After two and a half years of following reviews, I’ve developed a few ideas about today’s publishing scene and I thought I’d share them with you. This is going to be fantasy and science fiction-centric, because I haven’t been following the debuts of other genres long enough to come to any conclusions. I do think the gist of what I’m trying to say will cross genres.
Also, please bear in mind that I’m no expert. These are simply the conclusions I’ve come to that govern the ideas I choose to pursue as a writer. If you think I’m dead wrong, please say so in the comments. I am willing to be convinced.
1) Write something entirely new. You can’t write about elves anymore. Elves were popular during the Tolkein revival of the 80s. When they started to become overdone, we saw the pseudo-elves of the 90s: the lyra, the eika, the other. Call ’em anything but elves. We all knew they were really elves, and we all winked and nodded.
You can’t get away with that anymore. Writers from the 80s can still write their elf stories. Writers from the 90s can still write their pseudo-elf stories. You have to come up with something new. A few of you might get away with spoofs or twists, as Lisa Shearin and Jim Hines did with elves and goblins, but it has to be both new and fabulous.
Aspire to do with Tolkein did with elves, and what Anne Rice did with vampires. Invent a new genre!
2) If you don’t want to come up with something entirely new, ride the wave of a trend. However, you need to be near the crest of that wave in order to succeed. For example, vampires have been popular, and they continue to be popular with established authors. However, there are fewer and fewer debut vampire novels coming out. It’s all zombies these days.
You also have to be quick to ride that wave. Early last year, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out and became a bestseller. They’re even making a movie of it. Nowadays, other zombie books are popping up, but those were the lucky authors, the ones who happened to have zombie works already in the making. Deborah Blake tells me that she recently heard at a convention that agents are interested in zombie romance. If you happen to have a zombie romance lying around, now is the time to get it in front of an agent.
One thing you can do is see what’s popular at the movies, and then write fast. If you go to a popular movie and get inspired, get it done yesterday, and get it submitted. And be aware that lots of other people will be inspired as well. If the movie is the start of a trilogy, all the better. Your novel, assuming it is published, will come out at the end of the trilogy and you can ride success all the way to shore (assuming the movie sequels don’t bomb). A year after the last Pirates of the Caribbean came out, I saw a handful of shipboard fantasy debuts. But I’m already not seeing them anymore. The authors who jumped on this wave now get to ride it.
3) If you’re not quick, find a rising tide instead. The elf fantasies of the 80s were part of a tide. They endured for years and years before people started talking about “cookie cutter fantasies.” That’s when we started seeing pseudo-elves. Now, the phrase is starting to be “cookie cutter urban fantasies”. Expect pseudo-vampires in the near future. Heck, they’re already out there.
The problem is, telling the difference between a wave and a tide can be difficult. We have no moon of popular culture to guide us. If you wait and see, the wave might crash on the shore.
The big exception I’ve seen to all this is in novels written for children. I still see Young Adult and Middle Grade elf stories, and everyone knows how popular YA vampire romances are becoming. In my observation, YA tends to follow adult stories, and MG follows YA. Because of YA and MG, we get to constantly expose a new audience to the popular waves of yesteryear. They read Lord of the Rings and want to read more elf stories. They read Twilight and want to read more vampire stories.
What have I done to follow my own advice? Well my own 80s-inspired elf story is now trunked. I have considered retooling it for MG (actually it would be an entirely new novel), but I just haven’t been inspired enough to contemplate it. I spent too many years on it as it is.
I also have an epic fantasy that doesn’t go anywhere near elves. Instead, I deal with a pantheon of gods and, my protagonist is dark-skinned. Plus, it takes place in ancient times, rather than medieval. I’m hoping gods in fantasy aren’t a tide that has already passed.
Plus, I have a Jane Austen fantasy. There aren’t any zombies in it; it’s a spy novel. Jane Austen has been a tide in recent years, and I’m obviously hoping that continues. The Pride and Predudice and Zombies movie will probably help Jane Austen fantasies, unless it plunges the entire genre into a parody.
And while I continue to submit those, I’m working on something entirely new. I’ve taken the concept of time travel and have given it my own little twist. I’m hoping recent time travel historical successes (including The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is on my to-read list) makes my novel viable. And I’m hoping my twist is as cool as I think it is.
So what do you think? Am I dead wrong? Am I attempting to read tea leaves? Was this topic really worth a thousand words? Did I take my oceanic metaphors too far? Please share in the comments.