It’s tempting. It’s so tempting. You see a trend happening, a type of book that seems to sell gangbusters, and you say to yourself, I could do that.
Could you? Probably. Should you? Almost never.
It’s so tempting, though, as we all know. I’ll just knock out a book about vampires. An Amish romance. A dystopian YA. Whatever seems to be selling. It’s popular now, and when people like something they want a whole bunch of the same thing right afterward, so you know there’s a market, and you tell yourself, that book will sell.
But we know better, don’t we? That by the time a trend shows up, it may already be on the way out. Besides, while there are a bunch of vampire/Amish/dystopian books that are big hits, there are a lot more vampire/Amish/dystopian books that are just as on-trend — and probably even just as good — that are barely selling at a trickle.
Three more points to consider:
It’s better to be at the front of a new wave then the end of an old one. Did we know there was an unmet need for a TV dramedy set in a women’s prison? We did not. But now there’s “Orange Is the New Black,” and the reviews are great, mainly because the series is great. Linda Holmes of NPR’s Monkey See blog made a good point in a piece recently about how doing the same old thing won’t work forever — it might seem like everything that comes out of Hollywood is a superhero movie, but were there superheroes 100 years ago? There were not. The thing that our children’s children will most want to read about or watch or experience in whatever way our children’s children will experience their media — we may not even be able to imagine what it is. Someone has to strike out in new directions along the way. It might as well be you.
Even an exact copy of a blockbuster will not produce another blockbuster. “I could write like Dan Brown!” Yes. Yes you could. But if you did, you wouldn’t be Dan Brown. Even Dan Brown wasn’t Dan Brown until The Da Vinci Code. One of the problems with studying blockbusters is that there’s almost nothing to be learned from them. It takes a special convergence of the planets — just the right book at just the right time, with just the right marketing muscle, striking just the right chord with readers to build that undying word-of-mouth momentum — to make that happen. If you’re chasing that dream, the chances that you’ll get there are verrrrrrrrry slim.
Consider your opportunity costs. It isn’t exactly a zero-sum game, but it’s close. The time you spend writing one project is the time you don’t spend writing another. If you decide to just spend a couple months slapping together a fast draft of that vampire book and putting it up on Amazon “just to see what happens,” that’s time and energy you don’t spend writing a different book, maybe the book you really want to write, one you might get to “someday.” Every day is someday. Make sure you’re making a conscious choice about how you spend your creative capital.