I got an e-mail from an yet-to-be-pubbed writer who asked me an interesting question (and gave me permission to post it on the blog): "So if all anyone wants to read is mommy porn, shouldn't I be writing it to better my chances at publishing?"
I (correctly) deduced the phrase mommy porn to mean the particular fanfic-based erotica that has sold so briskly of late, and thought for a while about how to respond. After nearly 15 years in the biz I've seen a lot of trends come and go: romantic suspense, fashion chicklit, vampire romance, vampire brotherhoods, vampire bromances, YA written for adults, and now the mommy porn thing. Likewise I've watched countless writers rush up that cliff of popularity and dive off because they saw a lot of other writers take the jump and thought, "Hey, maybe that will work." In the biz we call it jumping on the bandwagon; I think of it more as lemming writing.
Taking advantage of a publishing trend can absolutely open some doors for you. A couple of weeks ago one of my biz associates mentioned to me that editors were so hot for BDSM erotica that if I wanted it I could probably get a contract within a week. Recently my agent made a similar comment. It took me almost three years of traditional submission to sell my latest series; it would be nice to sell something else in a week. Very nice, in fact. If I could land an offer and bulk up my numbers with a fast seller, it would likely do great things for my other works.
Unfortunately it won't, as I seriously doubt I'll ever write BDSM erotica, mommy porn or whatever you want to call it. I'm not a snob; I like well-written books of any variety regardless of genre. I can write just about anything, too. But I won't be making like a lemming for the same reason I don't publish Westerns, Christian chicklit or political thrillers: I have zero interest in writing it.
Publishing certainly likes fiction that is riding a wave of popularity, but you need to watch it closely and decide when its trends are most advantageous to you and what you want most to write. For example, I originally pitched my Darkyn novels back in the late 90's, and all I got was a resounding rejection. It was what I wanted to write, but vampire fiction didn't sell much back then, so the bounce was simply a good business decision (not only for the publisher but for me, too; I doubt at the time the series would have lasted past book three.) I shelved the idea and moved on. When the vampire fic trend kicked off six years later, I tried submitting my proposal again and landed a three-book contract in a couple weeks. By timing this right I also had time to establish my series before the genre became glutted.
This doesn't mean I haven't eyed a few cliffs myself. From time to time I've been tempted by certain trends because some of them were vaguely interesting, and I knew if I researched and focused I could do a decent job of it. It's hard to resist a situation that practically guarantees you'll get an offer in order to find that that one editor among hundreds who wants to buy exactly what you want to write. The way the economy is going I don't blame anyone for going for the easier sell; you do what you have to in order to pay your bills and take care of your family.
Trend-driven writing's major downside has to do with how whatever you publish brands you. If all you've ever sold is mommy porn, publishers are going to focus on that as your niche, and it will be very difficult to persuade them that you can publish anything else successfully. It's much tougher for a pubbed writer to sell something different from what they've been publishing than it is for a unpubbed writer. Also, if your mommy porn doesn't do especially well on the market, those low numbers will make you look even less appealing to a publisher than an unpublished writer; booksellers use those numbers to decide how much they want to order of your new venture (aka not much.) If you're bright/shiny/new with no sales track record, the buyers can only judge you on the strength of the work. If you're pubbed, you'll be judged on your numbers.
You pros out there won't escape this, either. Involuntarily branding yourself can happen at any time during your career. The reason it took me three years to sell my latest series is because it's new, fresh, and not like anything I've ever written. Although I'm an established multi-genre writer, the books I've sold in the highest numbers are all vampire fiction, which is also what I'm best known for writing. I probably could have sold a new paranormal series any time over the last three years; a half-dozen editors who rejected my proposal actually wrapped up their bounces by asking me to send them a paranormal sub instead.
If you want to write this mommy porn because it's all you've ever wanted to write, happy days -- this is definitely your time. You're not going to be jumping off a cliff; you'll be pursuing what interests you and possibly what you were meant to write. But if the desire and the interest isn't there, I believe it will show through in the work. A few writers have copy-catted their way to success, but most get swallowed up in the glut at the base of the cliff . . . at least until the latest bandwagon comes along to cart them off to the next one.