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POINT OF VIEW: Upping the Odds

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Some writers seem to have an innate sense of the publishing marketplace, surfing adroitly from one trend to another, catching every wave and riding it to success. 

The rest of us aren’t so lucky.

I’ve been writing seriously for six years now, and I can’t lay claim to catching a single trend. Trends are, by nature, often short and ephemeral – so unless you can turn around a book in ninety days (and some writers can and do) they are notoriously hard to catch.

My first book took me five years to write. I did my second book in thirty days (a first draft for NaNoWriMo) but it still took six months to go through two more drafts and a beta read. Then the publisher added six more months, so it was a bit more than a year from conception to publication. And that’s lightning-fast in the traditional publishing world.

If I had a crystal ball, I could see what trends were coming down the pike in six months to a year. Unfortunately all the crystal balls I’ve found have been murky and unreliable.

So what’s a poor writer to do?

Start with writng what you want to write. Sure, you can try chasing market, and maybe even catch it once in a while. But do you really want to spend the rest of your life writing things you don’t enjoy? You might as well take a job in corporate America – you’ll probably make a lot more money too.

There’s a reason you became a writer – to tell the stories inside you. I’m not happy unless I’m writing, and when I do so regularly, I feel better about myself and about life in general.

So do that.

But don’t fret – there are ways to improve the odds without selling your soul.

Even if you don’t chase the market, there are some things you can do to up your odds of success by following the longer term meta trends. These are less focused on the specific genre and characters (though you should generally be aware of overall genre popularity – for instance, YA is hot right now, while sci fi books are less so) and more on the current styles of writing.

A few meta trends I’ve noticed over the last few years:

  • Telling stories with a clear, strong character voice
  • Using first person (especially in short stories) to give your story a sense of immediacy
  • Dropping dialog tags wherever possible (he said, they screamed) and using character actions instead to identity who is talking
  • Writing diverse character stories, while avoiding appropriation (I know – a fine line to walk)

These are all trends that can help your work seem more in line with what publishers, agents and editors are looking for, without changing what you write.

Read some recent works in your particular genre(s). Talk to other writers and to editors and ask what they are seeing and looking for.

And remember – writing is a process. We’re born with the innate need to share our stories, and then we spend a lifetime figuring out how.

And if we’re lucky, we eventually find a loyal base of readers who like what we do and how we do it.

For my writing friends, how have you adjusted your writing style without giving up on what you want to write?

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