Last night was the first meeting of my latest children's and young adult fiction workshop. We spent a lot of time talking about what we like to write and read, and also talking about what types of books are currently on the market and what publishers say they're looking for now. Is dystopian still big? What about the popularity of books about bullying? Do we need more sport fiction, or is the market glutted now?
It's easy to track the trends. Walk into a book store and see what's on the shelf. Ask a librarian what all the kids are requesting. Or search out some of the online postings where publishers, agents, and book merchants chat about their observations, like this interview with Association for Library Services to Children president Carolyn Brodie.
As a writer, it's important to know what your target audience is reading. Whenever they pick up a book, they're bringing a collection of previous experience with them. Unless you have a completely new topic (and remember, every story has already been written - you're just putting a new spin on it), you will be compared to other books, TV shows, movies, and games. And you should know just how you'll rank.
That said, it's also important to not let the market trends completely dictate your story. If you want to write a book about a girl who meets an alien and goes on a road trip - do it! Don't decide that no one is buying alien books and force yourself to write about a vampire instead because you're heart won't be in it, and the reader will know. Plus, by the time you finish writing, submitting, and going through the publishing process, vampires could be "so over." Just make sure you're familiar with other alien books (or lack thereof) on the shelves, and reflect on the qualities that make what's popular now so, well, popular.
So study the market, know the trends for different age ranges. Then tuck that knowledge away in a corner of your brain, and write what you want.