Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Writers are constantly receiving contradictory messages on everything from art to craft to the business of writing. The contradiction I want to talk about today applies both to writing and to life. It is the constant tension between following your own heart… and trying to fit into the trends.
In life, this applies to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the music we listen to, the books we read… and countless other things. Some of us feel more comfortable with what’s popular, while others feel better marching to their own drummer. I suspect it’s a continuum, and most of us are somewhere in the middle.
In writing, we’re told to write from the heart, to write the story we want to tell. But we’re also told to pay attention to what’s selling and what genres are popular and what word counts are viable… basically, follow the market if we want to get published. So what to do?
I think the answer is, for most people, some version of “both.” It’s really important to be yourself in your writing, find your unique voice, do your own thing. That’s where every groundbreaking new bestseller comes from. But if (as most of you concluded in the comments to last Friday’s post) you really do want to be published, a certain degree of paying attention to the marketplace may be helpful.
Now, some people would say it’s not appropriate at all to pay attention to the market. As an artist, or a purveyor of a message, the only thing that matters is being true to yourself and your vision. Honestly, I believe if that’s the way you feel, you should go that way. For some people, it’s the only way they’re comfortable operating, and I respect that. If a person is talented enough, and persistent enough, and working hard enough, that philosophy may lead to publishing success. But even if it doesn’t, for this person, remaining true to a vision is more important than “selling out” to the publishing industry, and it’s a perfectly legitimate choice.
But I think your best chance for getting published is to write from your heart but also try to minimize the obstacles to publication by understanding the market for which you’re writing. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you need to be aware of all the competing books already out there and don’t write something exactly the same as something else. You also need to be aware of platform and credential requirements for your topic.
If you’re writing a novel, it helps to be aware of genres that are cycling down and others that are trending up. It’s also good to know the conventions of different genres (for example, what differentiates a YA novel from an adult novel) and the word-count expectations.
Follow your heart or follow trends? Like everything else we’ve discussed this week, you need to use your discernment to figure out what to do… and if you just keep working, I think you’ll figure it out along the way.
Q4U: How do you balance “follow your heart” with “follow the market”?
Caroline @ UnderGod'sMightyHand
It is hard to balance this heart versus trends line. Most of the works I’ve read that have impacted me the most are obviously written from the author’s heart. As an interested writer, I do actually enjoy reading about how the publishing industry works. Doing so has also helped me as reader appreciate the hard work involved more.
It seems like learning the general workings of the industry (like your example of what constitutes a YA verses an adult novel) just makes sense. I liken this knowledge to being like learning the basic steps of any skill–it’s foundational knowledge to build skills upon. “Trends,” though, are a little tougher to discern.
As a Christian writer, I feel that the writing on my heart is also what God wants me to do. Not to say He inspired it! Don’t get me wrong. But I do feel that He’s leading me down the path I should go, and the best thing I can do is to follow that.
Sometimes there’s the pressure put on writers to just get published. Anywhere. And I wonder if that’s where people are tempted to follow a trend, just to get something sold so that later they can write what they want.
Can’t remember where I came across this, but I recently read a quote from someone in the publishing industry who said that the new trend in fiction was just the book of the heart that someone wrote. I liked that. Sure hope it’s right. 🙂
Rachelle, CBA women’s fiction has seemed on the downward trend over the last few years as historical fiction has taken off. Do you see WF gaining more interest from publishers in ’12 and ’13?
Heather Day Gilbert
Love this post, Rachelle, and I’ve been contemplating this very topic recently.
Just wondering if Books & Such could ever blog about what’s trending in YA and adult fiction in the CBA? I realize that what’s trending now won’t be trending by the time we can write a book about it, but I think CBA trends run longer than ABA trends (Amish!). Also, historical fiction trends in the CBA don’t always reflect current trends in the ABA. I just know a lot of us writers contemplating our next novels would love to get the “inside scoop” from some pros like you all!
Yes, I agree!
In the picture book market, I feel I am good at balancing both, but in books for middle grade and older children I am struggling. I definitely feel the need to follow my heart more than follow trends, because I don’t like the trends I am seeing. There is so much angst, so many non-involved or selfish parents portrayed in today’s fiction for young people. Whatever happened to books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder that tackled families in distress, but didn’t focus on all the dysfunction? I want to read a book with my 11-year-old daughter that celebrates families, not shows the main character struggling to find her way despite the cards she’s been dealt. I want the main character’s parents to be helpful, not a hindrance.
I’ve worked almost every school book fair in my daughters’ schools for the past six years and I’m not thrilled with the offerings. How does one succeed in this environment?
Thanks for this post, Rachelle. As you can see, it’s a topic that is much on my mind.
I like the idea of viewing hearts versus trends as a continuum and figuring at your marker on that spectrum. Great post!
You have to compare your first novel with other debut novels, not with all novels that are out there. Not many 600 page first novels, I’d bet. I also can’t help wondering why this question gets asked so often. It’s not like this information is a trade secret or anything. Simple goooogling will get you instant detailed answers on this and other basic questions about the writing/submission/publishing process. And any visit to a bookstore will allow you to actually look at real books newly published and see exactly what’s being released, and how long the average book is (hint: for adult novels, it’s 80K to 100K words, as several others in this thread have noted. YA runs somewhat shorter.). caw.