One of the more interesting aspects of reading thousands of queries over the course of the year is seeing the trends. You’d be surprised at how many queries I receive that use the same plots, the same titles, and use the same pitches (the alleged Harry Potter “void” being the most prominent sales pitch). Taking a look at queries in broad strokes gives me a bizarre, fleeting (and possibly misleading) sense of the writerly and cultural mood of the moment.
The trends fall into three categories. The most obvious and prevalent one is the copycat trend — a book is popular and I see a bazillion queries imitating what was popular. You name a popular book, trust me, I’ve seen 50 queries that were more or less exactly like that book only slightly different. Currently in vogue for imitation: Eckhart Tolle and THE SECRET.
The second category is the ripped from the headlines trend — whatever big events have recently occurred, sure enough, I’ll see projects that are trying to capture that lightning in a book, whether it’s a straightforward treatise on the subject or an allegorical tale that plays out our current dramas (often in outer space). First it was terrorism, then came the religion/theocracy projects, then the totalitarian government work, now I’m seeing a lot of Obama-esque stories. Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily knocking pulling stuff from headlines as they are a rich vein of material that we’re all experiencing. It’s all about the execution.
The third category is a bit more inexplicable and tantalizing. And this is the “simultaneous thought” type of query that doesn’t necessarily have a root in a popular book, but nevertheless keeps showing up again and again.
My favorite example of this third category is the glut of vampire queries I began seeing around 2005-2006. Around that time, all of a sudden I got a ton of vampire queries, and there wasn’t quite an explanation for it. Yes, there was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Laurell K. Hamilton and Christopher Moore and Anne Rice and all the other successful vampire projects that were already out there, but there wasn’t a particular project that had quite risen to the level of success where it could have prompted so many query imitators. I kept telling my friends that vampires were going to be the next big thing.
Then THE HISTORIAN came along, and I thought, “ah ha!” You see! People love vampires! And, well, then it kept right on going, possibly cresting (or maybe just continuing its crescendo) with the TWILIGHT series. So in this case, I really think the glut of vampire queries was actually a harbinger of a cultural moment.
So what am I seeing double and triple and quadruple of these days? Would you believe Mayans and overweight women?
First, I’ve received at least a dozen queries that somehow involve the fact that the Maya calendar ends in 2012. The particular horrors unleashed by this event vary, but this is the starting point for many an adventure novel. The calendar is ending and boy are those Mayans pissed!
Second, all of a sudden I’ve been receiving a whole lot of women’s fiction with overweight protagonists. “Ugly Betty” maybe? Has there been a successful book that went under my radar? I don’t know!
Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone who has written a book in these molds should necessarily chuck their laptop out the window — you actually might be onto something. I’m also not automatically rejecting a query just because I’ve seen the idea before — like I said, it’s all about the execution.
But I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of these two. While the Mayan calendar is part ripped from headlines, part DA VINCI CODE meshing of current adventure with past history/conspiracy, ultimately it’s somewhat explainable as a trope. Apocalypse, danger, Mayans… what’s not to like??
It’s the overweight chick lit/women’s fiction that really intrigues me, particularly since it runs so counter to the normal chick lit mold where women tend to desire mainstream/elite brands, lifestyles, and self-image. Sometimes these queries do fall into that aspirational category as a makeover story in which the overweight woman creates a new, improved self, but other times they stay proud of who and how they are.
So are these coming cultural moments? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’m going to be looking closely to see what happens.