Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Writer’s Resolution 2024: Pretend Trends Do Not Exist (Or, “Fuck It, This One Is For Me”)

Head’s up: what I’m about to say is probably very bad advice, and you should not listen to it. This is generally true with what I say: don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Dubious distrust mode: active.

Okay, so, trends.

Book trends.

Meaning, a reading audience begins trending toward a specific genre or subject matter — like, you know, vampires is a trend once in a while. Superheroes were a trend at the movies for, well, maybe too long. One of the current trends is the portmanteau of romantasy.

Reading trends are not publishing trends.

But publishing trends sometimes like to borrow reading trends.

What I mean is this: Big Publishing looks at, say, TikTok, and sees that Sexy Frankensteins are trending because a lot of people on TikTok (or, rather, BookTok, the reading portion of the Tiks and the Toks) are reading about and recommending The Sexy Frankensteins. Big Publishing then says, “Whoa whoa whoa, we want a piece of that action. We should buy Sexy Frankenstein books, because that is what the readers want.” So they start buying up any Sexy Frankenstein books from their slush pile and they encourage agents and writers to submit to them Sexy Frankenstein books and suddenly there are new Sexy Frankenstein book deals for big money and now a reading trend becomes a publishing trend and a publishing trend becomes a writing trend, except, honestly, the whole thing went off the fucking rails the moment Big Publishing said the words, “We should buy Sexy Frankenstein books.”

It makes no fucking sense to do that. The reason it makes no fucking sense is it’s going to take, most likely, at least a full year for that book to hit shelves. Probably more? And this is assuming the book has already been written. It still has to go through developmental editing and copy-editing and get on the schedule. A year, minimum.

Do you believe a trend will last a year? It might! This of course assumes the publisher bought the trendy Sexy Frankenstein book at the very start of the trend — like, zoom, zip, right as the Hot Sensual Stitched-Together Fella subgenre was gettin’ goin’. Do you think it will last two years? Oooh, okay, now that feels a little less certain, doesn’t it? Especially since Big Publishing is not just one publisher but several (and by several, I mean, uhh, five), and you can be sure if one is chasing this trend, so are the other four, and what that means is — in a world where a lot of books come out often all the time — there’s going to be a whole lot of EROTIC MAN-MADE MEN books hitting the shelves, and as that’s happening, BookTok is going to be like, “Hey, you know what’s hot now? Cottagecore Mesopotamian Cookbook Fiction.” Which isn’t a thing yet, but who the fuck knows? It sounds great, whatever it is. We get Big Feels and Earnest Confessions and Weird Ancient Soups!

In other words, by the time the Big Publisher puts up the flag that they’re hungry for that Frankenlove Narrative, it’s already too late.

And in this sense, what we’re calling a trend could just as easily be called–

A bubble.

And bubbles pop.

So, what does this mean for you as a writer?

Well, it means I think it’s best if you care less about trends. And I say this at a time when a not-insignificant number of my writing friends have had their agents and/or publishers tell them, “Well, can you write romantasy?” — even if their wheelhouse has not now, or ever been, romantasy. (Just to be clear, this is no judgment against romantasy or any genre or subgenre. Read what you read, write what you write, love what you love. It’s awesome.) Don’t get me wrong — if you want to write to a current trend, do it. Especially if you like that trend and think you can rock it. And also, there’s zero shame in chasing the money. If you have your Sexy Frankenstein book ready to go, and they’re buying big on the Lip-Biting Big Brute Sexmonster genre, pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er. Do it. Take the payday. Cover yourself money from your Libidinous Patchwork Creatureman deal!

But if you’re looking to write a book, and your first question is, “What’s hot right now?” then I sorta think you’re smashing your feet with a hammer just as it’s time to race. Because you take three to six months to write the book, then months to find a publisher for it, then a year to get it out on shelves — that genre or trope that was hot right now is suddenly well it was hot two years ago, oops. This isn’t being trendy, it’s chasing a trend, and in this sense, the trend will always move faster than you do. And that’s assuming that the world doesn’t change, too, because when the world changes (like, say, there’s a big pandemic, but those never happen, right?) — reading tastes change, too. Can you predict that shit? I sure can’t. (Uhh, I mean, Wanderers aside, I guess.)

Trends are, or should be, reader-driven, not driven by writers and publishers. Readers should be in control of that, and chasing a trend overmuch does a disservice to the readers — more more more is not always good good good. It’s just a glut. Then the bubble pops. And then nobody wants Sexy Frankenstein books for the next five, ten years.




And ultimately, as a writer, I think there’s so much more delight and love in writing the book that wants to burst out of your chest like a happy little Xenomorph. “This is the weird awful amazing sad sappy splattery sweet fucked-up thing that lurks in my heart,” is way more interesting than, “Well, my publisher asked if I could write a Mesopotamian Cookbook.”

Listen, there’s no harm and no foul in writing whatever you need to do to feed yourself. This is not an effort to shame you into doing differently, and if you can make this work for you, please do, absolutely. But at the end of the day it can also be a trap: one where you think your book might become this big hit, but by the time your book is going to come out, the big hit books have already done the big hit thing, and now it’s just a series of diminishing returns. And if the publisher has detected this shift in the trend — even though they’re the ones who published you because of that trend! — then you’ll find that they’re not really supporting you like you wanted. (Or worse, even in the midst of the trend, they glibly assume the “trend” part will handle the work for them and they don’t have to do much to support it.)

Not every publisher is like this. And you really can’t blame them, either, in a lot of ways, though I also have more confidence in a publisher who isn’t chasing trends and is instead committed to making trends — or even better, just picking and producing the best possible work and then supporting it materially with actual money, and not caring about trends at all.

You can still think about writing books people want to read — which, callously and capitalistically, does translate to, which books they’ll want to buy. There’s no harm in that. Art is commerce, regrettably, and certainly when I think of what books I’m going to write, I definitely try to imagine if they’re books that an audience is going to respond to both critically and financially. I don’t write in a vacuum. I have to think about if people are going to be willing to shed coin for whatever weird shit I want to write. But I can only take that so far. And I can only be so concerned about it in the end because… I also can’t predict what the world will bring.

I’ll give you an example: Blackbirds took a long time to sell. I thought it was an easy sell — “A young woman can see how you die by touching you!” — but all the big publishers rejected it, and often with the nicest rejections. “Oh, we want to publish this but our sales team doesn’t know how to sell it.” I’d offer to tweak it to make it more sellable, and the response became, “Oh, no, don’t do that, then we wouldn’t love it the same.” Which, yes, will make your brain instantly bleed when you hear that. “I want to buy your red wagon but my sales team only likes blue, but if you make it blue, it won’t be a red wagon anymore and I won’t like it as much, anyway, sorry about all that blood squirting out of your nose, here’s a towel.”

It took over a year to find a publisher, and when we did, it was for a fairly low advance — I think after the UK conversion, it was like, $8k, maybe.

And that book has gone on to still, to this day, be one of my most lucrative. One book became three, then earned out, then got sold to another publisher where three books became six, and along the way I continued to license it for film/TV options and across foreign markets and further, it did really well in some of those markets — so much so I get royalties from those books. So, this one book that nobody thought they could sell has done me a good service.

(And, writing that book was for me, an “I hit bottom” moment. I had written five other finished novels before that, each of them being me trying to chase some trend or some voice. It was only when I was like FUCK IT THIS ONE IS FOR ME that I actually sold a book.)

Anyway. Again, this is probably bad advice. But for me, in 2024, I want to be a bit selfish and greedy and brush away trends and say, fuck it, this one is for me. Yes, it’s for you, too, but first and foremost, always and forever, I have to live with myself, I have to live with this book, so it’s for me first.

Y’know, hey, don’t listen to me — you do you! Whatever that is! And me, I gotta do me. Relentlessly, perhaps foolishly, definitely stubbornly. Queue up the Sammy Davis, Jr — “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”

Anyway. Onward we go. Into 2024. Through the door. Into the breach. Toward whatever joy we can grab and whatever fuckery we cannot avoid. We are the squirrel at the fore of this post: perched on the branch in the cold, as the sun rises ahead of us. (Okay, technically the sun is setting in that photo, don’t bother me with the details.)

Selfishly, I note that I did write a book that might help you writer-folk in the year ahead: Gentle Writing Advice. Given the way things have been going for all of us, maybe you need it.

Happy 2024.

Write on, art harder, tell your stories.

You do you.