Dont Chase the Market

As a professional writer of fiction, you can go crazy trying to out-guess the editors... trying to figure out where the market might go next, or just what such and such publisher "must really want. " You can waste far too much emotional energy trying to get out in front of the latest trend.

Having said that, let me quickly add that you must, of course, do everything in your power to keep abreast of trends in the sales of fiction. If you're working in the shorter lengths, you should maintain close touch with each new marketing aid such as Writer's Market and/or Literary Marketplace. Magazines change their emphasis from time to time, sometimes in response to new orders from a publisher seeking out a new readership audience, sometimes because a new editor comes in with new and different ideas. These changes will be reflected in published statements about what the magazine wants... eventually. So at least you should check in with your local library or bookstore every so often to find market aids.

In addition, it goes without saying (doesn't it?) that you should read and study your target magazines on a continuing basis. A new editor might alter the magazine's desires today, and it could be more than a year before any library/book marketing publication reflected the change. If you are alert and analytical in your magazine reading, you'll spot the new emphasis far sooner.

Magazines for writers are a gold mine of up-to-date market information. The "how-to articles" will help; but you should not overlook the trade news section in the back of the magazine. This may provide your first hint that the times, they are a 'changin' at your target publication.

For the novelist, a study of the publisher's latest fiction list may provide valuable clues. Ask your local newspaper book reviewer or bookstore owner to share the publishers' catalogues with you. You can see what kind of novels this publisher is publishing-the catalogue will provide an illustration and plot summary, both of which can be helpful. The ranking of books to be printed in the near future may provide you with valuable clues, too: it's easy to pick out, from wealth of illustration, space and placement in the catalogue which novels are that publisher's expected "leaders" in the next quarter.

Finally, some publishers (especially the romance publishers) can provide you with sometimes-elaborate "tip sheets" that specify all sorts of things that publisher wants or doesn't want in submitted novels. It's common for such tip sheets to tell you the desired age of the central characters, settings that the editors may be overstocked on, etc. A letter of enquiry together with a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE), will bring you the tip sheets.

All of these aids keep you from writing a good book that is simply not acceptable because of publisher prejudices you might have learned about at the outset. All such aids and studies help you learn more as a novelist.

On the other hand - and hence the title of this chapter-it's a common observation among publishing professionals that too many new novelists hang themselves up trying to find "a sure thing" in publishing. Chances are that even the tip sheet you get from a publisher today will include no-no's that you might include in a novel and still sell to that publisher, if everything else about the book was wonderful. There just are not a lot of ironclad rules at book length.

Further, trends change with astonishing speed in book publishing today. By the time you got a tip sheet saying submarine stories were "in" - and Tom Clancy's best-seller was being made into a movie - a dozen other publishers might have jumped on the bandwagon to prepare submarine novels of their own, glutting the market and ending the trend. Not long ago, spy novels involving the CIA and the KGB were hot stuff. Then the Soviet Union changed drastically... readers grew tired of such spy maneuvers... and the subgenre died on the vine.

Maybe you can spot a developing hot trend and get your book written in time. But it's chancy business. Even if you guess perfectly, a lot of other people are probably guessing right along with you. And then it's going to take you a year to write this hot idea... a year to sell it... another year to get it through the editing and publishing process.

And how hot is that hot trend really going to be in three years?

For all these reasons, chasing after the market can be a self-defeating process. In addition, consider how much creative, analytical energy market-chasers expend, trying to outfox the trendsetters. Might it not be more profitable to stay aware of trends generally, yet concentrate your energies on simply writing the best novel you know how to write?

In today's crazy fiction markets, it's devilishly difficult to outguess the future. You may hear people say they have it figured out. Don't let them make you uneasy. Your business is creating stories. If you do that well enough, the trends will tend to take care of themselves.

Be aware. Pay attention to the business end of writing. But always keep in the back of your mind a reassuring fact: every hot new fiction trend was Usher's expected "leaders" in started by a lonely writer, working alone, bucking whatever the last trend seemed to be, and creating such a grand story that it started a new trend the moment it was published.

Or to put that another way: the best books don't follow trends; they establish them.

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