When I decided to write Deadworld, I consciously chose to write to the market. Now, generally, you will find the advice out there strongly discourages this, and not without reason. By the time most ‘hot’ topics are selling big, publishers have scooped up enough like-minded stories to fill their slots for the next two years. Thus, you run a big risk of submitting to a flooded market that will not be interested regardless of the quality of your writing. There are any number of stories out there of authors who have had great books get shoved under the bed because nobody thought it could sell given the amount of similar stories out there or coming up in the near future. This is not uncommon. It happens all of the time actually.
Steampunk is hot right now. I don’t mind this at all, frankly. Steampunk is pretty damn cool. Thing is, if you decide to write it now, your odds of selling are reduced. There are always exceptions to this. The trick of course is create something that is unique relative to everything else that is due to come out over the next year or two. Unless you’re a mindreader, this is rather difficult to do. What I can say to this is, if you genuinely love your story and believe it offers something different, go for it. You have nothing to lose, because every book you write, regardless of whether it sells, puts you further downt he path of being a better writer. Also, there’s always the chance that the ‘fad’ stories, while cooling off after a time, establish themselves with a more solid base, and you have a chance to sell it down the road.
For me, it was vampires. Yes, the ever popular, always out there, vampire. Done to death. Thank you Twilight for drowning the market for us other writers who love to write vampire stories. How many times have we heard that vampires are “dead”? Yet, they continue on, maybe not with uber-selling status, but they’re always around. People like them. They make cool villains. I love vampires. When I finished the fantasy novel I was working on before Deadworld, I purposely looked to do something different. I chose a ‘vampire’ story because I wanted to. I didn’t care that people were saying they were on their way out, that the market was saturated. I did however, look at what kinds of stories were out there, what was being done with vampires, and I decided I needed something that looked at them in a different way, that steered clear of the more typical, gothic vampire mythos. Hopefully, what I came up with does that.
What did I do to make it different? I have a hard time putting my finger on it exactly, but one thing I did was to not make it a focus of the story. Deadworld is not about the world of vampires, even though one of the central figures is a vampire. It is more about how being one effects the character. The paranormal elements of the story goes beyond vampires. Deadworld is that place beyond the living, and a lot of what happens, and will happen with the series, involves how the heroine and the others interact with and figure out this place. So, while some readers may look at the book initally, and think, “God! It’s another vampire story,” it’s really not. It’s a small element of a greater whole. It’s there to some degree because I purposefully decided I wanted a vampire in my story. I started with it, looked at the how’s and why’s of being one, and then developed a world and story out of these ideas.
There is no ‘proper’ way to take a hot market element and make it your own, but if you want to use it, be clear about how and why, and work hard at making it something out of the ordinary, because readers will be the first to realize there are 50 other books out there doing the same thing you are, and you don’t want that.