Pirates are “In”
Apparently, pirates are sailing back over the pop-culture horizon this fall. Pirate Halloween costumes are very popular. Scholarly and popular books about pirates are reappearing.
So, should you whip out a book about pirates?
Today we can, if we are so inspired or really want to. Independent authors can see what is becoming popular, write something appropriate, get a cover, edit it, and launch as quickly as we want (allowing for Life Rolls.) Or we can look at pirates, mull the idea over, and try pirates in space, pirates that are not really pirates (Captain William Kidd*), bandits that raid caravans rather than pirates who sail the seas, a wronged man who becomes a pirate to get even with a corrupt government (Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini. Read it, read it, read it), a heroic navy captain who fights pirates, a woman who discovers that her husband is accused of being a pirate when he’s really just a smuggler (see: Cornwall, history of)…
The point is, we have the flexibility to see a trend, use it, throw variations at the theme, or ignore it. Or come back after the Traditional Publishers have decided that “pirates are dead. Ninjas are going to be the Next Big Thing” and write books for the people who really like pirate novels and want more of them.
Do you want to? If not, and you don’t think it is a topic that you could do well, then don’t. There’s no angry agent looming over you warning that if you don’t do a pirate book, you’ll never get another contract again. Or possibly worse, no editor saying, “Look, this is a pretty good historical fantasy about the dragon of Wawl Hill [Krakow, Poland], but you have to add pirates. Pirates are in.”** Or you submit a pirate novel set in 1678 and the editor announces, “This is OK, but everyone knows that pirates were champions of gay rights and homosexuality, and you have to include that in your book. See if you can work in the Stonewall Riot, that’d be good.”
By the time your pirates in Poland fantasy hits the shelves eighteen months later, pirates are on the way out, the market is saturated, and the publisher says, “Oh, you must have written a bad book because it’s not selling out. We’re cancelling your contract.”
On the other hand, if you are an indie author, and are so inclined to write pirates, you can and you can hit the market and ride the sales wave. You might find that while pirates were a good way to start, your readers are really interested in the Royal Navy, or a merchant-trader, or some other side plot and you develop that.
Or, you can write about some adults going to a pirate-themed party on Halloween at a coastal resort. The locals have a traditional pageant about a pirate attack on the town in the 1700s that also takes place. Your protagonists have a car break-down in town, and as they are sorting that out, Something Happens, and real pirates from the 1700s appear. And then it gets Interesting…
The point is, if you can spot a wave and ride it, more power to you. If you spot a wave and write a variation on the theme, and market it carefully, you can do really well. If you spot a trend, wait until it fades, then target the market of pirate-starved readers abandoned by the Traditional Publishers, whee!
But you don’t have to.
*Captain Kidd was a privateer with occasional lapses into apparent piracy, all condoned or ignored by the British Admiralty. Alas for him, the English government changed its policy and he literally did not get the memo until he captured an Indian ship run by Armenian merchants with an English captain operating under French passes and letters of protection. Kidd’s crew insisted on bringing the ship’s rich cargo to port. There Kidd discovered that he was now a pirate instead of a holder of a Letter of Marque and Reprisal. Among other problems. Oops. But we did get a great folk-song out of it, which became one of my favorite hymn tunes (“Wonderous Love.”)
**Krakow is very far inland. There were Polish pirates, during those times when Poland had a sea-coast, but pirates in Krakow would require massive handwavium and magic. NTTAWWT.