What If Your Genre Isn't Selling?
The other day, a friend of mine emailed about a paranormal project she was thinking about starting. “Problem is,” she said. “They say the paranormal market is glutted. Maybe I’m better off working on something else.”
I gave her the standard answer. “Work on the project that gets your passion going. Worry about the market later.”
BUT, afterwards, I got to thinking - What do you do when your genre stops being popular? Over the years, I’ve seen trends come and go, and with them, writers’ careers. What’s hot today can cool in a second. (Chick lit anyone?) For all we know, all those cowboys, vampires and billionaire doms will be sitting on the bargain shelf next year.
The smart author never forgets how ephemeral publishing can be, and has some kind of a contingency plan, whether it’s writing in multiple genres, a breakout project she works on weekends, or simply a plan of action should she find herself suddenly out of contract. And, even then, there’s no guarantee your reinvention will work.
Contingency planning isn’t so easy if you’re still struggling to sell that first book. On one hand, it can take two, three, four (or ten) stories before you develop a strong, unique voice. (Heck, I’ve published over a dozen romances and only truly found my voice this past year.) On the other hand, you could be, like my friend, developing a voice in a genre that agents and editors are increasingly rejecting. In that case, it’s tempting – so very, very tempting – to jump ship and write what’s selling.
As much as I know you want to sell, I don’t recommend doing so. Here are three reasons why.
- That voice thing. Like I said in the above paragraph,
developing a unique voice takes time. Yes,
you can develop your voice writing different genres, but in my opinion, it
takes longer. Why? Because different genres have different styles. For example, how are you going to hone that
edgy romantic suspense voice if you suddenly decide to write historical? If you are going to jump, at least pick
genres that are somewhat related – for example, romantic suspense and
thrillers. Or YA suspense and mainstream
suspense. Save the drastic change for
when you have to reinvent yourself.
- Editors’ decisions to focus on a
particular genre (or subgenre) are driven by marketing and profits. Likewise, agents’ decisions regarding
representation are based on whether they can sell your book to an editor. Like I told my friend, when they say the
market is glutted, or a certain kind of book isn’t selling, what they really mean
is that the books aren’t profitable enough by the publishing houses’
standards. That doesn’t mean there
aren’t readers. As self-publishing has
proven, there are plenty of devoted readers in every genre. Publish it and they will come.
- Trends change. Wasn’t that long ago, the publishing world proclaimed straight contemporary romances dead. Then along came Susan Mallery, Robin Carr, Jill Shalvis and others. Wait long enough and the type of book you’re writing will be back in vogue. Or, if you need a counter argument – by the time you finish your manuscript, there’s a good chance the trend you’re chasing has peaked.
In the end, good story telling transcends market trends. When editors stand up at conferences and say “give us a good story” they aren’t kidding. Your voice, your passion, your words – those are the things that will get you published. Not copying what’s hot now. Besides, who wants to be a copycat? Focus on trend chasing and as soon as the genre goes out of fashion, you’ll be back to square one. Focus on storytelling, however, and you’re building the foundation for a long and lasting career.
Every month, I mention how the writing world is like a roller coaster – up one minute and down the next. This discussion is just another example. So getting back to my original question: What do you do when your genre is out of fashion? Relax and be yourself. Writing your story, your way is the one thing in this industry in your control. You might as well do it right.
An author of sweet romances, Barbara Wallace knows what it's like to take a other, more trendy styles of romance. She keeps at it, however, taking solace in the fact that there are plenty of readers out there for everyone. Her latest story, THE MILLIONAIRE'S REDEMPTION, is currently being serialized on Harlequin.com. She hopes you'll check out the story.