by wjw on March 8, 2011

One interesting thing I discovered from looking at my financial data this year is that in 2010 I earned far more in foreign sales than in any other category.   I could make a decent, if not spectacular, living writing just for translation into other languages.

It would spare me all the weird second-guessing that comes with American publishers and their sad, useless charting of trends.   “No, you can’t sell a book with space ships this week, it’s all near-future.”  “No, you can’t do vampires any more, it’s all about angels.”  “No, dragons are passé, try unicorns or wyverns or something else mythical.”

Dragons are passé right up until George RR Martin’s DANCE WITH DRAGONS hits the stands in July, and then everyone will be saying that unicorns and vampires and angels and near-future are dead, it’s all about dragons now.   Spaceships will be over until James S.A. Corey’s LEVIATHAN WAKES appears.   (And you’ll have to take your best guess as to who will revive vampires, because I don’t follow that particular field much.)

It’s useless and stupid charting trends like this, because books are published two or three years out.  If I sell WAMBLES WITH WYVERNS this week, I’ll spend the best part of a year writing it, and then it’ll be a year or more in production before any of you gets to read it.   So are publishers actually expecting that if wyverns are trending up this week, they’ll still be trending up two years from now?

If publishers commission a whole lot of wyvern books right now, all they’re guaranteeing is that in three years’ time, there will be far too many wyvern books on the shelves. There will be a wyvern bubble, and it will collapse.

I began my career with the historical fiction bubble of the 1980s.  I lost my first career when that bubble burst.  I’ve seen this over and over again.

I don’t actually know any editors stupid enough to think that this sort of trendspotting, overbuying strategy actually works, so I assume it’s just insurance on their part.   If things go well, they can tell their superiors, “Hey, I saw the trend and I jumped on it.  Go, me!”   If the bubble bursts, they can say, “I bought wyverns when they were hot!   How was I to know all these other idiots were going to flood the market with cheap-ass wyvern books?”

I’m hardly the first person to think that American publishing, with everyone eager to be the second person to jump on the bandwagon,  is getting to be far too much like Hollywood.   Except without the money.

Foreign markets, I love you!

Ty March 9, 2011 at 4:55 am

The best advice I was ever given was, “write what you love.”

Never chase the market. Write what you love and sometimes the market comes to you. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll still be happy with what you wrote.

wjw March 9, 2011 at 6:04 am

No, sorry, writing what you love is so over.

What you have to write about this week are zombies who want to have sex. That’s the ticket to success.

Ty March 9, 2011 at 9:42 am

“Were-unicorns and the teenage vampire pop singers who love them.”

Rob Steiner March 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm

What about science fiction crossed with chick lit crossed with literary fiction?

Rowan March 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to wamble with wyverns. I imagine there would be a great deal of painful stepping-on of toes.

mastadge March 11, 2011 at 1:08 am

I only wish that one of the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness had been [i]The Wambler and the Wyvern[/i].

Pete March 11, 2011 at 1:40 am

So at some point in the 90’s, you managed to convince a publisher that geomancy political intrigue fantasy novels were a coming thing? Dude, you should be in sales, that’s brilliant 🙂

Boomer March 15, 2011 at 4:33 am

To Heck with those guys! If you wrote a book on cooking turnips, I’d still buy it! BTW, seems that ‘Space Opera’ never seems to go outta style, and WJW is damn good at it.

MoonRainbow March 15, 2011 at 4:39 am

Have you tried self-publishing? I do not exactly know what the conditions for Kindle publishing are, but I am willing to bet a lot of your readers own Kindles. There are a lot of other ways to publish a paper book, too. There are many options for “print on demand” and you keep the rights.

wjw March 15, 2011 at 4:48 am

I’ll be making my backlist available as ebooks, but it’s a surprising amount of work if you want to do it right, so things are moving slowly there.

If the backlist moves well, I might consider original content . . . but the problem with that is, I can’t pay myself an advance!

MoonRainbow March 15, 2011 at 5:03 am

There is not much work technically so I assume you are talking about legal issues, organizing and so on. It sucks when you have to invest on unknown odds, but you are right: publishing as we know it is dying. I am not a writer but it seems that for musicians, writers etc. lots of things are bets now.

DensityDuck March 18, 2011 at 12:19 am

Once “Metropolitan” and “City On Fire” are available as e-books, I’ll buy them.

Heck, I’d buy them even if they were reprinted as physical books. You’d have the honor of being the author of the first physical books I’d bought since 2007.


Trendspotting: Actually, there *is* a trend. It’s “paranormal romance”. It doesn’t matter what the creature is, so long as its “human form” is a bishounen.

DensityDuck March 20, 2011 at 12:40 am

Oooh oh! Here’s an idea! A reinterpretation of the “Pygmalion/Galatea” romance, done in Steampunk style, with a teenage mad-genius inventor girl creating a steam-powered robot love slave!

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