Wednesday, July 26, 2006

VW#2

Virtual Workshop #2:
Trend Tracking Versus Jumping


I. Trends and Options

The publishing industry, like any entertainment entity, runs on consumer demand. What the readers buy, the publishers want. When a certain genre or sub-genre is in high demand for a significant period of time, we call this a trend. However we writers feel about trends, they are a reality, and they have direct influence over what publishers will buy, and what they reject.

The most common ways writers deal with trends:

A. Ignore them. Write exactly what you want, and pay no attention to the market, and hope for the best.
B. Jump on them. Write only what is in market demand in hopes that it will give you an edge in the slushpile.
C. Track them. Continually watch what sells on the market and use that information to follow current trends, evaluate your manuscript potential and, if possible, be one of the first writers to anticipate a new trend.

A is the artist's way. I respect artists, and I think this is a lovely attitude to have. It's also the reason a lot of artists starve, so it doesn't work for me.

B is like jumping on Ye Olde Bandwagon. It's often more counter-productive than helpful, as by the time a trend really gets rolling you have a ton of writers trying to do the exact same thing.

C is what I do, and in this workshop, we're going to talk about how to do that.

II. Genre Awareness

To sell in a genre, you must be aware of what is selling in that genre. Go to the bookstore regularly and look at the shelves. Check the online booksellers' BSL lists. Talk about genre titles with readers and other writers and see what are the latest, most popular sellers. Read books that do very well for market analysis.

What to look for in your target genre, and author examples:

Authors who create trends (Dan Brown)
Books that explode on the market (J.R. Ward)
Novels that provoke strong reader reactions (Thomas Harris)
Successfully sustained bestselling series (Sue Grafton)
Unusual or unique voices (Jacqueline Carey)
Word of mouth or "buzzed" books (Lisa Valdez)

Educate yourself as thoroughly as you can about your genre, and you'll have the basic knowledge you need to track a trend.

III. Info Gathering

Every week helpful entities like The New York Times and USA Today tell us what consumers are snapping up. This is great for readers but not very useful to writers, because we know whatever makes the bestseller lists was actually sold a year or two ago. What sells now is what will (or won't) be hot in 2007-2008. You might as well ignore the lists, right?

No. The lists individually provide little useful info, but collectively are a free trend mapping service. A writer interested in trend tracking should read the lists every week and watch how well books in their target genre(s) are selling (this is why it's so important to know your genre, so you can recognize the applicable author names and titles that show up on the lists.)

Let's look at rankings for five writers over a one year-period on the USA Today list (books are listed in order of publication along with peak position on BSL):

Jennifer Armintrout: The Turning 93
Kelley Armstrong: Haunted 62, Dates from Hell 36, Broken 22
Patricia Briggs: Moon Called 109
Lynn Viehl: If Angels Burn 148, Private Demon 120, Dark Need 87
J.R. Ward: Dark Lover 48, Lover Eternal 39

Let me add some details: Jennifer and Patricia's novels are genre debuts. Kelley, J.R. and I all have established series that are building in popularity. Patricia and I are veteran pros in other genres. With the exception of Kelley, all of us are new to the USA Today list, so we're considered "up and coming." Patricia and Kelley are being shelved in SF/F, and the rest of us are shelved in romance. The one thing we all have in common is that we're writing series that are not the usual Kiss Me Forever Vlad type novels that have been so popular in the past.

IV. Analyzing and Applying Your Info

How well you can track a trend depends on how much effort you're willing to put into it. Reading lists, watching your genre, and making the connections does require some time, but you're educating yourself about the market. Track trends long enough and you'll find that you do automatically.

To apply what you learn, use the information you gather as a submission barometer for your written manuscripts, and as a priority guide for your new novel ideas. Do the five authors above indicate a new direction in the vampire fiction trend; perhaps a trend within the trend? Only time will tell for sure. But if you are a writer with a dark or otherwise unusual vampire fiction manuscript or idea, I'd say this would be a good time to put together a proposal and get it out there, because similar fiction is collectively rising on the lists.

One thing about information: make sure it's information and not rumors. For about a year now I've been hearing a tired old rumor about how chick-lit, a very big trend in the romance genre, is on its way out. It's becoming cluttered in the same way that romantic suspense did five years ago, and paranormal romance is doing now, but I'm not seeing it die on the lists yet, and plenty of new writers are still selling it. Publishers will probably become more conservative with the number of chick-lit titles they publish, and eventually whittle down their authors lists, but I don't think it's going belly-up any time soon.

V. Making Trends

All trends start with some author(s) who present readers with something unexpected. Anyone who decides it's better to take the A/artist option and follow the artist's path has the potential to be a trend-setter. So do writers who take the C/Tracking option, because while watching trends, you may come up with an idea for a novel that goes beyond what's being done. B/Bandwagon writers generally don't set trends, because you're imitating what's already being done, but there is always the possibility that you'll do it better than anyone else has before you. In all things trend-related, choose to do what works best for you as a writer.

Post your comments, thoughts and questions on trends by midnight EST on Thursday, July 27, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning today's Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of my Jessica Hall novels Into the Fire and Heat of the Moment and unsigned copies of: Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl, Emma Holly's All U Can Eat, Jamie Sobrato's The Sex Quotient, June Casagrande's Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, and Gimbles (brackets that hold a book open for you for hands-free reading), all packed in a quilted tote bag made by Yours Truly. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Note: Thanks to the terrific response to VW#1 I'm lagging a bit behind on answering questions being posted in comments, but I promise I will leave no question unanswered. :)

Related links:

Bob Mayer's RTB guest post Writing for the Market.

Previous PBW posts about trends are here, here and here.

*Added: Bookseller Chick shares my general attitude about the chick-lit trend. (Thanks to L. for the link.)

77 comments:

  1. I think you can combine A, B and C, especially if you're an unpubbed trying to get your foot in the door.

    My current solution is to decide what I choose to work on from my idea files by what I think is selling. I won't try to come up with something just for a trend, but I'll pick something to work based on me thinking that the genre is hot.

    Makes sense? I need me some coffee.

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  2. I've sat here for a long time, struggling to find something to say. I don't pay any attention to the trends - I have no idea who's on the bestseller list this week, let alone this year - and I'm definitely a Type A from the options on your list. Do I create art? I don't think so, but no one writes like I do, at least not anyone I've read. Do I write literary? I don't think so, but lots of others think I do, even though I'm shelved in genre. I just try to tell a good story and, sink or swim, that's what matters to me.

    If, though, I was after the bucks and the lists, then I'd probably worry more about trends. As it is, I came out with what I think is a unique product and hopefully it's done well. Maybe I'm a trend setter, maybe I've created my own genre, I dunno, but I do know I'd be miserable writing something just because others are and they're selling great. I've seen a lot of writers - some are friends - who try to follow and grasp the trends. So far, with the exception of you, it seems to have bitten them hard in the ass.

    I believe that being unique is important. The greatest novels ever written, the novels on book banning lists, the novels people really read and talk about and cherish years and decades after publication, are unique visions, especially at the time they were written. Those who try to grasp that are, often, flimsy mimics. Better, I think, to forge a new path than to try to follow another.

    But I'm not normal, especially in this business, so what do I know? lol

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  3. As a writer, I'd love to be able to write only those things I love. As a writer who hopes to get published, I have to pay attention to what publishers are buying.

    I think a more established writer can get away with writing what they love. Especially once her name alone sells a book. But a writer just starting out doesn't have that luxury.

    Donna

    PS The incredible goody bag finally forced me to stop posting anonymously and actually log in.

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  4. I have a different way of looking at this. I don't think of myself as a prima donna, and I don't sit on a pedestal shrieking 'Art! Art!' but I *do* write what I want to write without reference to possible trends. I'm not savvy enough or professional enough to assess the market and come up with projects based on that. I get struck by an idea or a character and I go with it. It's the only way I know.

    However, because I read obsessively (and with a great deal of enjoyment) within my own genre I have this *completely unconscious* knack of sliding into previously unnoticed gaps in the market. When I've finished and it comes time to convince agent and editor of the value of what I've produced, a little light-bulb will go on and I'll suddenly find I have something unique which people are getting excited about.

    Because of this, my agent, editor and various marketing people from my publisher are prone to congratulate me on how much market research I've obviously done, and how beautifully I promote my work. It makes me feel quite guilty, actually. I'll work my butt off and take any measures necessary when it comes to generating a buzz in the publisher's office, but only once I've had my fun writing something that I love.

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  5. These are great workshops!

    "Choose to do what works best for you as a writer" is a line that really speaks to me :)

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  6. Great workshop.

    My wallet is tight, so I appreciate your generosity. :)

    Thanks for the workshops this week. I posted about them on my blog. I have no idea how "link to this post" works. I clicked on it, but I didn't know what to do with it once it was open.

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  7. Bridget Medora8:10 AM

    Trendwatching is probably one of the biggest things I have to work on. I guess I'm daunted -- in more ways than one -- and I use my family and other responsibilities as "I don't have time" excuses. Then I get daunted again by how much I haven't done.

    Bleah! Darn ol' vicious cycle!

    But your post is giving me a nice gentle shove in the "you know you should start doing this" direction. So thank you! =D

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  8. the problem is some trends last a year or two (chick lit) and some last for years and years (historicals set in regency era) and there's no frikken way to know which is which.

    I guess the way to sort of guess which will last is to see which one has some variety in plot devices and voices? BSC talks about chick lit in her blog yesterday and how readers say "after a while feels like read one, read them all"

    What else has that same unchanging flavor or maybe feels that way to readers? erotica? is it going to keep up [har] for years? I'm betting that horse isn't going to run in the mainstream for much longer just because it's doing the big glut.

    It'll be fun to see how wrong I am. Vampires might be slowing but they lasted a heck of a lot longer than I ever expected.

    Anyway, the point is if you ignore a long-lived trend (like regency set historicals) when you sort of have a hankering to write one, it might be a mistake.

    where's the coffee? I need coffee.

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  9. Awesome workshop, Lynn. :)

    I think I fall somewhere between A and C. I keep track of trends and try to anticipate them, but at the same point, I'm not going to quit writing something I love just to get onto the new wave. Cause if you don't love what you're doing, in my experience, it shows. Which is a problem with a lot of people trend-hopping -- either they never finish, or it's competent but not great because they aren't "into it."

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  10. I have to say I'm one of those who takes the A option. I just have too many ideas in my head clamoring to be written; I don't know how I'd manage if I tried to add additional ones based on trends. I know this will probably make it harder for me to get published, but I've thought about it and decided it's the best option for me, at least for now.

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  11. I have thoughts on this, yet no experience to back them up, but that's never stopped me before...

    Personally, I think about what isn't being published and then look into the dark cobwebbed corners of my genre, shine a light in there and see if there's anything worth dusting off.

    Since I started doing that, I seem to be writing ahead of the trend.

    And it's not so much that I want to write to market/trend as I want my ms. to be competitive and unique.

    With regards to paranormal bottoming out, I hope not. There is still so much that could be done in that genre and I think paranormal readers were always there, waiting for the market to find them. They aren't going to disappear if paranormal dries up. In the past, I know I was frustrated by the lack of paranormal and am thrilled to see these books on the market now. My interest isn't going to wane so long as the market stays fresh.

    And keeping things fresh is where avoiding B is so important. Most (not all, there are always exceptions) B writing is cookiecutter. I see this now. The authors don't really understand the genre, may not even really like it, but they write it and publishers pimp it. I read these B books and then throw them against the wall. Hard.

    A combo of A & C is, I think, a better way to go because it means the writer is following their creative heart with the input of market analysis. Sort of an 'intelligent passion' when it comes to genre trends.

    Just my two cents.

    M

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  12. Thanks for the workshop and being so generous with your time and expertise! I'd have to pick A and C. I don't want to be a mouse chasing the cheese. Are there any "new" trends? Trends seem to run in cycles and there are ways to study cycles -- rather like next season's fashions and remakes of old movies. Maybe what was "in" during 1967 will be next year's trend.

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  13. "Choose to do what works best for you as a writer" is a line that really speaks to me :)

    ditto.

    :o)

    WHile tracking trends all sounds like an excellent idea, I doubt it' something I'd be very good at. I just have to write what appeals to me at the time. And since I get bored easy ... *G* I tend to write all over the map anyway.

    I'm curious though, paranormal is HUGE right now. I wonder how long that's going to keep up.

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  14. What do you think about tracking trends through manuscript sales information, rather than what's selling in the stores? I always read the section in Locus magazine that details who sold what to whom. This information does have to be balanced though, because selling the manuscript is not the same as selling copies of the book.

    I've heard from several best-selling authors that you should "serve the story first" and that is where I am now with my own writing.

    BTW, you quilt? Me too!

    Cheers, Jennie

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  15. Aren't B and C really the same thing? The difference between them being where you jump on the bandwagon? In other words, C is B as practiced by a smart writer.

    I don't think you can predict the emergence of trends. I don't think you can predict Dan Brown or JK Rowling, for example. Brown simply rehashed other works in the same genre, Rowling did an English boarding school series with the added wizard twist. Both of them got lucky. Anybody trying to be a trend-setter would have to have the same luck.

    Frankly, having read this Left Behind, I think the smart writer will choose C.

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  16. This is going to sound like an extraordinarily amateurish question (and well it should, considering its source ;-):

    How do I know for certain what genre I am writing in if my book has elements of several?

    If I write in a world I create, I know it is fantasy. Unless I add this huge romantic plot line, and then I'm wondering if it is then a fantasy romance? Or a mystery with horror elements--is it a horror genre or a mystery genre? Without having published, how can I be certain which genre would be best for marketing my book, let alone for trend-watching? Or do I just choose option A, write what I love and what fascinates me, and hope an agent will know where to plug me (which seems risky at best and not very career supporting).

    I've heard over and over again for too many sources to count to 'know your genre.' And I feel I 'know' several, in that I read a variety of books from several. But I'm not certain I 'know my genre' for writing in one specifically, or how much I should be stressing over my apparent lack. So what is the best way for, or even should I start out by, knowing my specific genre and writing for it intentionally.

    Thank you eversomuch!
    Ris

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  17. I have a subscription to Romantic Times, which I think is helpful -- they review so many books that it's easy to see what's being released at any one point in time and what genre it fits into.

    Me, I'm hoping urban fantasy (with romantic elements!) isn't going anywhere, at least as a writer. As a reader, I hope paranormals keep coming. I've noticed, too, a rise in historical paranormals. I think that might be the next big subgenre.

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  18. One the challenges I see to writing to the market is that market might not be suited to your voice. I find this particularly true in the paranormal romance genre. There are quite a few authors who are writing romances with paranormals (including a couple big names) where the world building is particularly weak. To borrow Lydia Joyce's terminology from the historical genre, these books are costume dramas lacking defined boundaries and rules for the paranormal world.

    I sometimes wonder if editors/authors think that romance readers want a dumbed down version of world building because we haven't been buying sci fi/fantasy until recently (past 3 years or so). The reason that I think you, Ms. Viehl, JR Ward, Kelley Armstrong, Jennifer Armintrout are selling so well is that the world you create is fully realized.

    Without a knack for world building, without some knowledge of the 30 something urban girl, without knowledge of the market to which you are writing, the book rarely is fully realized. I think readers can quickly catch on to who is really writing something that they know or can envision versus something that is written for the market.

    And it is the posers in each genre that hurt the genre overall. Too many poser books and the reader starts dismissing the genre as a whole. (see the Bookseller Chick's post yesterday).

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  19. Thanks for the great workshop.

    As for whether or not a writer should follow current market trends, you've given us a lot of food for thought. I try to write what I know, what I'm comfortable with and then find a way to present it with a new voice or viewpoint that will make it stand out. Hopefully, if I'm successful, that will be enough to make a sale.

    The problem I see with following the current trend is that too many authors try to simply reinvent the wheel. How many different versions of The Da Vinci Code will the market bear? More to the point, how many poor imitations should be thrust upon the readers?

    Now, I'm not saying to ignore the current trend. That's what the publishers are buying so we have to take it into consideration. However, as you pointed out, there are other factors as well.

    Any way, thanks again. I'm off for another cup of coffee and, hopefully, a productive day of writing before I have to go back to work.

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  20. Like a lot of the other commenters, I'm a combination of A & C. I like to follow the market trends, but I tend to write what I want anyway. Though I will admit that the ideas that are way, way off-center, I tend to push onto the back burner. *wry grin*

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  21. Wow. Thanks for the info. As a writer, I never considered tracking trends. I'm just writing the story that wants to be written. As a reader, when I notice more of what I like to read on the shelves, I think "Yay!" Interesting to look at this issue from another side.

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  22. Kate and Shiloh I waited over 15 years (as a reader) for paranormals to catch on!!! (think Constance O'Day Flannery's time travels and Johanna Lindsay's futuristics). It might burn out slowly--like Regency Historicals did--but who knows. And yes Kate I agree about erotica--another glut in the making just like chick lit.

    We walk a fine line between writing for ourselves (art) and writing something that's marketable.

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  23. Trends. Makes me shudder, to think of writing because of trends. I guess I'm stuck on A, artistic, because I can't write what I don't got in me. Forcing my creative efforts into an area of no interest to me would be certain to kill my craft. Now if I do happen to find a subject I can like, and it happens to be in the trendy area, fine, but there's always the option of write what you got, and then submit when you see the trend for it developing. Takes forever, the submission process, in any case (yeah, I know, I'm exagerating, but it takes months if not years and that's enough of forever for me, enough time to see the trend change again, too) and so I look at trends and shrug them off and continue on. The trend might change by the time the submission is through the process.

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  24. Worrying about trends is something that just makes me want to laugh.

    Since I'm still a newbie, I'll just work on getting the story in my head onto paper in a way that doesn't sound like a garbled mess.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, though.

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  25. My trendtracking is done very unscientifically. I read a lot of industry blogs and newsletters and wander through Borders once a week (my writing group meets there) and let all my observations mull in my subconscious. It gives me a sense of where things are without letting my perfectionist, anal-retentive, control-freak alter ego take over with Excel spreadsheets and Power Point presentations.

    As for the chick lit rumors, I saw this on Agent Kristin Nelson's blog (Pub Rants) the other day: "Had lunch with Rose Hilliard from St. Martin’s yesterday. It was kind of fun to hear that editors are still open to chick lit—albeit for more mature topics and characters. Shopping and man or job searching ain’t going to cut it."

    That seems to represent a change in editorial attitudes regarding chick lit which may have spawned the rumors to begin with.

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  26. Anonymous11:17 AM

    As strictly a reader it is always interesting to see how much else goes into the books that I devour immediately and then pout because of the wait/delay until the next one is released, as well as a huge eye-opener. I read cereal boxes, milk cartons or anything else if I can't find a bood, which has caused me to adventure in other genres. Your blog has certainly assisted in this regard by introducing me to other authors that I might not have found on my own, i.e, Tamra, Patricia Briggs, JR Ward, etc., etc. I have always loved series but since reading your blog this past week have a new found admiration for all Authors for being able to accomplish this. Can't wait for the next Star Doc (see I'm worse than a child at Christmas - I want it NOW!). Thank you and thanks to all the other authors for many, many hours of pleasure, escape, and adventure.

    Marie in RI

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  27. Milady wrote: My current solution is to decide what I choose to work on from my idea files by what I think is selling. I won't try to come up with something just for a trend, but I'll pick something to work based on me thinking that the genre is hot.

    That's not trend-jumping, in my opinion, that's the combination of A&C (which is popular in comments this morning, and I think is a smart artistic approach.)

    When you try to write something solely because of the market instead of writing what appeals to you, to paraphrase Bob Mayer, you can't feel passionate about it.

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  28. Tam wrote: If, though, I was after the bucks and the lists, then I'd probably worry more about trends. As it is, I came out with what I think is a unique product and hopefully it's done well. Maybe I'm a trend setter, maybe I've created my own genre, I dunno, but I do know I'd be miserable writing something just because others are and they're selling great.

    Excellent points. Whatever we discuss here, you have to make the choices that are right for you. No way should anything you do with the work make you miserable. Then the dream becomes a day job.

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  29. Donna quit lurking anonymously and wrote: I think a more established writer can get away with writing what they love. Especially once her name alone sells a book. But a writer just starting out doesn't have that luxury.

    Midlist writers are in a similar boat, as we have sell-through luggage, and that's always scrutinized when we pitch a new book or series. A dismal performance doesn't exactly inspire an editor to give you another shot at the market, so our pitches have to be uber-dazzling, and often the sort of thing where we're reinventing ourselves.

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  30. Zolah wrote: However, because I read obsessively (and with a great deal of enjoyment) within my own genre I have this *completely unconscious* knack of sliding into previously unnoticed gaps in the market. When I've finished and it comes time to convince agent and editor of the value of what I've produced, a little light-bulb will go on and I'll suddenly find I have something unique which people are getting excited about.

    There you go. Maybe we should call this approach "D: The Ninja Art of Trend Tracking." :) Congrats on your new cover art, too, Z -- it is absolutely gorgeous. :)

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  31. Miss Kate wrote: where's the coffee? I need coffee.

    Sorry, this is strictly Bring Your Own Brew.

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  32. Nonny wrote: Which is a problem with a lot of people trend-hopping -- either they never finish, or it's competent but not great because they aren't "into it."

    Amen to that.

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  33. M wrote: With regards to paranormal bottoming out, I hope not. There is still so much that could be done in that genre and I think paranormal readers were always there, waiting for the market to find them. They aren't going to disappear if paranormal dries up. In the past, I know I was frustrated by the lack of paranormal and am thrilled to see these books on the market now. My interest isn't going to wane so long as the market stays fresh.

    My thinking is that paranormals are not as closely tied to the romance genre as chick-lit and other romance-generated trends are; we have very strong crossover appeal for fantasy, horror and even mystery readers. If paranormal writers can stay out of the romance rut (which killed most futuristic romances, for example) and offer novels that have broader appeal, I think we're going to be around for a long time. But that could be wishful thinking on my part, too. :)

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  34. That's not trend-jumping, in my opinion, that's the combination of A&C (which is popular in comments this morning, and I think is a smart artistic approach.)

    When you try to write something solely because of the market instead of writing what appeals to you, to paraphrase Bob Mayer, you can't feel passionate about it.


    I don't think I'm an A/B/C, but I do think it's possible to be all 3.

    I think you can do B and do it well if it suits your voice. I'm a big fan of Julie Leto's Book of Your Voice.

    Also, didn't Alison Kent mention that some of the authors she interviewed for her CIG said that they tried writing erotic romance because it was hot, and found out that they were good at it?

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  35. I read you through a syndication, and just now saw that you were giving things away. Very cool.

    The trend thing always bothered me. I have always been that odd girl in the corner that wore grunge looks or goth looks 2 years before it was in style. So I am use to being made fun of and criticized. I am unsure what to do here. I love writing about what I know, what thrills me, yet I want to be published, I want to make this a career. I guess I have some serious thinking to do here.

    Thank you for this information.

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  36. EA wrote: Are there any "new" trends? Trends seem to run in cycles and there are ways to study cycles -- rather like next season's fashions and remakes of old movies. Maybe what was "in" during 1967 will be next year's trend.

    They say everything that has been done has been done before, a million times over. Vampire fiction writers mark Bram Stoker as the root of all their novels, but some form of vampire mythology has existed in many cultures for centuries before Stoker. Chick-lit can trace its roots back to Jane Austen. Romantic suspense writers of today owe a lot to writers like Evelyn Anthony, who wrote it before it became trendy. Even Steinbeck lifted plots from the Bible.

    I like the idea of studying cycles, though -- it would be fascinating to analyze bestselling novels over the last two or three hundred years and see if popular fiction does follow particular patterns. Any volunteers? Lol.

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  37. Jennie wrote: What do you think about tracking trends through manuscript sales information, rather than what's selling in the stores?

    I think it can help as a peripheral source of info, but not all writers allow their financial deals to be made public, and some agents are extremely tight-lipped about it, too. Often genre writers are overlooked by the trades, who prefer to report on literary or mega-deals. Keep in mind that whatever you read in Locus or PW or Publishers Lunch is only part of the big picture.

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  38. Ris wrote: How do I know for certain what genre I am writing in if my book has elements of several?

    I'd go with whatever genre has the readers to whom your novel premise has the most appeal.

    If I write in a world I create, I know it is fantasy. Unless I add this huge romantic plot line, and then I'm wondering if it is then a fantasy romance? Or a mystery with horror elements--is it a horror genre or a mystery genre? Without having published, how can I be certain which genre would be best for marketing my book, let alone for trend-watching?

    Fusion writers (and I'm assuming you're one by the way you're describing things) have it tough, but there should be a dominant aspect of your novel that fits it into a genre category. If your premise centers on a fantasy quest, then I'd go for fantasy. If the premise is more about the romantic relationship, I'd go for romance, etc.

    Or do I just choose option A, write what I love and what fascinates me, and hope an agent will know where to plug me (which seems risky at best and not very career supporting).

    This is actually a good approach, Ris. An agent who wants to represent you can help you decide which is the best genre (and publishers) for your work. I would try to come up with a general genre classification, though, at least for the agent queries. You can always change it once you have representation.

    So what is the best way for, or even should I start out by, knowing my specific genre and writing for it intentionally.

    I think you should know your genre just to be aware of what's being done, and see if there's a place where your work fits. In some cases, writing specifically according to genre standards can mess with your creativity, and result in a book that reads like a clone or a knock-off of another writer.

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  39. Folks, just a note, I have to unplug and catch up on some work today, but I'll be back tonight to answer questions, continue the discussions and post the next workshop for tomorrow.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and thoughts and please, keep them coming. :)

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  40. Alison S1:03 PM

    I suppose someone somewhere has done some research to see what percentage of READERs stick to a certain genre most/all the time? What I'm trying to say is, to some extent genre boundaries must be artificial things created so that booksellers can categorise books by some means more discriminatory than the alphabet alone; but if there were some sort of virtual 3D network whereby readers could more easily browse between genres, how many people would do so? Or is that already happening, via the Internet? For me, the style and worldbuilding of the author is far more important than which genre they are writing in, but I often couldn't define what makes me like one author more than another. But is that usual, or do most readers stick generally to their preferred genre? If they do, then I guess the present system serves writers well. If most readers cross genres readily to read the right author, then how could the industry be more flexible to facilitate that?
    Not sure if I said what I meant to, there.

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  41. May I as a reader offer my opinon on what starts and what kills trends? An author writes a really enjoyable book and it sells well. Writes another and it sells better, then other authors who write quite well try it and also sell well. Then publishers start demanding this type of book from everyone, whether they can do it or not. The inferior books don't sell well, end up on the remainder table, so publishers then decide that since this type of book is not selling, they need to jump on another trend. In the meantime, the writers who do a good job continue to sell well until the publishers will no longer accept this type of book. A few years down the line the cycle starts all over again. This is very frustrating for the reader and I am sure for the writer

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  42. One thing I learned in Hollywood about trends is that the moment you try to write a script toward any particular trend, that trend is bound to be on its way out. By the time you've put THE END, it's likely you have a dead script on your hands.

    I have no problem with writing commercial. I read commercial, I write commercial. But I'm less interested in following trends than starting them... :)

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  43. I never really thought about tracking trends. Even after reading your workshop it seem like something beyond my mental grasp - like mastering Swahili or balancing my checkbook. I do plan to check out the links you posted though. It can't hurt to give it a shot. And again, thanks for the workshop!

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  44. I have a question unrelated to the topic.

    Do you schedule reading time?

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  45. I like to think that I'm not just hopping around after the trends. I've always written with a romantic bent, though I do remember consciously saying 'I think I'll write a romance'.

    I do write in more than one (or two) genres, but I have a core (of paranormal/fantasy) that I come back to over and over again. That, going back to your series workshop from yesterday, is where my deepest love lies, and where I'll write, regardless of what the market says.

    So I guess I'm going to claim to be an A/C with a teeny dab of B just to add taste.

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  46. Anonymous6:00 PM

    In the stock market, they say you can tell when a trend is over because everyone is talking about how hot it is. A trend is only worth following if you spot it early. The same is probably true of books. If you started writing chick lit because you loved Bridget Jones, or fantasy because you couldn't put down the first Harry Potter book, great! If you waited until now to jump on either trend, forget it.

    I think I'm landing as a combination of A and C. Write what you love, but see if you can manage to love the stuff that's going to be selling like ice cream in July by the time your book is ready.

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  47. Thanks for another great post, and for responding to my question on the last one!

    -Catherine-

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  48. Thanks for the post. Trend tracking is definitely something that I think I should start doing. I would imagine, though, that it only makes sense to track the books in the genre/s in which one writes or is willing to write? I can't see where I'd benefit, for example, from spending time tracking sales for hard-core mysteries, as I have no interest whatever in writing them no matter how well they sell.

    ~Nicole

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  49. EllenO6:59 PM

    Another fascinating post PBW, thank you. I'm learning so much as a reader looking in at the business of writing ! It's giving me a new appreciation for writers published or not.

    In regards to your A, B, C, list of what authors can do in regards to trends I hope that authors can use C and A (or D as mentioned earlier) in whatever combination works for them.

    B at the least would be giving a writer more experience/practice at writing. I'd hate to think of an author going over a checklist of the latest popular books to make sure they hit all the 'fang' points before submitting. I'd also hate to learn after the fact that I enjoyed a book that an author only wrote to meet a market demand, that could possibly ruin my enjoyment in the book.

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  50. One of the great perks of being a librarian is seeing trends as they take place. Of course, if you are sick of a trend it is a downside. :) I enjoy seeing what my regular patrons are into and the trends they follow.

    I once had a woman ask me for recommendations of new books and her only stipulation was they be set in a different country and not a fantasy book. So we went through Fiction and found her some great choices. It just goes to show that you can't always guess what people are going to be interested in.

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  51. Very interesting post.
    Especially in light of the conference, where everybody oes chasing around asking "What's hot right now?"
    Unfortunately, unless you already happen to have a book that's (as good as) finished, you'll be too late to catch the trend.
    Your tip for tracking the BSL was new to me, and I'm definitely going to add that to my study list.

    Kepp those gems coming!

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  52. I'm enjoying reading your thoughts on writing. I never thought about trends but after reading your post I can see how they affect what is published.

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  53. I wonder if it's anything like art. With art it seems like if you simply absorb as much current illustrations and general culture as you can every day, you naturally stay with the direction of trends. Of course the timeline is also much shorter...it doesn't take a year or two for illustrations to get published

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  54. I think it's useful to keep an eye on trends, but as you said, those popular books were bought a year or more ago.

    My thoughts are that it might not matter - as long as your manuscript brings something special, something unique and exciting, to the genre.

    Out of the books you've mentioned, I've only read Lynn Viehls - heh - which aren't the atypical vamp stories. The most important aspect is that Alex Keller sees vampirism as curable, since she's made a study of it. The Darkyn books are different from the others, especially in that they, the vamps, aren't necessarily good guys, and the morals behind the motives aren't pure, on any side.

    As long as a writer... uh... makes sure... that..

    This isn't the place for an exposition is it... so I'll just... mmm... stop now.

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  55. Thanks for the wonderful post, as usual, PBW!

    I love the paranormal genre; I fall in love with it back when there was only one or two people writing about vampires and witches, and it wasn't much of a trend. Now that I'm actually starting to write something in that genre, I live under the fear that by the time I actually finish my manuscript, the trend is over and done with. *sigh*

    I'm hoping that it would endure, not just as a wannabe writer, but also as a reader. Especially as a reader. :)

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  56. Alison wrote: I suppose someone somewhere has done some research to see what percentage of READERs stick to a certain genre most/all the time? What I'm trying to say is, to some extent genre boundaries must be artificial things created so that booksellers can categorise books by some means more discriminatory than the alphabet alone; but if there were some sort of virtual 3D network whereby readers could more easily browse between genres, how many people would do so?

    Nothing has yet replaced the brick-and-mortar bookshops, but online booksellers and certain trade entities do provide top-selling lists and genre sub-category search options. I think, like most of the other info we cull from the internet, we gather book information from myriad sources.

    For me, the style and worldbuilding of the author is far more important than which genre they are writing in, but I often couldn't define what makes me like one author more than another.

    I know what you mean. I will read anything by any author whose writing resonates with me, although I can't always specify why it does.

    But is that usual, or do most readers stick generally to their preferred genre? If they do, then I guess the present system serves writers well.

    I think readers are not as loyal or exclusive to genre as they may have once been. Genre is evolving, too, and as more fusion and crossover novels hit the market, may expand or sub-categorize.

    If most readers cross genres readily to read the right author, then how could the industry be more flexible to facilitate that?
    Not sure if I said what I meant to, there.


    I'm seeing authors with crossover appeal being double and triple-shelved around the stores (paranormal romance authors are also being shelved in SF/F and general fiction), but I don't think that's enough. My old Borders store in South FL had a customer terminal set up where you could go and type in your favorite author's name and the computer would give you a list of releases, what's in stock, and where it's shelved, but since I've moved to the country I have yet to find a Borders within reasonable driving distance.

    It would be great if booksellers could set up a terminals or touch screens around the store or in the big store's cafe area that provides that same type of information.

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  57. Edie wrote: An author writes a really enjoyable book and it sells well. Writes another and it sells better, then other authors who write quite well try it and also sell well. Then publishers start demanding this type of book from everyone, whether they can do it or not.

    In defense of publishers, they're not all that demanding, and I've yet to have an editor ask me to write anything I felt was beyond me or my abilities as a writer. Now that I write that, tomorrow I'll get a phone call from a editor demanding a Heinlein knockoff....

    The inferior books don't sell well, end up on the remainder table, so publishers then decide that since this type of book is not selling, they need to jump on another trend. In the meantime, the writers who do a good job continue to sell well until the publishers will no longer accept this type of book. A few years down the line the cycle starts all over again.

    I'll add that publishers go where the money is because publishing is like any business that way, and that's pretty much what drives a trend cycle.

    This is very frustrating for the reader and I am sure for the writer.

    Yes, and the worst part is that it often causes the writer-publisher relationship to become unnecessarily adversarial. It also penalizes the organic and artistic writers out there who need more creative room than trends permit, and cheats publishers out of some great talent. We all lose.

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  58. Heather wrote: Do you schedule reading time?

    I read every day, usually in the early morning on my breaks and in the afternoons when dinner is cooking (which is why I set timers when I'm cooking.) If I get a spare couple of minutes at other times I'll generally spend them with a book. I have books that I'm actively reading in just about every room in the house now, so there's always something close at hand to pick up.

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  59. Nicole wrote: I would imagine, though, that it only makes sense to track the books in the genre/s in which one writes or is willing to write? I can't see where I'd benefit, for example, from spending time tracking sales for hard-core mysteries, as I have no interest whatever in writing them no matter how well they sell.

    I wouldn't try to track more than two genres even if you are interested in more; it takes too much time. I'd always go with tracking trends in the genre or sub-category you most want to write.

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  60. elleno wrote: B at the least would be giving a writer more experience/practice at writing. I'd hate to think of an author going over a checklist of the latest popular books to make sure they hit all the 'fang' points before submitting. I'd also hate to learn after the fact that I enjoyed a book that an author only wrote to meet a market demand, that could possibly ruin my enjoyment in the book.

    All very good points -- although as a ghost writer, I have to disagree with the last one. A professional writer-for-hire is trained to write on demand, it's like being an artist who is commissioned to paint a portrait. :)

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  61. I'm always a year late on catching trends...so I like the write what you want concept. Who knows, maybe that will start a trend...stalkers with a Hallmark obsession, anyone?

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  62. Alison S7:50 AM

    Thanks for replying to my points, PBW!

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  63. Twila8:22 AM

    As a reader, I'd like to see more variety (particularly in the romance field, lord almighty!) -- I liked paranormals when they started becoming popular, but once they got to be nearly interchangeable, I'm not as likely to read them anymore -- unless the world-building and characterization are something special. So I hate "trends" in one way -- it makes it hard to find something fun and exciting to read (I also am not a big fan of long series, unless the author has a good story to tell).

    As an aspiring writer, I don't think I can watch for trends quite yet, because I'm still struggling to get my very hybrid alternate world/fantasy/road romance off the ground. :-)

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  64. Great workshops this week. I am enjoying all the great tips you are giving. Very helpful.

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  65. EllenO9:23 AM

    Thank you PBW for replying to my comments of yesterday.

    I would like to clarify my statment that knowing an author was writing a B book for demand only would have the effect of lessening my enjoyment in the book. What I was thinking more of as I wrote my comment was finding out that the author felt forced to fit into the currect trend mold and if they were vocal in the fact that they only wrote such and such because of market demand but don't you know that their true calling is telling the story of the cowboy's secret baby by way of a amnesica heiress kind of thing.

    WFH are in a different category in my mind.

    Not sure if that made my thought process here clearer but I thought I'd give it a try :-)

    EllenO

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  66. Excellent post. And I'm an A/C wannabee writer. One of the things I'm dealing with now is which of the many novel ideas should I work on next. So knowing trends in genres of interest would definitely be helpful.

    Can you elaborate on that the trend is that you are seeing with that sample list of horror/romance books? I'm familiar with yours and Kelly Armstrong's but not the others listed.

    Is it that the monsters aren't the monsters anymore? Or that the vampires aren't Dracula-like, but have some scientific basis for who/what they are?

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  67. All great comments and discussion that I read with interest. I've tried writing "what's hot" a couple of times, and it just didn't work for me. I need to figure out the right balance. I like mixing genres, but then end up with something too fantasy for romance (like killing too many characters in a totally make-believe world) or too romancy for fantasy. I also need to work on writing smarter. Right now, though, I'm just pleased to have finished something and can't wait to start the next project, whatever that is. *g*

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  68. I turned to writing because it was the only place that offered a luxurious freedom I'd never known anywhere else. So it's very important for me to feel as if I'm writing exactly what I want... all this talk of writing for trends makes me nervous. I think the writing would just dry up if I wrote with the market in mind.

    I am, however, a master (mistress?) at tricking myself, and I do believe you speak sense when you talk about marketability. I'd love to be in the category of trendsetters. But just in case, I'm stocking up on the books you mentioned (v. close to the genre I write) to do research. I'm telling myself it's all just reading - for fun. :D

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  69. Blogger is being a turd. ;p

    Love this info. I like doing what I like writing, though I would love to be able to study trends and jump on a growing trend when I see it coming. Maybe that would spark inspiration.

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  70. Ooh, I love that - the Ninja Book Tracker. Maybe I should set up my own blog? No, probably not. Anyway, thanks for the compliment, PBW. I've been incredibly lucky with my cover art - I can only hope I'll be as lucky again with the next one... (nibbles nails)

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  71. Anonymous4:15 PM

    I guess my thoughts on trends regarding writing are that I don't think I would write a story because it's a trend/in fashion, but if my story happens to fit that trend I might have a better chance at selling. Or I might not. Huh. Real decisive here. (grin)

    The stories I have planned and done worldbuilding on and partially written are stories that I want to read, that fit the F/SF genre, but aren't the same as what's already out there. Similar, in genre, but not the same I hope. Similar, but different. If that makes any sense. :)

    Kaelle

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  72. Writing what you love can mean publishing may not happen. I'm writing Christian fantasy and it has a very small market. It's what I love to write, though... I'm wondering if I should dabble in something else but the best plan thus far is YA as the market seems more open. I dunno. You have to write what you love, but it might be possible to learn to love what you write as well. I've been ruminating on this one for awhile and appreciated the post, Sheila. The whole set of workshops, actually. Thanks.

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  73. Very interesting workshops PBW! I am just a reader, but I love to read your blog and Alison's because I love learning so many interesting things about books and the publishing industry. And my perspective have changed a lot since I visit your blog.
    About trends, I like to see when a genre or a trend is exploding or having a big success, but don't like to see the contrary, when something is not "hot" anymore, and publishers move to the new trend. I wish there enough space for a lot of variety and then writers could write the books they really want, not the ones that are selling better. Maybe I'm not making any sense, I'm not good with words. I just see authors as artists and would love a perfect world where editors and publishers just look for good books without following any trends, just looking for quality.

    On a different note, what great prizes you are offering!

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  74. Twila wrote: As an aspiring writer, I don't think I can watch for trends quite yet, because I'm still struggling to get my very hybrid alternate world/fantasy/road romance off the ground.

    Writing definitely has to be the priority for all of us, and you also shouldn't get so caught up in trend-watching that you put aside the work. Thanks for the reminder, Twila.

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  75. Elleno wrote: I would like to clarify my statment that knowing an author was writing a B book for demand only would have the effect of lessening my enjoyment in the book. What I was thinking more of as I wrote my comment was finding out that the author felt forced to fit into the currect trend mold and if they were vocal in the fact that they only wrote such and such because of market demand but don't you know that their true calling is telling the story of the cowboy's secret baby by way of a amnesica heiress kind of thing.

    Aha, now I see what you mean. I'm sorry if you thought I was jumping on you, too -- I tend to be a bit defensive about WFH stuff because it's so often misunderstood.

    I have a problem with authors who write something like a paranormal and then profess to hate it because they personally find paranormal distasteful (yet still keep writing it.) Second runner up is the author who goes in another direction with the career, become snobs of one sort or another, and claim to be ashamed of their earlier work.

    Then again I don't have much patience with any sort of hyprocrite.

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  76. Sandra wrote: Can you elaborate on that the trend is that you are seeing with that sample list of horror/romance books? I'm familiar with yours and Kelly Armstrong's but not the others listed.

    All five of us write fairly dark vamp fiction or paranormal series (I'm not sure about Jennifer Armintrout, but someone mentioned that was the first novel in a series, so I ran with that.)

    There just aren't that many authors who are writing what we do to begin with (it's risky, not-nice-girl stuff that doesn't follow Da Romance Rules.) I think our books fill some other genre gaps that have been empty for a while, too.

    Title glut soecifically in the romance genre tends to homogenize any trend that becomes quickly popular. It's what generally kills the momentum of a trend, too, as romance buyers control the lion's share of the adult fiction market. Dracula has become the new Manolo Blahnik; it will definitely kill vamp fic. If everyone and their sister has a cute vampire novel on the market, the darker, edgier authors will stand out even more.

    This is of course just my opinion, your mileage may vary, etc.

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  77. (repeating this from VW#1) My thanks to everyone who participated in this workshop, and please feel free to continue posting comments. I'm going to move on down the VW line and catch up with other questions; if you have one about this workshop please stop by PBW on Fridays when I do open Q&A and we can discuss it then.

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