(1st 10 minutes of opening)
Every April local libraries host a Library Book Faire. Stretched out on dozens of twenty foot tables, eighty-to-a-hundred-thousand paperbacks and hardbacks fill the main event center. No type or genre is forgotten, most selling for $2; children’s books are $1 and some of the nicer more popular hard backs are $3 or $4–they even have “old” and autographed sections where prices stretch considerably higher.
Books arrive here both by donation and shelf overabundance (many still have the Dewey Decimal numbers along the binding), available for the ten thousand people who visit the event over the weekend.
In the Science Fiction section, a tall slender man with gray hair pulled into a full pony tail talked loudly to three people who had been caught by his “expert” tenor:
“I come here to see what’s being published. That way I know what to write. I’m a writer.”
One woman edged away, nodding with a look of panic that his eyes might meet hers.
“Of course a lot of these are crap,” he continued. “As a writer, it’s my job to find what is really popular, you know, so I can do better.”
I noticed his book bag had only one volume in it—Twilight. I chuckled and stayed far enough away so that he didn’t think I was part of his audience. By this time he had locked pale blue eyes on the woman who had been edging away, and who now stood nodding as he continued to pontificate with a soap-box preacher’s flare.
“Yep, it’s important to read the best stuff, you know. What have you got there?”
With his attention focused on the poor woman with doe-in-the-headlight eyes, his “crowd” moved away, leaving her mouthing that she’d just arrived and had only found one for her granddaughter, and that . . . .
I left the aisle, feeling sorry for the woman less than for the tall, pony-tailed writer . . . if he wrote at all, that is.
You see, he had everything wrong.
The most popular books are not necessarily the best; many “crowd” favorites are barely readable.
When a writer develops an idea seedling into a full-branched finished piece (thereby sending it to an agent or publisher), at least eighteen months will pass before the literary masterpiece finds a home on a bookshelf, first in a store, then in homes.
That is the way of traditional book publishing. Although internet publishing can take a shorter time, editing and preparation can still take several months, hence, looking at what is popular now has little relationship with what will be the newest and greatest “wave” when you are ready to publish your own writing.
Don’t Catch the Wave, Start One
Vampires, werewolves, zombies . . . all overdone and losing their popularity. To be fair, and regardless of what you think of her abilities, when Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight, she did two things right:
She put a new twist on the vampire and werewolf story, and
She knew her audience
That’s why the book and series worked, and it is true of others who have started the next literary wave.
Develop an idea that has not been beaten to the grave, add a twist to a concept, and write. That is not to say a vampire, werewolf, or zombie story won’t sell, only that your tale will need to be exceedingly distinct from the already oversized crowd.
Perhaps a wolf that turns into a man every full moon would be unique enough to garner attention, but do you want to spend a year writing on a topic that agents and editors have tired of, so much so that they reject most during the query or synopsis without even attempting Chapter One?
I ran into this problem when the idea for The Returning, my fantasy novel, arrived in my frontal lobe.
Stories of immortals are fairly common, so I knew I had to offer a unique approach: I began with an immortal who wants to be dead (suicide is not an option, nor is simply being killed), and the plot grew from there. More unique aspects materialized during first draft, more during subsequent rewrites, leaving me with what I view as a one-of-a-kind story only I can write.
Consider a few stories that took common genre aspects and turned them inside out: Harry Potter (a wizard school), Hunger Games (post apocalyptic society where children are sacrificed to hold together a fragile peace), Game of Thrones (medieval fantasy that crystallized the Grim-Dark sub-genre), the movies, Cowboys and Aliens (Sci-Fi meets western) and Avatar (perfect blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy)—there are many others that succeeded based on the radical change they made to existing story types.
You need to do the same.
See you on the next page,
P.S At the Book Faire, I bought nine books: oddly enough, three were books on the writing craft, three research novels, and likewise three novels. Not bad for $18, and all but one are like new.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
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