Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coolhunting The Next Big Thing

I’d love to be able to predict the next big thing. To be a trend hunter. But these jobs fall to the people who actually have a clue about what’s cool and what’s not. I couldn’t predict a trend if it walked up and gave me a written guarantee.

I remember the first time I caught sight of the kid’s cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants. I believe my exact words were, “That’ll never last.” The original episode aired on May 1, 1999 and it’s still on the air.

Red soled shoes. Christian Louboutin "In 1992 I incorporated the red sole into the design of my shoes. This happened by accident as I felt that the shoes lacked energy so I applied red nail polish to the sole of a shoe. This was such a success that it became a permanent fixture." Don’t be afraid to venture outside the box.

Would I have predicted the success of a television show featuring a bunch of outcast high school students who come together and find a place to belong in the Glee club? Nope. I’m a total Gleek but I’d never have predicted its success.

What about this prediction: Some fads never make it from Europe to North America, but trend watchers are betting that men’s tights will overcome the odds. Last week, Victor Fiorillo from Philadelphia magazine waxed poetic about the women’s pantyhose he bought at a drugstore, noting that they’re warmer than long johns and would look good under ripped jeans. Yes, they’re talking about mantyhose. If this actually becomes a trend it’ll have more to do with karma than anything.

But what’s this got to do with writing? Well, agents are certainly on the lookout for the next ‘new’ voice. The next great novel. Maybe even new subgenre. They must be aware of trends. It must be part of the job description.

After all we’ve taken vampires, werewolves, and other monsters and made them desirable. We’ve taken the stuff that nightmares are made of and turned them into heroes.

What about erotic romance? They continue to gain favor and have found their place in the romance genre.

Chick lit came and went.

As writers we need to be aware of trends but not let them dictate the direction of your work. To read industry articles and blogs or follow twitter links. This doesn’t mean we don’t grow, learn and expand on our knowledge base.

It’s about understanding the kind of writer you are. If, as an aspiring author, your heart’s desire to get published and nothing else matters, you’d better have your finger of the pulse of the industry and you’d better write fast. And have the ‘voice’ for it. Having a book go from being acquired to appearing on the bookstore shelves takes time. What happens if your trend dies before it makes it to the shelves?

You can’t write what you don’t love reading, have a passion for, or feel a connection to.

So follow a trend or follow your gut? Many of us wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Follow your gut.” But what if what you write isn’t popular at the moment. What if it’s unusual? What if it doesn’t mesh with current trends? Following your gut can be risky.

That’s where the quality of the writing comes into play. If you have a manuscript with a well-developed plot, characters to care about, and have taken the time to make sure it’s polished to perfection, someone will notice. You and mantyhose could be the next big thing.

Know yourself, know your style, trust your voice. As hooky as it might sound to some, trust in the universe to provide you with your heart’s desire.

What trends do you see for the future of romance writing? What trends have surprised you? Do you fear writing the unmarketable book?


Vince said...

Hi Karyn:

I just love talking about marketing.

I see trends as a distraction. They get a lot of attention but they are not that big. Just think: how many vampire books are sold compared to total romance novels? Do you think it is over 2%? I don’t. How many vampire movies are there compared to the total movies made a year? (And how many of the copycats lose money?)

Think of the classic black dress. I love the classic black dress. Now think of which romance themes sell the most romance books, each year, year in and year out.

The key to publication and success is having a unique and very entertaining voice. The joy is in delighting the reader on a page by page basis. And the way to build a great career is by ‘building the marketing’ into your book at the outset and not relying on the marketing department to do it for you.

When you write your book, stack the deck in your favor. Pick a location that will sell books for you – like a location with a large installed base. For example, have the story take place in the Grand Canyon or other location that millions have visited. Choose interesting characters with careers people find interesting. Let your characters pursue interesting hobbies and explore fascinating experiences. See how many of these ‘hooks’ can appear on the cover of your book.

Perhaps the fault lies not in our stars or in our ability to catch the right wave, no, perhaps the fault really lies in the roads we take to get to our destinations.


Writer said...

Hi Karyn,
I wish I had some great insight like Vince, but alas, I do not.

I wrote the book I wanted to read. End of story. It has been through several re-writes, and I am contemplating another, this time re-writing it for an adult market.

I'm sticking with writing the novel I wanted to read. I just don't think I've got "it" yet.

Karyn Good said...

Very well said, Vince. I love the bit about building the marketing into your book at the outset. Very sound advice! And there is something to be said for stacking the deck in your favor.

Loved your quote at the end!

Karyn Good said...

Hey there, Writer. I agree you have to write the kind of story you want to read. End of story. Writing with publication as your only goal must be a twisty road.

Good luck with your re-write! Can't wait to hear more about it!!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Mantyhose? Oh, the horror!

I'm not good at trends. I haven't got a clue what the next big thing will be. One thing I have noticed, however, is some willingness in historical romance to consider new eras, such as World War Two. I love that era because there are so many fascinating stories.

Vince made some great points. I'm going to take his advice and set my next story in Hawaii. I'm sure I'll have to do a lot of research, for months at a time, preferably in January and February.

I'm kidding about Hawaii (sort of) but what Vince says is true. I try to make my books entertaining, and really work at making my next book better then the last. As a writer that's the best I can do.

Great topic Karyn.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

The thing about trends if is you're trying to match them, you can't start the next one ;)

As you say, if you write a damn good book, it won't matter if it's been done before or if the trend has past. One agent is known on twitter for her quote, "There is always a market for awesome."

That's the outlook I stick to.

In fantasy there are a lot of small sweeps for types of novels and such (Steampunk being big right now), and large movements such as the shift from black and white morality to grey gritty stories. Then some things are just always there, like quest stories, magic systems, bands of adventurers, and of course thieves (the thing I have to contend with). It's just a question of whether a story's execution of those things makes it worth looking at.

In fiction in general, I'm noticing a shift from vampire romance glut to 'my vampires don't sparkle and are ugly' glut. Maybe the two combined will kill vampires entirely, for a decade or so at least, hah.

Vince said...


Just a suggestion without comment:

There is a rule of marketing that is expressed well by the below question.

When you go fishing, do you use bait you like to eat or bait the fish likes to eat?

Also: While I love WWII stories, I resent them being classified as historicals! : )


Karyn Good said...

Hi Jana. I'm glad about historicals expanding to new eras. I'm very intrigued with stories that take place during the first half of the 20th century, like yours. It was an exciting time.

And you've made me think of a new trend, Amish romances. I've glanced at headlines that suggest these are hot right now. I never would have thought it but I'm very curious.

I'm thinking a story set in Hawaii is the way to go with lots of indepth personal research!

Karyn Good said...

Hi Hayley.

There is always a market for awesome.

Words to cling to.

I do think it pays to keep on top of things, trends and such, even if you don't plan on gearing your writing around them. It can't hurt to know the direction things are going.

A shift to ugly vampires? Say it isnt' so!

Karyn Good said...

LOL, Vince. Those 'historicals' are indeed creeping a little too close for comfort.

Another great quote!

Anita Mae Draper said...

I really enjoyed your post, Karyn. Oh, don't ask me about trends. Mantyhose? Well, I don't have to worry about my hubby catching that wagon. LOL

Anita Mae.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Anita. I don't think we have to worry about that trend catching on in our part of the world, but you never know! Glad you enjoyed it.