A lot of people say that you shouldn’t write for the money (and to some degree that’s because not a lot of the money actually ends up in the writer’s pocket!), but that you should write for the love of it.
Personally, I think that’s a bad take and insulting to all writers who put in the time and effort to make their books ready for publication, whether traditional or otherwise. Writers work hard and deserve to be paid. That doesn't mean I don't think you should write for the love at all – in fact, I think that love is often what keeps us going in such a tough industry – but it's not bad to want to earn a living from what you create.
So when we think about making money from writing, it makes the most commercial sense to write what is currently popular, doesn't it? If vampires or pirates are having their heyday, why wouldn’t you try to capitalise on that bandwagon?
The problem with writing to trends
If you didn’t already know this, traditional publishing is slow. And I mean glaciers speed by it kind of slow. The books that are currently hitting the shelves have been in the publishing cycle for anywhere between 12–18 months. Prior to that, those books were being worked on by the author and their agent for, again, about a year or thereabouts. And prior to that, the book was being queried by the author for, if they’re lucky a couple of months but more likely close to a year, after they’ve spent the previous year drafting and editing to get it into shape.
That means what is a trend now, was in progress three to four years prior. If you started writing a book today based on what is currently popular, even if you were incredibly lucky with the query process and your work required minimal editing, you would still likely not see it published for another three years, by which point the trend you tried to capitalise on has since died out and been replaced by something else.
So… don’t write to trends?
Well, the answer isn’t a hard no. There are certain markets that will always be a boon. For example, crime and thrillers are almost always popular in the UK, and children’s books saw a boost in 2019, so aiming for those niches will give you a decent head start.
The industry is remarkably fickle, though, and what takes off one year can be tiresome the next – and, in certain genres and age categories, the space is taken up by one big-name author, so unless you are said individual you’re unlikely to dominate. That doesn’t mean you should never write to trends, but it does mean you shouldn’t expect it to be your queue-jumping pass to the front of the line.
Write what you want to write
As I’ve mentioned, the publishing industry is a drawn-out process and you’re going to be picking apart your story for a very long time. To be able to put up with that, you really do need to love what you’ve created. And maybe what you’ve created is the perfect cross-section between what you love and what is trendy – in which case, huzzah! But if the latest trend isn’t your jam, I’d proceed with caution before committing to writing within it because you are going to be cosied up to that beast for some time.
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing something purely to make money. Writing for the love of it will certainly help keep your spirits up while you’re querying and/or out on submission, but it can also make it hurt more if you don’t get that yes. So if there’s a trend you think you can capitalise on, no one can tell you not to go for it. At the end of the day, you should just write what you want to write – whether for the love of it or for the money.