This morning I was taking a look at the recent book publishing deals that have been made on Publisher’s Marketplace. The information listed is very short: title of the book, author name, a one-sentence description, the name of the agent who sold the book, and the editor who bought the book.
You can do a search by genre, and since my women’s fiction/romance book is being submitted this week by my agent, I wanted to see what books had been sold in the last two months, and who some of the editors were who were buying them. What first came to mind is: Who knew Cattlemen were so sexy? It seems like fifty% of the books sold in this genre in the last two months featured cattlemen and Texas. Having spent three years in Houston, TX, I can assure you I have no desire to romanticize anything about living there. However, a bunch of successful romance writers clearly feel differently.
My fear is that an up and coming writer may take a look at that list, and slap herself in the face, moaning, “Oh no! Cattlemen? Why was I writing a sweet romance that takes place in a bakery in Virginia! I’ve missed the boat! Cattlemen are what’s selling now.”
You may remember this phenomenon happening when the Twilight series came out, and suddenly everybody thought: “I must write books about moody vampires!” And then The Hunger Games, “I must write about a dystopian future world with a strong female lead!” This is the wrong road to go down for two reasons:
- The publishing cycle is long. Unless you write very quickly, all the editors who just bought books on cattlemen have pretty much filled up their lists with these books already. By the time you finish your book, find an agent, and submit, these books are already published and the editors have moved on to another hot topic.
- Don’t write on trend. Write what you want to write – the book you want to read. Your heart won’t be in it if you are writing for a rapidly moving market. And given that you’re probably writing in your spare time, is this a project you’re really interested in?
- You Can’t Please Everybody. I submit this to you if you’re in a book group: How often does everyone love the book that was picked out for that month’s read. I can count a handful of times (in my book group, we all loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Where’d You Go Bernadette? And the list ends there.) People have different tastes. You may love dystopian books, while your best friend loves only realistic literary fiction. Some love history books, and others purely escapist cozy mysteries. The world of books and reading is large, with enough great books to cater to every type of reader.
- Even agents don’t agree on what works. Agents and editors turn down books all the time that go on to sell a lot of books. My first boss in publishing turned down Like Water for Chocolate, and used to say, “What do I know? I’m the schmuck who turned down Like Water for Chocolate?” But he was also the schmuck who published Hilary Mantel, Reynolds Price, and Isabelle Allende. So you win some, you lose some. It’s all about taking a risk on a project you’re passionate about.
So don’t fall for beating yourself up about what’s hot, what’s selling, what’s marketable. Write the book that’s important to you. Not everyone is going to love it, but for the people who do, it will be something they can spend time with during a long commute, a lazy weekend day, or up late at night, turning the pages. Your work will be a companion, an escape, a glimpse into another world, an eye-opener, and maybe in inspiration.