Writing in a Fad-Driven Market

Recent Book Fads

For the last couple of years, it’s been Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games and (heaven-forbid) Fifty Shades of Grey (and yes, I have read all three of the books, but that’s an exposition in itself). Before that, it was Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Twilight. Looking back at this list thus far, I realise that have read them all, bar Twilight (NB Twilight has been recommended to me as a great trashy read, but after only managing to stomach watching half of the overly teenage-angst-ridden movie, I have no impetus to read it – perhaps a classic example of should have read the book first. No offence to Twilight fans intended, I know that my younger self would have been relishing the world that Stephanie Meyer created). Before Twilight, there was Harry Potter. ‘nuff said.

But this is just the thing. The entire book and film market has become hugely fad-led. One big thing that turns the tides of commissioning for all the publishing houses. Who in 2005 would have understood an entire section of a bookstore being dedicated to Paranormal Romance? But there we go. Yes, to a degree, the market has always gone in the direction of the big thing. The children’s market sees it a lot: one year it’s aliens, the next it’s cowboys, the next it’s dinosaurs, who can keep up? Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t feel that the adult market had this sort of tunnel vision until the last decade or so (man, that makes me feel old). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these books as fads. Some of them are brilliant works of literature, as well as being thoroughly entertaining. It’s just that it makes the market more volatile, and tending towards a singlular pursuit for a given time. Which basically means that if you are not of the correct trope, you’re unlikely to be published, and if you are of the correct trope, you’d better get busy finishing off that novel (my personal debilitating issue).

The particular reason it worries me is the fact that fairy tales are hot right now. Really hot. Look at the movies that are out: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Red Riding Hood (2011) (as well as the upcoming Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), which looks dire btw), and much more prominently the TV series Grimm and Once Upon a Time. Granted, except for Once Upon A Time, none of these has made a huge splash, but they are indicator of the fas. I really enjoy watching Once Upon a Time and recommend it highly, but it does hugely dilute my material. It is pretty much a parallel of the work I’ve had in the pipeline for years. Yes, true, there’s no such thing as an original story, and far less so when you are rewriting existing works. The worry is still there though. I have to get my arse in gear, finish and publish my book Four and Twenty Blackbirds in time to latch onto this window, because it may be a decade or more before it comes around again. My only saving grace (thus far) is that I have not yet come across a new fairy tale-esk novel of note. But it’s only a matter of time. More application of arse to seat and pen to paper is required, methinks.



6 responses to “Writing in a Fad-Driven Market

  1. A very insightful article! Just a thought: Perhaps the volatility of the market might have to do with demographics? Specifically the change in the leading generation? What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Writing Ladders, thanks for the comment. I’ve had to think about quite a bit (apologies if it’s a bit of a long winded answer). In my listed examples, I think that Harry Potter was the last trend that was actually popularised by literal word-of-mouth.

      Stieg Larsson and Stephanie Meyer were before the advent of the kindle but after inception of Facebook, and I’m guessing that social networking played a part in the rise of popularity of these titles, because, hey, 3 million (or so) people can’t be wrong. (Although Stieg Larsson managed to capture his ongoing popularity in kindle sales when it was launched)

      And for the recent ones, I think that it was social networking coupled with the instantaneous access that ebooks brings (NB George RR Martin was one of the first authors to sell 1 million ebooks). In that way, I think that technology played a role. I’m not sure if it reflects the spread in demographics. There’s a pretty wide spread in demographics on social networking and on ebooks, I’m not sure about actual figures, but hearsay says that the most popular ebook readership is towards middle age or older…

  2. Thanks for the quick reply! Its an interesting point with the effects on social networking in the mix. Brings a new dimension to ‘word of mouth’.

  3. Is it a fad driven market, or is it just fad driven marketing? Thirty-something years separate “Interview With A Vampire” from “Twilight”, if paranormal romance is a bandwagon, it’s a bandwagon with a hell of a long caboose. Despite tons of cash poured into promoting books about school kids who find out they can do magic, we are still waiting for the next “Harry Potter”.

    Every time a book or movie or play or video game makes a hefty profit the marketing folks decide that those genre elements are the secret to success and start plugging anything that shares common characteristics with the hit.

    I’m not sure that a superficial resemblance to yesterday’s smash hit has anything near as much influence with the buying public, however. Book buyers, in particular, are much more likely to follow their own preferences and listen to friends’ recommendations than to be swayed by big advertising budgets. (A fact that has had publishers pulling out their hair since the invention of movable type.)

    My advice is to not sweat the fads and write what you write. Maybe the success of “Lost Girl” will help you pitch a fairytale themed novel to an agent or editor, but the book will either stand or fall on its own when it hits the market. Tannith Lee’s “Red As Blood” didn’t excite anyone on Madison Avenue, but it still has legs (in fact I want to go see if there’s a Kindle edition now.)

    Write for people–leave fads to the salesmen.

    • Thanks for the very insightful comment Misha. I agree that book buyers are more likely to follow their own preferences and friend’s recommendations than be swayed by big advertising budgets. Although there will always be a certain amount of perhaps I need to see what the hype is all about – as happened with myself and 50 Shades of Grey (to my detriment). Also, 50 Shades, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight and the Hunger Games first emerged either as self-published works, or from smaller publishers without a huge marketing budget, for whatever reason word of mouth seemed to work for them. I agree that the marketeers jumped on the bandwagon, but there was already a bandwagon to jump on. My worry though is less about the readership picking up my book, and more the commissioning publishers shrugging their shoulders and saying that the trend has passed and so will they.

      I do hear what you’re saying about writing though, and thanks for the advice and the encouragement.I need it. I also need to stop paying attention to the business focus of getting published and just focus on finalising something to get published. Thanks again! Sophus

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