I believe what people actually mean when they give this advice is: don’t just follow a trend for the trend’s sake, and don’t try to write a particular genre just because it’s popular. Write a story you are passionate about, one that comes from your heart.
And I agree . . . but I do think you can follow a trend and write a story that you and your readers will love.
In 2012, Downton Abbey was just becoming popular. I enjoyed the show, and I wanted to write longer historical novels, but I wasn’t sure I could write a series that required so much research. After doing some reading about the era, I promptly fell in love with it and decided to create a proposal for The Edwardian Brides Series. I used some of the same elements that made Downton enjoyable: characters from both the staff and a wealthy, aristocratic family; a beautiful English estate as the setting; and important events and issues from the era as part of the plot.
When I pitched the series I said it’s like Downton Abbey meets Jane Eyre. This piqued the interest of several editors, and soon I had a three-book contract. The series was connected to a popular trend, it was a time period that was interesting, but had not been overdone in CBA, and it was the type of story that I loved to read and wanted to write.
Tying my book to Downton Abbey has been a wonderful marketing tool and a great connection point with readers. We mentioned it in the back cover copy and the endorsement on the cover. We used it in our book launch promotions and often use Downton Abbey gifts in our giveaways. I gave my website a makeover so it had an English Historical feeling similar to Downton. I joined a few Downton Abbey Facebook Fan groups and set up a Downton Abbey list on Twitter. I set up a Google Search for Downton Abbey articles and often share those photos on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. I visited the Downton Abbey Costume Exhibit and even traveled to England and Scotland to visit two filming locations for Downton Abbey. I used that research in my books and shared those trips on my blog, email newsletter, Facebook and Pinterest, and my readers love it.
My publisher created a special poster they distributed to libraries all over the US called “Downton Abbey Read Alikes.” It included my book and several others. This gave me another opportunity to connect with Downton Abbey fans.
I’m not the only author who has ridden a trend with good results. Several authors including Cathy Gohlke, Tricia Goyer, Janice Thompson, and others planned ahead and took advantage of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, using that as a back drop for their stories. Other authors like Julie Klassen and Katherine Reay have connected their novels to popular author, Jane Austen. Julie’s books are historical, and she has used her Austin research in marketing her books and connecting with readers who enjoy Regency novels. Katherine’s books are contemporary, but she uses themes and quotes from Austen in beautiful ways in her award-winning books. Cara Putman used the popularity of The Monument Men as a tie-in when her WW2 historical novel, Shadowed by Grace released. And several WW2 novelists recently joined together for a promotion remembering the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of WW2. Very clever ideas!
So do write the story of your heart . . . and do consider cultural trends, historical anniversaries, unique settings, popular authors from the past, and other tie-ins that might allow you to connect with new readers and expand your audience.