A year or two after the Harry Potter books exploded into the marketplace, you may have noticed that there was a flurry of Harry Potter clones from other authors hoping to cash in on J.K. Rowling’s success. It didn’t take long before publishers were flooded with books about young people, often orphans, being sent away to wizarding schools of one type or another.
You may recall that Twilight spawned approximately a million books about vampires. And after the success of The Hunger Games, it seemed every publisher and movie studio was rushing out their own version of a female-led dystopian future fantasy.
None of them were huge hits.
After a great seminal work comes out, it’s normal for the market to go crazy with copycats. The reason is simple: breaking into the publishing market is really hard, and authors want to pursue every possible advantage. So if that means writing about a teenage vampire going to a boarding school in a distant dystopian future, then that’s what a writer will feel compelled to do.
Except it’s really unlikely that the writer of that copycat abomination is really passionate about writing teenage-vampire-goes-to-future-boarding-school stories. I mean, don’t get me wrong—if they are, that might work out perfectly.
But it’s far more likely that you’ll just end up frustrating yourself—and write something subpar in the process.
In publishing, it has been said, quite correctly, that there’s a lot of luck involved. Without a doubt, J.K. Rowling came out with Harry Potter at a particularly ideal moment in time. A few years earlier or a few years later, and her books may not have been the potent lightning strike they turned out to be. That’s because cultural trends are ephemeral. They’re here one moment, gone the next, and nobody can quite explain why.
So you can chase the market all you want, but you’ll never catch it.
Instead you need to write the exact thing that you are super passionate about writing. What is the one thing you feel you can do better than anyone else, because of your unique expertise, interest, and point of view? Write that. If you really very badly want to write historical romance on Mars, then by golly, write the very best historical romance on Mars you possibly can. Who knows? That may be exactly what readers are going to lap up. It may sound silly, but most really big trends sound silly right up until the moment they happen. (Case in point: nobody could have predicted bellbottoms, am I right?)
Write well, write as fast as you can, and then (this part is key) do something with it. Send it out to agents and publishers. Don’t let it languish on your computer for years and years. Don’t return to it over and over again, intent on perfecting it before showing it to the world. Just get it out there.
And then what? Write the next thing.
Because luck may be a factor, but you make your own luck by working hard over long periods of time. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit the bestseller lists by your twentieth birthday. First of all, almost nobody does. Second of all, remember that writers are like fine wines, improving with age. Just think how much better you’ll be at seventy than where you are right now!
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.