Friday, May 18, 2007

Timing The Market

posted by Aunty Cindy

Way back when I first started saving for retirement, one of the first and most important financial lessons I learned was “never try to time the market”. The reasoning was simplicity itself. The heads of the biggest investment firms in the country and their hundreds of very smart staff people can’t figure out when a stock or a fund has reached its high point and is about to decline. What makes you think YOU can?

I believe the same can be said of publishing, and here’s my personal experience.

I attended my very first romance writers’ conference in October, 2004. During that wonderful three day event, the phrase on everyone’s lips, be they writer, reader, editor or agent, was CHICK LIT! Nearly every writer I talked to was writing and/or pitching a chick lit novel. Well, every one except me. Every editor and agent in attendance were requesting and buying chick lit. I was feeling a bit left out, but rather than try and “time the market”, I kept working on my romantic suspense WIP.

Fast-forward to July, 2005 and my first RWA National conference. I was working on my second romantic suspense WIP and suddenly everyone was talking about PARANORMAL romance. Everybody was reading, writing and/or buying anything with a vampire or a shape-shifter in it. Chick Lit, it seems, was dead, or at least terminally ill. HUH? I was out of the loop again. And I felt bad for the writers trying to pitch a chick lit manuscript.

Last year, when the RWA National conference rolled around again, vampires were still undead but also rather passe. Unless they were in an erotica, because the word circulating now was hot, Hotter, HOTTEST! Whatever you were writing needed to have plenty of steamy sex scenes. By now, I’m sure you can guess what I was writing… if you said anything except romantic suspense, you just aren’t paying attention.

So here it is May and National will be rolling around again in less than two months. What will be the next big thing this year? Judging by the rumblings I’ve heard and the sales I’ve seen lately, my guess is that historical are indeed making a comeback. Or not…

If I’ve learned anything in the past three years it’s that “the powers that be” in romance publishing, editors and agents don’t have any more idea about the next big thing than I do. And if they can’t predict the next hot trend, I’m certainly not going to try.

What about you? What do you think will be the next big thing? Do you run out to read and/or write what you see crowding the bookstore shelves? Or do you stick with your old favorites?


Christine Wells said...

Wise words, Aunty C! You know, I write historicals and they were supposed to be dead, yet three banditas were contracted in the last year to major print houses with--you guessed it--historicals. The supposed downturn went by in the blink of an eye.

I'm not against trying new things because I think a writer can stretch themselves by writing something different every now and then. But you have to be doing it for the right reasons. Following the market when you have no real feel for the particular subgenre is not the smartest, IMO.

Christine Zampi said...

I think trying to time the writing market is like trying to time any market. Real estate, stock market, even the job market. Good luck, my friend. Some people are lucky at it and some not.

I do believe now that I just finished a paranormal that they will probably start sliding downward. And I think the erotica market will too. The markets become so over-saturated that people get bored with the same thing over and over again.

I think Christine (W) is right that the historical market is making a come back. And I really think the it may be the non-regency areas that will have the biggest surge. (And of course, I write regency set historicals -- seeing a pattern with me yet?) I'm currently judging a contest in the historical category and I didn't get one regency era entry. Since I love all the historical era, I'm actually hoping we do see some different settings and eras. Readers need change.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Aunty C., a topic after my own heart. In my naivete, my first romance novel was a time travel romance. This was in 2001. Time travel was dead, dead, dead (unless you were Karen Marie Moning or Diana Gabaldon). I was devastated to find out that my book, though it finaled in some contests and got great feedback, would never sell.

I have two category-length contemporaries that will never see the light of day. I have two women's fiction novels that aren't "hooky" enough, apparently. Having hit all these walls, I decided several books ago the only thing I can do is write books I love. The kind I would like to read: about good times and bad times, family and the comic tragedy that is life.

Maybe someday people will get a chance to read them. I'll certainly keep writing them! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Auntie Cindy, I completely agree--writing to the market seems destined for disaster. BUT on the other hand, I think you'd be crazy to completely ignore trends. For better or worse, the historical of today is NOT the historical of 20 years ago. I think you've got to pay attention to new market conventions even while you maintain your core story. So you don't throw away your Regency historical for chick lit because it seems popular, but you do write sexier, deeper POV, savvier heroines, etc.

As for trends, I think our own Anna Campbell is leading the new one--dark, emotionally rich historicals, away from the drawing rooms of Regency England. Go Anna!!

Christine Z, you crack me up! I finished a YA just as I started hearing about a YA bubble bursting. Course, I didn't even know there was a bubble, let alone that it could be bursting! So I know how you feel, dahling. :-)


Suzanne Welsh said...

I agree Aunty Cindy, timing the market is difficult at best. So I've decided to write a book that has this as the premise: "Vampire King takes his urban, independent personal assistant back in time to the edge of the Regency/Victorian periods in England to have crazed sex in order to prevent extra-terestrial shoe makers from taking over the world."

What do you thinkg? A keeper in the making?

Anonymous said...

Suz, I love it!! I'll be the first in line to reserve my copy on amazon! :-)

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Suz, you may have hit it! Last year it was all homosexual-cowboy-baby-vampire books. Glad you've found the next big thing. =:0

Beth said...

Perfect idea, Suz! A definite keeper *g*

I'm afraid as with most things I'm a day late and more than a dollar short when it comes to figuring out what the next big thing will be. I'm working on a YA while finishing up another RS. Not because either are necessarily hot sellers right now but because they are the stories in my head :-)

Anna Sugden said...

I'm with you Aunty Cindy! Trying to time these things is impossible. Take the current doomsayers who swear straight contemporaries are dead. That writing warm, light-hearted contemporaries won't get you sold (which is a bit of a problem since that's what I write!). They may be right. This year. But, who can tell what next year will bring?

I agree with those who say that you have to write what you love (have I mentioned my hockey book *g*?). Trying to spot trends is almost impossible, unless you know what is being bought right now. What's on the shelf right now is already at least 12 months out of date.

That's not to say, if a new trend sparks you to write something new or to write outside your comfort zone, that you shouldn't. Go ahead! But, don't just write based on what you think the market is doing.

Oh and one more word of advice - don't throw away those old manuscripts - consider them your inventory - you just never know!

Aunty Cindy said...

I assume all the parts in the assistant's POV are written in 1st person?

And be sure to consult with Anna and Tawny on which shoes said assistant needs to pack. I picture a scene where the time/space is forever altered by her 4 inch peep-toe wedges!

Suzanne Welsh said...

LOL. I'll be sure to contact both Anna and Tawny for research!

Anna, I too agree on keeping those old manuscripts, especially if you really love the story. I have two American-set historicals from back when the editors stopped buying them. I adore the stories and the heros and heroines. I even fleshed out a third story proposal to make a trilogy. Now that editors are agreeing to at least read them, I'm hoping they'll love them as much as I do and buy them.

I think the key to being in on the next big thing is to write what you love, tuck it away if there isn't a hot market at the moment, then submit it when the time is right.

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series is the best example of good timing. And I believe she started the newest wave of paranormals.

Keira Soleore said...

The statement "Historicals are dying" has such a tired mantra of publishers and editors for years that I've disregarded those predictions, because time and time again, readers have proved them wrong.

I'm a historical writer (well, aspiring), too, and a mainly historical reader, so I'm going to stick with what I love, no matter the HAWT trend du jour.

As far as my reading habits go, I'm loyal to the writers I've enjoyed in the past. However, I do keep my eyes and ears open for recommendations from people whose opinions I trust. That is how I discover new authors, well, authors new to me.

That's the story of how I came to read AnnaC's book. And my, what a fab experience that was!!!

Caren Crane said...

Keira, you are so right. And Anna's book is a great example of why writers should follow their hearts. I remember Anna saying that she didn't know that Regency noir books were unfashionable when she wrote it. She might not have had she known, woe be unto us!

As a reader, I like what I like. This is regardless of trends in publishing. There have been trends that were huge and I only noticed because I had to wade through piles of "those" books to get to the ones I want to read.

I tend to like authors rather than the specific stories they choose to tell. And I love finding great new authors. Especially if they have a backlist! Which is why we need inventory, right Suz?

Caren Crane said...

Oops, sorry, that was Vrai Anna who mentioned inventory! It was a great point even if my feeble mind can't recall who made it. =:-0

Buffie said...

I have no idea what the hottest thing is . . . but I do know what I like. Basically, I am a historical romance reader. I have ventured occassionally into a different area -- a couple paranormals courtesy of KMM, one erotica (which I just couldn't finish), and well that's about it. I buy and read what I want. Like Keira I tend to stick to authors I have enjoyed in the past. For a while there I only bought from one publishing house because I loved all the authors. I have finally branched out (thanks to many recommendations for great people on boards and blogs).

So to all you writers out there (and that is NOT me) I say . . . continue to write what is in your heart because that is what we readers want to read!

Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT COMMENTS, Everyone! Thanx a BUNCH! It's very encouraging for me to read (esp. from readers like Buffie and Keira) that trends do NOT necessarily influence what you want to read.

It's also nice to know I am not the only one with lousy timing (I too wrote a time-travel right about the time everyone STOPPED buying them). And to hear that you really should write that "book of your heart". That very first conference I attended where everything was "Chick Lit" left me feeling pretty disheartened. I considered trying to write one, but knew it was not what I like to read and I didn't feel comfortable writing it. Glad I didn't give in to my impulse since nine months later chick lit was supposedly "dead." Just like historicals in general and Westerns in particular...

But maybe I better save those comments for another blog post.

Joan said...

Has anyone seen that commercial where a buffalo and a gopher (traveling companions, evidently) are getting a rental car by checking in at a kiosk?

The buffalo is fighting his natural instincts to "follow the herd". His gopher friend tells him to wait, that the kiosk is quicker, and easier and to hold on while he goes to get the car. But the instinct to go along with everyone is else is just too strong.

The gopher zooms up in a spiffy convertible looking for "Herb" who passes him crammed into a car with all the others.

I want to be the gopher in the spiffy car :-) and write something different from "the herd", really stand out. I cannot MAKE myself write to trends. If it's not there, it's not there. I'll read a GOOD story no matter what sub-genre it is.

Anna Campbell said...

Calling in from very far afield here, Scotsburn outside Ballarat in western Victoria! Goodness, lovely things you've been saying about me! I should go away more often. Hey, Keira, so GLAD you enjoyed the book - that was lovely. Given I'd been unpublished for 27 years when I sold and I thought CTC would just go under the bed with all its friends, I wasn't really thinking about trends when I wrote it. I just had a story that was begging to be written. Although I also think timing had a lot to do with when I sold - erotica had moved the goal posts on what was acceptable and not, like a heroine who sleeps with men for money. It will be interesting to see if Regency noir does turn into a subgenre. I'd be stoked if it did! Off to Melbourne today to do a workshop on deep point of view and emotional punch. If any of you are passing, please pop in! We're giving away Caramello koalas!