I have felt for some time now that agents/editors blogging is both a great and slightly unhelpful phenomena. It's great because it removes some of the mystique behind the publishing process, demonstrates, you know, that agents and editors are human beings. These blogs also provide practical information: the art of the good query letter, what that particular agent likes to represent etc. They also offer excellent networking opportunities through the comments sections.
They are less helpful when they confuse authors.
The problem with these blogs is that each agent has a slightly different philosophy on the industry. Each agent has a slightly different set of requirements for his/her query letters. Each agent . . . is different. And authors sometimes can find themselves trying to appeal to every agent in one magical query letter or whathaveyou. This is next to impossible. (I wrote about this idea in more general terms here).
What also makes life more confusing for authors are the posts about current trends. I personally find them very interesting, and love it when agents talk about what's hot and what's not. But unless you just happen to have a completed novel in one of those genres of the hot variety that you've been scared to send out and this news gives you the impetus to do so, I say, enjoy these posts on a "Well now that's quite interesting" level.
Because, seriously? Current trends are pretty darn meaningless.
The thing is - publishing takes a long time. A very long time.
Let's say you have an agent already. Let's say that agent has sold your work. It will still be close to TWO years before the book is on the shelves. And there is simply no predicting what will be popular in two years. Before the DaVinci Code came out, do you think editors were looking for religious conspiracy novels? Ah, no. In fact I would venture to say if such books crossed their desks the response would be along the lines: "Too controversial." Yet suddenly this book strikes it huge and every other book on the shelf looks like some cheap knockoff (yes, even those books knocked off by Brown himself somehow still managed to look like that).
I'm not saying it isn't important to keep up with what's hot in the industry right now. I think being educated is always a smart move.
But instead of freaking out trying to write an epic love story about vampire pirate time travelers, because some agent mentioned it once in passing, try freaking out about writing a really compelling novel. Something that interests you, something where your passion obviously shines through.
My personal experience is a pretty good example of this. Alex was rejected because it was "too old fashioned". In fact when you look at the facts, Alex is definitely not what you would consider trendy. First off it's long. Around twice as long as most novels in its genre. It's also episodic, which is an outdated form of storytelling. These days we prefer our soap opera, what happens next, kind of stories. The protagonist is a girl, and I know that many MG editors are looking for male leads to entice boy readers. The language is complicated, sometimes even archaic. And I use author intrusion, which while very popular in Lemony Snicket, really is not what is desired in novels in general, let alone children's books. In fact I have read articles advising strongly against it.
Yet . . . I still managed to find people interested enough in spending time with me to edit it and then eventually publish it.
There are so few things we can control as authors. We can't control what an agent/editor likes or dislikes. We can't control the economy. We can't control readers deciding they'd rather watch a movie. But we can control the words on the page. We can write our story, choose our words, play with characters. We can edit a manuscript over and over again until it shines. That, at least, we should feel some power over.
So I say instead of grasping at some trend's tailcoat, let's start our own! It will be brilliant! It will be delightful! It will be the trend to end all trends!
. . . and we shall call it . . . Carl.