Everyone in publishing likes to talk about trends, it seems. Its one of those things that comes up constantly in tweet chats, conferences, phone calls, PW articles, etc.
What's hot? What's not? How can I capitalize on that?
Here's the problem:
A) The next big thing never looks like the last big thing, so you'll never be able to predict it
B) As a writer, by the time you hear about a trend, its too late to jump on the bandwagon if its not already written.
Case in point: About the time PERCY JACKSON went gangbusters, the slush pile went crazy with greek retellings. And when HUSH, HUSH debuted big time, everyone wanted to write about angels.
But those books were written and sold years ago, long before you ever heard of them. If you see something is hot and you want to write it, let's say it takes you three months to write and polish it, and a few months to find an agent. You're already six months behind. Then your agent will work with you on revisions and sell the novel, which may take another 3-4 months. Now you're 9-10 months after the BIG TRENDY BOOK. Next, it'll take an average of 12-18 months for your book to hit shelves.
That trend you were chasing? Ended two years ago.
I see queries on a daily basis, apologizing for not being trendy, or warning me, "I"m sorry, but this isn't a paranormal."
Your book does NOT have to be trendy to stand out, and chances are what YOU think is trendy is based on books you see on shelves today, not based on the big deals that have been made in the last month or two.
NOW, there's also the flipside to this problem: You already wrote a novel you love and adore and believe in, and you jsut found out about three major deals with various houses that feature a simliar creature, time period, plot element, etc, and now you worry it's too late.
At the end of the day, good writing almost always rises to the top, and if you believe in your work, then why not battle against the odds? Sure, it might narrow your chances a little bit becuase if RandomHouse just shelled out mid-six figures for an epic adventure with flying purple dinosaurs and you wrote something with flying purple dinosaurs, they may pass on your project at the pitch level. It's simple business-- they cant have two products competing with themselves and the same marketing dollars/catalog space/etc. But it doesn't mean that Harper isn't looking for THEIR flying purple dinosaur. So keep your head up and hope your writing stands on its own. Publishing is all about taking chancese and beating the odds, so does it really make a difference if one more card is stacked against you? You're a kickass writer, right? You'll rise above.
Here's my thought on trends: Be Aware of them, and take them into account when possible. Like, if you have three ideas in your head battling to be written, maybe don't write the vampire/angel one, not if you have something else fresh and new you're just as excited about.
But after you're aware of the trends and you take them into account, write the book that begs to be written. Writing for the market is a mistake, if you're doing it just becuase you want some easy path. It's not the topic that sells us, it's the writing, and if you dont love it and if it doesn't have everything that makes up a good book, chances are it wont survive in the slush pile, or on subs to editors.
SO, all that said, I know you all want to know my thoughts on what the current trends actually ARE, and what I'm seeing a lot of in the slush.
Paranormal in general: Makes up a huge chunk of my slush. Between paranormal and all the categories of fantasy, it makes up probably 60-70% of the slush pile. BUT, on the flip side, publishers are still buying this. As long as the writing is stellar and the story is fresh.
Vampires: This market is saturated, saturated, saturated. I still see that occasional sale in PM, but there MUST be a new and original twist. I've heard about a new book called "Fat Vampire" about a chubby boy who becomes a vampire and realizes he's going to spend all of eternity pale and fat. Not exactly TWILIGHT, right? If your story is Twilight 2.0, go back and figure out how to give it a new twist we haven't seen 54 times.
Angels: One of the most common things in the slush. And again, you need to stand out. Find your angle and give us something new.
Werewolves: Keeping pace with vampires and angels. I think there could be room for more werewolves becuase there's still a lot of room for new and different directions. I've seen a couple that I actually requested becuase they did manage to feel new and exciting.
Dystopians: PW did a big article on the rise of dystopians. I think there's plenty of room for them (I chatted with an editor just yesterday who said they'd be open) but its ALL about the world building in a dystopian. We need to feel like we could wake up in your dystopian society-- that it's alive and breathing and well developed. Voice-driven books do really well in the dystopian market too, a la THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.
Mean Girl fiction: Titles like GOSSIP GIRL, THE A-LIST, THE CLIQUE, etc, have kind of run their course. They're still selling to consumers, certainly, but they have the name and marketing behind them already. It might be hard to break out with a mean girl/boarding school novel without some extra layers ot the story.
Possible Holes in the market:
Realistic Romance: There is simply NOT ENOUGH of this for my tastes. Where are they? Historicals can be tough to sell (major retail like Target or Walmart are reluctant to pick them up) but I love them so much I don't care, so I'm open to contemporary OR historical. A HUGE breakout last year was PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles, and I think that's going to open the eyes of some publishers in wanting to follow that lead.
Middle Grade: The middle grade market is pretty wide-open. Editors are hungry to fill their MG lists, because the focus has really been YA heavy in the last couple of years, and they're seekin to balance that out. Just make sure, again, not to be too derivative-- no orphan wizards, people.
Literary with a hook: Everyone is looking for their own Jay Asher-- a literary novel with a hook. A hook can be used by marketing and sales staff to get people excited about a book, and the really good, literary writing can win awards and propel word of mouth.