People often ask me how to read the market. What should they do? What’s the next new trend? How did I know to write what I wrote when I wrote it?
Look at me, I want to say. Do I look like I know what the next new trend is? Hell, I don’t even know what the last trend was. Or the one before that, or before that, or before that, etc. At some point I stopped paying attention to trendy. I outgrew it. I didn’t care anymore what was hot. Partly this was a function of feeling like I could never keep up with trends (they change so fast), and partly it was a function of disagreeing with said hotness, and partly it was simply entering into a practice with my writing that had nothing to do with trends, or hotness, or even sales. Naturally, I hope for sales. Big ones. But that’s not what tells me to write what I write, and I don’t think it can be what tells you to write what you write either.
Trends change. Those editors in New York who you believe can make you or break you – let me tell you something – they don’t know what’s hot either. Something came along that was different, and someone took a chance on it, and it became hot. So then everyone started thinking everything even remotely like it was either hot or had already been done. This is not an arena you want to worry about. Let the trends duke each other out. Don’t worry about whether it’s been done or not, or if you can catch the tail end of a trend as it flaps around on a million editors’ computer screens.
The prevailing advice is to write what you know, but I think that should be changed to write what you know to be interesting – to you. Writing a novel is a long haul. If you’re not interested in vampires, please don’t torture yourself by writing about them. If you don’t read murder mysteries or enjoy young adult, don’t write these things. I knew to write what I wrote when I wrote it because it captivated me somehow. It was that simple, and shallow. Start there. Believe me, you will go deeper if you begin with your own heart.
Whatever you do, don’t start with the market. The market is a fickle master. The market buys and sells and doesn’t care a thing about morality, or integrity, or the soul. If you don’t believe this, just take a look back over history at all the things (and people) that have been sold because the market demanded it. The market doesn’t care about you or your art, and it never will. The market cares about money, cold hard cash, an economy that does not respect art, or even humanity. Trends come and go. They are so much flotsam and jetsam. Celebrities are made and discarded. I too might be made and discarded.
Maybe my next book will make it big. I sincerely hope so, just as I have sincerely hoped so for every one of my other books. If it does and I am suddenly thrust into the public eye, then I had better have a firm place to stand on. And if it does not make it big, and I remain a midlist writer, then I had better have a firm place to stand on. In both cases the firm place is the same. It’s honoring the work of writing, honoring the characters that blessed me (for better or worse) with their presence, it’s knowing that I did my best with the story, and that I never let anything as vague and insubstantial as the market get between me and the truth of that story. That’s the thing that will carry me through.