Friday, May 1, 2015

The Hunger Games and Stratocasters by Jim Hart

A worship blog announced this week that the electric guitar is no longer fashionable. It seems that electronic dance music – EDM – is now all the rage. So for us electric guitarists, that could be discouraging news. Except then we realize that it won’t be long and tastes will again shift to something different. Or swing back to an older style. 

I had a proposal rejected from a publisher last week because they thought the particular genre – dystopian - has been overdone.  It was not the first time I had heard that this genre may be declining. A few years ago some were saying that sales of dystopian novels had peaked.

But yet in the face of that, books like The Hunger Games and Divergent continue to be huge sellers. 

A blogger in January 2013 declared dystopian novels were exclusively a product of white male authors. It’s interesting that both of the above mentioned books were written by females.  That blogger also held that the stars of dystopian stories are generally a white male. Hmmmm. Then I found an article written just six months later, in June 2013, that heralded  The Hunger Games and Divergent as leading the “new wave of strong female-led sci-fi.” Guess the guy six months earlier didn’t see that one coming.

We never know what event, just around the corner, will influence book sales.  George Orwell’s 1984, one of the most influential dystopian novels of our time, enjoyed a sharp spike in sales during the NSA spying scandal a couple of years ago. The only ones that probably saw that coming were The Lone Gunmen from the X-Files.
I think the quick rise in sales of a decade old book shows that some genres, or sub-genres, will remain timeless. (Note to self: re-read this blog in two years to see if I was accurate) Orwell’s 1984, first published in 1949, has never really lost its significance in the literary landscape. This is the book that introduced the term ‘big brother’ into our modern lexicon.  

So this is the question: how much do you let current trends guide your writing? If you write based on trends, then will you ever be current? Because, if you’re an unpublished author, it could be years before your first novel is published. 

Maybe what’s considered to be the hot trend right now has captured you, and to write in that specific genre is important to you. In regards to cranking out a novel for a genre that may not be in vogue - I want to say “go for it.” And what are the consequences? It may be more difficult to find a publisher. Maybe.  Unless an editor finds your writing fresh and your voice original and engaging.

I personally think it’s great that scores of writers share the goal of writing the next Hunger Games or Divergent. Competition can be a good thing.  And while it’s natural to slide towards familiar themes, find ways to make the familiar seem fresh. Keep your chosen genre alive with originality and a new vision. Maybe the move over the past years towards female protagonists in dystopian novels have broadened its readership and allowed it to remain so popular.

In my own efforts to remain musically current, I’ve learned to adapt my playing over the years, and even to lay aside the old tools that created a dated sound. This means I have to constantly pay attention to current pop music in order to keep learning a new musical vocabulary. All while trying to maintain a sense of my own style.  

As a writer, you can do the same thing. Yes, of course pay attention to what’s popular.  But write what you write – regardless of trends. And, if your genre allows, write like it’s 2015! 

Maybe it’s time to finish up that Amish Dystopian Heavy Metal novel.


Diana Flegal said...

Amish Dystopian Heavy Metal. Now there is a book that might set a new trend. Great post. "...and the times, they are a changin' ".

Linda Glaz said...

Absolutely true as you never know what will be interesting two months or a day from now.