Conventional publishing wisdom is nearly unanimous—writers should write from the heart (whatever that means!). We writers tend to cling to the romantic image of a noble, tormented soul, subsisting on breadcrusts and water in a freezing garret, toiling in obscurity at a work of genius, and—of course—oblivious to the greedy whims of commerce. But is that really the way great works are written? And what if you’d rather be eating steak?
Readers ultimately want stories that feel genuine. Odds are, if you’re trying to crank out something just because you feel it has a better shot in the market, your lack of passion will show in your writing. It’s totally possible to craft marketable work that doesn’t set your heart on fire, but if you have absolutely no love for your project, it’s not going to be any more fun to read than it is to write. Likewise, a story that might sound unsalable when you’re plotting it out on paper can come alive in the telling if the writer truly loves it. Often, it’s that kind of magic that pulls readers in.
That said, there are plenty of pros out there who can find a balance between art and commerce—and if you’re one of them, and you’re willing to market your work on your own or jump feet-first into self-publishing, following trends might make sense for you. Maybe in a perfect world, you’d be writing experimental poetry, but you can still manage to come up with more commercial-minded storylines that appeal to you. (As a friend of mine pointed out to me recently—you don’t have to sell out. You just have to sell.)
Everyone’s situation is unique—some writers have a day job that pays their bills, and choose to spend their writing time focusing on work that is deeply meaningful to them, even if it has no chance in the world of selling. Other writers are aiming toward creating commercial work that doesn’t feel soul-killing. If you fall into the second category, it makes sense for you to pay attention to what’s selling well, and to suss out niches where you may be happy—and, ideally, well-paid!
Traditional publishing is notoriously slow-moving. If you’re hoping to work with a traditional publisher, and trying to hop on a profitable trend that’s cresting now, you’re probably out of luck. If you’re already working with an agent, you’re one step ahead; but you still have to write the book, and your book has to go on submission—a process that can take anywhere from a month to a year and a half. Once your book has sold, it may be another year or two before it hits bookshelves. So even in a best-case scenario, you might be looking at a two- or three-year period before your book sees the light of day. In this case, it simply doesn’t make sense to try and write to a trend—there’s no guarantee that what’s hot now will be hot then, too. If you’ve already written a book in a genre that just happens to be having its moment in the sun, by all means move forward with it; but you’re probably better off ignoring trends altogether if you’re still in the thick of the writing process.
However, if you’re a self-publisher or work primarily with online publishers (for example, romance publishers like Carina Press or Ellora’s Cave, the possible turnaround for a project is much, much quicker, and you may have more luck grabbing on to a hot topic. E-publishers tend to have a much faster timeline from submission to publication; you can submit work without an agent; and they’ll often tell you what kinds of stories they’re looking for right in the submissions guidelines of their website. Obviously, if you’re putting your work out yourself, you’re in control of how quickly the book goes out into the market. It’s important to keep in mind that “faster” shouldn’t mean “sloppier,” especially if you’re self-publishing. If you’re not confident about your proofreading, copyediting, or design skills, consider hiring a pro to help you with those processes before you put your book online. Investing in a killer cover and an eagle-eyed editor can help your book stand out from the pack.