Sara Nelson of Harper Recommends...

No matter what job I’ve had in publishing—I’ve been a magazine editor, a critic, a bookseller, and now an acquiring editor—I am regularly asked the same questions: What’s going to be the next trend in books? What should I write to fit that trend? And my answer, from all of my perspectives, is always the same: If I could tell you what the next trend is going to be, I’d be a wealthy retired person living on a magical island. Trends, in other words, are the kind of thing we really only see in hindsight: After there have been a half dozen thrillers narrated by unreliable women, with “girl” in the title, we announce that there was a trend of unreliable female narrators narrating books with “girl” in the title. I have never asked Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) or Paula Hawkins (Girl on the Train), but I would wager that neither of them thought they were following, much less setting, a trend. Furthermore, trends take time to develop, as do individual books, so even if someone could tell you today what kinds of books are “trending,” by the time you could internalize the information, go home and think about it, and sit down and write a book—that would take months, at the very least, probably years—the “trend” you were thinking you’d catch would already be over. Which is why the age-old advice “write about what you know” is still valid, even if sometimes people take it too literally. Just because you work at a fashion magazine, for example, doesn’t mean that you can or should only write about fashion magazines. (Pace Lauren Weisberger.) But what it probably does mean is that some character or some attitude or some ethos of your time spent at the fashion magazine will make its way, perhaps peripherally, into just about anything you write. In other words, don’t worry so much about writing what you know as about writing who you are. The more you write and the better you get, the more your attitudes, your voice, and your preoccupations will make their way onto your pages, and the more authentic a writer you will be.

Sara Nelson, vice president, executive editor, Harper