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A Trend in Trends: Why No Genre Ever “Dies”

Trends are a major force in commercial fiction these days.  Forum threads, blog posts, magazine articles, even how-to-write books are teeming with theories on how to spot, find, catch, ride, avoid, etc whatever the hot new trend is.  Dystopian is dead, the nail’s in the coffin on vampires, and we’ve found the cure for lycanthropy.

 

But it’s actually a lot more complex than that.  Vampire books are still being picked up, dystopians are still coming out, readers are clamoring for the next John Green-style YA contemp.  And there’s a good reason for that.  The anatomy of a publishing trend can be summed up in a few easy steps:

  1. Someone, probably long ago, wrote a story.  A novel or not, doesn’t matter.  The knowledge of it has survived until now.  There may be a few similar books, but no one really connected them before now.
  2. Someone, pretty recently, wrote a story.  It happens to have some elements in common with our previously discussed story.  There may or may not be direct inspiration involved.  The story sells, possibly for a lot, possibly for a little, to some publisher.  The publisher puts some marketing behind it–or doesn’t–and it’s a huge success.  It might take a few years, but eventually, the book hits its tipping point and suddenly everyone is reading it.  It struck a note, embodied the zeitgeist, whatever.  Suddenly, whatever the topic is, it’s hot.
  3. Several people, with previous novels, novels in the pipeline, or novels on sub wrote similar stories.  They were probably tapping into the same spirit.  Whatever the reason, these books are now hot.  They’ve managed to get in ahead of the trend.  If their book was previously published, now it’s getting a bump from comparisons to the hot novel.  If it was in the pipeline, their publisher is sad they missed the trend-setter, but glad they have a quick follow-up, bound to be successful.  If the book is on-sub–and decently-written–agents are chomping at the bit to snag it and pass it off to a publisher for the big bucks.
  4. The follow-ups come out, make bank, for more or less than the original.  People were hungry for more of what the original gave them, and these feed that hunger, more or less.  Now we have a full-blown trend.  Everyone wants more, movie deals are going out left-and-right.  Now anybody who ever thought about writing a novel, or writing this kind of novel jumps on their computers, starts typing.  Inboxes are flooded with queries, everyone jumps at the shot for more money.  The market gets flooded with books.
  5. Publishers buy, put out new books as fast as possible.  These books also sell well.  People who rarely read normally buy into this new hot thing, especially after seeing the movies.  The market hits saturation.  Agents stop asking for these books.  Writers keep sending them.  Maybe some really good ones get picked up.  Some sell to publishers, some of those do well; many do badly.  Trend is “over”.
  6. Nobody wants these anymore.  Agents and publishers are all booked out.  Authors still send them.  Some are still trend-chasing but have missed the window.  Others are just writing what they want to write and had bad luck with timing.  They get told no one is looking for those books anymore.  Maybe, if they’re really lucky, and have a great hook or fantastic writing, they might get picked up.
  7. The trend is dead.  And then someone writes a new book.  It’s great.  Most people only remember one or two of the trend books, probably including the original.  (Twilight, for example.)  The book gets picked up; rinse and repeat.

 

We’re around step 5 or 6 for YA dystopian right now, near step 7 for paranormal romance.  Traditional high fantasy is around 7, as well.  This cycle is faster now, tending towards around 5 years from first book to first book, and around 3 years from first book to step 5.  And while you may have to update a few things between cycles, there will never be a point where a book becomes forever unsaleable based purely on having missed the trend cycle this time around.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Publishing

 

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Your Opinion Does Matter: On Privilege and Conversation

I read a very interesting blog post recently.  That post was “I’m Still Here” by over on YA Highway.  Daud makes a lot of good points in this post.  About the issues of using your privilege to take over a discussion, for example.

However, she makes a key point in the post which I have to disagree with.  Particularly: “But here’s the thing: your opinion doesn’t actually matter.”  Please do click the link and read the entire post before you jump to judgement, or even conclusion.  Context is important.

But, even with that context in mind, I don’t agree with this argument.  Your opinion does matter.  What you have to be careful of, though, is that, because of historical issues that Daud explains in depth, the opinion of someone on the privileged side of a privilege debate is often taken more seriously than the opinion of someone on the other side.  That is definitely something that should be avoided if possible.

One of the supporting points Daud makes in her post is the issue of how the same conversation happens over and over again, and how that is evidence of people not listening.  But that’s not an issue of listening, and it’s not specific to discussions of privilege.  Neither side of the debate is a cultural monolith.  New people are constantly entering the conversation on both sides.  Constantly.  The same way they are in any conversation.  They weren’t there the last time.  They may have read the transcripts, if such exist.

But there’s a reason small group discussion is so common in schools.  That’s how people think and learn, by talking it out.  Until we get to the point where diversity is the default, there will always be more people to convince.  So yes, maybe you have just clicked with something that others have been discussing for ages.  That’s not called privilege, or not listening, or over-eagerness.  That’s called being new to the discussion.  Perhaps even relatively new to the planet Earth and life itself.  There’s a common saying in the writing community that every story under the sun has been told and retold a thousand times.  There’s a reason we get that repetition.  I still agree with Daud that new voices, especially privileged ones, should not be engaging in hostile, or even relative peaceful, take-overs of the conversation.  But to say that those new voices don’t count at all?  I can’t go along with that.

The following paragraph, on only talking to the privileged groups who control the structure of, in this case, publishing makes some good points, but I don’t think the transition to that from “your voice doesn’t matter” is quite so smooth as implied by Daud’s post.  That aside, I absolutely agree with the conclusion of the entire post: that rather than children or helpless invalids, minorities in publishing (and all other spheres) should be thought of as equals who are in fact driving the conversation.

Rather than muddying up that discussion, the people who are privileged on this issue should be having their own private rooms for private discussion, always remembering that those are side conversations, and that the real discussion is being arbitrated by the groups who actually have to deal with the unfair treatment, consideration, and lack of representation.  Your voice and your opinion are important, but they should be adding to the discussion, not taking space away from minority and under-privileged voices.  As a privileged person in any discussion, that’s a responsibility you must always keep in mind.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in atsiko, Publishing, YA Fiction

 

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How Getting Published Has Become Like Getting Laid: Writing/Publishing is Emulating the PUA Culture of Modern Dating

While reading a thread over on AbsoluteWrite about the old adage: “You should pitch your book as a standalone-with-series-potential” I finally made the connection to a trend a lot of dating blogs talk about: trying to game the system.  Pick-Up Artists spend a great deal of time marketing–and I assume selling, or they would get a new gig–tips and tricks and even full-fledged systems for getting laid.

There’s all sorts of different people peddling different ideas, but the major idea of PUA is that women are gate-keepers (usually for sex), and that there are sure-fire ways to trick/convince them to unlock those gates.  If you aren’t getting laid, you just need to get more game, and the PUA masters can sell it to you for ten easy payments of $9.99.  These systems occasionally include good information hidden in the dross, but their main suggestion is that you need to lie, cheat, and trick women into liking you, and there are scientific reasons why and for how to do it.  In fact, you can even convince someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you that what they actually want is nothing else but you.  Hopefully you agree that that’s total bullshit, and dis-respectful at best, possible rapey at worst.

And after reading some of the response to that thread on AW, I’ve come to realize that a lot of publishing advice tends in this same direction, although it tries much harder to present itself as education and understanding of what publishers want than PUA tries to pretend it cares about women’s feelings.  Obviously gaming publishers into giving you a contract is morally incomparable to the sorts of rape-tastic, misogynistic, creepy bullshit that is most PUA, but while the degree differs greatly, the pattern of thinking is remarkably similar:

If you just do the right things, say the rights things, have the right timing, women publishers  will give you a blowjob contract, and the reason you’ve failed so far is because you just haven’t learned the rules.  Even if you’re ugly/poor/an asshole your book has some issues, you can greatly improve your chances to get laid be published, if you just learn these ten simple tricks/pick-up linesbody language cues query rules/grammar tips/plot structures.

But that’s not really how dating writing works.  These ideas teach you to lie to women compromise your story on the basis of a few trends or anecdotes coming from a small group of people, many of whom don’t really have the knowledge or experience to back up their claims.

The issue that inspired this post was about querying series vs. standalones.  And how you should pitch a standalone-with-series-potential, even if you wrote the book you’re pitching as a pure series/pure standalone, and some fairly significant changes would have to be made to fit this “rule” of querying/publisher’s desires.  Otherwise you’re committing serious publishing faux pas.  And this is just one example from a long list of writing and publishing truisms, such as “show, don’t tell” that don’t reflect the reality that much.  There’s a whole mythology behind this type of thinking, and it’s being perpetuated even more now that the writing community is so interconnected and interactive.  Someone, no matter what their platform, spouts off about these rules, and the people who hear them take it as gospel and repeat it to everyone they know.  I’m not saying anyone is doing anything intentionally malicious here.  The fact that 99.99% of this interaction is in good faith makes it all the more insidious and damaging.

I have a problem with this type of thinking for a few reasons:

A)  A lot of it is just plain untrue, or misunderstood from legitimate/contextually specific suggestions and advice.

B)  Not every situation is the same, nor do all agents/editors/authors/readers agree on every little detail.

C)  It perpetuates an idea that the rules are what get you published, explain why bad books get published/accounts for why your literary masterpiece is still seeking representation after five years and forty rounds of increasingly desperate querying.

Much like the great majority of PUA philosophy, it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the AverageFrustratedChump author, places the authority in the hands of a few misogynist assholes merely lucky/misguided/well-meaning-but-misinformed authors/agents/editors.

That’s not to say that these people are lying, or stupid.  Just that success doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding of that success.  Eeveryone’s experience in dating writing/publishing is different, and you can’t apply every little thing to every single person.  Sometimes you just have to admit you’re boring/an asshole/have bad timing aren’t quite ready for publication/this book will never be published.

I wish I had some answers.  Some way to remove this fog of misinformation.  A sure-fire route to publishing success.  But just like everyone else, the process is always going to be just a bit beyond my full understanding, and I’ll have to take some risks, indulge in some trial and error, and eventually work my way there by hard fucking work or a bit of lucky coincidence, just like everyone else.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Publishing

 

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Naming Names

There are quite a few idioms in our culture that involve identification.  Due to things like privacy, bias, and fear, we often want to talk about a characteristic of something without identifying what the something is.

In the case of my inspiration for this post, that something is a book.  A famous book even.  But I don’t know what that book is, because the person talking about it refused to name names.  I respect this person, a well-known blogger in the circles I frequent.  I have probably read this book.  I would love to know what book they are referring to, because I would love to hear their opinion on it.  But for some reason, they feel uncomfortable expressing a public opinion on the subject.

I wonder why.  You see this all over the place, and especially in writing circles.  And I honestly don’t see a concrete reason why it should be that way.  I have some guesses as to why in some cases, but there’s nothing that defines clear, deserved consequences for breaking this apparent social rule.

First, there’s probably a desire to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  In this case, referring to a published book by a famous author, I don’t think they really need that amount of protection from hurt feelings.

Second, I often hear people worrying about getting black-balled by the industry.  Now the fame of the author might be relevant, but I don’t know of any serious cases where this has actually occurred.  So again I wonder at this omission.

Third, since there does seem to be a a set etiquette here, there’s the desire to appear to be playing by the rules and not being rude.  Which probably makes the most sense out of all the reasons I can think of.

There are probably a lot more reasons, major and minor, that I haven’t thought of.

Any thoughts?

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Authors, Blogging, Books, Reviews

 

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