. You make me sound so nice and sweet. 😛

  20. I like these posts. It’s always good to hear what is being overdone. I’m affraid my category, fairytale remakes, are going to hit the list. Hopefully I can get mine in before that happens, or make it unique enough to stand out. Thanks again for the info!

    And yes, I’m getting sick of the fallen angel thing. And I never was into the werewolf stuff.

  21. OH, and I just thought of another one: Books that play off of ‘Pride and Prejudice”. I love that book just like the rest of womankind, but I’m wondering how long that will keep going and going and going…

  22. Trends are tough. I started a dream book 5 years ago that’s sitting in first draft, a mermaid book 3 years ago that’s 12k in, and I’ve had plans (characters, setting, premise, etc) for a unicorn book for the last 2 years. Dang. 🙂 Maybe I just need get things done a lot faster.

    Kind of like how I wanted to write a Frog Prince retelling back in 2001 and didn’t get around to writing the novel until a month before the Disney movie came out. All aboard the failboat!

  23. So I guess the answer is to follow all trends all at the same time, right?

    How about a love triangle for mermaids that takes place after Atlantis has already been overrun by dystopian government-worker vampires who like to control said mermaids by using their dreams to enslave them to a bunch of fallen angels? We’ll call it the Mer-trix. And we’ll throw in zombies for comedic effect.

  24. Question: Let’s say someone happens to be right in the smack dab middle of writing a novel about dreams. They really believe in it. What would you advise this hypothetical person to do?

  25. Find the “hook” that makes it personal–A trend writer doesn’t have that one personal ingredient that made them write a different book than the others, they’re usually just following the same fan material they read, and maybe repeating the same cool plot ingredients or imagery.
    If the writer believes in their story, he/she should make US (the reader or agent) believe in it, too. 🙂

  26. As Leah Miller’s said, that’s pretty sucky when you’re in the middle of writing a novel involving dreams. When we submit our stuff, we end up seeming like we jumped aboard the trend train IMO, even with EricJ’s helpful comments.

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