Should You Follow or Try to Set the Trend?: Following a trend in writing

Zombies are supposed to be an up-and-coming trend. Add dinosaurs to the mix (as my husband assures me would be a fantastic idea) and you have two of my most despised entities together.

At writers’ conferences, in related news articles, the publishing industry, like other industries, is always trying to keep up with and predict the next trend in the hopes of making the most money by having the product consumers want when it’s hot. Writers, likewise wanting in on the deal, sometimes pay a great deal of attention to talk of trends, sometimes jumping on board with whatever they believe best suits the trend. Think of the craze for magical-related books following the start of the Harry Potter phenomenon, or the current popularity of paranormals, especially when they involve vampires.

So, should you chase the trend too? Is that where success awaits?

In a discussion with one of my favorite authors, Kelley Armstrong, her suggestion was: how could you? Say you identify the trend now. It may be a year before you’ve completed the book. Then it’s at least another year before you sell the book, possibly two depending on publishing schedules before it would ever show up on store shelves. Is the same trend still hot? Or has something new taken over?

The very idea of trends hints at their impermanence. Just because bellbottoms were hot in the seventies doesn’t mean everyone’s still wearing them now.

The other question is: why did you choose to chase the trend? Was it because you thought you too could cash in on the popularity of, say, rockstar ghosts? If so, your chances have just become that much slimmer. What do you know about rockstar ghosts? Are they truly a passion, or do you just want to make a quick buck? Don’t forget the importance of readers, who can usually tell the difference between a well-written, passionate book and one shoved out for money and little more. Potentially you could cheapen your entire writer brand as a trend-chaser rather than a serious, passionate writer.

The example I always think about is when I heard about the zombies showing up as “hot trendsetters” even in romance. Way too many loose or rotting body parts, I figure, even if the trend isn’t that the hero or heroine actually be zombies (I think they’re supposed to be zombie hunters or victims trying to survive or something – otherwise, sex scenes are definitely a no-go!). As I said up front, I despise zombies: zombie movies, zombie plotlines, whatever. They’re really not my thing. So even if someone approached me with a fantastic sure-sell zombie romance, should I write it? Probably not. Because that’s not where my passion lies, it’s not the story I want to tell, nor therefore could best tell. If I was writing it only for the money, it’s not really my story, but just a bunch of empty dollar-signs, isn’t it?

Of course, this is not to say never write with or for trends. What if what you write – inspired by a current trend or not – is somehow suddenly trendy? That’s not a bad thing- that may be the universe cosmically turning in your favor (or we’ll say as such, and you can feel better, okay?). If one of the trends inspires something in you, if a story comes to you and happens to be trendy or in danger of becoming trendy, so long as you write it as your story, with passion and dedication, and the desire to make it the best YOUR story you can, write away! Your honest appreciation for the topic, or unique edge, or whatever it is that makes you a unique and quality writer will be evident to editors and perhaps more importantly readers, and the topic – trendy or not – becomes a secondary factor.

Bottom line: write what you love, what you’re passionate about. If it happens to be trendy right now, or maybe you were inspired by the trend, fine; what’s relevant is only that you’re truly passionate about it, that you’re telling YOUR story(s) whatever that may be.

Disagree with me? Should I be writing about those zombies now? Have you successfully chased a trend? Please, comment below.