Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pink is the New Black

I sometimes wonder if I've been contaminated by an over-exposure to Romancelandia. Reading and writing used to be private activities for me, but the whole Author Persona thing has changed that somewhat.

Three years ago, I had no idea the Romance Community even existed and I knew a great big nada about the Publishing Industry (though of course I thought I knew more than I did). Now, my growing awareness of the vast community of romance readers & writers trickles into my reading and writing experiences. And honestly, I'm not entirely sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. (Probably a bit of both.)

I used to pick which projects I worked on in a sort of haphazard, impulsive way. My first romance came about because it burrowed into my brain and refused to leave. Up to that point I had only written books with...erm, let's call it a "questionable market appeal".

When I decided to stop being a hobbyist and start writing for publication, I realized I had to actually consider not only whether my writing was good, but whether anyone would ever buy it. That was the birth of my awareness of market trends.

As I heard some big author (I wanna say Susan Mallery? Stephanie Bond? Someone else whose first name is an "S" name?) say at a conference (paraphrasing here) "I have a lot of books I want to write, I might as well write the one that's going to sell." Or something like that. And I pretty much agree with that. I have a stack of ideas, and they all appeal to me, so I might as well write the one that's likely to make me some cashola.

But how do you know which one is going to sell? And "selling" exists on two levels. You have to hook the editor (agent, publisher, etc.) and get them to offer a contract, but then you have to take it the next step and hook the reader. With each contract, the publisher is trying to predict the reader trends (which I tend to think is wholly impossible, so you should just buy great books, publisher-friend, and pray like hell that they catch on, but maybe I'm just too ignorant of the publisher's inner workings to realize that they do, indeed, successfully predict and direct trends).

So to be a Mega Star Author, you have to be lucky enough to ride the wave of the Big Trend all the way to shore. (This metaphor is gonna get unwieldy. I can feel it.) Surfing that wave means having the skill (writing chops) to avoid getting rolled and knocking yourself unconscious on the coral. But it also means being able to see the wave coming so you know when to start paddling - i.e. identifying the trend when it is still just a swell in the ocean miles off shore.

TANGENT: My dad tried to teach my mom to body surf on one of their first dates. He did not understand that my mother, though an excellent swimmer, was blind as a bat and couldn't see the waves and therefore couldn't catch them. #dadfail END TANGENT.

So, if we keep working the metaphor to death (cuz who doesn't love standing over a bloody metaphor with a machete?), publishing executives are essentially standing on the shore (because the writers are the actual surfers, yeah?) staring out at the ocean and trying to predict which wave out of which set they think is going to break biggest so they know when to shout, "Paddle now!" (i.e. when to buy). Sometimes being the surfer who catches the wave is just a matter of being the one who happens to be sitting on her board staring at the horizon at that moment - right place, right time. (Of course, you still have to know how to surf in the first place. Ain't no substitute for writing chops.)

One of those waves (actually several of them, if you ask me) was named Vampires. It was a doozie. A honey set of awesome revenues. And now the publishing masses are staring out at the horizon, squinting at the swells and whispering to one another. Does that one look like the Vampire wave did before it hit?

And then they build hype for the wave... (Total breakdown of metaphor. I have no idea how hyping the wave has anything to do with surfing. Psyching yourself up, maybe?) Werewolves are the new Vampires! Demons are the new Vampires! Zombies are the new Vampires! Gods/Superheroes/Minotaurs (<-- click for the funny. Dude, I love the Onion.) are the new Vampires!

It reminds me of Josie & the Pussycats. The movie. Did you see that one? Pink is the new black! Orange is the new pink! Green is the new orange! Consumerism, yay! Ride the trend, baby! Ride it hard!

The movie was actually kinda sweet. About authenticity of expression in a way. You can like us or not like us (and we hope you like us) but we're gonna do our thing. Not the trendy thing. Because you gotta be true to yourself, yo.

I saw this thing Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin's Press (I am not above admitting I have a mad editor-crush on her) said at Book Expo America recently about how she's "excited by authors who buck trends and not doing what's hot." But how does the Not Hot Author get her book onto Ms. Enderlin's desk? You have to be willing to swim really hard against the current for a long time to get there. (Not that I'm lazy. I'm just, you know, lazy.)

So do we go for the trend? Against the trend? Try to predict the trend? Forget about the trend because it's impossible to predict anyway?

Heck if I know. All I know is that for a while I've been hearing contemporary romance is out of favor, especially funny contemporary, so don't even submit it to us because we don't want to see it. And now I see all these folks making funny contemp deals and I'm sitting here thinking, Damn, I should have been riding that wave.

Does it matter? Not really. I plan on surfing a long time. Eventually I'll be in the right place at the right time to catch a big wave. In the mean time, I'm practicing on the waves I've got.

Right now, I've got a shifter story to finish...

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