Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reading in Genre

Most writers write in the genre they enjoy the most. In other words, if you love romance and happy endings, admire writers like Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood, then you will begin writing romance. If you love Stephen King and Clive Barker, then you will most likely create stories in the horror genre, etc. We read what is trending now. What we find in books stores. But most books hitting shelves today were written two years or more ago. So the present is the past. If you write a book in the style of what hits the shelves today, by the time the book is written and queried that trend will be over. Editors have said as much on their blogs. They have said their guess is the next big trend will be X, but don't write one because by the time it hits their desk it will be too late. Trust me, chasing trends is the fastest way toward madness in this business.
So, how does a writer predict what type of story will not be "too late?"
Some writers say, write the book of your heart. It will eventually come into popularity and you will enjoy every moment of writing it. I say, that writing what makes you happy is always good and never a waste of time, but be prepared to put that book of your heart away until the trend it reflects resurfaces, which could be years.
Well, then what? Hire a personal market researcher to predict the next trend? They do that for corporations you know, research and predict what the next "hot item" will be two years down the road. That suggestion is an extreme and expensive solution that is no more exact a predictor than writing the book of your heart.
What is a writer to do?
I've been thinking about this and--while reading a critical work on genre fiction for my MFA--I realized that perhaps predicting trends may not be outside our reach. What?! How?!
We love to read, right? We love to read our genre. It's what gets us started wanting to write. What if we, as writers, take the time to read the classics in our genre. Do a little research-ask questions of older readers. Who were the authors that got them started? Or was it a certain publisher? A certain type of book? Dig those books up. Read them. Read a few long time best sellers first books-don't think about the quality because the rules were different then. Think about the story line. Go into the past, then the now, then read the debut authors on shelves today (those bought two years ago) and you will begin to see cycles in story lines. Think about what was happening in the world at the time. Compare it to what is happening now. Genre fiction, like fashion, has trends that come and go and reflect the past with what they hope is a twist of the future. A solid understanding of the history of your genre can help you to predict and start the next trend.
Does this sound like a lot of work?! Are you aghast at the thought? I mean, all we want to do is write and get published, right? We're busy enough with writing and marketing, etc. What if you do all that work and still don't catch the next wave?
I say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you do some deep reading in your genre you'll see that nothing is unpredictable. You'll see the trends. And, if nothing else, you'll have a good time reading and remembering why you love this genre in the first place. Just a thought. Cheers~


Talli Roland said...

Good point, Nancy. If we're in touch with our genre, we can probably predict what's coming!


Marilyn Brant said...

I'm definitely game to try this, Nancy. And I have a towering TBR pile of contemporary women's fiction just waiting for me!!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Talli, thanks for stopping by. They say all the trends are coming out of England right now. :)

Hi Marilyn, it is a good excuse to get to the TBR pile- and to revisit some old keepers. :)


Heather said...

Such a scary thought, but a good one. Sometimes I feel I barely have time to write, but I know I need to read more.

Maybe I can hire a reader... :)

India Drummond said...

Great suggestions! I hadn't thought of it this way... but it sure does make sense.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Heather, one book at a time is how I do it. I keep books in almost every room and my car so I can read in the five or ten minutes I have between doing things. I agree there needs to be more hours in the day!

Hi India, thanks for stopping by. It struck me that editors can see trends coming because they read so much. For writers, though, it will be about balancing reading and writing time. That's tough!


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I think even if I could predict trends, I couldn’t necessarily make my mind create a story around them. For instance, even if I knew that vampires were going to be all the rage, I’m quite sure I couldn’t write a book that included one. I guess I’m destined to write whatever pops into my head and hope for the best.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, I think on some level I feel the same way. lol Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~